The opposition, grappling with an arduous task to find a candidate acceptable to all, received a new lease of life after the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) broke ranks with the government on Tuesday.
For the first time after the war victory, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was shaken by the fact that one of its allies left it, making somewhat of a challenge to the unstinted popularity it enjoyed so far at electorates, particularly in the non-urban areas .
The JHU took this decision on Monday after a lengthy evening session of its Central Committee meeting . The Central Committee analysed the written response of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to its demands covering 35 points. Finally, JHU theoretician Patali Champika Ranawaka resigned from his Cabinet post as the Technology and Research Minister, and the party’s legal advisor from his post as a minister of the Western Provincial Council. The party announced at a press conference on Tuesday morning that it would act independently in Parliament .
The opposition looks happy now as they believe the JHU’s move will be the death knell of the government bracing for a presidential election in early January. On behalf of the main Opposition United National Party (UNP), Kurunegala district MP Nalin Bandara Jayamaha welcomed this move in his speech during the budget debate. In fact, he even called other senior ministers,disillusioned with the government, to follow the example of Mr. Ranawaka and join hands with the opposition to unseat the incumbent government. This is the first time when a Cabinet minister quit the government during the term of the presidential election. It happened on the birthday of the President. Therefore, some believing in astrological powers, consider it as a bad omen.
Though JHU clearly announced the departure from the government, it did not specify its next course of action in clear cut terms. This leaves scope for anyone to interpret their action in different ways. One school of thought , prevalent among the opposition analysts, is that JHU has kept open its option ahead of the snap presidential election, and it is early to conclude on their final strategy. Likewise, it is also believed that the party will eventually team up to field a candidate acceptable to all under a common symbol. Or else, there is another school of thought that it will field its own candidate aimed at defeating the government in the final count. However, things will unfold after the announcement of the election today as widely expected; making clear what direction all these parties will take in view of the next presidency of the country.
The JHU took this decision after five rounds of meetings with SLFP starting from October 21. Irrigation and Water Management Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, Vocational Training and Skills Development Minister Dullas Alahapperuma, Environment and Renewable Energy Minister Susil Premajayantha and Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa participated in these meetings with the JHU. Besides, JHU also had a round of discussion with President Mahinda Rajapaksa during that period.
The SLFP agreed to implement some proposals of the JHU forthwith. Yet it had reservations about the implementation of constitutional reforms proposed by the JHU. The party asked the SLFP to submit its written response to these demands outlined under 35 points in writing. The JHU received it last Friday, and it was discussed by the party’s Central Committee last Monday. Besides, it was also referred to the forum of local authority members representing the party on the same day. After much deliberations coupled with views for and against, it was finally decided to relinquish all the responsibilities held with the government as an initial step.
Mr. Ranawaka meanwhile said the JHU still remained open for talks with the government.
“We have not decided whether to field our candidate to support the government or to join hands with the common opposition ,” he said.
After quitting the government, the JHU is now planning to initiate a public awareness campaigning alongside engagements with various Buddhist movements. Also, it is planning to make representations to the Mahanayake Theras.
There was a respite in the series of negotiations undertaken by the parties in the opposition to reach understanding on the common candidate after Ven. Maduluwave Sobitha Thera , the convener of the National Movement for Social Intergration was hospitalized and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe left the country for a brief visit.
Ven. Sobitha Thera was discharged from hospital on Tuesday and Mr. Wickremesinghe returned to the country . The parties in the opposition are now poised to resume their dialogues and even to accelerate the process once the election is declared. Prior to his departure from the country, Mr. Wickremesinghe convened a meeting of its G 20, and asked its MPs to refrain from making individual comments on the possible common candidate as it is a matter to be taken up at party level.
“We can take our stand as a party and put it forward for other parties. After that, a decision can be arrived at. These are matters solely to be taken up at party level.Therefore, MPs should not make individual comments,” he reportedly told the meeting.
Talatha accompanies Sajith to meet Ven. Sobhita Thera
UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa firmly held the view that Mr. Wickremesinghe should be the candidate this time. There was no relenting in this stand. Finally, his colleague MP Talatha Atukorale intervened to take him to the temple of Ven. Sobhita Thera in Kotte early this week. It is learnt that Ven. Sobhitha Thera discussed all the matters pertaining to the election, and stressed the need to shed all differences for a common exercise aimed at ending the present rule .
It is learnt that he also met with former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga on Monday for another round of discussion aimed at wooing her support for this exercise by the opposition.
Earlier, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R.Sampanthan also had a one to one meeting with her in Colombo. It is learnt that the TNA has assured the Tamil votes from the North and the East overwhelmingly for her if she is ready to contest. Despite such engagements, it is unlikely that she will contest this year. Yet, it is now apparent that she will play a prominent and public role during the campaign of the opposition, possibly engineering a defection within the SLFP which is the key ally of the government. The opposition fears that there will be legal implications if Ms.Kumaratunga is fielded as the candidate because of certain court rulings involving her. Therefore, the possibility is high for her involvement in the campaign trail only, rather than opposing President Rajapaksa as the common candidate.
Democratic People’s Front leader Mano Ganeshan, who is in the forefront of uniting the opposition for a common approach at the presidential election, has asked the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to drop regional politics in view of this election, and instead to rally around a national cause.
In this case, Mr. Ganeshan has asked the TNA leadership not to dwell too much on their long standing demands such as demilitarisation of the North, power sharing on federal lines and the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in full.
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), as part of its political meetings, held talks with the three leftist allies of the government on Tuesday in the parliamentary complex. The party briefed these leftist allies of the problems confronting the Muslim community . Besides they discussed the current political developments . Communist Party leader. D.E.W. Gunasekara, Lanka Sama Samaja Party leader Prof. Tissa Vitarana and Democratic Left Front leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara attended this meeting with SLMC leader Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem and other party officials.
TNA National List MP, M.A. Sumanthiran is planning to contest the next parliamentary election from the Jaffna district. Yet, his entry into Jaffna politics is however not to the liking of many in the area, as they feel threatened by his move. Mr. Sumanthitan is now laying groundwork for contesting from the area. Also, it is learnt that none of the alliance partners of the TNA is ready to give nomination to its member of the Northern Provincial Council Ananthi Sasitharan, the widow of LTTE leader Elilan. In such an eventuality, it is learnt that she is planning to join hands with the All Ceylon Tamil Congress of Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam. It is an ultra nationalist Tamil party toeing a separatist line.
In fact, this party declined to contest the election of the Northern Provincial Council claiming that the provincial council system falls far short of its political demands .
During the committee stage of the budget on Wednesday, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) MP Sunil Handunnetti asked why Public Relations Minister Mervin Silva could not secure bail for his son Malaka Silva accused of assaulting a foreign national. “You were able to close down a liquor shop in Kelaniya within 11 hours. You claim to be so powerful. Yet, there is no bail for your son despite it being a bailable offence. Why are you helpless in this matter?”he asked.
The Minister replied,”I cannot comment on a matter pending in court. Yet, if you meet me personally, I will tell you everything by murmuring to your ear,” he said.
The million dollar question asked by many is about the common candidate . Those, interested in politics, are confused as to who will be the next candidate . Against this backdrop, some elements have set off speculation that MP Arjuna Ranatunga will take the baton as the common candidate with the blessing of all. This speculation irked his two brothers serving with the government. One of them is Western Province Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga and the other MP Ruwan Ranatunga.
Mr. Prasanna Ranatunga was quick to remark ,”Whoever contests from the opposition, we will back the government. We will follow in the footsteps of out father the late Mr. Regi Ranatunga who forever remained with the SLFP. We do not miss Arjuna being in the opposition,”
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