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).
About Rs 3 bn paid as OT during past few months
Overtime gravy train for CPC refinery workers:
By Saman Indrajith
About Rs. 3,000 million had been paid as overtime for the employees of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation oil refinery, during the past few months, Parliament was told yesterday.
Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said that he had asked for a detailed report as to whom and on what grounds the overtime payments had been made and it would be submitted to Parliament.
Fielding a question asked by Chief Opposition Whip, Kandy District SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella, Minister Wijesekera said instructions had been issued to regulate overtime.
MP Kiriella demanded to know why overtime had been paid to employees of an institution that had been shut down. “There are reports that over Rs 4,000 million has been paid as overtime to the workers of the refinery that was not functioning owing to the non-availability of crude oil. This is a crime,” Kiriella said.
Minister Wijesekera: “I made inquiries after I saw newspaper reports on payment of overtime to refinery workers. I inquired from the Finance Manager of the CPC. I was told that a sum between Rs 2.5 billion to Rs 3 billion had been paid as overtime. The refinery was not closed during the months of March and April. It was closed only during the last month. They had issued refined fuel on all seven days of the week continuously. When an institution operates full time in such a manner the employees would have to be paid for their overtime work. However, I admit that could have been done with some level of management in the payment process,” the Minister said.
Wigneswaran claims RW accepted all his demands
Head of the Thamil Makkal Thesiya Kuttani (TMTK), C. V. Wigneswaran told the media recently that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had agreed to all demands he had made, including the release of Tamil ‘political prisoners’, to secure his vote during last month’s Parliament election, to elect a President.
He made this statement following a meeting with the President in Colombo to discuss the establishment of an all-party government.
“We have made several requests and if the President is ready to comply with them, we will consider taking part in the all party government,” he said.
“We met him when he was Prime Minister. Before the parliamentary vote to elect the President, I made these demands and he agreed to them. That is why I voted for him. Now, it is for him to keep his promises. I am here to remind him of this,” Wigenswaran said.
Wickremesinghe, as the Prime Minister in the yahapalana government, vehemently denied that there were Tamil ‘political prisoners’ in the country. (RK)
MPs are not immune from country’s laws – SJB
By Saman Indrajith
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa told Parliament yesterday that the MPs were not immune from the Penal Code despite the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act.
Premadasa said Cabinet Spokesman Minister Bandula Gunawardane had claimed that incidents in Parliament could not be dealt with under the regular law.
“This claim sends the wrong message to people. Aren’t the provisions of the Penal Code or the Offences against Public Property Act applicable to the MPs? There were incidents in this Chamber during the 52-day coup conspiracy; some MPs damaged public property. There were investigations by the CID and also by Parliament.
The Secretary General announced the cost of the damage. When the process was on to prosecute those MPs responsible for the damage, political influence was exerted on the CID not to file cases against the culprits. It is against this background that Minister Gunawardane, in his position as the Cabinet spokesman, makes this false claim. His statement is sending a message saying that there is one law inside the Parliament and another outside it.
“He also claims that the Speaker decides whether these laws are applicable to Parliament or not,” Premadasa said.
Colombo District SJB MP Mujibur Rahuman said that people were already against the MPs and this new wrong message would further exacerbate their anger against elected members. “The Cabinet Spokesman says that the MPs have a different set of laws while the people are dealt with by the country’s laws. That is wrong. We are also liable for criminal offences that we commit,” Rahuman said.
“The CID conducted an investigation and was prepared to file cases, but that was prevented through political influence. The Cabinet Spokesman’s statement is fueling public hatred towards the MPs. Please, request the Cabinet Spokesman to refrain from making such statements,” he said.
Minister Gunawardane said that he was only responding to a question raised by a journalist and the question was about fairness of cracking down on protesters for destroying public property, during anti-government protests, when MPs, who damaged Parliament, property under the former government, are yet to be apprehended.
Minister Gunawardane said as a public representative in Parliament for the last 33 years he had only explained that the law would be implemented against those engaged in violent activities during peaceful protests.
“I said MPs had Parliament privileges and the Parliament law. I also explained that MPs attending Parliament cannot be arrested as they are engaged in legislative activities,” he said.
Chief Opposition Whip, Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella, said that the MPs had no such legal immunity. and Parliament privileges only cover MPs from being arrested while they are on their way to attend and when they leave Parliament. “Therefore, there is no law that says they are exempt from other laws of the country,” Kiriella said.
Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, agreeing with Chief Opposition Whip Kiriella, said that all other laws in the country applied to the MPs.
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