17 May, 2022


Dissecting The 52-Day Saga: A Forensic Analysis By A Forensic Expert

By W.A. Wijewardena

DR. W.A Wijewardena

A Presidential shocking of a nation

It was 7:30 in the evening on 26 October 2018. The day being a typical Friday, Sri Lankans had been settled for yet another uneventful weekend. Many had sat in front of TV sets watching their favourite teledramas. Suddenly, viewers got alerted by a news flash that started blinking on their TV screens. Later, when the full details were out, it was shocking news. It said that President Maithripala Sirisena had appointed his arch rival, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as Prime Minister sacking his partner in politics for four years, the sitting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Giving birth to a 52-day saga 

This executive action which the President and his supporters maintained as an exercise of the discretionary powers which he has got under the constitution gave birth to a man-made constitutional crisis unprecedented in the history of the country. For 52 days, two people, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe, claimed to be the Prime Minister of the country. It not only confused Sri Lankans but also the international community.

All the major embassies and international organisations kept a watchful eye on the political and constitutional developments in the country. Both the International Monetary Fund and the US based Millennium Corporation even suspended two credit lines already approved for the country. Strangely, the new Prime Minister appointed by President Sirisena was congratulated only by one country – the unknown African nation called Burundi. China too which has a significant economic stake in Sri Lanka did not accept the new Prime Minister though its Ambassador to Sri Lanka had reportedly met Rajapaksa in his private residence.

The bureaucrats who have to run the country on the direction of the political leadership too were confused since there were two governments. Though they sided with the President because he was the Executive President, it was done only as a call of duty. Thus, it was a period of chaos as well as suspense.

Prof. Ravindra Fernando

Rajapaksa Government

Rajapaksa who had the backing of Sirisena went on to appointing a Cabinet of Ministers from the political group he had been leading called the Joint Opposition initially and later from the official Sri Lanka Freedom Party or SLFP. This was made possible because those who had held positions under Wickremesinghe had lost their posts when he was sacked. When some of them attempted to visit their ministries, they were manhandled by those who claimed to be the supporters of the Rajapaksa government. The new Cabinet, in order to bid the support of the public, made mid-night announcement of a series of reliefs which were not affordable, given the country’s perilous state of finances. But the public at large was aloof to the announcements since there was a feeling that they could be removed at any time.

A holed up Wickremesinghe

Meanwhile, Wickremesinghe got himself holed up in the Temple Trees, the official residence of the country’s Prime Minister, supported by his party men. The purpose was to continue the agitation against what his party termed as an unconstitutional decision by Sirisena and regain the lost premiership.

It was a chaotic time marked by uncertainty about the future, on one side, and mistrust in everyone, on the other. The original battle was between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe. But it soon became a battle between Sirisena and the UNP side in Parliament. The UNP side was led by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and therefore, it also became a battle between Sirisena and Jayasuriya. When the matter was taken up in courts, it soon became a battle between Sirisena and the judicial system. Finally, it was resolved by courts in favour of Wickremesinghe compelling Sirisena to re-swear him after 52 days as the Prime Minister despite his earlier pronouncements that he would not do so under any circumstance.

A forensic dissection by a forensic expert

While this story is still hot news, a forensic expert – Emeritus Senior Professor Ravindra Fernando – has dissected the 52 day saga and incorporated his findings into a book titled ‘The Fifty Two Day Saga: Political Crisis in Sri Lanka’ just published by Vijitha Yapa Publications. This is the first authentic book on the so called saga. It is also the 25th book which Fernando has authored during his second career as a writer.

Saga from beginning to end

The book contains 11 chapters covering the entire saga from the beginning to the end. It is a report providing facts as they are without taking a side. The analysis into the chain of events during the 52 day period by the author is limited. But it has reproduced all the source material such as the determination of the Supreme Court, press notices and press interviews given by the main contenders – Sirisena, Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe – to enable any other researcher to come up with his own analysis.

Derangement of two political allies

Chapter 1 is a long essay on the beginning of the political crisis that led to the sacking of Wickremesinghe and the appointment of Rajapaksa. An English rendering of President Sirisena’s address to the nation explaining the reasons from his side for his actions has been fully reproduced in this chapter.

It appears that his main grudge had been against Wickremesinghe and not the United National Party per se. This is a strange development since Sirisena and Wickremesinghe were thick political pals immediately before the Presidential election in January 2015 and in the few months following it. During this period, Sirisena in fact played an accommodating role rather than a dominating one. He took a back seat in the administration of the country allowing Wickremesinghe to have a free go in designing and implementing policy. When the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was before Parliament, there was doubt that it could get the necessary parliamentary majority for safe passage. At that time, he stepped into supporting Wickremesinghe by securing the votes of the UPFA faction in Parliament in its favour. But he always maintained that it was a team effort giving due credit to Wickremesinghe.

It is on record that he even went to extent of dissolving Parliament hours before a report on a COPE inquiry into the infamous bond scam in the Central Bank suspected to be embarrassingly implicating Wickremesinghe was to be released. Before the Parliamentary Elections of August 2015, when Rajapaksa was closing on the ruling UNP, he directly supported Wickremesinghe by publicly announcing that even if Rajapaksa got majority in Parliament, he would not appoint him as the Prime Minister.

That was the type of political cohabitation which Sirisena and Wickremesinghe had in this initial period. Hence, it is interesting to identify how this derangement occurred between them after the elections.

Reasons for derangement

Sirisena has attributed two reasons for the breakup with Wickremesinghe. One is the cover-up of the infamous central bank bond scam by Wickremesinghe despite the many warnings given by him as the Head of the State. The other is the purported inaction by Wickremesinghe administration regarding an alleged coup attempt at the life of Sirisena and that of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, brother of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. According to Sirisena when the coup details were revealed, instead of taking prompt action, the government led by Wickremesinghe had just sat on it pretending that it was a fake story. Sirisena is of the opinion that this was a serious dereliction of duty given the seriousness of the complaint made. While there is evidence to suggest that Sirisena is justified in his assertion regarding the first charge, the second one is yet to be proved. However, the complaint against the life of the President may be a fake as was held by UNP. Yet, it is the duty of the Wickremesinghe government to present the true facts to the people after conducting a proper inquiry into the complaint. In this respect, the Wickremesinghe government had failed.

Wickremesinghe’s inaction on the bond scam

In the case of the infamous bond scam, Sirisena had given enough warnings to Wickremesinghe. When the story was out immediately after the first scam on 27 February 2015, Sirisena who was abroad at that time had instructed his Secretary to take action to appoint a Commission of Inquiry into it. But, it is felt by the public that this was thwarted by Wickremesinghe by appointing an administrative committee of three lawyers from the inner circles of UNP.

Though the committee had given a clean certificate to the Governor Arjuna Mahendran, it had recommended that the scam should be properly investigated since there had been an irregularity in the issue of bonds on that occasion. This was not attended to by the Wickremesinghe government.

Then, before the elections in August 2015, Sirisena came on TV and said that he had advised Wickremesinghe to remove Mahendran and have his name cleared. This too was not adhered to. Finally, a special presidential commission was appointed by Sirisena to inquire into alleged bond scams from February 2015 to April 2016. The Commission, while reporting that there had been bond scams, did not find evidence against Wickremesinghe. However, it had recommended action against Arjuna Mahendran and the primary dealer in question. While the top leaders in the primary dealer in question have been taken to courts on a complaint made by the Central Bank, no action has been taken to apprehend the former Governor of the Central Bank. Any action on the recommendation of the Bond Commission is yet to be initiated. This was the grievance which Sirisena had against Wickremesinghe with respect to bond scams.

Violation of the Constitution?

However, the question is whether they were sufficiently justifiable reasons to sack a Prime Minister without going through the provisions of the Constitution and place the country at risk with respect to the economy, politics, good governance and international reputation. This is what Fernando has tried to answer in the rest of the book on the 52 day saga. He has documented in minute detail the events that took place during this dark period of the country.

The determination by the Supreme Court

Sirisena was supported in his action by the members of the new political party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna or SLPP, Sri Lanka Freedom Party or SLFP, the minor political parties representing the left and a few civil society leaders. Wickremesinghe was supported by UNP, all other constituent parties in the United National Front or UNF, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna or JVP and the Tamil National Alliance or TNA. Hence, Wickremesinghe had the Parliamentary Majority whereas Rajapaksa had to still gain it.

There were reports that several of the MPs belonging to this group had been coaxed to join the Rajapaksa camp on the offer of numerous gratifications. Despite these moves, Wickremesinghe managed to keep them united under his leadership and that was the main strength which he showed throughout the saga. When the matter could not be resolved through Parliament, it was brought before the country’s highest level of judiciary, namely, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Fernando has reproduced the judgment of the Supreme Court in full so that any interested reader could make his own conclusion about the constitutionality of the action taken by President Sirisena on the dissolution of Parliament and setting dates for a new general election.

The Supreme Court had found that the President has no powers to dissolve Parliament under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of which he himself was an architect before the expiry of a four and a half year period from the date of the election. Hence, the dissolution of Parliament was unconstitutional and the status quo prior to 26 October 2018 was restored. It compelled Sirisena to reappoint Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister and swear in a Cabinet of Ministers according to his recommendation. That saw the end of the first phase of the 52 day political saga in Sri Lanka.

The battle continues

However, though Fernando has not touched upon it, the saga is not yet over. The battle between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe is continuing to the dismay of the all civic minded citizens of the country. The public display of the conflict between the two heads of state is not salutary for the future of the country. No nation can progress if the two leaders seek to drag the country in the opposite direction. But, the two leaders behave as if they are totally oblivious of the damage they are causing to the country.

Fernando should be commended for bringing this story in book form for the benefit of all those interested in knowing what happened during this dark period in Sri Lanka’s history. His reader-friendly writing style has made the book more valuable. The only weakness I observe is that he has chosen to use the respectful address ‘Hon’ in front of all the key players in the saga. In a book like this, the tradition has been to call them by their name and it is not a show of disrespect to them. The wise do not get offended if they are addressed by their name.

*The writer, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, can be reached at waw1949@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 2

    British High Commissioner, and the US Ambassador were” in charge” from the auspicious time Mahinda was Appointed, to the day the Lankawe High Court Judges agreed with the TNA future Leader Abraham Sumanthiran’s request.

    But there is a definite good out come for the great majority, who make up nearly 70 percent of the Inhabitant population.

    To digress, Dr Ranil and Abraham’s Stealth Constitution to divide Lankawe into 9 Blocks has been forced on to the Back Burner at the Srikotha.

    Watching the pace at which Dr Ranil and Abraham were running I thought the Duo would have mustered the Two Third Majority quite easily. …
    In Fact even before last XMas..

    The President of the Nation who helped Dr Ranil and his Cohorts to become the Government wouldn’t say there were LKR 500 Mil offers on the Table for Politikkas in Kotte to approve the Deal. if it was not true..

  • 3

    All 225 are very corrupt. Either Ranil or Mahinda Rajapakse doe snot talk about those. Maithripala sirisena is not far behind. the worst thing is MCC has ganged up with Mangala to rip the country.

    • 3

      Wije: Fact is that Bondscam Ranil should have been forced to resign or impeached when the PCOI Report into the Bondscam came out. The foreign hands involved in the Sri Lankan 52 day crisis should be analysed as they are the real but invisible players in the petty political power and greed dramas between RW, Sira and Mahinda Jarapassa.

      That same week of the PCOI report being released, to distract every one from RW’s culpability and need to impeach him social media and Buddhism was weaponized, and there were attacks on Muslims in Digana and Kandy and social media media was used by Trumpland puppet Bondscam Ranil’s CIA protectors to distract and save Bondscam Ranil’s skin so that he could push Sri lanka further into and IMF debt trap and then asset strip and sell off the country to his foreign backers who have already set up a US navel base aka logistics hub in Trincomalee.
      The foreign hands in the 52 saga must be analyzed too!

    • 3

      Right on JD! The Right wing US Heritage Foundation report says it all. Sri lanka is being set up deliver a US military base for the US navy in Trumpland’s Cold War against China.
      This is why the Washington Consensus has put Lanka into a Debt Trap with help of US puppet Bond Ranil and is crashing the rupee and waging low grade economic war fare against Lanka. Also, a propaganda war and the UNHRC ritual along with Buddist Tripitaka rituals of distraction from the US military base Human Rights Endgame in Lanka. The propaganda war is called the POLITICS OF DISTRACTION.

      The Right Wing Heritage Foundation report Last week states: “a new arrangement was reached in august 2018, the U.S. has begun to resupply naval vessels in the Indian Ocean from Sri Lankan facili-ties. In January 2019, the USS John Stennis aircraft carrier was resupplied using the Bandaranaike Inter-national airport (BIa) at colombo. a U.S. military cargo plane from Bahrain delivered the supplies to BIa where they were loaded onto a transport aircraft from the carrier.Similar operations were carried out to resupply U.S. Navy ships from BIa in august 2018 and from the airport in Trincomalee in December 2018.34 The “air logistics hub”35 operates under a Temporary cargo Transport Initiative. according to a report in Sri Lan-k a ’s Sunday Times, there are “plans to develop a stan-dard operations procedure (SOP) or draft a Memo-randum of Understanding to streamline and better process such temporary logistics operations in a more effective manner in the future

  • 4

    How does one “offer” and/or “take” a bribe of Rs. 500 Million??
    This is/was just loose talk.
    The “saga is not yet over”………………….. Ranil has endured by visiting a Hindu temple in India four times !!
    Does Sirisena have his own Kattadiya?

  • 4

    The judges were far too limited in their commission inquiry into Bonds. The case against Ranil is circumstantial and irrefutable. Even before the connection between Ranil and Mahendran was thick as thieves.They did many rackets together but did not get caught as our media is clueless about white collar crime by high persons.

    This time the evidence is too damning. Even before Mahendran was announced as Governor his son in law resigned from perpetual. To fool whom ?

    What about the Pitipana commission and the foot notes ? Who was guilty of attempting to draw red herrings ?

    By the way the same chairman of Bank of Ceylon ( approving a billion rupee loan to perpetual in 8 hours !)was reappointed by Ranil to the post

    The judges sent the questions to Ranil’s home for him to answer !( is there a old Royalist here ?) State Counsel Livera who knew the case was not allowed to cross examine the rascal . The AG turned up from nowhere to just cover up Ranil. Like everything else in this country the judges are also puny men wearing red robes for show .

    How dare this Ranil get on stage and tell us he is working for the country !

  • 0

    Because of increases in cancer incidences, govt want to convert all the TUK TUKS to smaller cars. How smart is that.
    CIABOC is International community funded. Do you think any anti-corruption programs will work.

  • 1

    52 days can go wrong only when the govt never had policies in place. How about UNP via the courts stopped New PM and cabinet works by stopping their funds. How about Ranil get locked inside thee Temple trees. How about old cabinet going to their former ministries and saying the staff not to perform their duties.

  • 3

    Dr W A Wijewardena has chosen an eye-catching title ~ “Dissecting The 52-Day Saga: A Forensic Analysis By A Forensic Expert”.
    A ‘expert’ analysis of the 26 October 2018 coup d’état? No mention but Mangala called it a coup.
    How about “It was not a coup d’état? No mention. Why the deliberate avoidance?
    Yet the rumour of an alleged plan to assassinate MS & GR is referred to as a coup attempt!
    A ‘saga’ is a long narrative about a hero. Who was the hero in the 52-day government?
    How about the SC verdict?
    Well well. The judgment of the Supreme Court is reproduced in full so that any interested reader could make his/her own conclusion about the constitutionality of the action taken by President Sirisena on the dissolution of Parliament and setting dates for a new general election.
    There is nothing new in the book. No need to buy a copy.

  • 3

    What was MS before as a politician/person before and what were his actions /behaviors after the saga are vital in understanding this coup. Just analyzing the 52 days of MS alone will not reveal the whole story. People need to get an idea about the person,s character and his worth as politician and the illegal activities he was involved in, after failing to establish MR as PM until the courts decided to put an end. The man was willing to violate the courts if not for international pressures. We need separate chapters on other major players RW and MR to put things into perspective(as Sumanee and John like to call it) to understand how much Lanka and the voters stink. This book will be just a sample of a crooked politician,s 52 years of political life.(same with the rest). Why waste money and time to read some thing which most of us well aware . That is “They all are SHIT HEADS”.

  • 0

    All the Prominent Sri Lankan politicians, because of the Ronald Reagan’s and JRJ’s NeoLiberal program, anything can not be done except what the specific International community and Mangala, Ranil and the New guy MCC -coordinator, NILAN FERNANDO wants. Once Sri lanka goes bankrupt, when poor starts revolting, they will Leave, Then Srilanka becomes a Decent country. forget the economic and Technological development. We will have lot of low paying Service jobs. People are rats either in the Middle East or in Sri lanka. but,they get every kind of Cancer, every kind of social delinquencies, Economy, finance, culture and Society is a wreck. It is like some city corners of the Europe or the West. One group will enjoying everything in the world, Others will beg for something in a street corner who knows that may be for buying packet of Drugs.

  • 2

    Doing autopsy on a deceased , clinically diagnosed beyond doubt, is waste of money,time and energy.

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