The crisis-ridden Western Provincial Council was plunged into virtual chaos yesterday when Governor Alavi Mowlana prorogued it for three weeks -- just quashing the no-confidence motion against Chief Minister Reginold Cooray.
But the main opposition UNP and the government ally, the JVP, reacted angrily, with the UNP demanding the dissolution of the council and fresh elections while the JVP insisted that Mr. Cooray must go.
Angry UNP councillors who sponsored the motion stormed into the chamber and staged a protest when they were told that the council was prorogued. The unprecedented prorogation of a provincial council came after President Chandrika Kumaratunga rushed back from Britain and held crisis talks with UPFA councillors till late on Monday night in a bid to save the Chief Minister.
In an apparent show of strength, Chief Minister Cooray later arrived at the council with a large crowd, including SLFP councillors and chief ministers from the southern, Central, North Central and North Western provinces, accompanied by parliamentarian Mervyn Silva.
Addressing a news conference, Mr. Cooray lashed out at the UPFA ally, the JVP, saying he was sad that an alliance party was supporting the UNP`s motion against him and trying to damage or break up the UPFA.
The JVP had insisted that corruption and other charges against Mr. Cooray were valid and the party was backing the motion for his removal.
Governor Mowlana in announcing the prorogation said he would order a formal probe on the charges against the chief minister and had asked for a report within three weeks. He said he would decide on the next step after studying the report.
Giving his reasons for the prorogation of the council, the Governor said there was a need to check on the veracity of the allegations. He said the fact that the majority of the membership of the council had expressed their confidence in the Chief Minister and also the need to ensure justice fair play and transparency were among other reasons.
`The UNF has made 11 allegations against the chief minister in its no-confidence motion. Four of the allegations are based on serious financial frauds and instances of misconduct. The JVP group leader Waruna Deepthi Rajapakse has told me and the media that his party supports the motion against the chief minister. We cannot disregard the stand taken by the JVP which is a leading partner of the UPFA,` the Governor said.
WPC Opposition leader Kithsiri Kahatapitiya of the UNP said the prorogation was undemocratic and based on party politics. He demanded that the council be dissolved and elections held, expressing confidence that his party would win comfortably.
JVP group leader Waruna Deepthi Rajapakse addressing a news conference later vehemently condemned the prorogation and demanded that President Kumaratunga should immediately remove Chief Minister Cooray.
He said the prorogation was mainly intended to save Mr. Cooray and the JVP believed he did not deserve another chance as he had been given many chances to mend his ways.
Mr. Rajapakse said that at crisis talks on Monday night, President Kumaratunga had assured that the chief minister would need to quit if the allegations against him were proved.
SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem whose party has four seats in the WPC yesterday attacked the prorogation as dictatorial.
Mr. Hakeem who is in Mecca telephoned his party frontliners to express grave concern, a spokesman said.
Describing yesterday`s move as a cowardly act to subvert a democratic process, Mr. Hakeem said, `Proroguing of the sittings of key institutions, it appears, has become a way of life for certain leaders.
But they should not forget that they cannot engage in this type of dilatory tactics all the time. One day they have to face the reality and that day they will be in for the shock of their lives,` the SLMC leader said.