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SJB accepts SLPP’s A’pura challenge

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‘Hold LG polls as previously scheduled for March’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Top Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) spokesperson Mujibur Rahuman says that Wednesday’s SLPP propaganda rally in Anuradhapura had contradicted their much disputed claim the Local Government polls couldn’t be held due to the threat still posed by Covid-19 epidemic.

Pointing out that the SLPP has launched a countrywide campaign regardless of repeated warnings that such gatherings could be super spreader of Covid-19, lawmaker Rahuman said therefore LG polls could be held as scheduled.

“We are contemplating seeking the Election Commission’s response to the ruling party’s Anuradhapura move,” the Colombo District MP told The Island.

Referring to the recent issuance of a gazette regarding the postponement of the LG polls previously scheduled to be held by the third week of March, 2022, lawmaker Rahuman challenged the SLPP to reverse it.

Now that Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the presence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at the Anuradhapura rally, had declared that the government was ready to face the Opposition challenge, the LG polls could be re-scheduled, he said.

Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon handles Provincial Council and Local Government portfolio in the absence of State Minister Roshan Ranasinghe who is overseas.

Lawmaker Rahuman said that State Minister Ranasinghe was on record as having said that Covid-19 epidemic had compelled them to postpone elections. Against the backdrop of the Anuradhapura rally, the government couldn’t skip scheduled LG polls on the false pretext of Covid-19 threat, the former UNPer said.

The Island sought an explanation from Chairman of the Election Commission Attorney-at-Law Nimal Punchihewa as regards the postponement of LG polls citing Covid-19 threat. Civil society activist Punchihewa emphasized that the gazette issued in that regard didn’t give any specific reason for the polls postponement. Punchihewa said that the EC was ready to conduct the election depending on the government decision. Responding to another query, Punchihewa said that postponement of polls was in line with the relevant constitutional provisions.

Lawmaker Rahuman said that the SLPP quite conveniently failed to address any of the contentious issues -ranging from ruination of Maha season due to hasty ban on fertilizer and agro-chemicals and the growing foreign currency crisis that had caused countrywide shortage of essential items, including medicine.

He pointed out that the absence of any of the ministers representing constituent parties of the SLPP indicated that recent issues, such as a section of the cabinet challenging the government in the Supreme Court over Yugadanavi deal as well as sharp differences over the economic crisis had affected the ruling coalition. Senior SLFPer Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva’s declaration against the move to tax ETF and the EPF couldn’t have happened at a worse time, the SJB MP said.

The SJB spokesperson said that cabinet minister Udaya Gammanpila’s admission that the country is in a debt trap contradicted the current dispensation’s stand on the present crisis. The government recently stripped Susil Premjayantha of his ministerial portfolio for criticizing the SLPP’s agriculture policy, MP Rahuman said. How would they tackle ministers Gammanpila, Weerawansa, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and now Nimal Siripala de Silva? MP Rahuman asked.

The government parliamentary group comprises145 lawmakers with the main constituent having 117 members. The second and the third largest political parties are the SLFP (14 members) and the NFF (??????members), respectively.

Lawmaker Rahuman said that if the SLPP was confident it could reverse its decision and pave the way for LG polls. However, if the SLPP continued to avoid LG polls on the false pretext of the covid-19 threat, it would underscore the crisis the government was in.

“Let the electorate decide,” the MP said, adding that the SJB remained confident of attracting the vote. He also dismissed claims of turmoil within the SJB.

Of the 54 member SJB group in Parliament, several have voted with the government on two controversial votes-on the 20th Amendment on Oct 2020 and the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill in May 2021.SJB dissidents ensured 2/3 majority for the government on both occasions.

MP Rahuman said that though the SLPP boasted of having a 2/3 in Parliament, it couldn’t have at least leaders of the constituent parties at the Anuradhapura meeting. “That is the reality. Their much touted 2/3 didn’t reflect in the current political environment,” the former UNPer said.



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Wimal asks for PSC probe into top officials’ complicity in violence

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Colombo HC lawyers concerned over shocking developments

By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, says a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) should be appointed to investigate the role played by IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Public Security Ministry Secretary Maj. Gen. (retd.) Jagath Alwis in the recent SLPP hothead attack on those demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Cabinet of Ministers, including Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Weerawansa yesterday (18) told The Island that Parliament should inquire into the unprovoked attack that triggered an extremely violent response by the public as well as those awaiting an opportunity to unleash violence on selected group of lawmakers on 09 May.

The former Industries Minister said he was confident that Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, would look into the issues at hand.

Responding to another query, Weerawansa said that Senior DIG Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon’s claim that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary had interfered with his (Tennakoon’s) plan to disperse the SLPP mobs couldn’t be easily dismissed.

MP Weerawansa declared, in Parliament on Tuesday (17), that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry dissuaded the Senior DIG from performing his duties although he had received specific instructions from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to stop the march on Galle Face. The former JVPer questioned whether those conspirators wanted to show the world the failure on the part of the police and the armed forces to maintain law and order.

Asked whether police headquarters and the Public Security Ministry had responded to his accusations, Weerawansa said he hadn’t been contacted by them so far.

Pointing out that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), inquiring into 09 May turmoil had recorded Senior DIG’s statement, Weerawansa said that the outfit could issue an interim statement on the matter.

The Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association said that the shocking revelation, made in Parliament, should be expeditiously inquired into.

The Association’s President Attorney-at-Law Lakshman Perera said that the ongoing investigations had taken an unexpected turn in the wake of high profile specific allegations pertaining to the conduct of the IGP, as well as the Public Security Ministry Secretary. Pointing out that the HRCSL and the CID had already recorded DIG Tennakoon’s statement, pertaining to the incidents, and the officer was among a group of 22 persons slapped with a travel ban by the Fort Magistrate, lawyer Perera said that the CID couldn’t turn a blind eye to accusations directed at the head of the department as well as Secretary to the relevant ministry.

Lawyer Perera said that investigations couldn’t be completed without verifying accusations made in Parliament.

Lawmaker Weerawansa said that the question was on whose behalf the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary intervened at a time the country was under emergency and after the Senior DIG in charge of Colombo received specific instructions from the President himself.

Although the SLPP goons did not shed any blood or cause any serious injuries, unlike the well-organized mobs that caused havoc across the country thereafter, MP Weerawansa said that he couldn’t comprehend why the police and the armed forces allowed the situation to develop to an extremely dangerous level.

The HRCSL in its initial reaction to the unprovoked attacks on those who had been demanding the resignation of the government condemned the violence caused by a group of people who made it very clear that violence was their intention.

HRCSL Chairperson retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe said: “The failure of the police to prepare for this eventuality and prevent and manage the violence and destruction is a gross failure of public order. There must be an immediate inquiry into this matter. The inaction of the police to prevent the clash is condemned.”

The Island brought the latest developments to the notice of the HRCSL yesterday as MP Weerawansa said that those who conspired and planned the project that involved those at the helm of Temple Trees then and the SLPP should be arrested. The conspirators shouldn’t be allowed to escape justice while the CID arrested those who carried out the actual attacks.

Police spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa said that the department couldn’t respond to what transpired in Parliament. Acknowledging that he was aware of the allegations made in Parliament, Attorney-at-Law Thalduwa said in case their response was sought through proper channels, whatever the queries would be answered.

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Dr. Pathirana says IGP, Public Security Ministry Secy. allowed goon attacks

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Galle District parliamentarian Dr. Ramesh Pathirana has reiterated that IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Secretary to the Public Security Ministry, Maj. General (retd) Jagath Alwis had facilitated the 09 May unprovoked attack on anti-government protesters.

The former Minister Pathirana declared in Parliament yesterday (18) that National Freedom Front (NFF) leader MP Wimal Weerawansa’s allegation, pertaining to the origins of the violence, was true.

Dr. Pathirana said that he was among those who had brought supporters to attend a meeting chaired by the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The vast majority of those who attended the Temple Trees meet on May 09 wanted to thank the war-winning President as he gave up active politics, the MP said. However, some unscrupulous members had instigated the participants there.

Dr. Pathirana said he had been at Temple Trees at that time and as he feared violence could erupt due inflammatory speeches, contact was made with Senior DIG in charge of Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon. Dr. Pathirana said that the senior police officer had assured him that the police were ready to face the situation and confident of preventing those who attended the Temple Trees function from reaching Galle Face.

“Thereafter, I left Temple Trees for a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. There were several other members. When trouble erupted, President Rajapaksa immediately got in touch with Senior DIG Tennakoon, who revealed he had been asked not to use force by the IGP himself.”

Dr. Pathirana said the President had asked the senior law enforcement officer why he didn’t carry out instructions issued by him (the President).

The Galle District MP emphasised that the IGP and the Secretary to the Public Security Ministry were responsible for the violence at Kollupitiya and Fort police areas which triggered violence in many parts of the country. (SF)

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New Deputy Speaker not from Rajapaksa political dynasty

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Newly-elected Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa said that he was not a member of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s clan.

The Hambantota District Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) lawmaker said so when The Island asked him whether he, too, was a member of the Rajapaksa family now under fire over the continuing political-economic-social turmoil.

Rajapaksa polled 109 votes at a secret vote held in Parliament on Tuesday (17) to secure the Deputy Speaker’s post. MP Rajapaksa defeated Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Rohini Kaviratne, who polled 78 votes.

The SLPP rebel group members refrained from voting for Rajapaksa after the top SLPP leadership ignored their appeal to fill the vacancy through consultations with the SJB.

Rajapaksa succeeded SLFP’s Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who quit the post twice, the second occasion after beating SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar at a secret vote.

Deputy Speaker Rajapaksha said that he had served as the Chairman of the Ambalanthota Pradeshiya Sabha in 1997. Subsequently, he became a member of the Southern Provincial Council.

Asked whether he was a resident of the Rajapaksas’ home base, Deputy Speaker said that he was from Pallerotta, Ambalantota. (SF)

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