Sunday, 23 February 2020 11:06

Fisticuffs at UNP Working Committee meeting

The internal tug of war within the UNP regarding the leadership, symbol and the proposed alliance took a new turn at the UNP Working Committee meeting at Sirikotha on Wednesday, February 19 when some party heavyweights manhandled others over disagreement on the symbol to be used by the UNP-led alliance at the upcoming General Elections.

Heated arguments ensued between the two factions on the symbol and finally led to a confrontation between the Sajith and Ranil factions.

UNP senior MP Ravindra Samaraweera who had argued for the swan symbol, lost his temper to the point of resorting to fisticuffs against Ranil loyalists who favoured the elephant symbol.

Reliable sources confirmed that several UNP Parliamentarians including Navin Dissanayake, Range Bandara, Vajira Abeywardena, Ruwan Wijewardena and Daya Gamage had stressed the need to contest under the elephant symbol.

However, this had led to verbal exchanges between the two factions. Party senior Navin Dissanayake had said that during his life time he would never contest under any symbol other than the elephant.

However, countering Dissanayake’s point, fair member Chandrani Bandara said some of those who say that they love the elephant as much as their their life paradoxically crossed over to the then Rajapaksa Government.

She said, “We also love the elephant more than any of those who are now shouting themselves hoarse. Party senior Ravindra Samaraweera who lost his temper had attempted to hit some of the Ranil loyalists. Samaraweera had told UNP Leader Wickremesinghe not to attempt to give them tuition on the elephant symbol.

He said they do not need tuition from those who crossed over from one party to another keeping their legs on both sides.

Samaraweera who approached Wickremesinghe had told him in a threatening manner, “The UNP had so many leaders and what is the drama you are enacting now by keeping the party leadership with you for the past 30 years. Don’t resort to third grade tactics.”

Finally things were reconciled when those who wanted the elephant symbol agreed to contest under the swan symbol.

UNP frontliner Sujeewa Senasinghe at a press conference at the Parliamentary complex on Wednesday, said a few UNP MPs had entered into deals with the Government and five or six of them have launched a political campaign in support of the Government.

He said it is no longer a secret as to who had had entered into deals with the Government. But politically we can’t become chameleons. Senasinghe said a group of SLFPers have also expressed their willingness to join their new political alliance.

He said after a lapse of over 26 years, they have now reached a situation where we can give a new boost to the party.

Senasinghe said it is high time for Sajith to contest from Colombo and that is the wish of UNP supporters. He said earlier the then President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe fought with each other.

The President was the SLFP leader so he did party politics in the Government.

He said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa prefers a new decent crowd unlike the old bandwagon.

‘Opposition leader, politically immature’

The final sitting of the eighth Parliament was held on Thursday and a large number of Government and Opposition lawmakers were present. While Government and Opposition members were exchanging pleasantries, uproar was created in the well of the House when Leader of the House Minister Dinesh Gunawardena began to make a statement on the Government’s decision to withdraw from co-sponsorship of several resolutions adopted by the UNHRC during the tenure of the former Government. Minister Gunawardena explained in detail the repercussions faced by the country and war heroes due to Resolution 30/1 being passed during the tenure of former Yahapalana Government. The Minister said it was the wish of the people to withdraw from the historic betrayal by the UNP-led Yahapalana Government in co-sponsoring the resolution in 2015.

This led the Opposition to continuously interrupt Minister Gunawardena’s speech and create uproar in the well of the House. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa who responded to the Minister’s statement said the Joint Statement signed between then President Mahinda Rajapaksa and UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon is the root cause for the Geneva crisis.

Premadasa told the House that he and the majority of the UNPers are also good patriots. However, Minister Gunawardena who countered the Opposition Leader’s allegation said that all the concocted stories by the UNP against this Government were defeated and rejected by the people at the last Presidential Election giving a 6.9 million resounding mandate to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The Minister further said it was futile for Opposition Leader Premadasa to utter the same old fictitious stories in his quest to mislead the people.

At the Parliamentary sessions on Thursday the Opposition decided not to support the Vote on Account to obtain an additional sum of Rs. 367 billion for Government expenses as well as increase the limit of borrowing.

During the Thursday’s parliamentary session, the Speaker suspended proceedings around 10.30 am for about an hour to hold a Party Leaders’ meeting on the issue. However, following the meeting, Leader of the House Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told the House that the Government will not be presenting the Vote on Account as the Opposition opposed it.

Opposition Leader Premadasa said they are not opposed to approving the Rs. 367 billion needed for relief and development measures but opposed raising the limit on borrowing.

Government lawmakers who called a press briefing at the parliamentary complex after the decision to abandon the move to get additional funds before the country heads to a General Election in April, said that the Opposition Leader had shown his immaturity in dealing with an important national issue.

Minister Bandula Gunawardana said the move by Premadasa showed he is a political novice and no amount of trying to explain the need for this measure was of any use at all.

He said that the failure to have the resolution approved would not lead to any financial crisis in the country but arrears of the contractors for projects completed last year and other such outstanding payments would be delayed. UPFA Parliamentarian Dilan Perera too said the decision taken by the Opposition to oppose the Vote on Account shows the political immaturity of Premadasa. He had attempted to gain petty political mileage even from this issue and has no understanding whatsoever of the Opposition Leader’s role or the responsibility of a Parliamentarian. MP Perera said this is the first time that an Opposition Leader behaved in such an irresponsible manner. He said Premadasa should ask former Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe about the role of the Opposition Leader.

National List slot for Ranil

Reliable sources confirmed that UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had informed the Premadasa faction that the National List slots should be allocated for him and another two UNP front-liners at the next Parliamentary Election.

He had said thiat at a recent meeting with Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and the General Secretary of the new UNP alliance, Ranjith Madduma Bandara. When the UNP Leader inquired about what the UNP would receive at the new alliance, Premadasa and Madduma Bandara had told Wickremesinghe that they are ready to offer him a National List slot as he is the leader.

Then Wickremesinghe had said that Parliamentarians Navin Dissanayake and Daya Gamage should also be given National List slots. As the UNP’s contribution is also a decisive factor, it is reported that Premadasa and Madduma Bandara had given their consent to the proposal put forward by the UNP Leader.

(Sunday observer)

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