UNP’s internal dispute widens | Sunday Observer

UNP’s internal dispute widens

The internal dispute of the two UNP factions has reached a climax as the UNP hierarchy has decided to call for explanations from 102 UNP members, including former UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa who had placed their names on the nomination lists of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) to contest the upcoming General Election violating the party constitution.

UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam is of the view that the members in question have not complied with the party constitution and have not obtained the prior approval of the UNP Working Committee to contest from a separate political party. Kariyawasam said the conduct of the UNP breakaway faction has compelled the UNP leader to take action against them in terms of the party constitution to protect and safeguard the best interest of the party.

The UNP party hierarchy has called explanations from the 102 party members, including SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa, former UNP Parliamentarians, Provincial Councillors and Local Government representatives. Around 70 former UNP MPs have given in nominations to contest under the SJB.

UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam has said that any explanation from the Members will be placed before the UNP Working Committee at its next meeting for action. Kariyawasam issuing a letter titled “suspension of Members of the UNP”, has said that several members of the UNP have obtained nominations from other political parties for the forthcoming General Election.

He said any member who wishes to have his or her name included in the nomination list as a candidate of another political party is mandated in terms of Article 3.4 (C) of the UNP party Constitution, to obtain prior approval from the Working Committee of the UNP. He said that the members in question have not complied with Article 3.4(C) of the constitution, and have not obtained the prior approval of the Working Committee.

Kariyawasam said that the conduct of the members compelled the UNP leader to act in terms of Article 3.4(h) of the party constitution. The UNP General Secretary in his letter has said that several candidates have expressed their regret for having taken the course of action to contest from other political parties. However, acting in line with Article 3.4 (h) of the party constitution, letters have been sent to all Members who had placed their names on the nomination lists of other political parties calling for their explanations.

UNP frontliner Ravi Karunanayake has said that with the exodus of a sizable faction of the party hierarchy, the main Opposition UNP has been cleansed of its extremist, anti-Buddhist elements. Karunanayake had told the journalists, “The UNP is clean of allegations of speaking against Buddhism, of speaking for extremists and standing up only for the minorities.”

He said the UNP’s behaviour over the past two months has displayed its maturity as a party. Karunanayake said those who point fingers at the UNP should point their fingers back at themselves, adding that the people remember well who was in charge of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs when a fraud of the Central Cultural Fund allegedly took place. He said that the previous UNP Government’s closeness to former President Maithripala Sirisena was what created problems within the party.

Calling for clarity on how Sri Lanka will finance its debt commitments, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has urged the Government to present their action plan for economic recovery, warning that public finance was in a dire state.

The former Prime Minister in a statement to the media called upon the Government to refrain from allowing the upcoming debt servicing to impact the lifestyle of the people. However, a senior economist has said that former Prime Minister’s figures on the country’s debt do not tally with the Finance Ministry and Central Bank data, adding that before making comments, he should verify as to whether his facts are correct.

The Finance Ministry has said that the cost of debt financing of domestic and foreign debts is estimated to be around Rs.9,000 billion in 2020. However, Deputy Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe had said that that Sri Lanka’s external debt repayments are US $ 4.8 billion for 2020 and payments for the first half of the year is already financed. Former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe highlighting that the price of goods was increasing and the Government was unable to provide the public with the financial relief promised, urged the Government to present their plan of action for economic recovery.

Former State Minister of Development Banking and Loan Schemes Shehan Semasinghe has challenged former Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera for an open debate on the key indicators in the Central Bank report. Samaraweera had stated via Twitter that in 2015, Yahapalana Government had inherited an unstable economy. He said, “Four years of fiscal discipline and the patient was on its way to recovery. However, six months of politicking with the economy sent it back to the ICU. Stop blaming others, Prime Minister, tell us your plan.” In response to Samaraweera’s comment, SLPP frontliner Shehan Semasinghe said that none of the financial reports reflect Samaraweera’s statement.

Former State Minister Semasinghe in his response to Samaraweera said, “It is good to have a debate on the matter, but not on your mudslinging. Can we hold a debate on the Central Bank report’s key indicators?” he said thus challenging Samaraweera for an open debate.

Semasinghe said, “You buried Sri Lanka’s economy being the Finance Minister and dignity being the Foreign Minister of Yahapalana Government. All were reflected in the previous election and more to come.”

Former Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa commenting on the matter said mudslinging was the trademark of the UNP led by Yahapalana Government, with Mangala Samaraweera at the helm of it. “You seem to be utilising your free time for baseless allegations. Why not take up Shehan Semasinghe’s challenge and lay all your frustrations to rest.”

The Opposition questioned as to why a group of 35 Seychelles nationals were brought to into the island, especially at a time when 350 Sri Lankans stranded in Seychelles are requesting repatriation.

Former UNP Parliamentarian Manusha Nanayakkara urged the Government to provide information regarding the identities and the whereabouts of the 35 Seychelles nationals who were brought into the island. Nanayakkara said over 2,000 Sri Lankans are in Seychelles and 350 people are stranded due to several reasons, including the expiration of visas. He said against such a backdrop, the Government allowed 35 Seychelles nationals to enter the country on May 23 to obtain medical treatment based on a diplomatic request and to promote medical tourism.

Responding to the Opposition’s claim, Minister Ramesh Pathirana said that the measure was taken purely on humanitarian grounds and added that the people from Seychelles and the Maldives come to Sri Lanka for medical treatment.

He said that when there is a request that a group of people requires such medical assistance on humanitarian grounds, we are bound to provide assistance.

Former Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa had told the media that the Government should give priority to Sri Lankan expatriates who wish to return to the country rather than bringing down Covid-19 patients form Seychelles for treatment. Premadasa said many Sri Lankans in the Middle East and other countries are suffering since the outbreak of Covid-19 and they plead the Government to bring them back to Sri Lanka. However, the Government doesn’t seem to be responding to this call, he said.

The Government on Wednesday slapped a Maximum Retail Price (MRP) on rice sold in the market in a bid to offer relief to the people and prevent millers and traders taking undue advantage. The Government has fixed the new MRP for a kilo of Nadu Rs.96, a kilo of Samba Rs.98 and a kilo of Keeri Samba Rs.125. A discussion was held on Wednesday between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the large scale rice mill owners on the issues pertaining to the prices of rice when a fixed price has been recommended by the Government. Rice mill owners have agreed to amend the prices of rice.

Meanwhile, the owner of Araliya Rice Mill Dudley Sirisena on his Facebook page has conveyed his thanks to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Agriculture Minister Chamal Rajapaksa and Chairman of the Task Force for Economic Revival Basil Rajapaksa for agreeing to increase the prices of rice.

However, over the past couple of weeks, former State Minister Roshan Ranasinghe blamed the ‘Rice Mill Mafia’ of exploiting the country’s situation and attempting to bring down the Paddy Marketing Board which was revived by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He said that there was no need to increase the prices of rice as suggested by large-scale rice mill owners and, added that rice mill owners could not control the Government. “But the Government will control them and they can’t dictate the prices.”

He said adequate stocks of paddy were available to meet the requirement of the country until the Yala harvest and that the need to import rice would not arise. He added that the paddy harvest of the 2019/2020 Maha and 2020 Yala seasons could meet the rice requirement of the country for 15 and half months.

SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekara had told the media that there is no relevance between a rice mill belonging to SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena’s brother Dudley Sirisena and the SLFP’s unity with the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to contest the General Election. The SLFP General Secretary said that there is no division within the party.

Former Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne was further remanded until June 10 when his case was taken up again on Wednesday. Senaratne was arrested by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) on May 13 and was remanded till May 27. Senaratne was further remanded for another 14 days.

The former Health Minister is in remand custody over a controversial ‘white van’ press briefing held in last November prior to the Presidential election. During the election campaign, Senaratane had brought before the media two men said to be drivers of a ‘white van’ used for alleged abductions during the tenure of the former UPFA Government.

The Attorney General instructed the CID in December to arrest Senaratne in connection to the incident. Senaratne, who was later arrested and remanded, was granted bail in December 2019 by the Colombo Chief Magistrate. However, the Attorney General in January 2020 filed a revised application in court against the court order to grant bail to Senaratne, following which the latter has been arrested.

The Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC) has called upon Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to offer nominations to Jeevan Thondaman to contest the General Election from the Nuwara Eliya district to fill the position left vacant following the demise of his father, CWC Leader and Cabinet Minister Arumugam Thondaman.

The CWC Politburo discussed the matter with Prime Minister Rajapaksa on Wednesday and the request was made by Deputy Leader of the CWC Senthil Thondaman. The CWC is a political party of the “Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Sandanaya” and had submitted its nominations to contest the General Election with the alliance. The Premier had praised the CWC decision to nominate the son of late Minister Thondaman to replace him in the nominations list and said that the next step on the request would be taken. CWC Leader and Minister of Community Empowerment and Estate Infrastructure Development Arumugam Thondaman passed away on May 26 on admission to the Thalangama Base Hospital.