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Friday, 25 January 2013

Ranil under attack for his duplicitous conduct

Ranil under attack for his duplicitous conduct
The impeachment against Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake that triggered a major controversy in the country, reached a decisive stage last Thursday when the Court of Appeal read out the Supreme Court determination on seven petitions filed before it, challenging the constitutionality of the impeachment probe conducted by the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC). The Court of Appeal on this occasion handed its order on the Writ Application filed by the Chief Justice praying that the findings of the PSC probe be declared null and void.
Government surprised
By the beginning of the week, the government had received information that the Court of Appeal was set to announce the Supreme Court determination on 3 January as planned.  This was a signal for a large group of senior ministers to hold a hurried council to plan a counter move.  At this discussion they had decided to hold several media briefings to send home the message that the government would stand firm on the impeachment process notwithstanding any Court rulings against it.  Accordingly, Ministers Maitripala Sirisena, Nimal Siripala de Silva and Dullas Alahapperuma held one media briefing followed by another by Ministers Dilan Perera and Pavitra Wanniarachchi.  Deputy Speaker, Chandima Weerakkkody held still another briefing. At these briefings they asserted t the government was not prepared to take a step backwards on the impeachment issue under any circumstances.
Ranil’s duplicity
While the entire country was watching all agog the impeachment saga, in which the government and the Chief Justice were the main actors, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was playing a duplicitous role behind the scenes, which was known only to a few people. There had been a secret understanding between the government and Wickremesinghe over the impeachment from its very inception.  His visit to Venice for a vacation was a result of that understanding.  So, when the debate over the impeachment was raging in the country, Wickremesinghe and his wife, Maithree were enjoying rides in gondolas in the beautiful city on water as we disclosed in our column last week. We are in a position to reveal more interesting details about Wickremesinghe’s visit to
Venice.
Ranil had arrived in Venice with his wife, Prof. Maithree Wickremesinghe after having made arrangements to check into a super luxury hotel in Venice at the expense of government.  So Ranil immediately on arrival in Venice got in touch with Sri Lanka's envoy in Italy, Asitha Perera, who happens to be a close relative of his.  Asitha got his embassy officials to reserve a suite in the Hilton Hotel for a period of two weeks for the Wickremesinghe couple.  The External Affairs Ministry here, in a matter of few minutes, learnt that Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Italy had reserved a hotel suite for the Wickremesinghes on the embassy account.  The ministry high-ups lost no time in informing Asitha Perera that the embassy should not play host to Wickremesinghe and his wife at government expense. “If you are keen on hosting the couple, you may do so at your own expense,” ministry officials had told Asitha Perera. Following, the External
Affairs Ministry directive, Ranil had to reserve a suite in a less expensive hotel that cost only US$ 400 a day.
Ranil returns to hotel
A highly disconcerted Wickremesinghe lost no time in informing the government top brass here about the predicament he was in. Within minutes, the Sri Lankan Embassy in Italy received an order from a high government authority here that the Wickremesinghe couple be provided with all facilities for their stay in Venice adding if the embassy could not release funds for this purpose, the government could channel adequate funds to the embassy from a separate source to cover all the expenses in connection with the visit of the Wickremesinghes.  The Sri Lankan Embassy in Italy lost no time, thereafter, to transfer the Wickremesinghe couple to the super luxury hotel they had initially reserved for them. And thus the initial hiccup easily got over; a trouble- free vacation in Venice began for the Wickremesinghes.
On hearing that the UNP Leader is on a vacation in Venice, the office- bearers of   the UNP Branch in Italy, who were highly concerned over the developments in Sri Lanka, decided to discuss the current political situation in the country and the steps being taken by the party leadership to meet the political imperatives called for by the developing crisis over the impeachment process. These party activists who sought a meeting with Ranil were shocked by the response they got from the party leader. “We have come to Italy to relax, not for politics,” was Ranil's curt reply. “Why don't you leave us alone?  I will speak to you all when I visit Italy next time.”
Furore over notice on PSC
While Ranil and Maithree were enjoying gondola rides in Venice, Sri Lanka was witnessing a series of events assuming great political significance.  One such significant event was the Court of Appeal issuing notice on the members of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing the charges against the Chief Justice to appear in Court on 3 January. The developments that followed triggered a veritable furore in political and legal circles. When the  government ministers  kept telling the people at every public forum they appeared that the Court of Appeal had no jurisdiction to issue such notice on the PSC, the UNP, JVP and TNA members of the committee  announced that they would be appearing in courts in response to the notice served on them. UNP’s Lakshman Kiriella, a member of the PSC, speaking on behalf of the UNP told media that he was appearing before Courts on 3 January as he too had received a notice from the courts.
Kiriella gets an urgent call from Italy
Kiriella’s public statement that he would be attending Courts on 3 January had sent UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake into a flurry.  He had lost no time in contacting Kiriella. He had inquired from Kiriella whether he had obtained permission from the party leader to make public the party's stand on responding to the courts notice.  Kiriella's nonchalant reply was that he would attend Courts as he too had been served with notice by the Courts. Tissa who expressed his displeasure over Kiriella's action added he would get back to him after consulting the party leader. Minutes later, Kiriella received a call on his mobile phone from Party Leader Wickremesinghe, who was on a gondola cruise in Venice. “Don't attend Courts in response to the notice served on you,” Ranil told Kiriella. “You know that the government members are not attending.  The decision taken by the JVP and the TNA to attend Courts is immaterial to us. Don't
attend Courts. This is my decision.  I am working on a long-term plan....”  A highly perturbed Kiriella protested: “How can I ignore the notice? Besides, I have already announced that I would be attending Courts.” Ranil insisted that he had no option, but to toe the party line. A highly concerted Kiriella had decided that there was no purpose in arguing any further with an adamant leader.
Tissa calls a media briefing
Attanayake  called a media briefing soon after at which he told the media that the UNP too was not prepared to respond to the notice served on the party members of the PSC  because their stand was that the Court of Appeal has no  jurisdiction to serve notice on the PSC members. Attanayake's statement embarrassed Kiriella in no small measure.  He was further disconcerted when a large number of UNP MPs  and the party's people's representatives at the periphery  inundated him with phone calls inquiring whether he subscribed to the party's stand announced by Tissa at the briefing.  Caught in a catch-22 situation, Kiriella confided in all who called him what transpired in his conversation with the Party Leader and Attanayake the previous day.
Ranil uses the Pope as a shield
Several close associates of Wickremesinghe were among those taken by surprise by the party's stand on the notice served on the PSC members as announced by Attanayake.  They too rang up Ranil in Venice to inquire whether it was his decision not to attend the Courts. These inquiries from unhappy party confidantes sent Ranil immediately into the defence mode.  Ranil told them: “Maithree and I called on the Pope in Vatican. On that occasion, he inquired about the present situation in regard to the impeachment against the Chief Justice. Later, the Holy Father asked me to support the government to overcome the crisis. “
Joint opposition furious over Ranil's stand
The arbitrary decision taken by Wickremesinghe to boycott Courts on 3 January drew the first angry reaction outside the party when the representatives of the Joint Opposition met in Colombo to discuss the joint action to be taken by them on 3 January.  Tissa Attanayake represented the UNP at this meeting attended by M. Sumanthiran, Wickramabahu Karunaratne, Siritunga Jayasuriya, Mano Ganesan and Sarath Manamendra as representatives of their respective parties.   
Tissa Attanayake had to face the wrath of the representatives of the other opposition political parties when he announced the UNP's stand on the notice issued by the Court of Appeal. A visibly furious Wickramabahu shouted at Attanayake: “Mona wada me karana vikara weda? Mehema theerana aragena apita rata athule deshapalane karanna puluwanda?  (What is this nonsense? If we are to take decisions like this, can we practise politics in the country with our clothes on?)” Dr. Karunaratne turned more furious when Attanayake protested that it was not his decision, but that of the party leader.   The NSSP Leader charged that Wickremesinghe was only carrying out a government contract. Turning to Attanayake he continued: “You are also carrying out a government contract. If this is your way of doing things, I don't think we can forge ahead in politics as a Joint Opposition. You go to hell, if you can't attend Courts. But we all will be there
tomorrow.”
“I can't talk,” says Harsha in sign language
Attanayake's servile obedience to Ranil and the government later became a major moot point among the UNPers.  Some party members expressed the opinion that Tissa has been blackmailed into servility by Ranil and the government as they are in possession of some sordid details about his private life.  They recalled that Tissa withdrew from the UNP campaign at the Colombo MC elections soon after some ministers warned him that they would not hesitate to expose him if he tried “to show too much muscle.” Although Lakshman Kiriella kept away from Courts at Ranil's behest, a number of UNP MPs who attended the Court of Appeal appeared jubilant over the Court rulings.  Among the UNP MPs present in Courts were Karu Jayasuriya, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Ajith C. Perera, Range Bandara and Harsha de Silva.  When Dayasiri Jayasekera was telling Dr. Harsha de Silva that Parliament should abide by the Court ruling, the latter placed his index finger on his
lips indicating that he did not wish to open up on the subject. A Ranil loyalist, Harsha soon after walked away from the group of UNP MPs, taking long strides in his haste to distance himself from his `heretical' colleagues.
The UNP MPs at the Court premises had to face another unpleasant incident when a woman lawyer confronted them and severely criticized Wickremesinghe and the UNP MPs for resorting to double dealing in regard to the impeachment affair. “If your `Lokka' were here today,   I would dash him on the ground like a frog,” the irate woman lawyer said.