For the past two years, controversial parliamentarian Duminda Silva has rarely been away from the spotlight even though away from the public eye. Last week, he hit the headlines again with a sudden return to the country.
Silva had been undergoing treatment in Singapore for injuries he sustained in a shooting incident at Kolonnawa on October 8, 2011 during the local government elections. Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) stalwart and Presidential advisor Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra was killed in the incident.
Since then, Silva has caused some embarrassment to the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) for a variety of reasons in addition to being involved in a clash which killed a party colleague. That is because of the various legal issues that arose as a result of the event.
Silva’s culpability or otherwise for Premachandra’s death is now the matter of a judicial inquiry. However, even die-hard SLFP supporters-including some ministers-were aghast that a brash, flamboyant young parliamentarian could attempt to dictate terms to a veteran such as Premachandra.
Premachandra was a grassroots politician. He too was a strongman of sorts, having wrested control of the Kolonnawa electorate for the SLFP, after long years of domination by Weerasinghe Mallimarachchi of the United National Party (UNP). In his domain, ‘Lucky aiya’ was a popular man.
Premachandra’s conflict with Silva arose as a result of the latter also nursing the Kolonnawa constituency. A turf war began and given the aggressive nature of politics both of them engaged in, the dispute quickly escalated into what would eventually become a deadly conflict.
Ironically, Arumadura Lawrence Romelo Duminda Silva made his first political foray from the UNP. In 2004, he contested in elections for the Western Provincial Council and won. His campaign was marked by huge expenditure and the glare of publicity quite out of proportion to what was at stake.
Obviously nursing greater political ambitions than a seat in the Western Provincial Council and perhaps being frustrated at sitting on the opposition benches with little prospects of gaining power in the foreseeable future, Silva decided to cross over to the UPFA in November 2007.
Shortly afterwards, in June 2008, Silva was implicated in a complaint by young actress Anarkali Aakarsha Jayatilleke. The film star with whom Silva was supposedly in a relationship, claimed that Silva was intimidating her and attempting to abduct her.
Because the claim involved a popular actress and an up and coming parliamentarian, it naturally made national headlines. However, it fizzled out and Silva did not face any serious consequences. Anarkali Aakarsha herself went on to become a provincial councillor for the ruling party.
At the 2010 general elections that followed, Silva was in his element, launching yet another high-profile campaign. There was an unofficial contest between Silva and another first-time aspirant to Parliament, Thilanga Sumathipala for the No. 1 slot in the preference votes in the Colombo district.
It was Minister Wimal Weerawansa, however who gained top billing in the preferences but Silva came a creditable second, polling nearly 150,000 votes, ahead of more experienced politicians such as Dinesh Gunawardena and Susil Premajayantha. Sumathipala was sixth on the list.
Following that impressive performance, Silva was appointed as the Member of Parliament overseeing the Ministry of Defence. It was an indication, he was considered an asset by those in the corridors of power.
Silva’s critics argue that this was because of the finances at his disposal and his family’s links to the Asia Broadcasting Corporation, a radio and television station where his brother Raynor Silva was the managing director.
The Premachandra killing dragged his reputation to a new low and there were allegations that the government was in ‘damage control’ mode and bending the law to help him.
Silva too suffered serious injuries in that incident and was rushed to the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital for emergency surgery. However, when he was allowed to leave the country with hardly any action being taken against him, there were many protests, some from the ruling party itself.
The most vocal of these came from Premachandra’s daughter, Hirunika, a model turned law student. M/s Premachandra became the face of the anti-Duminda campaign, presenting herself in courts regularly and issuing media statements calling for Silva to be charged with murder.
This campaign has continued since the shooting and placed the government in an awkward position. Ms Premachandra, while denouncing Silva and calling for him to be tried for the murder of her father, has repeatedly pledged her loyalty to the SLFP.
How the hierarchy in the ruling party will reconcile with these conflicting interests is left to be seen. For now though, Silva has been made an accused in the case and upon his return to Sri Lanka, he was visited by a magistrate.
Silva’s defence is taking up the position that, since he was also injured in the incident, he was a victim rather than an assailant. However he had stated that he ‘cannot remember’ the incident suggesting that this was because of his brain injury. Silva was at the butt end of ‘mata mathaka ne’ jokes thereafter.
The thrust of the prosecution argument was based on evidence provided by the driver of the vehicle in which Premachandra was travelling. In a major twist, the driver recently withdrew his evidence stating that his statements about the event were made under duress. This too has caused an outcry.
Silva’s recovery from his injuries has been hailed as being remarkable. That is partly because the bullets that traversed his skull have taken trajectories that avoided vital structures, experts say. However, his lawyers submitted to courts that he would need another two years for a full recovery.
Silva’s seat in Parliament is being retained with periodic extensions of leave-an indication that the government is in no mood to abandon the young parliamentarian. And, as long as Premachandra’s trial continues, Duminda Silva will have his share of the headlines, even if he remains in his sick bed.