Some cabinet ministers in recent weeks appear to have made a hobby of being critical of the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and the latest to join the bandwagon was Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities Minister, Wimal Weerawansa.
Weerawansa, the leader of the Jathika Nidahas Peramuna (JNP), this week joined fellow Cabinet Minister Champika Ranawaka in an attack on the government’s policy makers for introducing laws which he too claims will allow the setting up of new casinos.
"Weerawansa was at the forefront of the JVP’s campaign to de-link the northern and eastern provinces which were merged under the Indo-Lanka Accord."
It will be recalled that while Ranawaka and his colleague from the Jathika Hela Urumaya, Athuraliye Rathana Thera voted against the new laws relating to casinos which were presented recently, Weerawansa joined the nearly five dozen UPFA parliamentarians in abstaining from voting.
In addition, the JNP also snubbed the UPFA by not joining its May Day rally in Colombo, instead holding its national convention a few days later where Weerawansa was scathing in his remarks and added that if his views were not taken into consideration, the JNP “would go its own way”.
He said the latest casino bill passed in parliament couldn’t be trusted as there were clauses that had been added. “This was why we decided not to vote for the bill. If it was a ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ bill, it would still be pending in Parliament without being passed” Weerawansa claimed.
While lashing out at the officials of the Finance and Planning Ministry including its Secretary, Weerawansa said they were destroying the economy of the country. “Casinos are created by these forces” he charged.
Weerawansa has also been one of the few members to voice his disapproval of the Bodu Bala Sena, the nationalist organisation which is being accused of fomenting religious unrest by regularly indulging in acts perceived by some as being directed against minority communities.
Despite whatever his critics say, Weerawansa cannot be accused of being out of the limelight for long. However, he is also often seen as a person who voices the sentiments of the powers that be which is why his latest outburst is being viewed with great interest.
"While lashing out at the officials of the Finance and Planning Ministry including its Secretary, Weerawansa said they were destroying the economy of the country. “Casinos are created by these forces” he charged"
When the cricketer from Kalutara Vidyalaya ended his schooling, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was in the midst of a second insurrection. It was with the JVP that Weerawansa cut his political teeth in the early nineties, as a ‘journalist’ in the party’s newspaper.
Weerawansa’s style of public speaking often heaped ridicule on his opponents but this made him a star attraction at political rallies. His value as a platform speaker propelled him to the forefront of the JVP where he was promptly designated as its propaganda secretary.
When general elections were held in 2000, Weerawansa entered Parliament from the Colombo district. In Parliament, Weerawansa was often the public face of the JVP. In 2005, Weerawansa was a tireless campaigner for UPFA candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa in his presidential bid.
Weerawansa was at the forefront of the JVP’s campaign to de-link the northern and eastern provinces which were merged under the Indo-Lanka Accord. This move saw the provinces being separated under an order of the Supreme Court which ruled that merger was ‘illegal’.
Weerawansa’s relationship with the JVP was to sour over a series of issues, mostly related to his unqualified backing for President Rajapaksa. The JVP wanted to extract more concessions from the President; Weerawansa maintained he should be supported because of the then ongoing Eelam war.
In 2008 Weerawansa defied the party and along with several other JVP parliamentarians, voted with the government on the Budget. They were expelled from the party and Weerawansa formed the JNP of which he is the leader with only a handful of other nationally known politicians.
The JNP became the JVP’s harshest critic and by 2010, when the next general elections were held the JVP’s parliamentary strength was reduced to a few seats. Weerawansa, contesting from the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was re-elected and appointed a minister.
In July 2010, he staged a "fast unto death” at the United Nations Colombo office to protest against its Secretary General Ban Ki Moon setting up a panel of “experts” to probe alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka.
After three days Weerawansa meekly called off the fast when President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited him and offered him a glass of water. Weerawansa won no concessions as a result of his effort but gained some international publicity.
Weerawansa’s style of politics has had mixed results. His oratory has kept him in the limelight and fast tracked his political career but because of his style of belittling his opponents, when he blunders, his detractors have been quick to pounce on him.
One such instance was when Weerawansa publicly announced that he had “not had time” to visit Sigiriya. Critics quickly seized on the issue querying how a personality who proclaims patriotism at every turn had not undertaken a task which most Sri Lankans attend to as school children.
There have also been incidents when Weerawansa’s personal life has come under intense scrutiny in the media. In a country where such issues are usually kept off the front pages, it is fair to surmise that this was because of Weerawansa’s abrasive manner towards his opponents.
Controversy has also dogged Weerawansa both as a parliamentarian and a minister. Perhaps his most embarrassing faux pas was when, attending a literary festival in September 2006, he erroneously said that the Ernest Hemingway novel ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ was written by Guy de Maupassant.
However, Weerawansa, now forty-four years old and a high profile minister, continues to be a leading figure in the UPFA, at times upstaging his colleagues from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. This has won him few friends but he has never been short of publicity.
His remarks criticising the casinos have led to speculation about his position in the Cabinet but it is also a fact that he would be a political non-entity if he walks out of the government. The likely eventual outcome is that while Weerawansa will have his say, the UPFA will still have its way.