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UNP Comes Out Of The Closet On Geneva

2014 Feb 17

“This is a situation which could have been easily avoided had the government heeded the calls of the UNP and many others who have been insisting that the rulers respect the rights of its citizens, irrespective of race, religion or place of origin and address the serious allegations levelled against them in a manner that is acceptable to the people of this country”

Lakshman Kiriella, Udaya Gammanpila, A. J. M. Muzammil and Chandrika Kumaratunga

For the first time since the end of the war, Sri Lanka’s main opposition, the UNP, took a strong stance on Thursday with regard to the international pressure faced by the Sri Lankan government on the reconciliation front. Issuing a statement on Thursday, the UNP said the government should carry out a credible internal investigation into the alleged human rights violations, especially in the final phase of the war.

“This is a situation which could have been easily avoided had the government heeded the calls of the UNP and many others who have been insisting that the rulers respect the rights of its citizens, irrespective of race, religion or place of origin and address the serious allegations levelled against them in a manner that is acceptable to the people of this country”.

“Once a respected country among a community of civilised nations today our government is facing increasing isolation in the democratic world. It has isolated itself to such a degree that it is compelled to seek company among like-minded authoritarian regimes,” the statement said.

The statement was drafted by the Leadership Council of the United National Party after carefully analyzing the present developments in the international domain, particularly with regard to the UNHRC which is taking place in March. The Leadership Council members then consulted UNP National Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe on the final draft of the statement. Wickremesinnghe’s meeting with Nisha Biswal, US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, two weeks ago, allowed the opposition leader to get a better understanding of the sentiments prevailing in the Western bloc on Sri Lanka.

Kiriella castigates journos who covered the war

Speaking to The Sunday Leader on the day the statement was issued, UNP Parliamentarian and Leadership Council member Lakshman Kiriella said the government had given various assurances and promises to the international community in terms of holding a domestic inquiry and full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. “That’s why” he said “The government can’t find a way-out from the crisis it is in at the moment”. He also said when the late Lakshman Kadirgamar was handling the foreign affairs of Sri Lanka, he dealt with such contentious matters very carefully. Kiriella was the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs when Kadirgamar held office.
Commenting on the evidence regarding the alleged war crimes, Kiriella made a strong statement against some journalists who covered the final stages of war. He said some media teams who covered the final phase of the war should be held responsible for leaking images and video footage with regard to war crimes.

“It was an erroneous belief that soldiers of the Sri Lankan Army leaked such images and video footage to international media. They don’t have access nor do they have connections for such a huge ‘operation’. The so called war crimes images and video footage have been leaked by some journalists who covered the final stages of the war. It is alleged that some Sri Lankan electronic media journalists have sold images and video footage to the international media for exorbitant prices. This is now an open secret.” Kiriella said.

The UNP Parliamentarian also said that the government did not give permission to every journalist who wanted to cover the final phase of the war. “They only permitted a select few. They were the ‘favourites’ of the Army. Most of them belonged to the state media and some of them belonged to private TV stations. However, this policy has boomeranged on the government,” he added.

This is the first time allegations against media teams which covered the final phase of the war have come under the public spotlight in such an explicit manner. Although the story was on the grapevine for some time, no one gave expression to such allegations on public platforms. The majority of journalists who covered the final phase of the war are still attached to mainstream media institutions of the country. It will be interesting to see their reaction on Kiriella’s allegations.

Ranjan telephones Thevarapperuma

UNP Kalutara District Parliamentarian Palitha Thevarapperuma has suddenly become a newsmaker of the party after the UNP refused to grant nomination to Thevarapperuma’s nominees. It was widely alleged that he attempted to assault party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Parliamentary group meeting and he was drunk when he walked into the meeting room. However, Thevarapperuma vehemently denied the charges against him.

Despite Thevarapperuma’s denial, the party made a decision to suspend his membership and hold a disciplinary inquiry. Subsequent to the suspension, Thevarapperuma received a show cause letter and a notice on the disciplinary inquiry against him.

Following the decision however, a number of UNP Parliamentarians telephoned Thevarapperuma and attempted to console him. The first to call him was Ranjan Ramanayake who actually pulled him back when he attempted to assault the party leader at the Parliamentary group meeting. Ramanayake asked Thevarapperuma to act wisely and handle problems sensibly. Apart from Ramanayake, Palitha Range Bandara too, who is a close friend of Thevarapperuma, telephoned him and showed solidarity.
It is still not clear what Thevarapperuma’s fate will be in the United National Party. At one point, he worked very closely with former

Army Commander Sarath Fonseka and DNA Parliamentarians. After Fonseka’s release, he gradually distanced himself from Sarath Fonseka and realigned himself with the United National Party. With these fresh developments, some believe that Palitha Thevarapperuma will again move towards the Sarath Fonseka led Democratic Party.

When contacted by The Sunday Leader, Thevarapperuma said he would never leave the United National Party under any circumstances. “As long as I live, I will be a member of the UNP and I have no intention of leaving the party. But, certain elements in the party want to chase me away from the UNP and that’s why they are harassing me like this. I will never play into their hands,” Thevarapperuma said.

UNP sources feel that Thevarapperuma has only a meager chance of getting a favourable verdict from the disciplinary committee of the party. In addition to his problem with the party leader, the Parliamentarian has openly criticized the party’s Leadership Council Chairman too on several occasions. Last week, in an interview with a vernacular newspaper, Thevarapperuma had said he would punch Karu Jayasuriya’s face. Such statements have earned the ire of the Leadership Council members of the party who strongly believe that the party can never emerge victorious with the likes of Palitha Thevarapperuma onboard. However, Thavarapperuma’s future still hangs in the balance.

Muzammil with no strings attached

Apart from Thevarapperuma, another senior UNP member, who claims that he is the ‘No. 1 UNPer’, has declared war on the party. He is Colombo Mayor A. J. M. Muzammil who said he would resign from his position in the Working Committee of the party in protest against the decision to not grant nomination to his wife to contest from Colombo. Although he threatened to resign from the Working Committee, he still hasn’t sent his letter of resignation to the party’s administrative body.

Cashing in on that delay, several Working Committee members who are close to Muzammil tried their best to persuade Muzammil to change his decision. It is still too early to say whether their attempts will bear fruit. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, a Parliamentarian of the United National Party said Feroza Muzammil was the string which held the Colombo Mayor to the party.

“As long as Feroza Muzammil stays with the UNP, we are sure that the Colombo Mayor will never cross over to the government. With Feroza out of the equation, it is not easy to hold Muzammil back. With the decision made by the nomination board, Feroza immediately resigned from the National Executive Committee of the party. So at the moment, what Muzammil has with the party is a no-strings-attached relationship,” he said. However, sources close to Muzammil confirmed to The Sunday Leader that he would not cross over to the government at this stage. “He will however, in all likelihood, make a crucial decision ahead of the next CMC election,” they said.

Ban on Ravindra Yasas and Jagath Beneragama

The UPFA took an eleventh hour decision to leave actresses out of the electoral race as it would have a negative impact on the party’s election campaign in the long run. However, several actors are contesting the Provincial Council election from opposition parties. Among them are Ravindra Yasas and Jagath Beneragama who are contesting under the Democratic Party ticket with the blessings of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka.

Yasas and Beneragama, last week, found themselves in the middle of a fresh problem as their teledramas have been banned by some TV channels due to undisclosed reasons. Yasas says the popular political comedy ‘And Company’ where he features as an actor had been banned from the day he announced his candidacy. The decision, according to him, was a politically motivated one.

The actor says the TV channel or any of the responsible parties has not yet given any explanation to him about the ban. In addition to the banning of ‘And Company’, he says another teledrama featuring Jagath Beneragama has also been stopped suddenly. He says the decision shows the level of media freedom prevailing in Sri Lanka.

While Yasas and Beneragama have been axed by TV channels, there are several other candidates hosting TV shows on state and private channels. The Sunday Leader reliably learns that a popular actress contesting the elections from the Southern Province was trying hard to get the opportunity to host a morning show on a TV channel. This clearly demonstrates that the election campaign has now reached another level.

Gammanpila says he is the opposition in the government

Udaya Gammanpila, who urged the public to grant him Rs 100 each for his election propaganda, officially launched his campaign in Colombo last week under the auspices of Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Apart from Rajapaksa, Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, Ravindra Randeniya and lawyer Jagath Gunawardena too attended the event. Addressing the brief ceremony, Gammanpila made an interesting remark saying the JHU has now formed an ‘opposition’ within the government and came up with a justification for that.

“In 1970, the United Front government led by the late Sirima Bandaranaike had two-thirds majority in Parliament and there was no real opposition in the country. That led to the downfall of the government and as a result, the UNP came to power in 1977 with an overwhelming majority. Again, the country was deprived of an opposition as the SLFP obtained only 8 seats,” Gammanpila said. “In this Parliament too,” he added, “there is no opposition and the government enjoys the two thirds majority. So we are playing the role of an opposition as the UNP cannot fulfill its responsibilities. We strongly point out mistakes of the government and demand that corrective measures be taken. That has ultimately benefitted the people of the country,” Gammanpila noted.

He also made it clear that he would not use polythene, arrack, cigarettes and posters for his election campaign similar to that of 2009. “Last time, I obtained more than 116,000 preferential votes without travelling that path. This time, my results will be even better,” Gammanpila told his friends who attended the meeting.

Several UNP candidates contesting from Colombo have criticized Gammanpila for inviting Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the Chief Guest on the grounds that the latter is a state official. Gammanpila’s group however insists that it was a ‘launch ceremony’ and not an election meeting. In his speech too, Defence Secretary focused mainly on national topics.

Meanwhile, the UPFA has taken measures to summon all its candidates, PS members and electorate organizers to Colombo and conduct a seminar for them on ethical behavior and election laws. It was in fact a timely move as a sizable portion of UPFA ground level representatives were convicted in the recent past for unruly behavior. The ruling party has finally realized that it could have a debilitating impact on the election campaign of the UPFA.

CBK – Shiranthi in Bangalore

Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga met First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa last week in Bangalore at an international women’s forum organized by the Art of Living Foundation. In her speech, former President Kumaratunga criticized the present political administration of Sri Lanka saying the political culture had deteriorated to a great extent in the recent past. Since the event had nothing to do with politics, the First Lady looked confused and the organizers did not know what to do. The allocated time slot for one speaker was 10 minutes but the former President spoke for nearly half an hour, much to the embarrassment of the organizers. They had to send several slips of paper to the former President of Sri Lanka urging her to cut short her speech as they were running out of time.

The First Lady spoke after the former President and she appeared totally unruffled. Her speech focused on matters concerning women across the world and paid little or no attention to politics at any point.

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