New twists to ruling party’s factional theatrics as alliance partners cry foul
COLOMBO – Partner parties of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)-led alliance has issued a joint-statement criticizing attempts from within to heap blame for a staggeringly unpopular fuel price hike on Minister of Energy, Udaya Gammanpila, even as State Minister Nimal Lansa, added a new twist to the saga, claiming SLPP architect and national organizer Basil Rajapaksa would not have allowed a fuel price hike at this juncture.
In a statement signed by, among others, National Freedom Front (NFF) leader and Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa and MPs Vasudewa Nanayakkara, Prof Tissa Vitharana, and Athuraliye Rathana Thera on Monday (14), eight out of 11 parties representing the government rejected the attempt to blame the decision on their colleague.
SLPP general secretary MP Sagara Kariyawasam on Saturday (12) demanded the resignation of Gammanpila accusing him of conspiring to bring the party leadership to disrepute by increasing prices.
Criticizing the move, the alliance partners said in their statement: “The decision to increase fuel prices was taken by a Cabinet sub-committee on Cost of Living chaired by the president and participated by the Prime Minister, as recently confirmed by the President’s Media Division. By assigning blame for this “unpopular” decision to Mr. Gammanpila, SLPP General Secretary MP Sagara Kariyawasam has thrown the party into an unnecessary crisis before the public.”
The general secretary of the party openly challenging a decision made by the President and the Prime Minister has led to the public wondering if there is factionalism in the government, the party representatives said.
“We would like to point out that such clannish and immature actions ultimately result in the people losing confidence in the government. It is the duty of the President and the Prime Minister to defeat this trend,” they said.
Meanwhile, fielding questions from reporters on Monday, Lansa said people were facing immense difficulties due to the COVID-19 epidemic and the increase in fuel prices couldn’t have had come at a more inconvenient time.
“For about a year and a half people have been facing job losses, pay cuts and inability to pay loans. A hike in fuel prices affects all goods and services. This is not the time for it,” he said.
The government had raised prices in a bid to bolster the cash-strapped State energy firm, ending an election promise to fix oil prices. Gammanpila on Friday (11) said the price hike was decided by the Cabinet sub-committee as the State-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had Rs 330 billion of accumulated losses and over US$ 3 billion in foreign exchange, which was in short supply.
“People have gone out from the pan to the fire. They’re already suffering. Though I’m in the government, I must say we interact with people in our communities. Some in Colombo can say various things, but when we go to the village, people tell us they find it difficult to live,” Lansa said.
Asked if Basil Rajapaksa was behind the move to blame Gammanpila for the price hike, the Gampaha district MP said: “Basil Rajapaksa is someone who speaks directly. If he were here, he would not have permitted an oil price hike. What we ask the energy minister to do is to intervene and reduce prices.”
Lansa claimed Kariyawasam was under pressure to voice the frustrations coming from the party’s lower ranks.
“If Basil Rajapaksa wanted to, he would speak to the President or the Prime Minister,” he said.
Basil Rajapaksa, younger brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, is currently on a visit to the US, where he is a citizen.
There had been simmering tensions between Kariyawasam and a faction represented by Gammanpila and Weerawansa.
Gammanipla has gone on record referring to a benign “internal struggle” to course correct the alliance and reverse some of its more problematic decisions.
On April 4, the minister said there was a conspiracy afoot to undermine President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration and destroy the alliance from within.
“We know there are certain provisions in the 20th Amendment to the Constitution that go against the mandate. The 20th Amendment wouldn’t have come out in the form that it did if the goal was to serve the mandate,” he said.
In his statement on Saturday, Kariyawasam alluded to attempts to deliberately sabotage the government to make the party leadership unpopular in the eyes of the public.
Kariyawasam had previously levelled similar allegations at Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa.
Tensions between Weerawansa and sections of the SLPP can be traced back to early February when he refused to retract a remark he had made to a Sinhala-langue weekly on February 7 that President Rajapaksa must lead the SLPP.
His comment drew the ire of Kariyawasam who demanded an apology and a retraction from his colleague.
Previously, on February 2, the SLPP secretary criticized Weerawansa for going public with his party’s opposition to the now-scrapped East Container Terminal deal. His actions, Kariyawasam said, were detrimental to the unity within the ruling coalition.