Featured image courtesy PMDNews
Two years in to yahapaalanaya, cracks have appeared in the historic nuptial that took place in January 2015 between the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG). The time has come for a decision to be made; whether to continue to live together, or divorce and enter a new partnership. The most vociferous are the Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists who crossed over and joined Maithripala Sirisena after the January 2015 Presidential elections, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the crafty technocrat is showing immense patience with a few foul-mouthed Sirisena loyalists within the UPFA.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Medamulana ‘lion’ is making waves and is ready for a comeback, albeit in a downgraded role as Prime Minister by shifting minds in Parliament. His younger sibling, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been chosen by the Chinese to be trained in International Diplomacy and Statecraft in preparation for the 2020/21 Presidential Elections. The contest is on for seats in the game of musical chairs. Will President Sirisena have ‘appa’ (hoppers) with the Prime Minister and throw his lot in with his former boss, thereby becoming the undisputed leader of the SLFP? A timely reminder of the cliché, “there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics“, and in the Sri Lankan context, it is only self-interest and dirty lucre.
Ranil Wickremaeinghe, the twice-lucky Prime Minister has blundered big time by defending his buddy Arjun Mahendran of Perpetual Holdings with regards to the bond scam. All is not well even within his own United National Party (UNP) where many are convinced that he is no more ‘Mr Clean’. Parliamentarians from President Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the Joint Opposition, and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) claim that they know a lot more about the bond scam than the citizens of this country, citing the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) report as testimony. The United National Party (UNP) has hit back and threatens to reveal all ‘Cabraal’ deals as part of the investigations and insist that they will be expanded to cover the last 8 years of Rajapaksa rule. A sure sign that the Government has something to hide and is trying to take cover under Rajapaksa lapses. Namal Rajapaksa’s closest buddy and the suspected launderer of their ill-gotten wealth Arjuna Aloysius has become the bond scam’s ‘Cosa Nostra’.
President Sirisena, who once claimed that he would not be among the living if Mahinda Rajapaksa had won the Presidential Election in January 2015, is now flirting with the idea of a united Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Majority UPFA parliamentary members will favour their own government even if they have to work with Mahinda Rajapaksa. Sri Lanka’s ever-present rumour machine has already spun saying “Mahinda has a deal with Maithri.” They have started playing the numbers game to topple the yahapaalanaya Government. The Nugegoda rally on the 27th of January and the planetary changes that took place have given hope to the Joint Opposition. The unfortunate SLFP MPs who were left out of government luxuries after January 2015 cannot survive for too long in the Opposition without the perks and privileges of office, so they are desperate for change. On the other hand, if the UNP backbenchers have their way, most of the Mahinda Rajapaksa cohorts will be behind bars soon. There is pressure mounting on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala, who are suspected of shielding the Rajapaksa clan, to prosecute and deliver on the yahapalaanaya promise to bring the entire lot of Rajapaksas to justice. Every one of them has a “file” and all it takes is for them to be opened. There is no need of a FCID. They are accused of pilfering the wealth of the nation, murder, violation of human rights, and extreme corruption.
The current headcount in parliament reads as: UNFGG-106, UPFA- 95, TNA- 16, JVP- 6, SLMC- 1, and EPDP- 1. Out of the 95 from the UPFA, 43 ditched Mahinda Rajapaksa after the August 2015 General Elections and joined the Sirisena wing and were absorbed in to government ranks to benefit from the perks of office. One of them has now returned to the Joint Opposition. So, for any chance of a Sirisena-Rajapaksa government to succeed, 60 Members of Parliament will have to ‘scale the fence’. Will 60 members trust Sirisena who once betrayed Mahinda Rajapaksa if he makes the move to betray Ranil Wickremesinghe?
Under this volatile political situation, will Mahinda’s Joint Opposition and President Maithripala Sirisena’s SLFP succeed in uniting? Even if President Maithripala Sirisena takes his entire group of SLFPers to the Mahinda Rajapaksa camp, will they have the magic number of 113? How many of the UNPers will jump? Will some of the suspected ill gotten billions buy over the JVP and the TNA to form a new Ranil Wickremesinghe government? Or will the JVP be a part of a coalition where their arch rival, Wimal Weerawansa would be playing a lead role? Will the Tamil National Alliance, whom President Sirisena has been sending “up the murunga tree” in recent times join Maithripala and betray the United National Party? Will the TNA break up with either the Sampanthan wing or the Vigneswaran group, and join Sirisena? Will India entertain this thought? Too many “If’s and will theys?” for Sri Lanka to be comfortable.
Adding spice to all the political ‘kalabala’ (chaos) is Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero’s announcement that he would sit independently in Parliament. The Jathika Hela Urumaya is demanding his seat back citing an agreement reached before he was appointed. Ven. Rathana Thero knows too much of the inner dealings of the Jathika Hela Urumaya for anything to be forced on him. Will Champika and his lot risk taking that chance with him?
There is no doubt that many are disgruntled with the Government. ‘One shot’ Ramanayake has given a deadly punch, mobilising the entire local government network against the Government with his curse on the Divulapitiya Divisional Secretary. The first test of the future of the Government is going to be the forthcoming Local Government Elections. Ranil Wickremesinghe has ‘to take the bull by its horns’ and settle this immediately, so that the local government network does not work against his government. The minority communities, especially the Muslims feel that Buddhist extremism and racism have re-emerged. Although Gotabaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa allowed the extremists to cause havoc with impunity, there was no official state patronage visible. Today, at the behest of Justice and Buddha Sasana Minister, Wijedasa Rajapaksa, President Sirisena entertains the violent extremist monks and accords them recognition as for the Most Respected Mahanayakas and other religious leaders.
The relaunch of the Rajapaksa campaign to destabilise the government was begun in Nugegoda. Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Joint Opposition who have been bragging of major crossovers from the Government, are now giving excuses, stating that they don’t want them to be identified just yet. Are they chickening out, or were they just bluffing? The failed May Day rally in Kirulapone put into cold storage their early campaign to topple the Government, but with the present undercurrents at the Presidential Secretariat, the Mahinda camp is getting revitalised. With China willing to invest, they may make some noise, but my bet is that the gas will fizzle out unless Gota is announced as the Presidential candidate for the 2020 or 2021 contest. However, President Sirisena is not ready for retirement yet and will not entertain the idea of Gota in the fray.
Ranil Wickremesinghe is on a suicide mission. He along with President Maithripala Sirisena is preventing the arrest of the Rajapaksas and bringing them to justice. The corrupt politicians of the former regime are shouting hoarse to ensure that the Government will think twice before arresting them. They could always claim that they were arrested to prevent them being the political opposition. The Government needs to call their bluff and send them behind bars, because that is what the voters mandated the Maithri-Ranil Government in January 2015. The failure to bring justice to murdered Lasantha, Ekneligoda and Thajudeen are a sad reflection on the Maithri-Ranil commitment to yahapaalanaya. The three unfortunate murders have been used as toilet paper. In all three cases, it is believed that there is ample evidence to send some big names to Welikada. The much hyped corruption charges and promises to bring back the plundered loot of the Rajapaksas too seem to be just a mirage.
The Rajapaksa regime sent Sarath Fonseka to prison immediately after he lost the 2010 Presidential Elections. Some still claim that his victory was stolen. As the most decorated officer who held the highest office in the Sri Lankan Army during the most important period of Sri Lankan war history, his rights and privileges were totally violated. A man who survived a Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam’s (LTTE) suicide attack and led the forces to victory in the Eelam war was treated worse than a common criminal. Pressure from the international community, America and India had no impact on the Rajapaksa rule. Today, minions like Wimal Weerawanasa get far more privileges than Sarath Fonseka. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, members of the Joint Opposition, family members of Werawansa and party loyalists are allowed to visit him at Welikada with food, phones and other luxuries with media cameras following them when he has been imprisoned for financial irregularities during his tenure as a Minister. Are these the privileges that our elected Members of Parliament should be accorded for plundering state wealth? Speaker, Karu Jayasooriya needs to revisit the Parliamentary privileges section and order that political criminals should not enjoy such privileges.
President Maithripala Sirisena will do well to rewind to mid 2014 and remind himself of his political standing at the time. The original yahapaalanaya team which consisted of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaranatunga, Venerable Sobitha Thero, Ranil Wickremesinghe, some members of the diplomatic corps and the United National Party, must be wondering what happened to the ‘innocent’ Maithripala Sirisena’s promise of abolishing the Presidency. Junius Richard Jayawardene who created the top seat of the presidency had left enough ‘glue’ on the seat so that anyone sitting would not want to vacate it. President Sirisena has mobilised his ‘mouthpieces’ to demand that the Executive Presidency is not abolished, so that he could serve a second term. I am reminded of President Sirisena’s promise on July 14th, 2015. When he assumed office as the President, he came “with both arms held high to erase the Presidency and to reduce presidential powers. He was, he is and he will be the same tomorrow. That is his policy for freedom and democracy of the common man of his country.” Let us hope that good sense and those noble ideals will prevail with President Maithripala Sirisena.