“Senasuru Maaruwa” Puts A Damper On Crossover Plans Of Govt MPs!

The UPFA government, which was keen on getting into an early presidential election a few weeks ago, has now taken a step back by showing some reluctance to go for the election ins January. It is now in the grapevine that the election will be held in March and the story is making headlines in the mainstream media.

It was clear from the outset that there were two schools of thought in the ruling camp on the timeline of the election. Several senior members of the ruling party, including SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena, was of the view that the election should not be held in January as there were so many issues in the country that needed to be addressed before thinking about presidential or parliamentary election. The Jathika Hela Urumaya, an important stakeholder of the ruling UPFA, pushed for a comprehensive constitutional amendment before announcing a presidential election. The JHU, which is in the process of aligning itself with the critiques of the government, asserts that it will bring the government down on its knees, if the President refuses to adopt a constitutional amendment, before going for an election.

Apparently, the ‘official’ reason for the indecisiveness on the part of the government is Pope Francis’s visit to Sri Lanka which is scheduled to take place in January 13. In addition to that, a number of electorate organizers of the ruling party have raised concerns that they do not have enough time to prepare for a national level election. One can also assume that the result of the recently held Uva Provincial Council election may have also favoured their argument. According to President Rajapaksa’s personal astrologer Sumanadasa  Abeygunawardena, the next best time for the presidential election is March and that gives a clear indication of the game-plan of the UPFA government.

If there is a postponement, the UPFA and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, needless to say, will cash in heavily on that. The President, in his capacity as the Finance Minister of the government, has just presented a budget that is gravitated sharply towards an election, without little or no concern about the long-term economic well-being of the country. At the same time, it will give more time for the ground level branches of the party to do more-groundwork aiming the election prepare better for the contest.

Crossover negotiations

Parallel to that, certain top echelons of the government have started negotiations with some opposition politicians for “customary” crossovers ahead of the election. According to political sources of the ruling party, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa is leading negotiations from the government side and a few politicians of the opposition, including one or two Parliamentarians, have expressed willingness to join the government in the coming weeks. One has every reason to believe that such a move will hamper the election campaign of the opposition and weaken the spirit of its supporters.

This fresh development has come against a backdrop where the large majority of UNP Parliamentarians are pushing the party leadership to make way for a candidate who is capable of posing a serious threat to President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the presidential election. When taking the present situation into consideration, opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has positioned himself as the presidential candidate of the party, hardly appears to be the winning horse!

Earlier there were reports that several Parliamentarians of the ruling party were negotiating with the UNP to turn the table on the government with a surprise crossover. It was reported that they were planning to cross over to the opposition at the second reading vote of the budget which was scheduled on November 01. Despite speculation, the first round of votes on thet budget was passed in Parliament with a huge majority of 100 votes without any major incident. The only highlight of the first reading vote was the JHU’s abstention from voting; but the UNP did not have hand behind the JHU’s decision.

It would be interesting to see what happened to the ruling party politicos whose names were mentioned in connection with a crossover. A group of UNP Parliamentarians stated that a “short-sighted” remark made by Hambanthota District UNP Parliamentarian Sajith Premadasa put a damper on the opposition’s plans. Addressing a public meeting a few days ago, Premadasa dubbed the ruling party members who were negotiating with the UNP as “rats” who were trying to jump out of a sinking ship!

However, it is naïve to believe that cross-over plans of the UPFA politicos did not materialize solely due to Premadasa’s statement. The top-rung leaders of the government, after the story was leaked to media, took strong measures to guard its terrain by contacting each and every disgruntled Parliamentarian of the ruling party. In addition to that, the much talked about “senasuru maaruwa” which occurred on November 01, had also been a matter of concern for ruling party who were considering the possibility of a crossover.

Tissa Attanayake’s role

Speaking to Asian Mirror, a Parliamentarian of the UNP said negotiations with disgruntled ruling party members. “We did not say they were going to crossover during the budget vote. We said they were going to crossover before the presidential election. So, one should not jump into hasty conclusions on this matter. The government must wait and see,” the Parliamentarian said on Saturday after the first reading vote on the budget.

Meanwhile, Tissa Attanayake, who now appears to be a staunch supporter of Sajith Premadasa, also asserted that Premadasa did not have any motives to hamper the crossover plans. Speaking to his close associates at the party headquarters, Attanayake said Premadasa did not want to ridicule the ruling party members who were thinking of a crossover while adding that some misunderstanding has deliberately been created by certain parties pertaining to the matter.

It is also important to examine Attanayake’s role as the General Secretary of the party at this particular juncture. Attanayake played a key role in elevating Premadasa to the post of Deputy Leader of the party and he held a number of discussions with various parties on building what he termed as “peace” among top level members of the United National party. Addressing the party’s working Committee meeting on September 23, Attanayake admitted that he held discussions with DNA Parliamentarian Tiran Alles and Chairman of Capital Maharaja Organization Kili Maharaja on building “unity” in the party. Then UNP General Secretary amade that revelation speaking minutes before the conclusion of the UNP Working Committee meeting which appointed Sajith Premadasa as the UNP Deputy  Leadr. “We need Mawbima and Sirasa. And that is why I decided to iron out differences with Tiran Alles and kili Maharaja,” Attanayake said in his brief speech.

This statement came under criticism from some members of the Working Committee on the grounds that both Alles and Maharaja were outsiders, as far as the United National Party was concerned. “Attanayake holding discussions with outside parties is an unprecedented move as it has belittled the importance of the position of the General Secretary of the party. Alles and Sirasa had nothing to do with internal matters of the United National party” a Working Committee member, who was present at the meeting, told Asian Mirror. While some viewed Attanayake’s moves with a modicum of suspicion, some were open-minded saying Attanayake’s acts should be weighed against their outcome.

One and a half months down the line, it is clear that Attanayake’s so called negotiations have produced little or no results and the relations between the UNP and the Alles-Maharaja duo have come back to square one. The newspapers belonging to Tiran Alles and media stations belonging to Capital Maharaja Organization are relentlessly attacking the UNP leadership and there is no sign of unity between the two parties. At the same, UNP new Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa has distanced himself – to a certain extent – from election preparations of the UNP. Premadasa is hell-bent on fielding a “UNP Candidate” for the upcoming presidential election, under the symbol ‘elephant’. Premadasa is clinging to his “UNP candidate” stance in a context where a large majority of the party’s parliamentarians are looking into the possibility of forming a common opposition.

Girambe Ananda Thera, a staunch activist of the UNP affiliated Bhikku organization, met opposition leader anil Wicrkemesinghe last week to urge him o make way for a common candidate who can unite all the political parties of the opposition. “A UNP candidate can also be a common candidate if he can garner the support of other political parties of the opposition. But, the UNP, as a party, should field a candidate who has the potential to become a common candidate,” Ananda Thera had reportedly told Wickremesninghe. The opposition leader too had expressed willing to support a common candidate at the presidential polls, if there was a suitable candidate.

Shirani enters!

Meanwhile, the Movement for a Just Society, led by Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera, and several other organizations have approached former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake to be the common candidate of the opposition at the next presidential election. They have urged Bandaranayake to contest the presidential polls with the sole purpose of abolishing Executive Presidency.

Bandaranayake, according to highly placed political sources, has been approached to contest the election as a third candidate, alongside President Rajapaksa and opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe. It is not clear whether the UNP will support a candidate like Bandaranayake who comes as a fresh face, without prior experience in active politics. Some of them have already expressed fears that it will be a repetition of what happened in 2010 when Sarath Fonseka became the common candidate of the opposition.

Meanwhile, a group of UNP parliamentarians have now embarked on a mission to work out an agreement between Sobhitha Thera and opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe. However, a serious question exists as to whether Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera will extend his support to Wickremasinghe if the latter becomes the presidential candidate of the United National Party. When asked about his stance on Wickremesinghe’s candidacy, Sobhitha Thera had told the members of his organization that the matter should be discussed at length with front-liners of his movement, before arriving at a conclusion.

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