United National Party (UNP) National Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe contacted his party’s Uva Province Opposition Leader Harin Fernando on Sunday night, and alerted him about plans by party member Janaka Tissakuttiarachchi to join hands with the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance(UPFA). Mr. Wickremesinghe has somehow sensed such a plan being hatched in political circles ahead of the January 8th presidential election.
Mr. Fernando cut short the telephone conversation with his leader, and immediately dialled the number of Mr. Tissakuttiarachchi in a bid to engage him and to avert his planned crossover.
" UPFA members, slated to switch allegiance to the Opposition, were to sign their affidavits on Monday pledging their loyalty to the UNP led Opposition. But, the UNP move hit a snag when Mr. Kuttiarachchi teamed up with the UPFA. "
The two provincial councillors discussed both political and personal matters over the phone. During the conversation, Mr. Kuttiarachchi scotched speculations about his plan for a political somersault. In fact, he assured Mr. Fernando that he would attend the party’s electoral organisation meeting in Badulla the following day.
“Are you mad Aiya? I am not leaving the party at this crucial moment. I will attend your meeting tomorrow in Badulla,” he said.
Mr. Fernando counted on Mr. Kuttiarachchi’s assurance, and proceeded with his preparations for the meeting. He was looking forward to seeing Mr. Kuttiarachchi at the meeting. Nonetheless, he was taken by surprise when he heard the following morning that Mr. Kuttiarachchi, accompanied by Uva Province Chief Minister Sashindra Rajapaksa, had gone to Temple Trees and pledged his support to UPFA presidential candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa at this election.
It happened on Monday. With this unexpected political incident, the UNP’s plan to topple the Uva Provincial Council and capture its power merely by manouevring numbers, went awry at least for the time being.
The UNP gave a close fight at the Uva Provincial Council Election. It ran short of only three members to form the council. But, the party was planning to engineer a defection from the ruling side to secure the necessary number for unseating the UPFA from power. The UPFA members, slated to switch allegiance to the Opposition, were to sign their affidavits on Monday pledging their loyalty to the UNP led Opposition. But, the UNP move hit a snag when Mr. Kuttiarachchi teamed up with the UPFA.
Not only that, Mr. Kuttiarachchi, who joined the government, even set off speculations that Mr. Fernando was also contemplating to leave the opposition due to certain disillusionments. Mr. Fernando received numerous telephone calls after such talks went in rumour mills, and he had to make a great deal of efforts to squash them.
However, it is learnt that the UNP, under the leadership of Mr. Fernando in Badulla, is still pursuing its efforts to overthrow the UPFA from office in the Uva Provincial Council. If the UNP succeeds in this political endeavour, it will be a shot in the arm for the common opposition, ahead of the presidential poll. The Uva Provincial Council is headed by Sashindra Rajapaksa, the son of Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa and the nephew of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. So, any debacle of that nature in the council can politically be seen as a setback for the rule of Rajapaksas at different levels of the Government.
Political crossovers become the order of the day
Political crossovers have become the common occurrence of the day during this election time , and it has eroded the public trust in politicians, saying one thing today and doing another tomorrow.
Already, five Cabinet Ministers, three Deputy Ministers and five MPs have broken ranks with the government and joined the Opposition. Common opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena is also among them. His defection, in particular, sent the Government in disarray in evolving and executing campaign strategies for the President, as it initially anticipated someone from the UNP to emerge as the main challenger in the race for presidency. The government’s propaganda machinery had even produced short films to denigrate the UNP and its leaders, at the cost of a huge amount of money. But, all were in vain when Mr. Sirisena came forward as the candidate, much to the surprise of many in politics.
Blood for blood, a theory bad for both sides
As Mr. Sirisena’s departure sent shock waves within the Government, the unexpected crossover of UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake to the other side also disordered the work of the common opposition. Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike, playing a limited but pivotal role in the campaign, revealed that Mr.Attanayake’s defection affected the campaign work as he had been assigned numerous responsibilities.
“Mr. Attanayake, as the General Secretary of the UNP, handled many activities. Normally, a General Secretary is in charge of key activities of campaign related work. After he left, there were some problems in getting things in order. But, a new General Secretary has been appointed in his place now. He is currently sorting out matters,” she told a news conference, at her official residence on Tuesday.
The Government’s General Secretary to General theory, more or less, affected both sides at the end. The Government propagandists who included leading ministers trotted out that theory openly saying that the defection of Mr. Attanayake was effected as a tit for tat for the crossover of Mr. Sirisena to the Opposition’s fold.
“It is blood for blood, eye to eye and General Secretary for General Secretary,” one minister uttered.
The crossover drama has not yet stopped as the political situation is hotting up in the country. On Tuesday, UPFA member of Attanagalle Pradeshiya Sabha Indika Rajapakse, UPFA member of Meerigama Pradeshiya Sabha Somaratne Deeneththi, and UPFA member of the Chilaw Urban Council Jeewani Kariyawasam teamed up with the Opposition.
Of them, Ms. Kariyawasam, in fact, got onto the stage of Mr.Sirisena at Thoppuwa Junction, Wennappuwa a few days ago. It is learnt that a few more crossovers to the Opposition are in the offing in the Anamaduwa area of Puttalam district in the days to come.
Recently, Prasanna Saliya, a youth wing leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in the Puttalam district, pledged his support to Mr. Sirisena. This crossover was mediated by the UNP MP for the district Palitha Range Bandara.
Having sensed this plan, UPFA district leader Civil Aviation Minister Priyankara Jayaratne and North Western Province Minister Sanath Nisantha went all out to stop Mr. Saliya from joining hands with the Opposition. They kept ringing him right throughout the night prior to the day of his crossover. But, Mr. Saliya remained firm in his stand despite him being lured with different forms of inducements. In fact, he received calls even during the wee hours of the day from UPFA stalwarts.
Interestingly, along with Mr. Saliya’s defection, the UPFA lost a campaign office in the Anamaduwa electorate. The UPFA office of the Anamaduwa electorate has been housed at a building belonging to Mr. Saliya for years. Now, the UNP, the main party in the Opposition, has opened its office in this building.
This defection was followed by a rally in the Anamaduwa town. Mr. Nisantha, furious with Mr. Saliya over his political step, thrust himself into the midst of the crowd, with his supporters in two vehicles. It triggered panic among some participants that there would be untoward incidents. But, some others started booing and making catcalls at Mr. Nisantha, forcing him to slip away.
Wheezy cough keeps CBK out
Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was not visible enough during the campaign of Mr. Sirisena during the last couple of weeks. This cast doubts as to whether she has distanced herself from the campaign after falling out with the political leaders. Also, there were reports that she was seriously ill.
Finally, she broke her silence at a press conference, and informed the reasons that had kept her away from campaigning.
“I had a terrible wheezy cough. I cannot talk much as a result. If I talk, it gets worse. That is the reason for me to be away from campaigning,” she said.
What if MR loses?
As the political situation is hotting up, a novel topic is debated across the political divide. The Alliance of National Movements, a formation supportive of President Rajapaksa said, the President could stay in office for two more years even if he lost the January 8th election. President of the National Patriotic Movement Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka Thera said the President called for this snap election, two years ahead of schedule, and that he could stay in office for another two years in the event of his defeat, as per the Constitution.
However, this point is hotly argued and countered by the Opposition speakers during the campaign trail. JanathaVimutkthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake scoffed at such claims by the Government supporters at a recent rally in Piliyandala.
Besides, there is a hot debate sparked on this matter even in the cyberspace. UPFA MP Rajiva Wijesinha, who pledged his support to the common candidature has posted on his Facebook page; “Desperate efforts to keep Mahinda Rajapaksa on after he loses the election - but Constitution (31 d ii) is very clear about the contrary, and says that person elected, ‘if not the President in office, holds office for a term of six years commencing on the date on which the result of such election is declared.’