Power struggle among Opposition leaders – Johnston Fernando | Sunday Observer

Power struggle among Opposition leaders – Johnston Fernando

14 February, 2021

Leaders of 12 political parties met at Minister Wimal Weerawansa’s residence in Colombo on Thursday, February 11 to discuss the current political situation and common issues affecting the public.

At the meeting, a collective decision had been made to support the Government and to meet President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and discuss how the Government’s policies should be taken forward. It was also decided to protect the image of the Government, President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Rajapaksa, and go forward together to facilitate the development of the country.

Nothing special

Minister Udaya Gammanpila told reporters ahead of the meeting that this meeting was nothing special and is a meeting among the political parties in the SLPP led alliance. He said a Party Leaders meeting was held from April 2015 until the Government came to power. Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara who also attended the meeting said it is being held to protect the Government and not to create divisions. He said that certain people are creating conspiracies to split the Government.


The Parliamentary Group of the SLFP at a discussion with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had reiterated that they will continue to support the Government in implementing the ‘Saubhagyaye Dekma’ manifesto. During the discussion which took place at the President’s Office at the Parliamentary Complex on Thursday, February 11, SLFP Parliamentarians said everyone should be more alert regarding certain criticisms being made against the Government.

They said since certain members of the Opposition are trying to transform these criticisms into a powerful anti-government force, it is important to focus more attention on all of these facts. SLFP Leader Maithripala Sirisena, SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekara, UPFA General Secretary Mahinda Amaraweera, and a group of SLFP Parliamentarians participated in the discussion with the President.

Ready to face challenges

Mass Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said that it is ridiculous for those who gathered at Temple Trees twice a week to discuss the imprisonment of Rajapaksa family members during the former Yahapalana Government’s tenure, to talk about the independence of the Judiciary today.

At a ceremony to mark the fourth anniversary of the SLPP in Kandy recently, the Minister said that the present Government had to pay for the heinous betrayals of the previous Yahapalana Government and they are ready to face all those challenges without fear.

Minister Rambukwella said that the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet had made allegations against the country based on the betrayal of the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and the Government would categorically reject them.

He said that the Government is successfully facing all these problems with the strength given to it by the people of this country. The Minister said that the SLPP had carried out a political revolution in this country within a short span of four years but that the path was not paved on a bed of roses.

Minister Rambukwella said most of them had to make statements to the FCID without any reason adding that they could go around with a smile as they had not committed any crime.

Apology demanded

Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam said Minister Wimal Weerawansa must publicly apologise for his comment to a local weekend newspaper where he claimed the President should lead the SLPP. Addressing a recent media briefing at SLPP headquarters, Kariyawasam said Weerawansa had told the newspaper that Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa must be replaced with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the leader of the SLPP. He said, “Weerawansa must understand the SLPP is not his party and he has no right to either make decisions or comments on the SLPP.”

Kariyawasam said the SLPP is of the position that Minister Wimal Weerawansa must withdraw the comment he made over the SLPP leadership. He said, “We are disappointed by the statement made by Wimal Weerawansa, the leader of a political party affiliated with the SLPP.” He was defeated baselessly yet the majority of the country still requests his contribution for the betterment of the country. SLPP General Secretary said, “Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is the massive pillar that stands behind the success of the country as well as the SLPP. The SLPP will not betray their party for narrow political gains and SLPP will always maintain the code of discipline.”

Wimal’s response

A couple of days ago, Minister Weerawansa also responded to media queries outside the Negombo court complex whether he would publicly apologise for his statement. Weerawansa told to the media how he campaigned for then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory at the 2005 Presidential Election much to the discomfort of his then JVP colleagues, quit the JVP in 2008 to throw his weight behind then President Mahinda Rajapaksa amidst efforts made by the JVP to sabotage the battle against LTTE terrorism, spearheading the high profile Mahinda Sulanga campaign in the wake of Presidential polls defeat in 2015 and promoting Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s candidature at the 2019 Presidential Election.

Minister Weerawansa said if the SLPP wanted him to apologise for those above decisions of his he would gladly do so. He said that the SLPP’s stand that constituent parties had no right to comment on the main party wasn’t acceptable. Weerawansa questioned if that was the case how could they have commented on the UNP, JVP and other political parties.

Weerawansa categorically stated that the NFF’s stand as regards the SLPP didn’t in any way mean Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s role as the Leader of the party wasn’t required. He said, “The SLPP is the main party in the ruling alliance. I meant that the President should hold a key post in it while the Prime Minister remains the Leader. If the President is appointed to a key post, it will help develop better ties with the alliance partners. That is what I meant.”

Following Minister Weerawansa’s remarks outside the Negombo court complex, the Government Parliamentary Group meeting held in the Parliament complex had also exchanged heated arguments over Weerawansa’s statement. Several SLPP MPs including State Minister Nimal Lanza had launched blistering attacks on Weerawansa. When Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara intervened and asked the members to refrain from criticising a colleague who was not present, the veteran was reportedly abused. However, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa then intervened and calmed the situation down.

PCol on Political Victimisation

The Opposition in Parliament urged the Government to table the report of the Presidential Commission on Political Victimisation in Parliament. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa told Parliament, “We propose that the report of the Commission must be debated before appointing a special presidential commission.” Leader of the House Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said that the report can be tabled in Parliament and that the Government will not interfere with the process. However, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana told the Parliament that the report would be tabled in Parliament after receiving it from the Presidential Secretariat.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrived in Parliament on Thursday, February 11 around 10.05 am and stayed for about two hours. The President entered the Chamber with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and stayed there for about 35 minutes from 10.15 a.m. to 10.50 a.m.

Former President Maithripala Sirisena was also seated in the Chamber at that time. State Minister of Finance, Capital Markets, State Enterprises and Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal was addressing Parliament when the President entered Parliament. This is the President’s fourth visit to Parliament since last August following its inaugural session. After leaving the Chamber, the President went to the President’s office in Parliament and met several Ministers and Parliamentarians of the ruling party. He left Parliament around 12.10 p.m.

Merger talks

The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) has held discussions with the United National Party (UNP) on a possible merger. However, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has ruled out a possible merger between the UNP and SJB. There was media speculation that SJB frontliner Harin Fernando had recently met UNP Leader Wickremesinghe in this regard. Confirming that he had met UNP Leader Wickremesinghe, MP Fernando told the media the UNP Leader had advised him to continue the discussion with party Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardena.

He said the aim of the discussion initiated by the SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara was to unite the two UNP factions to create a platform for the opposition to fight the common enemy. MP Fernando said that the party had reached out to the UNP to form a common consensus on how to fight against the Government.

“Let’s decide how we are going to contest later on, whether we are going to come as a coalition or are they going to go as separate parties or under one common symbol. But right now, what we need to do is, we need to also engage. SJB is the one that has a voice, at least in Parliament, and that matters a lot. Even Karu Jayasuriya. We need to get all of them on one platform because we are fighting a regime that is very difficult. So, if you are to fight against corruption, malpractices, we need to come into a common platform, leaving our political differences aside,” MP Harin Fernando said.

Leadership struggle

Minister Johnston Fernanda had alleged that there is a huge struggle for the leadership of the Opposition among a few of its members. MP Harin Fernando is trying to form a separate group after creating a rift between Sajith Premadasa and Champika Ranawaka. The Minister said according to the report of the Commission appointed by former President Maithripala Sirisena, Premadasa was accused of corruption.

He said Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and others are not playing the role of the Opposition properly so that they will have to wait a long time to come to power. “It is very clear that the Opposition is politically bankrupt. Premadasa’s supporters went to the bridge I am building in Nawala and opposed it. They opposed bringing down the Covid-19 vaccine as well, but none of it was successful and it clearly shows their political bankruptcy.”

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith said he is ready to seek an International Criminal Court (ICC) probe if law is not properly enforced against those who are responsible for the Easter Sunday terror attacks in 2019 which claimed the lives of more than 260 persons. Addressing a media briefing at the Archbishop’s House in Colombo, the Cardinal said, “I hope our leaders will not allow that to happen.”

The Cardinal said he had called upon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for access to the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on Easter Sunday bombings. He, however, said that he is yet to receive a copy of the report. The Cardinal said he had asked the panel of the PCoI to look into the people who were behind the terror attacks, in addition to probing those who failed to prevent carnage. “I hope the Commission would respond positively to the request,” he said.

TNA legislator M.A. Sumanthiran told Parliament that the Government had withdrawn the special security assigned to him and that his life was in danger as a result. He warned if anything happens to his life now, Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekera would have to take responsibility for it. Sumanthiran’s STF security was withdrawn immediately after his participation in the five-day Pottuvil to Polikandy march by Tamil political parties, civil society activists, and citizens from the North and East.

However, Minister Weerasekera told Parliament that the STF security assigned for Sumanthiran was removed on his orders, and that the MP had participated in a protest march despite claiming to have threats to his life. The Minister also told the media “if there is a threat to Sumanthiran’s life from the LTTE, he could not participate in such a rally. Sumanthiran took part in a rally with a large crowd. If he had actually feared a threat, he wouldn’t have resorted to such action. There was also a court order banning the protest. So how can we protect a person doing something illegal?” The Minister said that the MP will continue to have police protection of two police officers, which he is entitled to as an MP.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa on Friday, February 12 urged Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to allow SJB Parliamentarian Ranjan Ramanayake to attend Parliament in the same way SLPP MP Premalal Jayasekara was permitted. He had called upon the Speaker to permit Ramanayake to maintain his Parliamentary seat in accordance with his Parliamentary privileges. Opposition Leader Premadasa pointed out that when the Court of Appeal has issued an order to the Secretary-General of Parliament to refrain from taking any action pertaining to MP Ramanayake’s Parliamentary seat, it indicates that his Parliamentary seat will continue to be maintained.

He said the Chairman of the Election Commission had explained to Parliament that MP Ranjan Ramanayake’s seat would remain effective for the first six months of his four-year imprisonment.

Therefore, he said that not one, but several orders had been issued suggesting that MP Ramanayake could continue as a Member of Parliament, requesting that he be allowed to attend Parliament in the same manner MP Jayasekara had been allowed to do so.