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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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SJB alleges Prez under SLPP pressure to give up power to dissolve Parliament

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) lawmaker Nalin Bandara Jayamaha yesterday alleged that President Ranil Wickremesinghe was under tremendous pressure from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to give up power to dissolve Parliament, two and a half years after the parliamentary election.

Kurunegala District MP Jayamaha said that the SLPP wanted the provision, pertaining to dissolution of Parliament in the 19A, included in the 22nd Amendment, at the committee stage.

In terms of the 19th Amendment enacted in 2015, the President couldn’t dissolve Parliament until the completion of four and a half years of the term of a government. The last parliamentary poll was conducted in August 2020.

Having overwhelmingly voted for UNP leader Wickremesinghe at the Presidential contest on July 20 to complete the remainder of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term, the SLPP was now seeking full control, lawmaker Bandara asserted.

The SJB official, however, acknowledged that their party, too, had been divided on the issue, with those who backed Dullas Alahapperuma, at the Presidential contest, opposing the move.

Wickremesinghe received 133 votes. Of the 145 SLPP votes, except for its rebel group, the rest voted for Wickremesinghe.

Responding to another question, the former UNPer said that some interested parties thwarted SLPP founder Basil Rajapaksa from leaving the country, soon after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa abandoned the President’s House. That appeared to have backfired, MP Bandara said, alleging Basil Rajapaksa seemed to be running the show.

Asked whether more members of the SJB would soon switch their allegiance to President Wickremesinghe, MP Bandara said that he couldn’t predict what the individual members were likely to do. However, the SJB, the second largest group in Parliament wouldn’t join the government, MP Bandara said.

Of the 54 elected and appointed SJB members, so far two – Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando – have accepted ministerial portfolios. SJB National List MP Diana Gamage, earlier pledged her support to the SLPP.

Lawmaker Bandara said that the SLPP seemed to be quite confident of regaining full political authority, regardless of the recent setbacks suffered. The former Law and Order Deputy Minister said that the SLPP was bent on pursuing its strategy, though the President, elected by the party, fled the country.

The SJB MP said that the move to create an environment, conducive for crossovers for the personal benefit of lawmakers, should be condemned. The provisions, pertaining to the appointment of the Cabinet-of-Ministers, under the proposed 22 Amendment, in case the party with the largest block of seats reached a consensus with other parties, were meant to appoint a jumbo sized Cabinet, the MP said. The SJB official questioned the rationale in giving Parliament the authority to decide on the number of Cabinet ministers and non-Cabinet members, in case of a National Government.

Lawmaker Bandara said that President Wickremesinghe and the SLPP were yet to come up with tangible action plan to address political or economic issues. The MP warned, what he called the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government, that the public here, and the international community, couldn’t be deceived by calling itself a National Government.

The SJB spokesperson said that they wouldn’t contribute, or facilitate, the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa ploy by accepting ministerial portfolios. “We won’t legitimize the government project. How can the SLPP still be acceptable, after the public rejected Gotabaya Rajapaksa, elected by them,” MP Bandara said, adding the SLPP seemed to have conveniently forgotten that the public rejected the ministers, along with their highly overrated President.

The outspoken MP said that it would be a grave mistake, on the SLPP’s part, if its leadership believed the unprecedented crisis, caused by them, could be resolved by getting rid of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

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22 A: Karu J, too, makes some suggestions

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Chairman of the National Movement for Social Justice, Karu Jayasuriya, said that fears expressed by members of Parliament, and others, over the provisions, pertaining to the appointment of Cabinet of Ministers, were not unfounded.

The former Speaker said that he was also concerned about allegations that the proposed 22 A could be abused and exploited to appoint a jumbo Cabinet.

Jayasuriya suggested that political parties, represented in Parliament, and other interested parties should address whatever concerns raised as regards the 22 Amendment.

The yahapalana Speaker said that the success of the whole process would depend on the readiness of all those involved in the new constitution making endeavor to address issues at hand. The accusation that a particular provision (47 [4]) could be used to violate the restriction of cabinet ministers to 30 and no-cabinet members to 40 couldn’t be ignored, Jayasuriya said.

Jayasuriya said that those who represented the parliament should inquire into criticism over the Speaker receiving an opportunity to nominate three civil society members to the 10-member Constitutional Council in consultation with the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. The former Gampaha District MP recalled that in terms of the 19 Amendment, the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader used to nominate the civil society members. Jayasuriya said that whatever knotty issues could be tackled at the committee stage (SF)

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“Govt workers, too, were involved in fuel hoarding”

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It had become obvious that some government workers, too, were involved in hoarding fuel and selling it in the black market, D.V Shantha Silva, joint Secretary the Sri Lanka Petroleum Private Tanker Owners’ Association (SLPPTOA) said yesterday, addressing the media.

He said that the introduction of the national fuel pass system is successful and the majority of fuel stations followed the system.

“Some gas stations still try to manipulate the system but it won’t be easy,” he said.

There is no congestion in gas stations and SLPPTOA members are happy with the process, he said.

“However, there is a drop in orders from gas stations. In the last few months, before the QR system, one tanker load was only enough for a few hours. But now gas stations pump fuel for days with one shipment,” he said.

Silva said that many people tried to blame three-wheeler drivers for hoarding fuel. However, there were other actors involved in the racket, among them were government officials.

“Before the QR system we saw a large number of people at gas stations each morning accessing fuel using various passes. Now that doesn’t happen and there is no congestion,” he said. (RK)

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