Mahinda reacts to Kebetigollewa, Mervyn clowns on a chopper

Events of the past week once again created fears and uncertainties in the public mind of what would or could happen tomorrow. The deteriorating security situation and many other problems kept people concerned about the general lookout for the immediate future particularly on the security front.

Dashing hopes of relief on the cost of living front, another fuel price hike was announced bringing in its wake the inevitable price increases of goods and services. The cost of living rose day by the day while the terrorist activities did not show any signs of abating. Last week’s Kebetigollewa bomb established the contrary.

Under these circumstances, President Mahinda Rajapakse is surrounded by a tight security net and a host of advisors lives in a tense atmosphere. His easygoing lifestyle once upon a time is now a thing of the past. He has enjoyed travel around the country but his security advisors have limited his movements and he has in recent days been forced to spend most of his time at Temple Trees.

Yet last week he took a decision to attend a party at Fifth Lane, Kollupitiya close to Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe's private home. His host, Dhammika Attygalle was celebrating his birthday and the president accompanied by two friends, Dr. Ajith Ranawaka and Nalaka Bamunusinghe turned up for the occasion.

When President Rajapakse and friends arrived, a number of members of the Attygalle and Wijewardene families were already there - among them Asitha Perera, Shalitha Wijesundera, Devinda Senanayake and others. Rajapakse remained until the birthday cake was cut and Attygalle, a Director of the Upali Group, was wished a very happy birthday. He spent around an hour at the party before returning to Temple Trees.

Once again on Saturday (June 10) the president went on another unexpected visit when he attended the wedding of journalist Ajantha Agalakada of the Lankadeepa. The event was at Robert Gunawardene Mawatha, Kirulapona in insecure surroundings. So no one expected the President to come though his media director, Chandrapala Liyanage and Dr. Ajith Ranawaka had arrived earlier.

Among the wedding guests many were taking bets on whether the President would turn up. However a few persons were quite certain he would come the last minute. He did with Dalas Alahapperuma spending 15 minutes chatting with journalists some of whom he knew and others he was meeting for the first time.

Ranil goes South and to India

While a President loaded with national cares pleased friends by attending some social occasions despite security considerations and his very tight schedule, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe went for a short holiday in the South. With storms continuing to blow within the UNP, Wickremesinghe is a very worried man that was perhaps why he wanted to take a holiday on the sunny beaches of the South.

Before Wickremesinghe went on his holiday, Dr. Jayalath Jayawardene called on him. Jayawardene had returned after a tour to Andra Pradesh and immediately after his visit he had to attend parliament which was in sessions that week. There he had seen notices displaying the names of members newly appointed to various parliamentary advisory committees for the different ministries. But his name was not on the list of those appointed to the Health Ministry’s Advisory Committee.

An agitated Jayawardena, believing the omission to be on the part of his party, came to see the UNP leader about this. He was asked to take it up on Tuesday when the UNP parliamentary group was due to meet. Jayawardena was not satisfied. He had other grouses, having been promised a place on the delegation to the Inter Parliamentary Union meeting and finding that the chief party whip had sent Ranjit Aluwihare instead despite the leader’s orders.

``It’s a shame not only for me but for you too,’’ Jayawardena told Wickremesinghe who tried to pacify him by praising Jayalath for his recent Indian visit taking artefacts of Buddhist importance to various places there. This apparently placated Jayawardena.

Wickremesinghe on Tuesday saw those MPs from his party appointed to various parliamentary advisory committees along with chief opposition whip Joseph Michael Perera. He told the UNP members they had a great responsibility and it was important that they should point out wrong doings in ministries at the consultative meetings and also bring these matters to public attention.

The same evening, the UNP working committee met. Several new members brought into this policy making body both by Wickremesinghe and Karu Jayasuriya attended this meeting at which S.B. Dissanayake was also present.

Participants said that there was some hot air at the three-hour discussion with Wickremesinghe focusing on the need for the UNP to play a role in moving the peace process forward. He sought the views of members of the committee to an invitation from the Peace Secretariat asking the party to nominate a member to the All-Party Advisory Committee.

"What shall we do?,’’ He asked. The majority was of the view that the UNP should not nominate anybody to this committee. They argued that while participating in the All-Party Conference was appropriate making a nomination to the Advisory Committee should be avoided.

"We will ask the government to present a solution leaving us free to agree or disagree with it, they said.

Thereafter, internal problems of the UNP including the most important proposed reorganisation came up for discussion. The majority favoured a quick reorganisation but Wickremesinghe thought otherwise. Rajitha Senaratne was very critical alleging that Wickremesinghe was opposed to the reorganisation and was postponing it under various pretexts.

Ravi Karunanayake too threw his weight behind this argument while S.B. Dissanayake also urged that the UNP reorganisation cannot be delayed.

The working committee also discussed the situation in the CMC with some members demanding to know what had resulted from the investigations of the committee appointed to look into the circumstances that led to the UNP list for the CMC being rejected on nomination day. Wickremesinghe said that it will take some time for the committee to finalise its report and a number of members said that appointing committees will not solve the party’s problems.

Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya was not present at both the working committee meeting and the earlier discussion with UNP members of the parliamentary advisory committees. He was away in China on the invitation of the Chinese Communist Party. The UNP delegation included Gamini Lokuge, Gayantha Karunatillake, Amara Piyaseeli Ratnayake, Milroy Perera and D.M. Swaminathan who are expected back in Colombo today (Sunday).

Last Wednesday Ranil left for India on a private visit. He attended a pooja at the Thirupathy Temple festival and another in Andra Pradesh. He is also due back on June 18.

JVP Politburo

The JVP politburo which met at its Pelawatte party headquarters with Somawansa Amarasinghe in the chair discussed among other matters the recent visit of the government delegation to Oslo. Amarasinghe said that he has spoken to the president about this and said that the JVP must help the government whenever international pressure was exerted on it. He said it is difficult for the government to take correct decisions under pressure.

Amarasinghe also appraised his politburo of the president’s decision not to reply to Erik Solheim on the five questions he had raised saying that the JVP should appreciate the president’s stance. "We must protect the country's independence and stand erect,’’ Amarasinghe said.

He also brought up the report of the SLMM issued in Geneva saying that what the Tigers have said in Oslo relating to the CFA suggested that they have already declared a State of Eelam. He regarded the LTTE’s Oslo visit as a propaganda ploy for the benefit of the international community.

Tilvin Silva expressed the view that it was foolish for the government to have sent a delegation to Oslo saying that if any meetings were necessary that they should be held here in Sri Lanka.

The JVP unanimously agreed to nominate Mr. Anura Dissanayake to the All-Party Committee to formulate a solution to the ethnic problem. Dissanayake’s name was proposed by Mr. K.D. Lal Kantha and the decision that he be nominated by the party was taken unanimously.

The JVP politburo had also discussed a strategy for removing Western Province Chief Minister Reginald Cooray. JVP MP Wasantha Samarasinghe’s recent visit to Norway where he had met groups opposed to Erik Solheim was also discussed as were some protests that the party is organising in Norway.

Mervyn clowns on chopper

The recent assassination of Danny Hiththetiyage, a close associate of the president, created waves in political circles. Rajapakse was keen in attending the funeral but his security people were dead against it.

The president however decided to go and flew to Hakmana along with a few close associates including Dalas Alahapperuma, Lalith Weeratunge, Gotabhaya Rajapakse and Mervyn Silva.

The helicopter was landed on a ground in Hakmana and the president’s party motored to the funeral house and offered their condolences. Although his security chief wanted him to fly back to Colombo, he decided to drive to Tangalle where he relaxed with members of his family including his wife and his eldest son, Namal, holidaying here from Cardiff University where he is a first year student.

Always the clown, Mervyn Silva both raised eye brows and provoked mirth by making a speech from the back seat of the helicopter in which the presidential party was flying back to Colombo. Extolling President Rajapakse, he said that he was a god-sent saviour who will save the country from its present predicament.

From Mahinda, Mervyn got on to Gotabhaya Rajapakse who he said was the only leader who could unite the armed forces and destroy the country’s enemies.

The last scene was yet to be played. The grand finale was at Temple Trees where Silva prostrated himself at the president’s feet and swore life long allegiance to Rajapakse saying that he was the only leader who could save the country.

President reacts to Kebetigollewa

When the news of the Kebitigollewa massacre reached President Rajapakse who first heard of the incident on the phone from Minister Tissa Karaliyadde, he summoned an immediate meeting of the National Security Council and discussed the situation as well as the government’s possible response. He also directed his Press Secretary, Mr. Chandrapala Liyanage, to send a media team including the foreign media to the scene so that the world would know all about the bestiality of the Tigers.

Rajapakse who was anxious to visit the scene also issued orders for necessary blood and medical supplies to be air lifted to Kebitigollewa and Anuradhapura dealing with the disaster. His security officials strongly ruled out a visit citing past precedents. They said that previous presidents have never made such visits after similar attacks and urged that Rajapakse, on security considerations alone, should not visit the scene.

But the president, throwing caution to the winds, made arrangements to fly to the scene with a few of his confidantes the same afternoon, surprising the people of the area, doctors and staff at the local hospital and others who saw him arrive.

Rajapakse stood silently before the bodies of the victims of the worst terrorist attack since the ceasefire was signed in February 2002 with grief written all over his face. He spoke to the distraught villagers and offered them what comfort he could. Many people begged for protection from the terrorists.

The president who conferred with local police and military brass and was briefed on the actual ground situation in the area was shocked to hear that the paucity of buses had made well over 100 people pack themselves into the targeted bus. He acknowledged that many services in the rural outback were in bad shape and ordered immediate remedies.

Cost of living

A group of government parliamentarians who called on President Rajapakse recently to discuss the rising cost of living attributed increased fuel prices to much of the problem. Rajapakse said that he knew more about the problems of the ordinary people than most of these MPs and invited suggestions to give the poor some relief.

The president has divided the government parliamentary group into four so that he could have separate meetings with each of them on cost of living related matters. The first meeting was last week when a group including the prime minister, Messrs. Nirmala Kotelawala, P.B. Ekanayake, C.B. Ratnayake, Mahindananda Alutgamage, Sripathi Sooriyaratchchi, Dilan Perera, Rohitha Bogollagama, Mervyn Silva and Nirupama Rajapakse were present.

A 12-point agenda has been set for the meeting but many parliamentarians were debating among themselves on whether to freely air their views or remain silent.

Prime Minister Wickremanayake was the first to break the ice saying among other things that while the government had implemented a number of good policies, the people were not properly informed. That got the discussion going and several MPs voiced their views.


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