3 December, 2022


Choose Your Poison, Ladies And Gentlemen

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

There’s a term that has consistently defined electoral politics in Sri Lanka: default option. We’ve heard it before. We vote people and parties out. Naturally other people and parties get voted in. It’s a pay-back option for a people whose franchise is mostly about reflecting for a few moments before a ballot box before deciding to pick from a group of people or parties patently unsuited to hold office or rule the country.

Punishment is salve, obviously. It’s also the easier option, the difficult one being sweating for years to build a movement that can subvert a system that favors those with wealth, thugs and networks that are not necessarily wholesome.

Therefore, come election time, the focus is whether incumbents should stay or go. Those who argue for the former talk about alternatives being worse. Those who decide on the latter, if pointed out that alternatives are no better, have a ready response: ‘true, but right now, we need to get rid of this government; that’s the necessary first step!’

We saw all this in January 2015. The track record of the alternative and those of his principal backers were brushed aside as irrelevant to ‘the matter at hand,’ i.e. ‘getting rid of a corrupt, undemocratic and abusive regime.’

Wait. Who were the movers and shakers of ‘The Alternative’? Let’s revisit.

First, Maithripala Sirisena. Former president Chandrika Kumaratunga and the person who flanked Sirisena when he addressed a media conference to announce candidacy said that he was the only clean member of the then government. I don’t think people who supported Sirisena at that point were really interested in the character certificate that Chandrika gave. It’s not that her word counted much, anyway. Also, the cleanliness of the candidate didn’t really matter.

Ranil Wickremesinghe would make the relevant point three years later when addressing newly elected members to local government bodies. He observed how those who began their political careers owning just a push bicycle ended up with Benz cars. ‘What was Maithripala’s vehicle when he first entered politics and what kind of car and how many did he own by the time he declared candidacy?’ was not a question that seemed to have troubled Ranil back then. ‘How did his brothers prosper so much after 1994?’ is another question that wasn’t asked.

Chandrika. Well, another ardent supporter of the Yahapalana drive, Victor Ivan, wrote an entire book about her ‘cleanliness’. As for the commitment to yahapalana ethics, just months into her first time Chandrika brushed aside workers’ protests saying ‘we didn’t promise freedom of the wild ass’ (never mind that she guaranteed the continuation of such freedoms accorded to the business class by her predecessors. The ‘Satana’ editor was murdered under her watch. The Wayamba election was marked by violence and the public stripping of a woman.

Ranil. He signed a Ceasefire Agreement with a terrorist outfit without consulting Parliament or informing the President. He was a senior member of the UNP cabinet during the most violent period in post-Independence history, the 1988-89 bheeshanaya. Illegal detention, proxy arrests, abduction, torture and people being burnt alive, remember? His leader at the time famously said ‘let the robber barons come!’ Not all the robbers had to come, some were already here and some cut their thieving teeth in the UNP governments led by J.R. Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa. Those who complain of media freedom being curtailed, the white van culture, abuse of state resources, graft and so on, are either ignorant of that time or choose to be silent for reasons of self-interest. That was the worst period, period.

Rajitha Senaratne was the other person who attended that first media conference; a political opportunist if ever there was one with a gab that’s only bested by S.B. Dissanayake’s for drivel. Senaratne was accused by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (we’ll come to them soon) of making enough bucks to buy ships. He is by training a dentist. We don’t know which vehicles mark his wealth-trajectory.

The JVP didn’t exactly say ‘vote for Maithripala,’ but not only did they desist from fielding a candidate but spent those campaign-months ranting and raving against Mahinda Rajapaksa. The JVP has had its moments. They should be applauded for bringing the 17th Amendment for example. They’ve abandoned the idea of armed struggle after being vanquished in 1989, although their thuggery has not died in the political spaces they control, notably the universities. They were the junior partner of the terror that was unleashed on the entire citizenry during the bheeshanaya. They assassinated political opponents, government servants, academics, members of the security forces and the police, threatened and killed families of those who opposed them, destroyed public property, burnt factories and were engaged in extortion.

Among the lesser backers were the NGOs, especially those that focus on advocacy. Their history does not make for applause.

We need not go into all the ‘big names’ of that political moment, but we must mention that the USA funded that campaign. Need we say more, considering the politics of ‘bringing democracy’ to the world?

Did any of this matter? No. What mattered was ‘getting rid of the Rajapaksas’. It was a ‘by any means necessary’ affair; the end justifying the means, if you will. ‘Change’ was the slogan and that word was frilled with the yahapalana goodies. No one remembered what Mangala Samaraweera (another staunch backer who according to the wide-eyed is a master strategist, never mind that he ‘masterminded’ defeat after defeat for the UNP including at the recent local government elections) once said about mandates. He essentially said that mandates are only relevant until results are announced.

Today, the yahapalana dream has turned out to be a nightmare. The naive are upset. The knowing knew all along that this was not about good governance but about their people being in power. The project has failed. The best proof is the fact that no one wants to take responsibility for drafting the policy document of the yahapalana drive, namely the ‘100-days program’. Victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is always, always, a foundling, they say. The 100-days program being fatherless today clearly indicates that ‘defeat’ has been acknowledged (in less than 100 words).

The yahapalanists have quickly shifted to the game of relative merits. Their arguments are full of terms and words such as ‘still!’ ‘but’ ‘anyway,’ and ‘at least’. Some even talk of ‘known devils’ which is actually an honest proposition by those who knew that ‘change’ was not doing to see ‘devilry’ being flushed down the tube.

In fact ‘known devil’ is the key argument of the incumbent(s). The only difference is that the identity of the ‘known devil’ changes from time to time. Back then it was Mahinda, now it is the yahapalana twins, Ranil and Maithripala.

The incumbents, naturally, stress the ‘danger’ of returning to ‘dark days’ as though none of them were ever party to the bleeding of light. That’s their problem. The deeper issue is that we are once again facing a default option.

Today there are very few who will sing the praises of Ranil and Maithri. Only those who are politically sophomoric or are plagued by the blindness of loyalty or direct beneficiaries of this corrupt, violent and incompetent regime will applaud. And even this, in cautious tones and with lots of caveats of the ‘still-but-anyway-at-least’ kind.

The general sway is towards ‘out!’ The questions that are not being asked are exactly the questioned that were brushed aside when Mahidna’s ouster was plotted. In other words we are at a junction called ‘Default Option’.

And so we have a virulent attack on Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a man who has not announced presidential aspirations but who is seen as ‘the alternative’ by many. His past, including the track records of his associates, then and now, probably will not matter. The smear campaign that has been launched is only giving him the kind of visibility that people spent millions to obtain. He’s getting it free.

That, however, is a problem for his opponents. The issue is the poverty of our political culture that seems to so ready to press the default-option button.

The histories of the major political parties and other groups that have clung on to them for reasons of political expedience (rather than ideological agreement) are known. They have robbed, deceived, cheated and killed.

The more serious issue is that few are talking about two people who have announced that they will run for President, Nagananda Kodituwakku and Rohan Pallewatte.

Neither are affiliated to either of the major parties or the coalitions they lead. Neither have benefitted from political friendships. They are strong in their own way. Pallewatte is a self-made man. He is a successful businessman. He is down to earth, has a sense of humor, has a keen intellect and is clearly not burdened by track-record.

Kodituwakku has led a lone battle on behalf of the entire citizenry in the courts. He’s pointed out systemic flaws, he’s exposed crooks, he’s been brave and forthright to the point that he has earned the ire of many in the judicial system. He stands for integrity. He stands for a democratic constitution. He fights corruption. He has the credentials.

Now if people were really serious about Yahapalanaya and a different way of doing things, they would take both these candidates seriously. They would back them with more enthusiasm than they backed Maithripala in 2015 or (as the case may be) as they back a possible Gotabhaya Rajapaksa presidential bid.

Love for a candidate (regardless of track-record) or hatred for a candidate (for flaws they refuse to see in those they love) dominate thinking when it comes to showing preference. It’s a matter of choosing one poison over another. Some are shocked when they break out with a rash. Others scratch in private. Some, eventually, will switch one poison with another.

That’s where we are at, ladies and gentlemen; we choose the poison that will make us ill or even end up killing us.

Perhaps it is high time we did something else; like have a conversation with either Rohan Pallewatte or Nagananda Kodituwakku or both or think of other non-poisonous options.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    Hhmmh, your conclusion sounds good.

  • 7

    It is a correct decision to get rid of Mahinda in 2015. It is also necessary to get rid of Ranil & Mithiri but we should make sure that we should not replace them with Mahinda or Gotapaya. It is possible and people should unite together to get rid of all rotten animals.

    • 0

      “What mattered was ‘getting rid of the Rajapaksas’.”

      Mission accomplished. All is well.

      But seriously:
      Die Hard UNPers will vote for Ranil
      SLPP will vote for Gota

      I guess it will have to go to a tie breaker by the willing Minorities.

  • 3

    While all might be true about the personalities mentioned by Malinda, 2015 was not a ‘default option’ on the part of the voters or activists as they were aspiring to achieve greater democracy (relatively) through the change, and in fact they have achieved. This is the space that is created even to think about viable third alternatives like Kodituwakku or Pallewatte. Such a third alternative might be viable if it is built on the logic of 2015. This means as a ‘non-partisan’ ‘common candidate’ of the democratic forces.

    It is obvious that the SLPP would win the next Parliamentary elections. What might be necessary is to check and counter such a (otherwise authoritarian) government through (1) a strong opposition of the UNP/SLFP/TNA/JVP with (2) a President elected from the same and additional forces, and this is viable. MS or RW has no chance if contested against each other. Neither would be accepted this time as a common candidate by the other party. ‘Non-partisan’ and ‘above politics’ President supported by democratic forces and elected by the people directly would be the best for the country and democracy.

  • 5

    The smear campaign against Gota will not work. People’s minds are made up

  • 2

    For the last seventy odd years, we have been taking “Poison” in varying doses, as prescribed by the so called “Veteran” Politicians, Civil Society Activists, Intellectuals, Religious Leaders, Communal Leaders and with or without “Foreign ” assistance. The “Last Does” of that “Poison” was taken, again as “Prescribed” by the aforementioned groups in 2015. That “Last Does”, we now have realized, contained a ‘Heavy Does” of corruption, mismanagement, waste, arrogance wrapped in Democracy, crimes that penetrate and attack the nerve centers, that had CRIPPLED the entire body functions to a high level of certain “Death”; unless an “IMMEDIATE RESURRECTIONAL ” measures are taken. Some measure of RELIEF has come, as mentioned by the writer in the last paragraphs, but unfortunately once again those “Amoebic” forces have not given up and refusing to leave the near death body. The “Poison” has spread so much so, that we saw it when another “Intellectual” an ex Vice Chancellor of a University who is charged for various crimes was “SWORN” in as an MP in the Parliament. So what more “WAITING” do we need? We NEED a BRAND NEW operational movement to begin working. Towards that, I do hope and urge those two mentioned – Mr. Kodithuwakku and Mr. Pallewatta to BEGIN NOW to provide that much needed LEADERSHIP to avoid that “Near Death” situation of Sri Lanka.

  • 2

    Malinda has made a correct diagnosis of what ails the nation.

    I clicked “Rohan Pallewatte” on Google and saw his lecture/narration about himself.
    He has the tenacious mind to achieve.
    Kodituwakku is well known for his exposure of most crooked things in our nation, and stands for justice.
    But, it has to be “social justice” if either of them contest.

  • 3

    Sunil Handuntti who exposed Bondscam or Anura Kumara of JVP should run for Prez post.

    They are known corruption fighters and politicians.

  • 2

    “Neither are affiliated to either of the major parties or the coalitions they lead. Neither have benefitted from political friendships. They are strong in their own way. Pallewatte is a self-made man. He is a successful businessman. He is down to earth, has a sense of humor, has a keen intellect and is clearly not burdened by track-record.

    Kodituwakku has led a lone battle on behalf of the entire citizenry in the courts. He’s pointed out systemic flaws, he’s exposed crooks, he’s been brave and forthright to the point that he has earned the ire of many in the judicial system. He stands for integrity. He stands for a democratic constitution. He fights corruption. He has the credentials.”

    food for thought indeed.This seems to be the answer because the pollies have ganged up on the people and made a pact with each other not to harm each other so that they can get away with plunder.However what about the idiotic rural masses.They won’t vote for these two gentlemen because they want the usual glamorous rogues as candidates.Maybe the masses get what they deserve and 40% of their children will continue to be malnourished.

    I would ask ranjan ramanayake(at least the masses know him)to leave his measely deputy mnister position which has also been given grudgingly and put up his hand as a independent candidate.

  • 4

    Malinda, getting elected and able to govern are two very different skill sets and only very few has the ability for both.
    As you rightly pointed out Sri Lankans vote out (Sinhala voter I should say because the Tamil and Muslim voters are agenda driven) not elect in, as they did to Mahinda.
    Today they are ready to vote out the Yahapalanya and by default, most popular personality will be voted in and that will not be Nagananda or Rohan.
    Then the other question is even if Nagananda or Rohan were to be voted in by default can they govern?
    Because governing is lot more messy than getting elected, you need the Charisma that automatically receive loyalty, the Astuteness that enable you to do the deal with the devil, ability to Compromise so the better evil wins, but most of all Leadership Experience or what they call Executive experience. Only Mahinda or Gotabhaya under Mahinda’s mentorship has that, they are the only choice for the recovery from the holy mess we are in.

    • 0

      Wannihami: what you say “getting elected and able to govern are two very different skill sets and only very few has the ability for both. “is wrong. In Sri lanka, politicians think they have to be specialists in their field. that is why British established 15 or 18 ministries and the PErmenent Secretary (remember PErmanent) was one of the VIYATHUN or the expert or the specialist. He know the subject related to that ministry. what is happening now. the minister’s wofe, dauighter, son or brother is the Secretary. that same person is reasponsbile, probably, for account keeping. then there is a political authroty. SO, always there is animosity within because there are at least four major parties (Sinhala laone) right now.
      Because of the autocratic party constitution IT is only Jayawardana, Wiewardana or now wisramasinghe’s can become UNP party leaders. FOR SLFP, It is Kumarantunga or Rajapkse, now may be sirisena can become party leader. that need to be changed. they should be allowed present their vision infront of card holding party members and select the leader in an open vote. After that we can argue all other things. even though we extreme politicization, it is PResident PM and the cabinet that are alwayed being blames. So, why these stupid people use this much politics. I listen to one video in which CBK is complaining she gave jobs even then Atthanagalla people di dnot vote her.
      That is common now.

    • 1


      “Malinda, getting elected and able to govern are two very different skill sets and only very few has the ability for both.”

      Of course they are.
      They need the skills to lie and kill.

      Only Mahinda and Gotabhaya (under Mahinda’s mentor-ship) have that ability.
      “They are the only choice for the recovery from the holy mess we are in” and exactly that was the lie they start with.

      Are you trying to replace Dayan the public racist?

  • 4

    We should elect Aadivasi chief Uruwarige Wannila Aththo as our next President. He gave very good advise to the Aadivasi person who was elected to Local Council on how to perform her duties. He will be million times better than the rotten politicians who are ruining this country.

  • 0

    I heard Rajitha Senarathne is being comapred to a Frog. there is a nice joke circulating in the about it. Anyway, Rajitha Senarathne try to come from SLFP/SLPP next time. S.B. Dissanayake is not a saint. His name is in Panama Papers. The group of 16 are all theives and most prbably every one is a NAtional List MP. I think S.B. dissnayake stole money from the bank that he is heading under his ministry. IT is some 13 billion. What they are doing right now as the group of 16 is they are negotiating openly saying we are a formidable groupt. so take us against the next time. What you are saying is correct. there are so many blindly follow theives. Some comments say just change the laws and make thefts legal and escape. Anyway, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Rosie Senayake, and I think Sarah fonseka too explaoned how most of the 225 have become theives. The major reason is the exetreme politicizatio of everything. Then every politician tries their best to become a specialist or an expert. Recently, Sarath Fonseka that he needs some months to stury hid ministry and then start work. that may be applicable in the army as he is drawing plans and fighting formation to face the enemy. Why in the ministry, it ishould be the experts in theministry who draw plans. He get the cabinet approval. the seond problem is the govt does not follow rules. they are not supposed to get donations in the middle of the year. but what all have done is interpreted that rulw as it suit them. So in the middle of 2016, a Provincial chief minister,e ven when there no election upon him, Day Jasekara got one million from Arjun, when it is know that every one got either THREE MILLION PACAKGES OR RS 300 MILLION PACKAGES.

  • 2

    Malinda Seneviratne ~ “Choose Your Poison, Ladies And Gentlemen”
    After choosing then what Malinda? Just keep it handy like wearing it round your neck?
    Why not try a remedy Malinda? Take away the language/religion-divide?
    But SLPP cannot survive a day without this!

    • 2

      K. PILLAI: what stupid talks you talk. Why Tamils have Tamil specific Political parties. IS it sinhala buddhist fault. Why Muslims have muslims only political parties. IS it sinhala buddhist fault. Why you Tamils and Muslims come into senses. Explain what you are talking about.

  • 2

    At present what Sri lanka should do is, cut down the number of ministreis to 15 or maximum 18.Reorganize it the way we had it earlier even before 1972. Appoint PErmanent Secretaries to each minister who are experts in the area. all other ministries can come under those. for example see how many ministers and ministries are there to develop colombo, west and different areas. IT is wasting money and duplication of responsibilities in order to provide extra income to politicians and theirby increasing corruption because al thse people need funds and contractors. Then IGP and AG should be appointed by a all party parliamentary committe and not by PM and both of them should be submitted to the parliamentary committe. See Handunetthis is a trustworthy guy. He can head some of these committees. there may be other people because preident and PM do not like capble guys in the level palying fields.Sri lanka needs a president elected by people and a PM elected by the PArliament because PArliament is executive therefore the PM is executive and the PArliament can be bought. IT had been shown overwhelmingly during this govt, during the NCM as well as during the Mahinda Rajapakse times. I think the NEw president who ever comes next time should be one like JRJ.

  • 0

    PResent PResident can earnsome votes by Cancelling the NAtional List. Because, all of them have questionable characters, if rehired by Mahinda Rajapkse or Ranil, that can be explained to the voters. Most of those NAtional list MPs are caught in the bond Scam too. Naim siripala’s Secretary got money. does that say Nimal Siripala a saint.

  • 1

    Individuals -however their intentions and justifications are righteous-can contest elections but contesting national elections require a well resourced organisation behind them to carry on the campaign. Without such an organisation and a well developed strategy, it can end up as another hot balloon. (In the past we have seen such non political candidates contesting and getting a few thousand. votes).

    Before such an organisation and a strategy are built,these and any other prospective candidates have to:

    1.identify the core problems and their causes in the country including governance(too many layers) and developement/poverty, inefficient judiciary,education dependent own the West, unresolved ethnic issues(with a bit of historical knowledge)

    2. Strategies -macro and micro-to solve them prepared by a pre-election ‘think tank’ whose members are selected from diverse professional, social and academic backgrounds including from the Sri Lankan diaspora

    3 Develop ‘a vision and mission’ involving broad principles that underpin the steps to be taken to resolve current problems’e.g. social justice, pluralism,national economy, education based on SL values and norms and intellectual/cultural traditions, meritocracy, anti corruption, equal opportunity

    4. An action Plan for each distinctive field of activity flowing from the broad principles and strategy.e.g. agriculture, industry, foreign relations, education, health,trade

    The above is in addition to ‘the election strategy and organisational network’. Inputs should be obtained from seasoned political activists on the ground in formulating this.

    I doubt that any of the candidates mentioned in Malinda’s post have gone this far either to develop a vision for the future OR an election strategy? They seem to believe that the voters will support them because what they say is RIGHT(in their view).

    An election strategy has to focus on how to win over important segments of voter population and what intellectual, financial, infrastructure,media,networking resources are required to achieve the goal. What critical segments of the voting population, where and when to win over? and most importantly HOW?

    Doing these things after the election is called by the commissioner is not going to work for the candidates except that they will gain a bit of popularity. This has to be a long term and sustainable project. If defeated, the organisation should continue and contest other elections at provincial level etc.

    Do we need a one time wonder OR an organisation(with leadership) rooted in civil society to carry out a struggle for the long-haul to acquire political power for the benefit of many?

    • 0

      Siri, I agree with you mostly, however, there is a slight chance of a new comer getting elected if a whole gammet of support from an established party like UNP is behind him or her..the “Kapuwath people” and the minorities will vote for that person. Yet, to govern effectively, all he points you have listed are needed but also an ability to show tangible changes very quickly, and that too without printing money, handouts, political revenge as was done by the current folks. We are not french, we are far from electing a Macron.

  • 3

    It is most unfortunate that this monumental Rajapaksa sycophant has chosen to “bless” two honourable men, Nagananda Kodituwakku and Mr. Pallewatte, with his support. One can only shudder for them because readers could well apply to them the old dictum of “tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.”

  • 0

    Siri Gamage: You are absolutely correct. Even Nagananda Kodithuwakku said that he needs to do quite a lot of “Ground Work” and he is at it. There was a “Team” of thirteen to be “Announced” by him; but not done yet. Through social media, this fact has been said by many; but no response. In the meantime “MR & CO.” has gone into action with all the “SUPPORT” (mismanagement, corruption, waste & crimes) given by “MY3 & RW Inc”. The “People” are almost coming to many “Conclusions” and these two are, in my opinion, too LATE. OR are they waiting for the “Bubble” to burst?

  • 0

    I agree with Malinda. Although I have not heard of Rohan Pallewatte, I am sceptic about self made successful businessman in politics as my perception is that such men have their own agenda for becoming politicians, & that is to stretch their own business empire. Donald Trump is a good example.

    However, the other choice, Nagananda Kodituwakku, seems to me as a man of integrity & has my full support. He reminds me of Ralph Nader, a US lobbyist in early 70’s who took on the largest car manufacturer at the time, General Motors, for unsafe designs in cars. His campaign finally resulted in US govt. forcing manufacturers to take responsibility for their products & taking legal action against failure to do so (VW has set aside billions as penalties for falsifying emission data & Toyota have already paid hefty fines & compensation for victims of accidents caused by a jammed throttle)

    The mainstream parties in SL have failed to take the country forward & the current bunch of politicians have amply proved that they are all opportunists, many of whom are without even a basic education & wouldn’t even get a lowly clerical job in the private sector. The JVP have yet to publicly acknowledge & apologise for the people for their bloody past & intimidation before they can be considered suitable to govern a country. SL is not alone in this situation. We have seen Macron, without even having a political party behind him, emerging victorious in the French Presidential elections. It appears the French, tired of the leading political parties messing up their economy & paving the way for extremism, had faith in a political novice, but with right credentials, to take over the country. Even Donald Trump campaigned to ‘dredge the swamp in Washington’. Similarly, SL also needs to dredge the swamp that is Diyawanna of corrupt politicians, most of them well past their shelf life.

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