By Rasika Jayakody –
Karu Jayasuriya, the newly appointed Chairman of the UNP Leadership Council assumed his spade-work last week when he chaired a meeting for party supporters of Gampaha ahead of a possible provincial council election that will, in all likelihood, take place early next year. The purpose of the meeting was to welcome the new Leadership Council of the United National Party and its members. Although the meeting took place amidst heavy rain, thunder and lightning, more than 3000 party supporters attended the meeting, making it the biggest gathering of UNP supporters to be held in the Gampaha District after November, 2005. The meeting was attended by Parliamentarians such as Ruwan Wijeyawardena, Lakshman Kiriella and some leading Buddhist monks affiliated with the UNP including Ven. Girambe Ananda and Meetiyagoda Gunarathne.
As the meeting started amidst heavy rain, a branch of a nearby mango tree fell off, startling everyone including the speakers. Although it did not harm anyone, some considered this as a bad omen for Jayasuriya as well as for the Leadership Council of the party which has just assumed work. Still, the organizers were determined to proceed with the meeting and the large majority of the crowd too supported the decision. Due to inclement weather, the loudspeakers too did not function properly, but the organizers managed to retain the crowd and the meeting went on without any change in the schedule. In the end, the meeting ended on a high note as the rain did not mar the spirit of the party supporters.
A few days after this meeting, the Leadership Council of the party, who met at the Parliamentary complex on November 26, made another radical decision to replace all the under-performing electorate organizers, regardless of their status or grandeur. This decision has now ruffled a lot of feathers among a sizable proportion of electorate organizers as some view this is an act of ‘scapegoating’ organizers for a series of shameful electoral defeats suffered by the party throughout the past several years. However, the Leadership Council of the party is adamant on the decision saying, “The change has to start somewhere.” It is interesting to see how the Leadership Council deals with certain electorate organizers who have been appointed by the party leader solely on his whims and fancies. It is also interesting to see how the Council deals with some of its own members who are also electorate organizers who have failed to produce desired results for the party.
In spite of all that, UNP MPs, last week, had their light moments too while they were so engrossed in the budget debate which revolved around the expenses of CHOGM and economic mismanagement by the government. As the party decided to boycott the budget speech delivered by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the UNP parliamentary group decided to engage in the budget debate with more vigour and enthusiasm, converting it into a platform to point out loopholes and discrepancies in the budget. Amidst the heat of the budget debate, several MPs of the UNP found themselves in the middle of a conundrum that involved the beauty of two ‘queens’ who were present in Parliament.
While several UNP MPs were dining in the Parliament cafeteria, popular actress and ruling party Parliamentarian Malini Fonseka walked past them. Rosy Senanayake, who was among the UNP MPs dining in the cafeteria, walked to the popular actress and greeted her warmly. While observing their chit-chat, one UNP MP posed a question to others.
“Okay. Now we have the beauty queen from our party and the queen of the silver screen from the other camp. Which one is more beautiful?” Although this appeared to be a simple question, no one was able to come up with a direct answer. Finally, it was up to Gayantha Karunathilake, UNP Media Spokesman, to handle what sounded like a riddle. The UNP Media Spokesman, who is strongly capable of handling difficult questions, answered this one too in a very diplomatic manner.
“To me, our beauty queen is as beautiful as the queen of the silver screen,” Gayantha said to the amusement of everyone.
“That is,” one MP said, “Gayantha living up to his title as the media spokesman of the party.” He made this remark alluding to the fact that Gayantha resorted to the same strategy during the long-drawn leadership battle of the United National Party where he walked a very tightrope between the two contending factions in his own camp. “Luckily, Geetha Kumarasinghe was not here!” another MP made a witty remark indicating that Gayantha would be in trouble, if the beauty queen from Elpitiya, his hometown, stepped into the equation.
Snakes and hidden hands
The Forsten’s Cat Snake (Ley Mapilla), found in the opposition leader’s office room at the Parliamentary complex drew everyone’s attention last week as some viewed it as part of a conspiracy to harm the UNP leader’s life. Speaking in Parliament a few days after the incident, UNP Parliamentarian Harin Fernando said there might have been a hidden hand involved, as the snake could not have come on its own, climbing up three floors. Although an investigation was launched immediately after the incident, little or no news has been reported about the snake thereafter.
When The Sunday Leader contacted UNP MP Harin Fernando to know whether he has been informed of any development with regard to the inquiry, he said the process was still underway. “They said the snake was not a poisonous one, but the investigation is still going on,” the UNP MP said. If the snake, as Fernando said, was not a poisonous one, the incident cannot be construed as a sinister plan to harm the opposition leader’s life. Then, one might raise a question whether the snake was brought into Parliament to create some unnecessary drama on that particular day – primarily to divert attention from the budget speech. And the next question would be, who wants to divert attention from the budget speech – is it the government or the opposition? It is actually up to the panel who’s conducting the inquiry to find answers to these questions.
While the UNP was struggling hard to get over reptilian distractions, the government camp too was bewildered by a news story carried in a website that is seemingly anti-government. The website, quoting diplomatic sources, said, “a CD containing footage of a ruling party politician having intimate relationships with a famous Kollywood actress, who recently arrived in Sri Lanka, has been released.” This story sent shock waves through the rank and file of the government camp, but no one knew who this influential politician was.
Guerilla media tactics
Be that as it may, several senior members of the government have categorically stated that this story has been cooked up by a prominent opposition politician who is quite famous for his “guerilla media tactics”. They deny this story primarily on the grounds that using CDs to leak such footage is an outdated method in this day and age as the communication technology is much more advanced. However, the story which appeared on a website, has been widely shared on social media and drew everyone’s attention although there is a question about the veracity of the content.
The tug of war between two ministers representing the Kalutara district – namely Rajitha Senarathne and Rohitha Abeygunawardena – took a new turn when two groups claiming to be their supporters clashed in Kaluwamodara, early this week. Abeygunawardena’s group, reportedly, had made the other group kneel down before a statue near Kaluwamodara Junction, demanding them to plead guilty for some offence. Senaratne’s supporters claim that Minister Abeygunawardena and several police officers were present when the former’s supporters were punished in an inhuman manner.
But Abeygunawardena, who is fondly known as “Raththaran” among his friends and supporters, denied his involvement in the incident, saying there is no real need for him to resort to such measures as he has a “broad vote-base” in Beruwala. “Even if there is an election tomorrow, I can secure 80% of votes in the Beruwala electorate,” the Minister had said. He added that a Minister from the same district, who cannot win elections anymore, is spreading rumours to create a rift between him and his voters. Although Abeygunawardena does not mention any name it is clear that he is alluding to Minister Senaratne who crossed over to the ruling party from the UNP a few years ago. The internecine battle in Kalutara within the stalwarts of the ruling party has intensified, ahead of the Western Provincial Council election which would, in all probability, take place early next year. This power struggle, insiders say, will take another twist when nominations for the Kalutara district come into play.
With the Western Provincial Council election around the corner, all eyes are now fixed on the government camp to see whether the UPFA will field a new face as the Chief Ministerial candidate. Earlier, there were reports in the media that a popular “war hero”, who is now attached to a key diplomatic mission, will be fielded as the CM candidate from the ruling party, but it has now been denied by the government. Apparently, the present Chief Minister, Prasanna Ranathunga, is confident that he will be given another chance to hold the office. However, the provincial councilors and electorate organizers of the Western province have unofficially been informed by the top echelons of the government that the Council will be dissolved in January. They have also been informed that disciplinary charges against some members will be taken into serious consideration when giving nominations.
Over the past few weeks, Sri Lanka has been finding new friends in the global political domain. During the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, the Australian Prime Minister strongly defended the Sri Lankan Government which was under trenchant criticism from certain countries over the allegations on war crimes and human rights violations. And now, all of a sudden, Sri Lanka is strongly gravitated towards Vietnam, a newly appointed member of the UN Human Rights Council. President Mahinda Rajapaksa unveiled a statue of former Vienamese President Ho Chi Minh in the Colombo National Library premises indicating Sri Lanka is determined to strengthen its ties with Vietnam ahead of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN Human Rights Council which will take place early next year. Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh was present in Colombo last week and held discussions with senior members of the government on matters concerning the two countries. It was clear that the government was trying its best to impress Vietnam in every possible way, in a bid to win them over, before the UPR.
Internal Trade Minister Johnston Fernando found himself in an embarrassing situation in Parliament last week when Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa mocked him over his response to a question posed by UNP MP Sajith Premadasa. The Minister, in his reply to Premadasa’s question, said the government was purchasing paddy at a certified rate of 37 rupees. Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, who knew this answer was in stark contrast with the situation on the ground, said, “Oh! Good to know that. Now I can send my paddy too,” When this remark was made, the minister sat down meekly on his chair, when the members of the house were laughing their heads off. In a context where ministers do not take questions posed by opposition MPs into serious consideration, some opposition MPs said, the Speaker’s intervention to restore faith in statistics disclosed in Parliament, was of great significance.