While Gnanasara and Rathana Theros squabble over Parliamentary seat party Chairman stakes claim
ECONOMYNEXT – In-fighting over who should have a seat in parliament from the Our People’s Power Party (OPPP), led by ultra-right-wing Buddhist monks is turning from ugly to a fiasco.
While the party failed to win a single seat at the recently concluded parliamentary election, the OPPP, known in Sinhala as the Ape Janabala Pakshaya (අපේ ජනබල පක්ෂය) qualified for a seat on the National List as it received 67, 758 votes countrywide.
Now, there are three monks staking a claim for that one seat, while the OPPP’s Chairman Saman Perera, submitted a letter today to the Elections Commission, August 11, stating that he is the nominee.
The OPPP campaign was led by Sinhala supremacist Monk, Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) who teamed up with the like-minded Athureliye Rathana Thero, with the hope that even if none of their candidates wins, they could still poll enough votes to earn a national list seat. Athureliye Rathana Thero who contested from the Gampaha electorate failed to garner enough votes to win a seat.
Gnanasara Thero, General Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) who submitted nominations papers to contest the Kurunegala District at the election was rejected on a technicality.
While the two monks were squabbling over the seat, it came to light that the General Secretary of the Party, Vedinigama Wimalatissa Thero had written to the Elections Commission, hours after counting ended, that he is the nominee.
EconomyNext learns that in the letter, Wimalatissa Thero had stated that he was nominating himself temporarily as both Gnanasara Thero and Athureliye Rathana Thero wanted to be named as the National List representative.
The Elections Commission is mandated by law to accept the nominee submitted by the registered General Secretary of the party.
Wimalatissa Thero has said he would step down once the dispute was settled.
However, since writing that letter, Wimalatissa Thero seems to have disappeared, the spokesman for the BBS Eranda Navaratne told EconomyNext. “We are looking for him and hope to find him today, (August 11)” he added.
Elections officials told Economynext that Rathana Thero too had visited their office at Sri Jayawardenepura, the same day as Wimalatissa Thero, but had been unable to meet anyone, nor hand-in any papers.
In the meantime, the OPPP had decided at a vote taken at a meeting of its Central Committee, on August 10 that Gnanasara Thero would be the nominee on the National List, Navaratne of the BBS claimed.
And then, the Election Commission had received a letter from the OPP, signed by its Chairman, Saman Perera stating that Wimalatissa Thero has been sacked from the party and his nomination has been withdrawn and that Perera himself is the nominee to fill the National List seat in Parliament, EconomyNext reliably learns.
Perera who “owns” the OPPP under Sri Lanka’s lax party registration laws is said to have connections to criminal elements as alleged by Rathana Thero. In a statement released today, August 11, the Thero said that Perera is “from the underworld,” and that the dispute has to be settled in a “cordial discussion between himself and Gnanasara Thero.”
The Elections Commission has now referred the tangled issue to the Attorney General.
Buddhist Leaders oppose Monks in politics
Though the monks entered the political fray, it was against the wishes of the Buddhist establishment, which in March this year instructed monks to refrain from direct involvement in politics.
In a joint statement, the three main Chapters of the Buddhist Clergy in Sri Lanka urged Monks not to contest the elections and called on the government to ban Monks from being elected to Parliament.
The Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chapter Warakagoda Sri Gnanaratana Thero called for Amendments to Election laws to prohibit the granting of nominations to Bhikkhus to contest elections in March.
One Chapter, the Amarapura-Ramanna Nikaya said that they would effectively ask the government to withdraw the special privileges accorded to Buddhist Clergy, from any monk who defies the ban.
Following that call, none of the mainstream political parties nominated monks to contest the election.
Yet these Monks went ahead.
Rathana Thero is a former Member of Parliament who has over the years, been nominated and elected from different political parties. Gnanasara Thero, meanwhile, was serving a six-year prison term for Contempt of Court for disrupting a hearing into the enforced disappearance of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, insulting court officials and threatening witnesses, when he was granted a pardon by former President Maithripala Sirisena in May 2019 and released from jail.
Sirisena said he pardoned Gnanasara Thero to “neutralize” Rathana Thero. But, interestingly, the two got together at the recently concluded election, only to start bickering again over who should enter parliament. (Colombo, August 11, 2020)