Only a few hours after the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa anointed his brother and former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the SLPP’s presidential candidate his associates are already in talks with “friendly” factions of the UNP about working out a national government deal.
“My brother becomes your brother today,” Mahinda Rajapaksa told the SLPP convention on Sunday as the crowds broke out in thunderous applause.
But Gotabaya Rajapaksa whose presidential hopes have been ably assisted by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his faithful ministers Sagala Ratnayaka and Tilak Marapana and other powerful sections of the ruling Government is already considering reaching agreement with the UNP for a national government after the next parliamentary polls.
The former Defence Secretary is of the view that once he wins the December presidential election he can move to dissolve parliament as early as February 2020. Talks are on about the possibility of making Wickremesinghe premier under ‘President’ Gotabaya soon after the presidential elections with the pact to continue even after the parliamentary poll. The prospect seems far-fetched for the moment but confidants in both camps say the understanding has been growing between the premier and the former defence secretary who stands accused of a multitude of crimes including the embezzling of state funds to the tune of Rs 11 billion and Rs 33 million in two separate corruption cases currently being heard in the Sri Lankan courts.
Wickremesinghe’s niece Ishini Wickremesinghe and Dilith Jayaweera are the masterminds behind the clandestine negotiations Colombo Telegraph learns.
Ishini Wickremesinghe’s ties to Derana chief Dilith Jayaweera are public knowledge. Ishini Wickremesinghe currently serves on the Prime Minister’s staff. Formerly a member of Mangala Samaraweera’s staff before the Finance and then Media Minister realised she was a Rajapaksa mole, Ishini Wickremesinghe was instrumental in securing Jayaweera’s advertising firm TRIAD the UNP publicity campaign for the February 2018 local government election. The ad campaign cost a whopping Rs 200 million in exchange for the most lacklustre and inane taglines and advertisements “api UNP”. UNP insiders still believe that Jayaweera, whose ad agency is one of the most creative in the country sabotaged the publicity campaign after taking UNP’s money. During the coup, in the presence of several UNPers including Samaraweera and others Ishini Wickremesinghe declared that if the UNP did not nominate Ranil Wickremesinghe as presidential candidate, the Wickremesinghe family would throw its weight behind Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The SLPP Gota team made a similar threat to Mahinda Rajapaksa, vowing to support Wickremesinghe’s candidacy if the former Defence Secretary was not nominated as presidential hopeful for the SLPP.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s most fervent hope is that Ranil Wickremesinghe will yet secure the UNP candidacy, making the 2019 election a cake walk for him. He believes he must strengthen Wickremesinghe’s hand and offer him something in return for this eventuality.
At the very least Gotabaya Rajapaksa has assured Wickremesinghe that he will help him to ward off threats to the UNP leadership by “neutralising” sections of the Sajith Premadasa camp once he wins the presidency, highly placed sources told Colombo Telegraph. Ishini Wickremesinghe’s gambit if Sajith Premadasa wrests control of the UNP is to have her uncle tear a section of the party away and support the Pohottuwa MPs in Parliament. In exchange, she has struck a deal with Dilith Jayaweera that Gotabaya will make Wickremesinghe Prime Minister.
If successful, the talks could scuttle Mahinda Rajapaksa’s hopes of securing the Prime Ministership at the next parliamentary election. In an interview with a Tamil newspaper last weekend the former President expressed a strange sentiment just ahead of nominating his brother as presidential candidate.
“Under the 19th Amendment it is the Prime Minister who will have more power. I will be the next prime minister,” Mahinda Rajapaksa told the newspaper. The President would have to work in close collaboration with the premier he added.
Colombo Telegraph earlier reported that Wickremesinghe assisted Gotabaya to win the SLPP nomination by ensuring the Presidential Elections Act was not amended and by refusing to accede to calls from within his party and other coalition allies to revoke Gotabaya’s dual citizenship when he was indicted for stealing money from the state to the tune of Rs 33 million.
Both Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa have made remarks openly about how Wickremesinghe and Sagala Ratnanayaka who was once Minister for Law and Order would “sort things out” for them in reference to investigations and cases with just one phone call.
The Sagala Ratnayaka faction of the UNP has been gradually growing closer to the Gotabaya Rajapaksa camp using the “Next Gen” youth wing to build the relationship. Last night after the former Defence Secretary was declared the SLPP nominee, a Ratnayaka acolyte with ties to Rajapaksa’s spokesman Milinda Rajapakshe and others in camp Gota like Eranda Ginige announced on twitter that the candidate was a “smart choice”. The Ratnayaka confidant also sent warm congratulations to the SLPP on its maiden convention.
With Gotabaya Rajapaksa now nominated as SLPP candidate control of the party will quietly slip out of former President Rajapaksa’s hands, senior party members loyal to Mahinda Rajapaksa worry. With the candidacy in the bag, Team Gotabaya led by Dilith Jayaweera and the ex army personnel will move to consolidate power within the party and bend the party machinery to their will the seniors claim. “Mahinda Rajapaksa has unleashed the dogs. It’s possible he will not be able to control them now” a senior UPFA member said. (By TB Bambaradeniya)