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Former Gen. Secy says party faced Herculean task in rebuilding

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SLFP 69 today

By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time SLFP General Secretary Prof. Rohana Lakshman said yesterday that in spite of setbacks suffered over the past couple of years, the party was determined to re-organize ahead of future elections.

In an interview with The Island, on the eve of the SLFP’s 69 anniversary on Sept. 2, Prof. Lakshman said that they faced daunting challenges amidst continuing turmoil.

Pointing out that the SLFP had 126 elected members in the 144-member UPFA parliamentary group in 2010, The Island asked Prof. Lakshman to explain the deterioration of the party to such an extent within five years.

Prof. Lakshman said that political parties always rallied around the SLFP at every presidential election during the conflict and the after the successful conclusion of the war in May 2009. “For the first time, we had to accept the leadership of another party, the SLPP, at the 2019 presidential election,” Prof. Lakshman said, asserting that what befell the SLFP couldn’t be blamed on one specific reason.

The academic said that an explosive mixture of reasons contributed to the crisis in the wake of President Maithripala Sirisena accepting the leadership of the SLFP close on the heels of his victory at the presidential election. Prof. Lakshman said that in the aftermath of the 2915 August general election the party struggled to cope up with an influential section loyal to former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa deciding to operate independently. Identifying themselves as the Joint Opposition, the group played the role of the main Opposition at the expense of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), with a much lesser number of MPs, though accepted as the Opposition, Prof. Lakshman said.

“A part of the UPFA/SLFP joined the UNP led government whereas the JO formed the SLPP in 2016 and by early 2018 was a formidable force that threatened both major political parties at times.”

Referring to the first Treasury bond scam perpetrated in late Feb 2015, Prof. Lakshman alleged that the coalition never recovered from the massive daylight robbery. The second scam in March in the following year simply overwhelmed the government, Prof. Lakshman said, adding that debilitating setback suffered by both the UNP and the SLFP at the 2018 Feb Local Government polls weakened them beyond measure.

The failed bid to move a no-faith motion against Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe in April 2018 sharply divided the party with a section of the parliamentary group challenging the leadership, Prof. Lakshman said.

The dissident group called the ‘Group of 16’ caused irreparable damage to the party, Prof. Lakshman said, adding that their move further weakened the party struggling to overcome the Local Government polls defeat amidst the emergence of the SLPP.

Responding to another query, Prof. Lakshman said that President Sirisena made a last ditch effort to take control of the situation by appointing Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister having sacked Wickremesinghe.

Had that operation succeeded, President Sirisena could have turned around the situation as the general election was scheduled to take place on January 5, 2019, Prof. Lakshman said. If not for the UNP-TNA-JVP successfully moving the Supreme Court against the formation of the new government, the general election would have taken place before the presidential election, Prof. Lakshman said.

The academic said that the SLFP today was in a much better position than the UNP. “We won 14 seats, including one on our own in Jaffna, whereas the UNP ended up with one National List slot. We were forced to contest Jaffna, Nuwara Eliya and Kalutara on our own because the SLPP violated an electoral pact. We were to receive one third of the nominations. But, we received 33 nominations and two National List slots.”

 Prof. Lakshman alleged that the SLPP had been unfair by the SLFP but the SLFP was confident they could work together though some members of the dominant party caused quite a disturbance in the run-up to the parliamentary election.

The then President brought in Prof. Lakshman as the General Secretary of the party in the wake of ‘Group of 16’ causing a split. Prof. Lakshman was brought in at the expense of Duminda Dissanayake. However, about six months later, President Sirisena brought in Dayasiri Jayasekera as the General Secretary, while Prof. Lakshman functioned as the Acting President of the SLFP during the presidential poll campaign.

Asked whether party leader Sirisena would step down as promised in the run-up to the general election, Prof. Lakshman said that the former President would state his position. Prof. Lakshman said that he couldn’t comment on the former President’s pledge therefore a clearer picture would emerge at various party forums.

The academic acknowledged that the SLFP was facing an uphill task. There was no point in denying the herculean challenge faced by the party in the aftermath of losing the leadership to the SLPP and sharp reduction of its parliamentary representation.



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Jugglery alleged in Constitution making process: SJB, Gevindu make strong case against jumbo Cabinet

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Opposition and Samagi Jana Balavegaya Leader, Sajith Premadasa, says that the current economic crisis shouldn’t be exploited to form a jumbo Cabinet, under any circumstances.

 “The national economy is in such a pathetic state that those struggling to make ends meet shouldn’t be burdened further,” the Colombo district MP said. The growing opposition to further expansion of the Cabinet-of-Ministers is quite understandable, the former UNP Deputy Leader said, urging the government to drop the relevant provisions.

The Opposition Leader said so when The Island sought his opinion on the provisions, pertaining to the formation of a National Government, in terms of the proposed 22 Amendment to the Constitution. Declaring his party has absolutely no intention of joining the government, lawmaker Premadasa warned the public would revolt if the limits on the number of Cabinet Ministers and Deputies/State Ministers were violated.

 The SJB leader emphasized that whoever is in power should adhere to the limit of 30 Cabinet Ministers and 40 non-Cabinet rankers.

Lawmaker Premadasa said that political stability and economic revival couldn’t be achieved by expanding the Cabinet-of-Ministers.

 SLPP National List MP Gevindu Cumaratunga last week strongly condemned, in Parliament, what he called controversial provisions pertaining to the National Government. Cumaratunga told The Island that he took up the issue at a recent party leaders’ meeting. The provision for Parliament to decide the number of ministers and Deputies/State Ministers would be abused, the leader of civil society group Yuthukama said.

Referring to the inclusion of provisions pertaining to a National Government, in the 19th Amendment that had been endorsed in 2015, lawmaker Cumaratunga said that the proposed 22 Amendment interpreted National Government as an administration formed by the recognized political party or the independent group which obtains the highest number of seats in Parliament, together with the other recognized political parties or the independent groups.

The first time entrant to Parliament said that this should be examined, taking into consideration the strength of political parties represented in Parliament. Of the 225 MPs in Parliament, a total of 199 were elected: the SLPP (145/17 National List seats) and SJB (54/07 National List seats)) ticket. The third largest grouping in Parliament belonged to the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK/01 National List seat), the MP pointed out. The powers that be owed the public an explanation how the SLPP backed President Ranil Wickmesinghe intended to form the National Government without having a formal agreement with the second largest party in Parliament.

MP Cumaratunga recalled how the then UPFA MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara, at the Committee Stage of the 19th Amendment, asked the then Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa, PC, for an interpretation of national government and was told national government meant formation of an administration by the party securing the largest block of seats and the party with the second highest number of seats. Vasudeva Nanayakkara declared that they wouldn’t support the 19th Amendment unless the government provided an interpretation of the National Government.

However, what had been put to the Speaker for approval was very much different from the assurance given in Parliament, MP Cumaratunga said. The MP pointed out that the difference was instead of the union of party with the highest number of seats and the second highest being the national government, the gazette referred to the party with the highest number of seats and other parties in Parliament as the national government. The section in question is 46 of the 19th Amendment.

Lawmaker Cumaratunga said that the 2015 wrongdoing had been repeated.

Parliament website posted the 19th Amendment with the original clause given below: “If at the conclusion of the General Election held immediately after the coming into force of this Article, the recognized political party or the independent group obtaining the highest and the recognized political party or the independent group obtaining the second highest number of seats in Parliament agree to form a Government of national unity, then, notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (1), the number of Ministers of the Cabinet of Ministers and the number of Ministers outside of the Cabinet of Ministers and the Deputy Ministers, may be increased up to forty-five and fifty-five, respectively, if Parliament agrees to such increase, within two weeks of the first sitting of such Parliament.”

MP Cumaratunga said that finally the limits had been done away with for obvious reasons. Responding to another query, the Yuthukama leader said that the change of provisions, pertaining to the National Government, surreptitiously could be compared with the jugglery in manipulating the relevant Parliamentary Select Committee’s recommendations as regards the National List appointees.

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CEB again faces crunch situation with another unit at Norochcholai breaking down

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Three-hour daily power cuts a possibility

By Ifham Nizam

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) now had to impose at least three-hour power cuts due to a sudden breakdown of the First Unit of the Lak Vijaya Power Plant Complex at Norochcholai, a senior electrical engineer said.

The second unit there has already been shut down for annual maintenance. Both units account for 540 MW of power with each usually producing about 270 MW.

CEB Chief Nalinda Illangakoon told The Island that he had instructed officials to go for maximum intake of hydro power, instead of turning to fuel powered generation, to meet the shortfall. It is understood that in the event of turning to the latter, the cost would be Rs. 47 per unit.

CEB Chairman Illangakoon said that it would take between 13 and 14 days to rectify the latest breakdown.

Responding to queries, he said that scheduled maintenance of the Second Unit would be further delayed due to some overseas technical experts contracting COVID.

He expressed confidence that the second plant would be restored and connected to the grid in November.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera earlier confirmed the breakdown of Unit 1.

He added: “Technical staff is working to identify the fault. Unit 2 is undergoing scheduled maintenance work. Unit 3 will continue to operate.”

However, he said West Coast and other Fuel Power Plants would be used to bridge the supply shortfall.

Meanwhile, the electricity sector regulator, the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) has given the approval for three-hour power interruptions for the next four days.

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Now Prasanna alleges Diaspora link in SJB, JVP, and FSP

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Urban Development and Housing Minister Prasanna Ranatunga has alleged that the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), the Janatha Vikukthi Peramuna (JVP), its breakaway faction, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) and some civil society groups, affiliated to the Tamil Diaspora, were engaged in a campaign to remove Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) lawmakers from politics.

 The accusation was made at a meeting held in Colombo last Friday (12) attended by SLPP members of Parliament and Local Government representatives, representing the Gampaha District. The allegation coincided with the government delisting several Tamil Diaspora groups and individuals.

 Lawmaker Ranatunga, who is also the Chief Government Whip, claimed that this operation was being implemented, taking advantage of the ongoing protest movement. Minister Ranatunga said that the conspirators wanted to defeat the SLPP’s ideology at the next national level election.

 Acknowledging that the SLPP had suffered a setback, as a result of a protest campaign launched in the wake of the economic crisis, Minister Ranatunga stressed that they still dominated Parliament, therefore no one could ignore the 2020 parliamentary mandate received by the party.

 The Gampaha district SLPP leader said that the SLPP backed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s candidature at the parliamentary contest to choose an MP to complete the remainder of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term because he was the best available choice (SF).

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