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A sizable Viyathmaga group enters parliament; Yuthukama receives two slots

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Civil society organisation Viyathmaga has emerged as an influential group within the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) parliamentary group with eight out of nine contestants gaining entry into parliament at the just concluded general election.

 The SLPP won 145 seats, including 17 National List slots.  The parliament comprises 196 elected and 29 appointed members.

 Of the winners, retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera (328,092) and Dr. Nalaka Godahewa (325,479) polled the highest preferential votes in Colombo and Gampaha electoral districts, respectively.

 President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fielded the group on the SLPP ticket whereas former Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal and Dr. Seetha Arambepola were accommodated on the National List.

Of the successful Viyathmaga members, only Weerasekera has represented the parliament before having served the Navy for over three decades. Weerasekera represented Digamadulla electorate during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second tenure (2010-2015) as the President.

 Viyathmaga nominees Prof. Channa Jayasumana (Anuradhapura/133,980), Gunapala Ratnasekera (Kurunegala/141,991), Nalaka Kottegoda (Matale/71,404), Tilak Rajapaksha (Digamadulla/54,203), Dr. Upul Galappatti (Hambantota/63,369), and Udayana Kirindigoda (Mahanuwara/39,904) entered Parliament at the expense of those who represented the last parliament on the UPFA ticket. 

A second Viyathmaga nominee Businessman Anura Fernando who nursed Colombo (north) electorate failed to get returned.

 At the onset of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s entry into active politics, the wartime Defence Secretary launched Viyathmaga in early 2016 to take his message to the masses. Viyathmaga was followed by second civil society group Eliya that focused on countering moves to introduce a new Constitution at the expense of the country’s unitary status.

 In the run-up to the Aug 5 election, Rear Admiral Weerasekera told The Island that he had moved from Digamadulla to Colombo at the behest of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Weerasekera said that having successfully contested Digamadulla at the 2010 general election he felt comfortable with joining the fray there in spite of being unsuccessful at the 2015 parliamentary election.

 Weerasekera said that there hadn’t been a previous instance of a President fielding a team of his own for parliamentary election since the introduction of the proportional representation system.

 Dr. Arambepola quit the post as the Governor of the Western Province to join the SLPP National List.

 The emergence of the Viyathmaga as a political entity at the 2020 general election was a significant development that would shape the political landscape and give President Gotabaya Rajapaksa strength, Dr. Godahewa said during his campaign.

 Dr. Godahewa, who had held several important public sector appointments, including SEC Chairman, pushed SLPP Gampaha District leader Prasanna Ranatunga to the second place by topping the preferential vote count there, whereas Weerasekara polled more than National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, the second highest recipient of the Colombo vote.

 Prof. Channa Jayasumana came second in the Anuradhapura District. Six others were elected on the SLPP ticket.

 Speculation is rife that the Viyathmaga will be represented in the Cabinet. In terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, the Cabinet has to be restricted to 30 members.

 Parliament is scheduled to meet on Aug 20.

 Political sources told The Island that the emergence of Viyathmaga contestants as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s nominees caused issues in some districts though the ruling party managed to prevent untoward incidents.

 Viyathmaga sources said that though SLPP National List nominees Ali Sabri and Charitha Herath hadn’t been named as Viyathmaga members; they earnestly backed the project. Sources added that Viyathmaga campaign had got underway even before SLPP secured Election Commission recognition on Nov 1, 2016 as a political party. 

In addition to Viyathmaga, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa paved the way for Yuthukama to field Anupa Pasqual on the SLPP Kalutara District list. Pasqual polled 97,777 preferential votes to be sixth out of eight elected from the Kalutara District by the SLPP. Yuthukama leader Gevindu Cumaratunga, who campaigned for the change of UNP-led government since 2015, has also received an SLPP National List slot.

 Both Viyathmaga and Yuthukama campaigned for Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the 2019 presidential election.

 The Samagi Jana Balavegaya, the UNP and the JVP-led Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB), too, accommodated half a dozen civil society activists in their National Lists. Among them were former National List MP Saman Ratnapriya Silva (UNP), attorney-at-law Lal Wijenayake (JJB), Dr. Harini Amarasuriya (JJB), Maheem Pradeep Mendis (SJB), Shiral Lakthilake (SJB), Chamira Perera (SJB) and Anuruddha Pradeep Karnasuriya (SJB).

 

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Athaulla: Those responsible for MR’s defeat had a hand in Easter Sunday attacks

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MP A.L.M. Athaulla displays a copy of a letter he sent to the then President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe underscoring the need to do away with the 19th Amendment(Pic courtesy National Congress)

… assures support for 20 A

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Those who had a hand in engineering President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat at the 2015 presidential election were behind the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, National Congress MP A. L. M. Athaulla, told a media briefing at his Thalakotuwa Gardens road residence, Narahenpita yesterday (20).

Digamadulla District MP blamed 2014 organised attacks on Muslims in Aluthgama, Beruwela and Darga Town also on the same group hell bent destabilising the country. Instigating ethnic violence was part of their strategy, a one-time UPFA Minister said, urging all communities to be vigilant of despicable efforts to undermine political stability.

Athaulla said so when The Island asked him whether he subscribed to SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem’s recent declaration that the Easter Sunday attacks had been carried out by another force and not the National Thowheed Jamaat or its leader Zahran Hashim.

One-time Justice Minister Attorney-at-law Haleem alleged that the NTJ had been hired to carry out the operation.

SLMC leader Hakeem made the aforesaid claim on September 7 before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) probing Easter Sunday attacks.

Athaulla said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would ensure a thorough investigation into Easter Sunday attacks. The MP also expressed confidence in the progress made by the PCoI which the National Congress leader said could reveal the truth.

When The Island pointed out that former Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in charge of the Eastern Range Edison Gunatilleke had recently accused Athaulla, former UPFA politician M H M Hisbullah et al of their involvement with extremists and terrorists, a smiling Athaulla said that there was absolutely no basis for such claims. He challenged Gunatilleke to prove his accusations. Athaulla said he didn’t even know Gunatilleke or even remember calling over the phone.

Lawmaker Athaulla questioned why Gunatilleke had waited so long to complain of political interference in police investigations. Declaring that he was among those politicians who received top level security, including bullet proof vehicles due to serious threats to his life, Athaulla denied ever working against the interests of the country.

Asked whether the unsubstantiated accusations had been levelled against him in a bid to deprive him of a possible cabinet portfolio, the National Congress leader replied in the negative.

Responding to a spate of media queries regarding the SLPP not accommodating him in the cabinet, Athaulla emphasized that he never asked for a cabinet portfolio nor would ever request for one.

MP Athaulla said that their responsibility would be to ensure required consensus in parliament to pave the way for the 20th Amendment in place of the 19th Amendment enacted at the onset of the treacherous yahapalana administration in 2015.

At the commencement of the media briefing, MP Athaulla said that the National Congress had backed the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa three conditions. “We asked for the eradication of terrorism. We also sought the demerger of the Eastern Province from the North during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency and those demands were met.”

Athaulla said that the only request yet to be fulfilled was a Constitution that met aspirations of all Sri Lankans.

He said that the National Congress believed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had been the Defence Secretary during the war and the war winning President Mahinda Rahapaksa, now the Prime Minister, would succeed in introducing a new Constitution. Referring to the 19th Amendment, MP Athaulla pointed out that the controversial piece of legislation caused chaos with political parties having to seek intervention of the Supreme Court to ascertain how powers were shared.

When The Island pointed out that even the SLPP hadn’t been able to settle differences among various sections as regards the 19th Amendment, lawmaker Athaulla said that he was confident the Rajapaksas wouldn’t do anything to harm the country. He denied any ambiguity over his party’s support for the 20th Amendment.

The country couldn’t afford to have the President and the Prime Minister from different political parties under any circumstances, the former minister said, warning of dire consequences in foreign interventions in the making of the new constitution.

Referring to the high profile Oslo peace bid in 2002-2003 during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as the Prime Minister, Athaulla insisted that constitutional reforms introduced at the behest of foreign powers wouldn’t address local issues. The former minister said that the country’s strategic location attracted foreign interests therefore the country needed to be cautious.

Reiterating his backing for the 20th Amendment, MP Athaulla urged the government to take tangible measures to introduce a new Constitution. Underscoring the importance of the proposed new Constitution being a Sri Lankan effort, Athaulla recalled how the TNA and the SLMC had facilitated foreign intervention.

The former minister dismissed the Opposition’s claims as regards SLPP bid to do away with independent commissions. Independent commissions weren’t certainly independent, the MP alleged, pointing out that they didn’t do their job.

Athaulla however side-stepped a query regarding the 20th Amendment proposing to abolish restrictions on dual citizens contesting parliamentary polls.

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Five-storey building collapses on house, killing baby, his parents

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By Cyril Wimalaurendre Kandy –

A 45-day-old baby boy and his parents were killed yesterday when a five-storey building collapsed on their house at Sangamitta Mawatha, Kandy.

Brigadier Sarada Samarakoon, Commander of the 11 Brigade, told the media that the building had collapsed on the house around 5 am yesterday. There were five people in the house. Residents of the area were able to save two women and the baby. The baby passed away after being admitted to the Kandy National Hospital.

The army was able to recover the bodies of the baby’s parents after a search operation, which lasted nearly seven hours. The deceased were Chamila Prasad (35) his wife Achala Ekanayake (32) who is a lecturer of the University of Uva.

The two survivors Jayanthi Kumarihamay and Lakshika Jayamini, mother and niece of Achala Ekanayake respectively, said that they had heard a thundering sound around 4.30 am and noticed that pieces of rock and earth were falling into the house and shortly thereafter saw the roof of the house cave in. They added that the room where they were has been only partially damaged. The collapsed building is said to belong to a retired senior police officer.

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Sirisena didn’t want immediate action against Muslim extremists for political expediency

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– Former defence secretary

by Rathindra Kuruwita

Former President Maithripala Sirisena has not allowed immediate action against the Sri Lankans who had returned after fighting for the Islamic State (IS) and extremist foreign preachers because he feared upsetting Muslim politicians, former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, on Friday, told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.

Fernando told the PCoI that he had informed Sirisena of the Sri Lankans who had returned after receiving weapons training from terrorist organisations such as the IS and Al Qaeda, and extremist foreign preachers operating in Sri Lanka.

“President Sirisena told me that taking action on those issues would cause problems with Muslim politicians and asked me not to be impatient.”

The witness said in the previous government, Muslim politicians had frequently intervened to prevent the arrest of a number of criminals. Fernando alleged that perhaps the National Thowheed Jamaat leader Zahran Hashim could have been arrested prior to Easter Sunday attacks if not for such political pressure.

Answering a question by the Additional Solicitor General (ASG) who led the evidence, Fernando said that Zahran had supported former President Sirisena during the 2015 presidential election.

Zahran had contested a local government election too and further details could be given after examining the reports, the ex- Defence Secretary added.

Asked by a commissioner on whether there had been adequate provisions for taking legal action against extremists, Fernando said that legal action was possible but political pressures had prevented that.

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