A simmering power struggle in the JVP in the run up to Friday`s final Budget vote almost split the party with an influential section threatening to go along with an UNP-led bid to defeat the government.
The group which wanted to vote against the Budget with the joint opposition almost succeeded in their endeavour well informed sources said.
But JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe and Parliamentary Group Leader Wimal Weerawansa who had the backing of the majority of the parliamentary group managed to dissuade the rebels.
They reluctantly gave up their plan as it would have divided the party`s vote base. Such an eventuality would have been catastrophic from the point of view of the JVP struggling to maintain a critical presence in national politics and on the other hand it would have considerably strengthened the hand of the JHU.
Former JVP heavyweight Nandana Gunatilake, MP, who intervened on behalf of the group supportive of the Rajapaksa government is believed to have played a critical role in preventing a breakup of the party.
Two JVP MPs and a senior party official who is not an MP who strongly backed the move to vote against the budget are believed to have ordered some strong arm tactics against Gunatilake in Parliament on Thursday.
Three MPs including one on the National List abused Gunatilake in Parliament in pursuance of this strategy before one of them threw a punch at him. Gunatillake was threatened and asked to face the consequences if he continued to bat for the government.
The Sunday Island learns that National Heritage Minister Anura Bandaranaike had received an assurance from a faction which pledged support to the UNP that the JVP would definitely opposed the Budget. In fact, one of the JVP MPs who played a critical role in forming a working relationship with the UNP had as late as Thursday night assured Bandaranaike of the move against Rajapaksa.
This was in the backdrop of Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake urging Bandaranaike to protect the SLFP on Thursday night. But Bandaranaike had refused to change his mind.
Bandaranaike was quite confident of the JVP role and was taken aback when he was told by Weerawansa in the parliament chamber on Friday shortly before the voting that the JVP would not vote against the Budget. This prompted Anura to skip the vote and leave Parliament.
Political sources said that the Opposition thought that several government MPs would cross the floor after Bandaranaike staged his dramatic move. But those who had previously assured their support had not followed Bandaranaike, thereby shattering the meticulously planned operation dubbed by a section of the press as Operation December 14. Others predicted a photo finish.
Minister D.M. Jayaratne and another MP representing the Polonnaruwa District are widely speculated to be among the supporters of the UNP-led move. Political sources said that Mesrs. Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathy Sooriyaarachchi who vowed to engineer a mass crossover of SLFP members, too, had failed to deliver with the recently formed National Congress which launched a campaign to force President Rajapaksa to call early parliamentary elections, the sources said.
Contrary to speculation, the Opposition campaign failed to persuade any of the UNP defectors now in the government to break ranks, the sources said. A close associate of an MP involved in the Budget move said that the entire operation, to a large extent depended on the media. The ground reality was very different from what some analysts predicted and in the end Bandaranaike has ended up with a bloody nose.
CWC leader Arumugam Thondaman and UPF leader P. Chandrasekeran, too, have backed off from move quite at an early stage after they felt that the UNP-JVP and Mangala faction couldn`t pull it off despite the SLMC walking out of the government. Two of the six SLMC MPs remained with the government leaving the SLMC leader with only three supporters.
The sources said that Mangala Samaraweera seemed to have feared the JVP would not back the move to defeat the budget a few months ago when he tried a strong arm tactic against the JVP by warning that there would be protests outside their headquarters unless it sided with the joint opposition plan.
Government sources acknowledged that had the UNP secured the support of the JVP, the CWC and several SLFP members would have gladly voted against the Budget.