Editorial/Opinion

Ranil-Sajith clash deepens while Maithri eats humble pie

o UNP-SJB peace talks end in failure; battlelines drawn
o UNP sends letter to members with Constitution excerpts
o SLFP makes last-minute decision to contest under SLPP
o SLFP and SLPP members disgruntled with nomination lists

Black Box by Capt. Vasabha

The cold war between United National Party (UNP) Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and his supporters and UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa and his loyalists that engulfed the party during the past few months has now transformed into a full-blown battle. Although the battle still seems like a “home and home” match at present, it is beginning to show signs of major political split with nominations drawing to a close.

Both the Wickremesinghe-led UNP and Premadasa-led Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) are preparing separate nominations lists to prepare for the upcoming hustings.

While the SJB has commenced holding meetings at electoral level in several areas attended by Premadasa, the party is faced with some tough questions from the UNP voters.

Some UNPers have asked Premadasa if this was a separate political party and if the Premadasa faction was no longer a part of the UNP.

“We are all UNPers, we have not left the party. This alliance was formed according to a decision reached at the UNP Working Committee (WC),” Premadasa had said at several meeting locations.

Both the UNP headquarters, Sirikotha on Kotte Road and the newly set up SJB head office also on Kotte Road are hives of activity these days due to the finalisation process of nomination lists.

This week would therefore be an interesting one since nominations would close on Thursday (19). The UNP leadership and its loyalists are confident that the nominations lists of the SJB would be rejected by the Election Commission (EC) given the issues of the party’s Constitution pointed out by the UNP legal team. The SJB however is confident that it would launch a successful election campaign after nominations with a host of young and energetic individuals.

End of talks

Discussions were held between delegations of the UNP and SJB at Karu Jayasuriya’s Bambalapitiya residence last Sunday (8) and Monday (9).

Legal representatives from the two parties had also joined the two sides at the meeting on Monday at 11 a.m.

The UNP was represented by Dr. Ashu Marasinghe, Saman Rathnapriya, Daya Pelpola PC, and Ronald Perera PC while the SJB was represented by Sujeewa Senasinghe, Upul Jayasuriya PC, and Farman Cassim.

During the discussion, the UNP lawyers had once again requested the Premadasa-led SJB to hand over a set of documents that had been requested a few weeks earlier, which the legal experts had stated were mandatory to make a final call on the possible legal issues faced by the alliance.

The UNP lawyers had requested the SJB to hand in a list of documents which were,

a) Appointment letters of Premadasa as Chairman and Ranjith Madduma Bandara as General Secretary of SJB;
b) Notice of Central Committee meeting to amend/replace Constitution;
c) Minutes of such committee meeting/s;
d) Notice of National Convention as in terms of Section 10 of the SJB Constitution policies can only be changed by such national
convention;
e) Minutes of such National Convention;
f) Attendance registers at all such meetings/conventions;
g) Amendments of SJB Constitution, especially Section 22 where membership in two parties is specifically prohibited.

Premadasa and Madduma Bandara should have been appointed after amendment of Section 22;

h) New Constitution of the SJB

However, the SJB had not handed in the relevant documents.

When the issue was once again broached on Monday, Senasinghe had telephoned a senior member of the SJB and informed of the request by Pelpola and Perera.

The SJB senior had however informed the SJB representatives at the meeting not to submit any documents requested by the Wickremesinghe representatives. The SJB representatives were directed to inform the UNP representatives to seek the relevant documents from the EC.

The UNP lawyers have then explained that the EC would not hand over the documents to them unless it was done through a court order.

The SJB representatives had then said they were unable to make any further statements on the matter other than to direct the UNP
lawyers to the EC.

Jayasuriya had then requested the SJB representatives to submit the list of documents to him for perusal as he was the intermediate party trying to bring both sides together.

The SJB representatives have however refused to submit the documents to Jayasuriya as well.

Losing his cool at this juncture, Jayasuriya had said there was no point in continuing with the discussion if the SJB was unwilling to respect him in his role as intermediary.

Finally, the meeting ended with the two parties unable to reach common ground. The UNP however maintained at the end of the failed discussion that the SJB would not have an option but to contest under the UNP’s “elephant” symbol as the Premadasa-led alliance would be running a risk of its nominations lists being rejected by the EC if they had not amended the SJB Constitution.

Meanwhile, the time allocated by the EC to switch symbols ended at 3 p.m. on Monday.

Therefore, the National Democtrtic Front (NDF)’s “swan” symbol will now not figure at the upcoming general election.

By Tuesday (10), SJB General Secretary Ranjith Maduma Bandara announced that the SJB will contest under the “telephone” symbol of the alliance’s founding party – Ape Jathika Peramuna (Our National Front).

Meanwhile, the UNP and SJB started to clash in the open with UNP MP Palitha Range Bandara and SJB supporter Sujeewa Senasinghe locking horns over party membership.

Range Bandara told the media that the SJB must understand that its members may lose their UNP membership because its Constitution states that UNPers cannot obtain the membership of another party.

Responding to Range Bandara, Senasinghe charged that the SJB would seek a stay order from court if the UNP applies undue influence on its members to prevent them from joining the Premadasa-led alliance.

Senasinghe had told a news conference that all UNPers should join the SJB.

“Anyone should be free to join the SJB. However, we will be compelled to obtain a stay order if any of the UNPers are prevented from crossing over,” he had said, adding that UNP Leader Wickremesinghe should choose whether he and the others with him are going to join the SJB or whether they are going to let themselves get isolated.

Senasinghe once again reiterated that the SJB led by Premadasa was formed with the blessings of the UNP WC to fulfil the dreams of UNPers to win at the upcoming general election.

Harin Fernando, also addressing the news conference, said the SJB had created a common platform for all parties to jointly confront the ruling party at this election.

As for the UNP’s claim that the SJB Constitution was that of a party and not a constitution of an alliance, Senasinghe had noted that the SJB had to do so following the advice from the EC Chairman that it was not possible to register an alliance.

According to Senasinghe, the SJB Constitution had been amended to enable those in other parties to obtain membership.

The UNP meanwhile also sent out a letter to its organisers.

Signed by UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, the letter stated that the UNP WC had decided to contest the upcoming general election under the “elephant” symbol and that the decision had been communicated to the EC.

“While you contested the last local government election under the UNP and the elephant’s symbol, we expect your fullest support and co-operation for the party at the upcoming general election,” the letter stated.

“I would also remind you that in line with Clause 3.3 of the UNP Constitution, measures should be taken to support the party candidates in line with the party policies and to also not extend any support to other political entities or activism.

“The party has utmost faith that you would extend your fullest support to the party and that you would act in line with Clause 3.4 of the UNP Constitution,” the letter concluded.

The letter also had attached to it the clauses of the UNP Constitution mentioned in the letter.

Meanwhile, Wickremesinghe had met with Jayasuriya last week to discuss the UNP’s future and the role the latter could play in the run-up to the elections.
“I don’t want to lead a part of the party. I can only take some form of responsibility if the party unites,” Jayasuriya had said.

Ruwan comes out

Amidst all the chaos, the UNP leadership seems to be making way for young party leaders to take more of the spotlight following the political split of the Premadasa faction.

Key among the young leaders stepping into the limelight is former MP Dinendra Ruwan Wijewardene.

Wijewardene, who is known for his diplomacy, had been tasked with commenting on the UNP’s stance with regard to the breakaway of the SJB and the upcoming elections.

Accordingly, Deputy General Secretary of the UNP Wijewardene came before the media last week to speak on behalf of the UNP.

On several occasions, Wijewardene had explained the reason for the UNP to choose the “elephant” symbol. During a discussion with several party seniors, Wijewardene had explained the reason for the late D.S. Senanayake to choose the “elephant” as the symbol of the UNP.

“The late D.S. Senanayake was a devotee of Lord Saman and when the discussion turned towards selecting a symbol for the party, he proposed the tusker, which is the symbolic ‘vehicle’ of Lord Saman,” Wijewardene had explained.

The party seniors had then requested the young politician to explain the history behind the UNP’s symbol to the media, since many were not aware of this historical background.

Last Tuesday (10) evening, Wijewardene had attended a meeting with party activists in his electorate – the Gampaha District. “Sir, you said at the news conference that the WC gave approval to form a common political alliance and not a separate political party.

When a question was posed on this issue to Sujeewa Senasinghe, he has said that there are doubts whether you had passed your O/Ls (Ordinary Levels) since you are unable to understand this issue,” one of the party activists had told Wijewardene.

“I don’t take notice of these comments. I really don’t think that there’s anyone in the UNP now who has shady educational qualifications. Besides, I make comments after carefully studying the matter. I’m not of the habit of engaging in mudslinging politics.

I’m also not of the habit of stepping out of my house and throwing stones at it or getting it stoned by others while residing in a boarding house,” Wijewardene had responded in a calm tone.

Seeing the maturity shown by Wijewardene at difficult times during the past few weeks, several UNP leaders had expressed their confidence in the young politician as an individual with much political potential.

Losing Nuwara Eliya

Leaders of both the UNP and SJB, after drawing battlelines to go separate ways, are now faced with the issue of the possibility of losing the traditional UNP strongholds in the Central Province.

Key among the districts that the UNP runs the risk of losing due to the split is the Nuwara Eliya District.

With the UNP vote base likely to split with the entrance of the SJB, neither party is likely to win at the upcoming polls.

Many Tamil politicians in the Nuwara Eliya District had expressed concerns over the split in the UNP vote base.

Responding to the motion recently passed at the UNP Electoral Organisers Committee by former MP Navin Dissanayake that all organisers would work for the victory of the UNP under the “elephant” symbol, several Tamil politicians had informed the UNP leadership to take a serious look at the difficulties faced by the party following the split.

Leader of the Up-country People’s Front V. Radhakrishnan had noted that the Nuwara Eliya District would be lost by the UNP due to the split in votes, giving the edge to the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).

Welgama joins Sajith

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) senior, former MP Kumara Welgama, who recently launched the Nawa Lanka Nidahas Pakshaya (NLNP) with the support of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, last week decided to extend his support to Premadasa.

The NLNP is not a registered political party. Therefore, Welgama will contest the upcoming general election under the SJB. Accordingly, the SJB and NLNP reached an agreement last week.

Meanwhile, Kumaratunga sent another one of her famous scathing letters to SLFP Leader, former President Maithripala Sirisena. In her lengthy letter, Kumaratunga had accused Sirisena of destroying the SLFP and abandoning party seniors.

In her letter, the former SLFP Leader and President had pointed out that Sirisena’s actions had destroyed the political personas of senior politicians like herself who had stood by him and the 2015 vision.

Taking a swipe below the belt, Kumaratunga had noted that while Sirisena and a group of his supporters continue to insult her (Kumaratunga) as a pro-UNP individual, it was Sirisena who went to the UNP headquarters on five occasions in order to secure power.

She had also reminded Sirisena that it was he who used to address the UNP Leader as “sir”, even after being elected President.

Kumaratunga had further charged that some cunning politicians were destroying the great project launched in 2015 in order to satisfy their corrupt and selfish political gains.

The 12-page letter had further noted that Sirisena and his lackeys could only dream of destroying the political persona built by her through great pain and sacrifice since she would not betray the people who had placed their trust in her.

SLFP blues

The SLFP on Tuesday (10) had officially informed the EC that the party would contest at the upcoming general election.

The SLPP, which is the party under which the Sri Lanka Freedom People’s Alliance (SLFPA) is to contest the upcoming general election, had sent the list of nominations to be finalised for the districts. The list was sent to SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekara.

Looking at the lists, Jayasekara said the Polonnaruwa District nominations lists were not among them.

Meanwhile, district leaders were informed by the SLPP to attend the ceremonial signing of nomination papers scheduled for Wednesday (11). SLFP Leader Sirisena, who was hopeful of being named the Polonnaruwa District leader, was not included in the list of invitees at first.

Jayasekara had immediately informed Sirisena about the matter. Hearing the news, a clearly perturbed Sirisena had contacted the SLFP office bearers as well as the party’s former parliamentary group. Sirisena convened a meeting on Wednesday (11) morning to discuss the ongoing issues with the SLPP.

Steps were also taken by the SLFP hierarchy to hold discussions with the party organisers at provincial level to gather their sentiments on the issue. These meetings took place on Wednesday morning at the SLFP headquarters at Darley Road in Colombo.

Representatives from two provinces were taken in for each meeting that was presided by Sirisena. Ministers Jayasekara, Mahinda Amaraweera, Nimal Siripala de Silva, and Prof. Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa were also present at the meeting.

Some of the organisers had expressed their anger at the manner in which the SLFP was going to contest the upcoming general election and the attacks on the SLFP carried out by the senior members of the SLPP.

Organisers Peshala Jayarathna, Athula Kumara Rahubadda, Gamini Thilakasiri, and several others had opined that the SLFP should contest separately at the general election.

After listening to the objections raised, Sirisena had said that it was difficult for the SLFP to contest separately. “We supported President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the presidential election and ensured his victory.

We have done our part. We cannot now contest separately,” he had said.

Also, the party seniors had explained that the party did not have the required infrastructure at present to contest separately.

However, the final decision on whether the SLFP would contest under the SLPP’s “flower bud” symbol or the SLFP’s “hand” symbol was to be decided at the party’s Central Committee (CC) meeting held last Thursday (12).

Several SLFP seniors including the party’s General Secretary Jayasekara had explained to the party leadership that the SLPP and its members were engaged in a systematic campaign to defeat the SLFP candidates at the upcoming polls.

Public comments made by several SLPP seniors including Ministers Prasanna Ranatunga and Chamal Rajapaksa had caused much concern among the SLFP membership.

Addressing a public gathering last week, Chamal Rajapaksa said that Namal Rajapaksa, D.V. Chanaka, Ajith Rajapaksa, Kapila Dissanayake, Lionel Subasinghe, Upul Galappaththi, and himself would be elected to Parliament at this year’s general election and that Mahinda Amaraweera would contest from the “eagle’s” party.

He also called on the public to ensure that prominence was given to the candidates of the “flower bud” when casting preferential votes or else it would be a return to the 2015 scenario.

It is in this backdrop that the SLPP CC meeting took place last Thursday. While the meeting had commenced at around 5.15 p.m. under Sirisena’s patronage, the SLFP General Secretary arrived at the meeting a little late since he had to attend a meeting on the SLPP nominations lists.

Jayasekara had explained to the gathering that the preparation process of the SLPP’s nominations lists had caused chaos with many district leaders fighting to get slots for their candidates. Afterwards, Jayasekara had explained the number of slots received by the SLFP in the district lists.

Jayasekara also proposed to the CC that despite contesting under the SLPP alliance, the SLFP should retain the right to act as a separate party and an agreement to the effect should be signed between the SLFP and SLPP. The proposal was approved by the CC.

The SLFP CC also appointed an operations committee to steer the party’s election campaign. The committee comprises Jayasekara, Amaraweera, Faiszer Musthapha, Thilanga Sumathipala, Piyadasa, and Hector Bethmage.

Realising that the SLFP did not possess the strength to contest the general election separately as well as Sirisena’s fear of being persecuted if his actions irked the powers that be, the SLFP CC decided that the party’s only option was to contest under the SLPP.

Preparing lists

The list of 262 candidates contesting the upcoming general election and the 29 members of the National List of the SLPP had been divided according to percentages amongst the political parties contesting under the alliance.

Accordingly, the SLPP had been assigned close to 50% of the slots in the lists while the SLFP had been assigned close to 25%.

The Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) had been assigned close to 8% and close to 5% was given to the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC).

Also, the Communist Party, Deshavimukthi People’s Party, and national organisations like Viyathmaga among others had been assigned candidates in the lists prepared by the SLPP.

However, nominations had not been given to one of the former MPs of the SLFP, Nishantha Muthuhettigamage, while the party had been assigned around 40 slots in the SLPP nominations lists.

Nevertheless, the SLPP nominations lists had caused much chaos and displeasure among members of the SLPP as well as coalition partners like the SLFP.

According to the allocated quota, the maximum number of candidates received by the SLFP at district level is two and that is only in several districts. The SLFP had received only one slot in most of the district lists. The SLFP however had plans of fielding more members as candidates at the upcoming general election.

The SLFP had received space to nominate two candidates each to the Colombo and Kurunegala Districts lists and that too had been limited to the former MPs of the party.

Also, the SLFP will be fielding two candidates from the Polonnaruwa District – former President Sirisena and former North Central Chief Minister Peshala Jayaratne.

While former Uva Province Chief Minister Chamara Sampath Dassanayake had earlier stated that he would be contesting as a member of the SLFP at the polls, he is unlikely to receive nominations since SLFP Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva is to be assigned the SLFP’s slot in the Badulla District.

Meanwhile, there are two Tennakoons in the SLPP’s Matale District candidates list.

They are Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon and his son, Pramitha Bandara Tennakoon.

Both the father and son have been ardent supporters of the SLPP since its inception and when Janaka Bandara was removed as the SLFP’s Dambulla Organiser due to his affiliations with the SLPP, as a mark of protest, his son, Pramitha resigned from his provincial ministerial post.

As for the Colombo District list, it is believed that the SLFP would receive two slots. However, there are several candidates vying to contest from the Colombo District – Sumathipala, Musthapha, Bethmage, Thilakasiri, Chandana Kathriarachchi, and Prasanna Solangaarachchi are among those.

However, it is believed that if the SLFP receives two slots in the Colombo District list, they would be allocated to Sumathipala and Musthapha.

Be that as it may, the entire nominations process has left many SLFPers as well as SLPPers disgruntled due to their failure to obtain nominations.

On the other hand, it has further broadened the divide between the SLFP and SLPP members since a majority of the SLPPers believe that their chances of receiving nominations were scuttled due to the alliance formed with the SLFP.

Signing nominations

The signing of the SLPP nomination papers took place last Wednesday (11) morning at Prime Minister Rajapaksa’s official residence.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former President Sirisena, and members of the Government were present at the Rajapaksa residence.

At the auspicious time of 11.52 a.m., Prime Minister Rajapaksa signed the nomination paper of the SLPP for the Kurunegala District. Leaders of the other districts signed the nomination papers afterwards.

Sirisena, after engaging in a brief discussion with the President and Prime Minister, left the venue without signing any nomination paper – the reason being the SLPP’s decision not to grant Sirisena the leadership of the Polonnaruwa District. In fact, Sirisena signed the Polonnaruwa District nomination papers the following day, Thursday (12), in the second slot of the
list.
Accordingly, arrangements were made last Thursday at Temple Trees for the likes of Sirisena to sign nomination papers.

When Sirisena was signing the nomination papers, it was SLPP theoretician and National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa who applauded loudly and the rest of the members at the venue had followed suit.

With nominations drawing to an end this Thursday (19), the election heat would add to the already hot days experienced by the people.