Opposition pulls in different directions over Fonseka
October 9, 2010, 7:25 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Efforts to save defeated presidential candidate DNA leader Sarath Fonseka is in tatters with Opposition political parties pulling in different directions.
The government moved Fonseka to Welikada prison on September 30 to serve a 30-month term of RI after President Mahinda Rajapaksa endorsed the recommendation of a military tribunal.
Political source say Friday’s (Oct 8) suspension of parliamentary sittings due to failure on the part of the Opposition to maintain a quorum to conduct the proceedings showed their lack of concern and absolute indifference to the one-time Army Commander’s predicament.
Sources say at the time Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa had adjourned sittings at 2.40 p.m., after Deputy Minister of Rehabilitation and Prisons Reforms Vijith Vijayamuni Soyza pointed out the absence of the quorum. Only 18 members had been present when the House was debating whether DNA MP Sarath Fonseka’s seat was vacant.
The sittings commenced at 1.00 pm. Parliament meets again on Oct 19.
At least 20 members are needed to form a quorum to conduct proceeding. The SLFP-led ruling UPFA coalition commands 161 seats in 225-member parliament. The UNP Parliamentary Group comprises 43 members, the JVP-led DNA six (without Fonseka) and the TNA 13 (after one MP switched his allegiance to the UPFA).
Sources in parliament told The Sunday Island Deputy Minister Soyza, who had publicly approved the action taken against Fonseka took up the quorum issue while the Galle District UPFA MP Chandima Weerakkkody was addressing the House. Sources said that despite ringing the quorum bell, the Speaker couldn’t get two more MPs to continue with the proceedings.
Sources said that the TNA couldn’t be expected to throw its weight behind the ‘save SF campaign’, though it supported the former Chief of Defence Staff’s presidential bid at the January 26 election.
The SLMC (8 MPs) and MPs Sri Ranga, Digambaram and Prabha Ganeshan, too, switched their allegiance to President Rajapaksa along with six UNP MPs leaving the UNP with just 43 members. Sources admitted that the Opposition presence would have been even worse if the number of UPFA MPs present were left out of the 18 members present in Parliament on Friday.
Responding to a query by The Sunday Island, sources said that it was the responsibility of the Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga, MP, to ensure the presence of members.
Sources pointed out that recently the UNP had asserted that Amaratunga’s absence led to what Badulla District MP Harin Fernando called a breakdown in communication among the parliamentary group causing front-row members, Lakshman Kiriella, Ranjith Madduma Bandara and Joseph Michael Perera to abstain at the vote on the emergency. The UNP voted against the extension of emergency.
Sources said that ‘Save SF campaign’ had been undermined by the absence of a common Opposition strategy, though UNP and JVP leaders recently posed for a photograph at an agitation campaign. They are conducting separate campaigns with the JVP calling a protest at the Hyde Park on Monday (Oct 11) afternoon.
Apart from skipping Fonseka issue in parliament, the majority UNP MPs also ignored the launch of a major poster campaign by UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo to pressure the government to unconditionally release Fonseka and also to draw attention to the rapid deterioration of democratic rights at the hands of the Rajapaksas.
Friday’s poster campaign led by Wickremesinghe attracted only four MPs, namely Karu Jayasuriya, Tissa Attanayake, Ravi Karunanayake and Mangala Samaraweera, sources said. Of the seven UNP/UNF National List MPs, only Attanayake had been present, while all four Colombo-based National List MPs skipped the campaign. Sources said that it would interesting to know members who shunned both parliament and the poster campaign.
Sources said that the Friday’s flops underscored the urgent need for a re-appraisal of strategy, particularly in the backdrop of MP Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, assertion that the Fonseka had no option but to appeal to President Rajapaksa.
A UNPer told The Sunday Island that Rajapakshe’s declaration came on Thursday’s before the UNP suffered a humiliating defeat at the no-faith motion moved against External Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris. Sources said that the motion received only 32 votes in favour due to the absence of 11 MPs, of whom only Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena was away in Geneva on behalf of the UNP.
They pointed out that what Rajapakshe said was totally contrary to the UNP’s position and revealed the difference of opinion among the group regarding their strategy. The former PA Deputy Minister, who switched sides over differences with the SLFP leadership asserted that as President Rajapaksa wasn’t a vindictive person and Mrs. Anoma Fonseka should appealed to him.
Both President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa are on record saying that an appeal should be made by the Fonsekas without making a political issue out of the sentence given by the Second Court Martial.
Sources said that those who had strongly opposed the Fonsekas appealing to President Rajapaksa over a jail term recommended by the Second Court Martial conveniently forgotten thee cases faced by Fonseka in civil courts as well as how damaging The Sunday Leader Editor Frederica Jansz’s testimony at the trial-at-bar on alleged war crimes investigation could be.
Jansz last Wednesday (Oct 6) told the Colombo High Court that Fonseka had never denied a statement attributed to him in an exclusive interview carried by The Sunday Leader of December 13, 2009, that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa ordered surrendering LTTE cadres shot on the Vanni east front.
Sources said that apart from being indicted for war crimes allegations, the former Army Chief was under judicial investigation for Hicorp transactions and harbouring army deserters.
They said that those fighting for a leadership change had been silent about the Fonseka issue as they felt Wickremesinghe was taking advantage of the controversy to further put off urgently needed reforms.
Government sources said that with the President’s second term swearing in ceremony now scheduled for the third week of next month before presenting the Budget on November 22, the Fonseka issue would fade off.
Meanwhile, a UNP bid to move the Inter-Parliamentary Union against what the Opposition called persecution of Fonseka for challenging President Rajapaksa at the presidential election too went awry in Geneva.
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