A storm brewing in the New Year
The dawn of the New Year has failed to bring about a new era of politics in the country. The political pot is now reaching boiling point with chaos taking centre stage.
Despite a brief lull in the political scene during the last week of December, 2018, the crises on the local political stage showed signs of intensifying last week.
The week commenced with discussions over the subjects allocated to the cabinet ministers. The initial displeasure expressed by certain members of the United National Party (UNP) over the manner in which ministerial portfolios were allocated to members of the United National Front (UNF) Government turned sour once the gazette on the ministry subject was issued by the President’s Secretary.
A group of UNP backbenchers started to make public statements against the new Cabinet of Ministers and what they claimed as the inability of some ministers to strengthen the party mechanism through their offices.
Meanwhile, Ministers Ravi Karunanayake and Lakshman Kiriella were none too pleased in the manner in which ministries as well as subjects were allocated in the new UNF Government. This dissention has now made in roads to the UNP and some legislators are agitating against what is claimed as an ineffective Cabinet of Ministers.
The UNP leadership is now engaged in trying to address all these objections by negotiating with the dissenting MPs and party organisers methods of getting benefits to reach out to the party membership.
Be that as it may, appointments to state institutions are no longer an easy task with the new policy introduced by President Maithripala Sirisena to screen the appointees. The move has hampered efforts by the UNP to appoint party members to the state institutions in order to ensure benefits to the party mechanism.
While the UNP is now busy trying to quell its growing rebellion over power, perks, and privileges, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is also undergoing an internal crisis that is continuing to unfold before the public.
The chaos in the SLFP commenced with Party Leader President Maithripala Sirisena deciding to form an alliance with the Mahinda Rajapaksa-led Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).
The alliance was considered a move that would weaken the SLFP by breaking down the party mechanism and eventually eroding its power and identity.
The crisis that ensued resulted in a majority of SLFP organisers standing against the move, and the growing dissention resulted in the President ordering the closure of the SLFP Head Office on Darley Road, Maradana until Wednesday (2).
Sirisena, who was on a private overseas visit, returned to Sri Lanka on Sunday. He visited Kandy on Monday to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic. The President was accompanied by MP S.B. Dissanayake, former Central Province Governor Sarath Ekanayake, and former Provincial Minister Ediriweera Weerawardena.
Afterwards, the President made his way to the President’s House in Kandy for lunch. During the lunch, Sirisena told those who accompanied him that he was planning on conducting some broad based reforms in the party soon.
He then said that he planned to visit the SLFP Head Office on Thursday (3) and that the party’s Central Committee meeting that evening would be a decisive one.
It is also learnt that the President stated that he would take stern action against the likes of Attorney-at-Law Rajika Kodituwakku, whom he had claimed was conspiring against the party leadership from inside the party head office.
After concluding the lunch, the President travelled to Anuradhapura to worship at the Ruwanweliseya temple.
After Anuradhapura, Sirisena made his way to his hometown Polonnaruwa to herald the dawn of the New Year and worship at the Somawathi Temple.
Upon his return to Colombo, Sirisena received a resignation letter sent by one of his coordinating secretaries.
On Tuesday (1), Kodituwakku, in a letter to Sirisena, announced his resignation from the post of Coordinating Secretary to the President. He held the post of Coordinating Secretary since January, 2015.
In a moving letter, Kodituwakku carefully reminded the President of the pledge made by him in the run up to the 2015 presidential election and the incidents that had taken place thereafter.
He noted that, following Rajapaksa’s decision to form a separate political force, there have been many issues faced by SLFP members in the electorates. He elaborated that in some instances, SLFP members were subjected to attacks by Rajapaksa loyalists.
However, he noted that the SLFPers were in the process of rebuilding the party without any of the corrupt individuals who were associated with it during the former Rajapaksa Government.
Kodituwakkku, in his two-page letter, stated that while he was shocked by the alliance formed between Sirisena and Rajapaksa on 26 October, 2018, all citizens who valued democracy were against the move. He has added that the independent judiciary was also unable to accept the President’s move.
Be that as it may, Kodituwakku noted that the most difficult of all shocks was the statement made by the President at the SLFP Central Committee meeting several weeks back that all party organisers would be removed from their posts.
“From now on, I shall remain a citizen who loves democracy and will fight for the country and party,” he stated.
“You are the first President to have taken the lead in building democracy. You will have your place in history. Some people are trying to erase that historical fact. I request you not to fall for such conspiracies,” Kodituwakku said, ending the letter.
Kodituwakku’s resignation letter was the final move since he, on a previous occasion, sent a letter to the President outlining the issues faced by the party organisers.
The failure to address the grievances has finally resulted in Kodituwakku’s resignation.
The SLFP Central Committee (CC) met at around 7.20 p.m. at the President’s residence on Mahagama Sekara Mawatha, Colombo 7 on Thursday (3). After Party Secretary Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa had made the welcome address, President Sirisena addressed the gathering for about 45 minutes on the proposed party reforms.
Sirisena said that he visited the party office on Wednesday (2) as well as Thursday (3) and that he was displeased with the manner in which work was being carried out at the party office.
He took a swipe at Kodituwakku and said that he was sent to the party office to streamline the work there, but that he had instead been working against the party leadership.
The President went on to state that four staff members from the Presidential Secretariat were working at the SLFP Head Office without his knowledge and that steps had been taken to immediately send them back.
He then said that the party head office had become the main venue for individuals to work against the party leadership.
After a while, the President said that former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga worked according the UNP’s agenda.
“I don’t have a problem with the UNP. My problem is with Ranil,” Sirisena has said.
The President then referred to the media briefing held by a group of SLFP organisers against the latest developments in the party, stating that it has also been revealed by the organisers that they were being supported by a provincial governor – former Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray.
Cooray was at the meeting and the President turned towards him and asked if he had seen it on the media.
“Yes I did, sir,” Cooray responded.
Cooray later on made a public statement that the meeting of a group of SLFP members held at his official residence was no secret and that it was done with the President’s knowledge.
Forming an alliance
However, the President continuing his speech claimed that the SLFPers who held the media briefing had later on had lunch at Minister Rajitha Senaratne’s residence.
“They are now at a discussion at Madam Chandrika’s,” Sirisena has further claimed.
The President has then said that the formation of the alliance with the SLPP would be expedited, adding that there were always obstacles when forming political alliances.
Sirisena cited the experiences faced when forming the UPFA with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in 2004.
He explained that discussions were held for many months and sometimes from morning till night. Afterwards, objections were raised by some as to how an alliance could be formed with the party accused of assassinating then President Kumaratunga’s husband.
Nevertheless, the President firmly stated that despite obstacles, an alliance would be formed between the SLFP and SLPP.
It was Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa who made a brief speech to announce his resignation from the post of SLFP General Secretary.
He explained the challenges faced by him since assuming the role of Party General Secretary.
He also observed that he received a three-page letter from Kumaratunga berating him, which had been copied to the President and Ministers Mahinda Amaraweera and Duminda Dissanayake.
Therefore, Piyadasa said that he could no longer function as the Party Secretary and announced his resignation from the post.
The President then intervened and thanked Piyadasa for taking up the post of Party Secretary at a challenging time and carrying out the work efficiently. Sirisena added that Piyadasa would continue to serve as a presidential advisor.
It was the President who then proposed MP Dayasiri Jayasekara as the new Party Secretary.
Jayasekara was vying for the post of Party Secretary for quite some time and according to party sources, he pledged that he would carry out the party reforms programme as desired by the President.
It is learnt that, prior to the Central Committee meeting, the President requested for the list of names of assistant party secretaries and stated that Jayasekara was the candidate of his choice for the post.
Interestingly, along with Jayasekara’s appointment as Party Secretary, the general secretaries of both the UNP and the SLFP now hail from the Kurunegala District.