Ranil and Basil meet for weekly election strategy talks

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  • SLPP prefers general elections first, but Rajapaksa says they will leave the decision to President
  • Basil urges President to woo members from SJB and smaller parties for polls campaign
  • SLFP in crisis; Sirisena’s leadership suspended after CBK moves court
  • SJB signs MoU with six SLPP dissidents, but questions over what others will do


By Our Political Editor

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) will let President Ranil Wickremesinghe decide whether the presidential election or parliamentary elections should come first, its founder and chief strategist, Basil Rajapaksa said yesterday.

“We have explained to him our position that it would be better to have the parliamentary elections first. That is over, let him decide,” he told the Sunday Times. He asserted that the party would not put pressure on him in any way.

The remarks came after Basil Rajapaksa had an hour-long meeting with President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Thursday. Held at the one-time presidential residence at Mahagama Sekera Mawatha (former Paget Road), it will now be a weekly feature. This week’s meeting focused on what is being described as housekeeping matters.

President Wickremesinghe also had a lengthy chat with Gamini Senarath, a former Secretary to the President. The latter, a source familiar with the meeting said, gave his views on the current political situation and political trends in a no-holds-barred conversation. It also related to how voters would react to the national polls and their general needs at present.

Basil Rajapaksa said that other than his proposal, made personally to President Wickremesinghe, “there has been no other discussion over which election should come first, the presidential or parliamentary. It is now entirely in the hands of President Wickremesinghe.” He said the SLPP machinery was ready to cope with both national elections. The party’s Central Executive Committee will meet on April 9 (Tuesday) to discuss several matters. However, none of them, he said, relate to the upcoming elections. There will be a discussion on reports from party organisers and more importantly about the approaching May Day.

Six members from a breakaway group of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) who were with the Freedom People’s Congress (FPC) joined the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) in an alliance on Friday. They had remained with the SJB since December, last year but this is the first time they signed a memorandum of understanding. Pic by Indika Handuwala

There is little doubt that the SLPP would extend its support to Ranil Wickremesinghe’s presidential candidature. What remains to be seen are measures to formalise such candidature and matters related to it. This was quite evident from a frank proposal Basil Rajapaksa made to President Wickremesinghe on Thursday. It was time, he noted, for President Wickremesinghe to woo a few stalwarts from the opposition, particularly the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and other smaller political parties. The smaller parties, he had pointed out, were willing to engage in a dialogue, according to the information he has.

What was significant during the meeting was the use of words. Basil Rajapaksa declared that if it was necessary for them, meaning the Rajapaksas, to remain silent, during the period he negotiates with a few, they were willing to do so. The SLPP strategist came out with statistics from past elections to back his proposal. To make the point that cross-over talks are already underway elsewhere, he revealed that two cabinet ministers were already talking to Samagi Jana Balawegaya leader Sajith Premadasa.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe

A United National Party (UNP) source said President Wickremesinghe has asked a member to sound out a few. His current plans are to first conduct the presidential election and call for a parliamentary election only next year. Formally, he is yet to announce his candidature. A source familiar with the issue said President Wickremesinghe is cautiously avoiding any accusations of election activity when he engages in public events like the issue of deeds to the landless. “He wants to avoid criticism that he was extending political favours for his candidature,” said the source.

SJB’s MOU with
SLPP rebels

On Friday (5), an SLPP breakaway group of six MPs who had formed the Nidahasa Janatha Sabhawa (Freedom People’s Congress) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the SJB to form an alliance. The fact that their name had been taken angered the FPC. Their General Secretary, Charitha Herath told the Sunday Times “they have run away with our clothes or our name. We will fight back. The event was held at the BMICH in Colombo with many attendees, including SJB MPs. Opposition and SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa and SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara signed the MoU on behalf of the SJB, with the six Freedom People’s Congress (FPC) MPs each signing the document. The MPs who joined the SJB-led alliance on Friday were Prof. G.L. Peiris, Dilan Perera, Nalaka Godahewa, K.P.S. Kumarasiri, Dr. Upul Galappaththi and Wasantha Yapa Bandara.

“At a time when the country’s economy is in shambles and its democracy itself is under threat, a majority of the people have already decided that the only force that can save the country at this juncture is the SJB, party General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara claimed at the event. He said that discussions were going on with several other parties on the possibility of joining the SJB-led alliance. The government’s leadership, he noted, was not sensitive to the hardships being borne by the people, charged Prof. Peiris. “The government claims that it overcame the country’s economic crisis and performed a miracle, but what is the reality? Aside from invading the Employees’ Provident Fund, it has not taken practical steps to resolve the economic crisis. As such, this is not a miracle but a nightmare,” alleged Prof. Peiris.

Basil Rajapaksa

In contrast, he said, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa was performing a large portion of important duties that should be conducted by the government through initiatives such as the SJB’s smart classroom project, providing equipment to hospitals and through programmes such as ‘Sakwala’ and ‘Husma,’ though Mr Premadasa did not have any governing power. He praised the SJB leader as a man with a vision and a set of clear principles. Premadasa declared that the alliances which the SJB enters were not the traditional alliances that were usually formed in the country. “They do not center on matters such as who gets which ministerial portfolios or which state institutions are gazetted under them,” he said.

“Rather than working towards selfish ends, our aim is to work selflessly for the good of the people,” he claimed. The breakaway group has 13 MPs, including its leader Dullas Alahapperuma, who was not present at Friday’s MoU signing. The group forming the alliance has broken away from them.

Prof. Peiris said the MoU signing was only the first step in a programme to form a broad alliance led by the SJB. What he did not mention was the fact that the six MPs, including himself, had joined the SJB in December last year after breaking away from the Freedom People’s Congress. The event, however, was made to look like the FPC had chosen to back the SJB in its entirety. That was not the case, and six MPs remain. They are leader Dullas Allahapperuma, Charitha Herath, Gunapala Ratnasekera, Lalith Ellawala, Udeni Kirindigoda and Tilak Rajapaksa.

“This is the start of the journey, not its end. We expect other persons and groups to join with us as we move forward from here,” he told the media. MP Dilan Perera said that the FPC first decided to form a government with Sajith Premadasa, just 20 months and five days ago in July 2022, when Premadasa proposed the name of Dullas Alahapperuma as President, and it was seconded by Prof. Peiris. He claimed that until now, no one in the FPC had walked away from the decision taken in July, 2022 to form a government with the SJB. “The only thing is that to implement that decision, we must take an official first step, which is what we did today in signing an MoU.” Perera said that they had begun the procession (perahera) as the whip crackers (kasa kaarayo). He said they expect various others in the procession such as dancers from the low country, up country and Sabaragamuwa, as well as elephant handlers to join as time goes on. They would all work together to make Sajith Premadasa the President of the country, he said. Queried at the news conference whether this meant that all 13 MPs representing the FPC in Parliament would eventually join the alliance, Perera said they must do so since none of them is a member of the Ranil-Rajapaksa government. “Since that is the case, the only centrist alliance left in this country is the one led by the SJB,” he added.

Gamini Senarath

Despite the euphoria generated by a new alliance, there is also an SJB section displeased with the new arrangement. Their complaint is that prominence was being given to those who held sway once with the SLPP. Giving them assurances, though not spelt out, obscured the contributions made by senior members of the SJB itself.

SLFP woes continue

There was also a major political party in crisis this week. That is the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) founded by the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. It has remained under the leadership of former President, Maithripala Sirisena. He sacked three prominent members—Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, Duminda Dissanayake and State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna—from membership. The trio have now moved court. Hard on the heels of this move, another former president, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has gone to court challenging the leadership of Sirisena. His leadership been suspended on a court order until the determination of the case. The legal wrangles have come just months ahead of a presidential election.

There was widespread speculation that Justice and Constitutional Reforms Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha may be the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) candidate in the presidential election. On Friday night, he hosted a gala cocktail  cum dinner reception at the Ballroom of the Colombo Hilton largely attended by the legal fraternity. President Ranil Wickremesinghe was the chief guest. A lengthy film on Wijeyadasa’s 40-year career as a lawyer was screened. Initially it had to be interrupted to allow President Wickremesinghe to deliver his speech. Two lawyers who passed through his chambers as juniors rode the stage to make a presentation to him. They were Ali Sabry, the Foreign Minister, and Kuvera de Soysa, President’s Counsel.

NPP focus on women

This is whilst the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Power continues its campaign to involve women countrywide in its political programmes ahead of the presidential election. NPP parliamentarian Harini Amerasuriya told the women’s rally that a string of more rallies, like the one in Ampara, would be held by the NFF.

She said, “This election is not only for us to win. Together we women will win this somehow. We are also sending some comrades to parliament. Our brother Anura is also made presidential candidate. After doing that, our grief does not end there. We need to build the country. We must come forward to preserve the social transformation that we hope to do. We need to understand the seriousness and depth of this. This is not a story about another change.

This is not another election. Every party that came to power promised to make a change. After the terror ended, women were the first to take to the streets to appoint Chandrika Kumaratunga. Chandrika also promised a change. The good governance government of 2015 also promised change. Gotabaya Rajapaksa also promised change. The National People’s Power is not making this change based on anyone’s promises. We are the ones who make this difference. Until now, we had to stand aside and wait for our vote. We had to wait for the development that was done for us. We are not there to make those decisions. We are not listened to or consulted. Knowing that these policies would not be made for us, there was nothing to be done about it. Knowing that our money is being stolen, knowing that our children are starving, knowing that our money is being stolen, we have no power to change these…”

A section of the women who took part in the National People’s Power’s conference in Ampara

As the National New Year holidays approach, one of the key talking points is the high cost of essential consumer items. True, the government has been taking steps to reduce the prices of a few but not all. In this regard, it was President Wickremesinghe, who saw to the appointment of ex-minister Champika Ranawaka as the head of the Ways and Means Committee in Parliament. If other political parties talked of the upcoming elections or focused on arrangements for it, Ranawaka declared in a statement that importers of essential food items were making what he called “undue” profits. His office said in a statement that “The second report of the Parliament’s Ways and Means Committee has revealed that there has been undue profit from the import of essential food items including onions and potatoes. It is the government’s responsibility to collect the undue profit and taxes that businessmen get from importing essential consumer goods and use that money to provide essential food to the people at a concessional price.

“It is essential to inform consumers about the import value and market price of imported food items through digital boards, websites and to regulate the price of essential food items so that consumers benefit from government policy decisions. The Consumer Affairs Authority should intervene in the risk of consumer exploitation reaching its peak during the festive season.”

Mr. Ranawaka, as Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Ways and Means, Leader of the United Republic Front, Member of Parliament, visited the wholesale market premises in Pettah on Friday to inform the consumers and conduct a market survey.

Ranawaka, who met the trading community and engaged in a friendly discussion, talked about the steps that could be taken to reduce the price of essential food items before the upcoming festive season of the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities.

Interesting enough, Ranawaka had chosen to inspect wholesale outlets of consumer food items last week.

A surge in political activity ahead of the presidential elections, due to come first, is sure to be recorded after the national holidays and May Day. It will pave the way for full-fledged campaigns thereafter.

Easter Sunday attacks: CID probes Sirisena’s charge; BASL issues tough statement

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) will probe the statement made to it by former President Maithripala Sirisena. In that, he alleged that an Indian diplomat had told him that India was behind the Easter Sunday massacres of 2019.

At least 247 men, women, and children, mostly worshippers, were killed during attacks on churches and hotels.

On March 22, Sirisena told the media during a visit to Kandy that he possessed vital information on who was allegedly responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks of 2019. He said he wished to place such information before courts. The word he used in Sinhala when he made his CID statement was sadee pehadee or meaning willingly. Hence, it formed part of a “B” report the CID filed at the Maligakanda Magistrate’s Court.

Maligakanda Magistrate Lochani Abeywickrema had asked Sirisena to make a statement to the Court on April 4 (Thursday). However, there was a turn of events when his lawyer, Anuja Premaratne, President’s Counsel, informed the court that his client had already given a statement to the CID. Hence, he said, there was no necessity for him to make another. Magistrate Abeywickreme noted that there was no need for the court to obtain a statement from a person under his objection and it had no powers to force such a statement. On Thursday, Magistrate Abeywickrema declared that the documents before the court, where former President Sirisena had revealed sensitive information, would remain confidential.

Sirisena’s statement to the CID also drew a strong statement from the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the premier body representing the country’s lawyers. Signed by its President, Kaushalya Navaratne PC and Secretary Chatura S. Galhena, the statement said: “The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) expresses its deep concern regarding the recent statement by former President Maithripala Sirisena concerning his alleged knowledge of the perpetrators behind the horrific Easter Sunday attacks of 2019. This statement, coupled with the ongoing lack of accountability for these heinous acts, raises serious questions about the security lapses that led to the deaths of innocent civilians.

“The BASL reiterates its commitment to upholding the rule of law and ensuring justice for the victims. In this spirit, the BASL filed a Fundamental Rights application, against the former President, other members of the leadership, and senior officials for their failure to discharge their fundamental duties towards the people of our country. This and several other similar applications filed by stakeholders were successfully concluded, with their Lordships of the Supreme Court finding the former President and other Respondents in the case, guilty of violating the fundamental rights of the people, by neglecting their primary duties in failing to prevent the April 2019 bombings which killed and injured hundreds of people, despite receiving intelligence ahead of the attack.

“Their Lordships also ordered former President Maithripala Sirisena, four other officials, and the State to pay compensation totaling 311 million rupees to victims, with President Sirisena being ordered to pay 100 million of the said compensation.

However, the BASL remains deeply concerned by the apparent nonchalance surrounding the broader investigation into the Easter Sunday attacks. The lack of justice for the victims and the continued absence of a clear understanding of why these attacks occurred are a stain on our nation.

“The BASL urges the relevant authorities to bring all those responsible to justice. The victims’ families deserve closure, and Sri Lanka requires a clear understanding of these events to prevent future tragedies.

“To this end, the BASL urges the former President to make a full and honest disclosure of any sensitive information he possesses. Withholding such information, in a responsible manner befitting a former head of state would constitute a serious obstruction of justice.

“Whilst carefully following the recent developments, the BASL will not hesitate to intervene whenever and wherever such intervention is required, if there is any impediment to the rule of law.”

Last week, senior national security advisor to the president, Sagala Ratnayake met Sirisena in the lobby of Parliament. A friendly conversation ensued. He asked in Sinhala about the pasku dina attacks. Sirisena laughingly remarked that “ekay vaasiya ohelata ney.”

Parliament will have a three-day debate on Sirisena’s statement on April 24, 25 and 26.


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