Thewarapperuma, UNP maverick or activist

2014-07-11 05:03:14

t a time when the opposition United National Party (UNP) has been struggling to keep its head above political waters, it is rarely that a UNP parliamentarian dominates the headlines, but somehow Kalutara District UNP parliamentarian Palitha Thewarapperuma has done just that.

When communal violence erupted in Aluthgama in the Kalutara district last month, Thewarapperuma claimed that he attempted to intervene and protect his constituents. He alleged that he witnessed policemen looking the other way while drunken mobs engaged in looting and arson.

Thewarapperuma claimed that he too was brutally attacked by the mobs during the violence and there were indeed injuries to his left eye. These days, he cuts a striking figure when he is seen in public as he is sporting an eye-patch.Based on these claims, Thewarapperuma threw a challenge to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) N. K. Illangakoon. The parliamentarian demanded the resignation of the Police Chief over the issue and stated that if the IGP failed to to do so he would resign from Parliament.

The IGP, of course, was not willing to be subjected to the whims and fancies of an opposition parliamentarian and did not resign. In turn, Thewarapperuma on Tuesday submitted his letter of resignation to UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who has thus far refused to accept it.

It is interesting that Thewarapperuma chose to submit his resignation letter to Wickremesinghe but had he submitted the letter to the Secretary General of Parliament, it is likely to have been accepted and the UNP would have been called upon to fill the vacancy.

Thewarapperuma’s detractors will claim that his offer to resign was only a publicity stunt staged for the benefit of the media with the objective of generating headlines and cultivating the image of an active opposition parliamentarian. Indeed, such controversies have been second nature to Thewarapperuma.

Fifty four-year-old Palitha Thewarapperuma hails from Matugama. He cut his political teeth while serving in local politics and was at one time the Chairman of the Matugama Pradeshiya Sabha. Thereafter he was a member of the Western Provincial Council.

Always being with the UNP, he was seen as a supporter of Kalutara district parliamentarians Mahinda Samarasinghe and Sarath Ranawaka. His first foray into national politics came four years ago when, at the age of fifty, he contested the general elections.

Thewarapperuma emerged on top of the UNP’s list of candidates and was one of only two MPs elected from the Kalutara district, the other being Ajith P. Perera. He polled a healthy 51,000 preference votes when his party’s total vote count was only 140,000.

Since then, Thewarapperuma has been flirting with political notoriety amid a series of incidents that reflect his political ability but also suggests that he is a maverick prone to act impulsively. His disputes   have not only been with the government but has had his share of problems within the UNP too.

For instance, Thewarapperuma has always been an ardent supporter of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka. When Fonseka was incarcerated, Thewarapperuma was among the handful of parliamentarians who visited him regularly at the Welikada prison.

With Fonseka gradually distancing himself from the UNP, Thewarapperuma found himself falling foul of the UNP leadership for espousing Fonseka’s cause. That did not deter him though and he continued to agitate for Fonseka’s release from prison.

When Fonseka was finally pardoned and released from prison in June 2012, there were two persons flanking him on either side at the first media briefing he held. One was Jayantha Ketagoda from Fonseka’s party, the Democratic National Alliance while the other was Thewarapperuma.

In October that year, Thewarapperuma along with other UNP stalwarts, parliamentarians Palitha Range Bandara and Ashoka Abeysinghe and provincial councillors Shiral Laktilake and Maithri Gunaratne were reprimanded by the UNP leadership for attending a rally convened by Fonseka.

Following that incident Thewarapperuma was suspended from the party for a brief period and this led to Thewarapperuma threatening to quit politics.  He has since been identified with the UNP faction which is demanding the ouster of Ranil Wickremesinghe from the party leadership.

In December 2013, Thewarapperuma returned to hit the headlines again when he launched a protest over a decision to close the Badureliya Hospital after an incident there. Never shy of theatrics, he chained himself to a truck and began a fast unto death. The hospital was re-opened shortly afterwards.

In January this year, Thewarapperuma was accused by a party colleague, Dodangoda Pradeshiya Sabha Opposition Leader Uditha Illeperuma of attempting to assault him during a discussion held at the party headquarters Siri kotha.

In February this year, Thewarapperuma was again in the news for all the wrong reasons. The Western Provincial Council elections were declared and nominations had been called. Thewarapperuma was angry that some of his supporters had been denied nomination by the UNP.

At a UNP parliamentary group meeting at the Parliamentary Complex, Thewarapperuma is alleged to have abused Wickremesinghe in obscene language and lunged at him, attempting to manhandle him until fellow parliamentarian Ranjan Ramanayake intervened to ensure the party leader’s safety.

Thewarapperuma’s detractors will claim that his offer to resign was only a publicity stunt staged for the benefit of the media

Despite such disputes with the party leadership, the fact that Thewarapperuma has managed to remain in the UNP is a tribute to his tenacity. He continues to be one of its most vocal and active parliamentarians, constantly courting controversy and rarely being out of the limelight.

Following the Aluthgama riots, Thewarapperuma even attracted international attention with United States Ambassador  Michele J. Sison reportedly requesting for a meeting with him to ascertain his version of the clashes and inquire into his well-being.

Thewarapperuma is said to have briefed Wickremesinghe before meeting Sison. The state media meanwhile, had reported that he was offered political asylum in the United States if he felt his life was in danger but that Thewarapperuma had declined the offer. These reports have not been contradicted by Sison.

It is likely that the present hullabaloo about Thewarapperuma’s resignation from Parliament will subside after it was rejected by the party leadership. However, it is quite certain that Palitha Thewarapperuma is a name that the country will become more familiar with in the days and months to come.

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