PA consorts with SLMC

by Deshavimala
The 1994 general election saw several widows enter Parliament after their husbands became victims of political violence. They were Chandrika Kumaratunga, Srimani Athulathmudali, Hema Ratnayake, Sumedha Jayasena and Rasamanohari Pulendran. The forthcoming general election has made way for another widow whose husband, late Minister M. H. M. Ashraff was killed in an air crash last weekend. The new joint leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Rauff Hakeem has already requested the Commissioner of Elections, Dayananda Dissanayake to substitute her name for Ashraff’s in the ballot paper.

An angry Ashraff left Colombo for Kalmunai, Saturday before last having dictated a press release to his Press Secretary, Daya Wijesekere, which stated that his SLMC and the NUA has parted from the PA over references made by PA General Secretary D. M. Jayaratne. Half an hour later it was known that a helicopter had crashed onto a mountain at Aranayake but the details were not known. A few minutes later the news spread that Ashraff was on board the ill-fated chopper and his NUA Vice-President Rauff Hakeem came on air to confirm that his leader has been killed in the crash.

SLMC supporters in Kalmunai, the political base and birth place of Ashraff, gathered on the streets weeping over the tragic news. The SLMC vowed to uphold the last wish of their late leader not to support the PA but the government used its experience to tackle and change the SLMC stance by Monday.

A Monday meeting with President Kumaratunga was arranged for Hakeem and Hisbullah. Hakeem succeeded Ashraff as joint leader with Ashraff’s widow Fariel. Fariel’s appointment was seen as a step to curb mounting pressure from Kalmunai supporters who demanded that an organiser from Kalmunai should succeed Ashraff. They did not favour Hakeem as the latter was a Colombo-based man having links with the hill country.

Hakeem, educated at Royal College, Colombo, is a lawyer by profession with a clean record in politics for a decade. He and Hisbullah met Kumaratunga on Monday to complain that they suspected Ashraff’s flight war sabotaged. But the investigating authorities were of the view that misty weather could have been the cause. Kumaratunga used the opportunity to forge unity with the SLMC leadership to convince them to forget the past. She knew of the LTTE threat on Hakeem and offered the bullet proof vehicle used by Ashraff. Thereafter, she fixed another meeting for the next day.

Hakeem who assumed the joint leadership summoned a press conference on Monday evening. After meeting the SLMC duo earlier in the day, Kumaratunga issued a gazette notification to announce that the ministerial portfolios of Ashraff has been brought under her purview. When the question was put to Hakeem at the press conference about the President taking over Ashraff’s ministry, Hakeem replied that if it was so, the SLMC would have to think about their future strategy. But he did not commit himself about supporting the PA. When he met Kumaratunga the next day at a one to one meeting, Kumaratunga offered Ashraff’s portfolio to Hakeem and the latter responded positively.

Several outstanding issues among the two parties were discussed with Kumaratunga agreeing to resolve many of them. The President expressed satisfaction over the manner Hakeem was tackling issues in a patient manner quite in contrast to Ashraff. Hakeem proved he was a moderate who did not put forward unjust demands. The talks were very fruitful and Hakeem announced that his party and the NUA would extend its support to the PA at the future elections. So the two sides married again after experiencing two divorces during a short period under Ashraff’s leadership. A cabinet minister who was at Temple Trees while Kumaratunga and Hakeem had closed door discussions quipped, "charming Chandrika and handsome Hakeem have really made up to go a long way without disruption".

Hakeem is a man who had weathered many a political storm within his party. He has taken all that with courage. The last was the request by Ashraff to quit the post of general secretary. While in Mecca, Ashraff urged that Hakeem and Hisbullah relinquish their party positions immediately by sending their resignations to Mecca on the fax machine. Hakeem was perturbed as no reasons were given and when Ashraff spoke to him over the telephone he did not question why but said that as Ashraff was due in Colombo the next day he would like to talk to him and then submit the resignation.

He said that come what may he would definitely abide by the leader’s request but he only wanted to talk to him. Ashraff insisted that his orders be carried out immediately and both Hisbullah and Hakeem complied. Hisbullah is known to be a maverick in the party with experience of taking on Ashraff earlier. But Hakeem used his experience to calm down Hisbullah in the interest of the party and tender their resignations. Later the two were elevated by Ashraff as Vice-Presidents of the NUA which is less recognised than the SLMC.

NUA was an umbrella of the SLMC which came into the limelight because of the oncoming general elections. Despite these setbacks, Hakeem forged ahead with all decisions taken by Ashraff though in the conscience he had reservations about the hastly attitude of his leader. Hakeem too was surprised at the manner Ashraff was getting himself involved in controversies that should have been avoided by ignoring those who tried to incite them.

Hakeem as joint leader was expected to be sworn in as Minister of Port Development, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction on Friday. As Fariel Ashraff is in mourning, Hakeem plays the lead role of the party in decision making. Fariel has been appointed as leader of the NUA with effect from October 24 when the mourning period is over.

Hakeem now faces the complex of task rebuilding the party with problems during the past two months with several senior people being expelled or suspended by Ashraff. Among them are M. M. Zuhair and Abu Bakr while Dr. I. M. Illyas has now gone over to the UNP. Both Zuhair and Abu Bakr did not join other parties though they claimed that their suspensions were unreasonable. Zuhair too is a moderate politician and a respected lawyer of the calibre of Hakeem. He is well respected by the Islamic world being second in command of the World Islamic Call Society. Zuhair is now in Jakarta attending an Executive Council meeting of this body.

Party sources say that a number of new faces have entered SLMC politics through the NUA for political gain. They say that most of them were only interested in getting into parliament with the backing of the SLMC which is the base for NUA.

A party spokesman said the new leader must clean the party after the elections as most of these candidates who are new faces will not be elected this time. They also said that certain wheeler dealer businessmen who have crept in during the past few weeks should also be sent out as they have flirted with the UNP and PA when the SLMC had trouble with the two major parties.

Since Hakeem took over the leadership and reached agreement with the PA the two parties appear to be forging ahead smoothly in a diplomatic manner. However, the Kalmunai supporters of Ashraff seem to be determined to pressurise Hakeem. But SLMC supporters from all other areas have welcomed Hakeem as the new leader. Hisbullah, a senior politician, has pledged his support to Hakeem and told Kumaratunga to give Ashraff’s vacancy in the cabinet to Hakeem despite the fact Hisbullah is senior to Hakeem in parliament.

Hisbullah faced expulsion from the SLMC and NUA as Ashraff charge sheeted him on September 15 giving time till last Friday to respond. Ashraff accused him of recommending a liquor licence four years ago though Hisbullah withdrew that recommendation at that time. Sources close to Hisbullah described Ashraff’s act as ‘mala fide’ for faulting him for an incident that occurred four years ago.

Election violence

As election campaigns are drawing to a close, violence, seem to be the order of the day. Over 450 incidents have been reported and six lives lost so far. The most number of complaints have been by the UNP and JVP who have lost four supporters during the violent campaign now on. In the Gampaha district, leading UNP candidates Anura Bandaranaike and Karu Jayasuriya came under attack twice in two weeks but escaped unhurt while their supporters were wounded.

The government appears to be directing the police and the CID to arrest prominent UNPers in the campaign for alleged offences committed in the past as claimed by the state. It started with the arrest orders on Milinda Moragoda, Mohamed Maharoof and Bodhi Ranasinghe, confidantes of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. However, the CID was not so harsh on Moragoda and Maharoof as they were on Bodhi Ranasinghe. Though Moragoda and Maharoof were released after recording statements over allegations of providing a forged passport to Superintendent of Police Douglas Peiris, Ranasinghe was arrested at the airport and produced before the Negombo Magistrate and remanded.

He was released on bail this week on a legal point made by veteran lawyer and President’s Counsel K. N. Choksy though the CID requested court to remand him further. Choksy told court that the man who travelled on a forged passport was yet to be charged by the state but his client is made a suspect following an affidavit and charged for aiding and abetting.

On Thursday, the police moved to arrest Rohitha Bogollagama, UNP candidate for Kurunegala District over an incident which occurred during the last presidential election. This move is seen as a very belated one to victimsise the candidate during the campaign. UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe says that the government was trying to victimsise his candidates and supporters in desperation in the face of defeat at the October elections. Bogollagama has intensified his campaign in the district which the UNP claim has gathered momentum to defeat the PA. He was expected to be produced before a magistrate and if remanded his campaign this week would be badly affected.

The Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake was commended by the European Foreign Observers on polls this week for printing a secret sticker to prevent rigging. Other political parties except the PA where some ministers criticised the move, have welcomed it. A PA national list candidate Ananda Gunetilleke moved to go before the Human Rights Commission claiming these stickers had leaked out and Dissanayake will again go before the Commission on Tuesday. Counsel Upul Jayasuriya who appeared before the Commission this week raised objection that Manouri Muttetuwegama, a PA national list candidate who is a member of the HRC should not be allowed to hear the case as it was not keeping with the ethics of a commission. However, Ms. Muttetuwegama was not present on that day to sit on the Commission.

The PA manifesto issued on Thursday states the PA after victory at the election intended to form a national government with the support of all political parties. When the concept of a national government was mooted by Anura Bandaranaike he was severely criticised by the PA ministers who said the PA had no plans for such a move. Several plans envisaged in the new manifesto appear to be repetitions of the promises of PA in 1994 which were not kept. The significant difference is its stand on the LTTE where it says the Tigers would be crushed militarily. If the PA adheres to its manifesto if it wins the polls, there won’t be dialogue with the LTTE to find a solution to the ethnic problem, analysts said.

Meanwhile, an order placed for the supply of 1000 jungle fatigue banians by the Director, Presidential Security, Nihal Karunaratne has raised many eyebrows in political quarters. Security sources said that the number engaged in the PSD was far below the number quoted for the banians for use.

Political sources recalled how men wearing these jungle fatigue banians using state vehicles, reported it from the PSD stormed polling booths in Colombo during the last presidential elections to intimidate voters and drive away polling agents. The PSD Director has requested that these banians should reach him before October 4, sources from the Supplies Department in the Police disclosed. Police headquarters sources expressed surprise at this sudden request for banians. They said these banians are usually supplied to the Special Task Force and the armed forces in the battle front and those in the PSD handling weapons are directed to be clad in jungle fatigue uniforms and treated as commandos.