By Amrit Muttukumaru –
The objective of this article is to prod the opposition, particularly the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) for credible course correction, if they are to stand a chance to electorally defeat the Rajapaksa juggernaut even in its current weakened state. Having a Sinhala nationalistic agenda and expecting the minorities to vote for the SJB as the lesser of the evils is unprincipled and does not contribute to nation-building. It is foolhardy for the SJB to think it could prevail against the SLPP on a Sinhala nationalist platform while paying lip service to minority grievances.
The hackneyed adage ‘The more things change the more they stay the same’ is never more truer than in its application to the erstwhile Yahapalanists – particularly those in the SJB and their allies now attempting a rerun to replace the current version of the Rajapaksa dominated government. Were not the leaders of the SJB, Rauff Hakeem led Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Rishard Bathiudeen led All Ceylon Makkal Congress, Karu Jayasuriya led National Movement for Social Justice, JVP and TNA either holding Cabinet office or giving overt political support to the duplicitous UNP dominated 2015-19 Yahapalana government? Would Jayasuriya have been Speaker if not for UNP support? The Yahapalana government was voted into office in 2015 on what turned out to be patently false promises. Are not these parties seemingly minus the JVP once again attempting to hoodwink the voters with almost the same vague promises under more favourable circumstances?
The excuse being proffered by their spokespersons that the Sirisena – Wickremesinghe combine is solely responsible for Yahapalana’s failure is disingenuous and unlikely to be believed even by a notoriously gullible electorate with a short attention span to boot. If that was the case, why did those now in the SJB frontline which include its leader Sajith Premadasa and several others either continue to hold ministerial office or as was the case with the TNA support the Yahapalana government until the moment Premadasa was defeated at the presidential election by Gotabaya Rajapaksa? In the case of the JVP, they overtly supported Yahapalana until the time its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake was nominated as their presidential candidate.
We are now asked to repose our confidence in another Yahapalana type coalition, this time dominated by the SJB under the leadership of Karu Jayasuriya’s National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ). It was this same Jayasuriya who decamped from the UNP with 18 members in 2007 to accept ministerial portfolio in the UPFA under the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency! He rejoined the UNP in December 2008. If indeed Jayasuriya is the leader of this SJB dominated coalition, what does this say of Premadasa’s leadership credentials?
Was not the TNA given out of turn opposition leadership under the aegis of the UNP on the dubious technicality that the SLFP was part of the Yahapalana government? The question for the TNA and Muslim political parties to honestly answer is whether the lives of Tamil and Muslim communities meaningfully improved given the patronage it had from the Yahapalana government? Another question for SJB’s Yahapalanists and the leaders of the JVP and TNA which gave the Yahapalana government overt support, is whether the installation of TNA leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan as opposition leader on a dubious technicality is consistent with the democratic norms all of them purport to uphold?
There is no better example of broken Yahapalana promises than the outrage demonstrated at a press conference by SJB professionals Dr. Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickramaratne in the run-up to the 2015 presidential election in regard to Casino, Drug & Ethanol Mafias (11:15 onwards). It is this same lot in the SJB that now oppose the ‘Port City Economic Commission Bill’ mainly on money laundering implications.
Could it not be said that if only the Yahapalana (good governance) government had fulfilled even half the promises it gave the voters, the country would not be in the precarious plight it now is in respect of its – economy, social stability, widespread corruption and public accountability? Let us be clear, successive administrations since independence have contributed to this – some more culpable.
Placing sole responsibility for Yahapalana failure on the Sirisena – Wickremesinghe combine will not wash. SJB’s Yahapalanists – particularly those who held crucial ministerial positions must bear their share of responsibility.
SJB & JVP Hypocrisy
1) The hypocrisy of the SJB and to some extent the JVP is stark in the petitions they have filed in the Supreme Court through SJB parliamentarian, Eran Wickramaratne and JVP Political Bureau member, Sunil Handunneththi alleging that the SLPP proposed Finance Bill encourages money laundering and requires approval by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and a public referendum.
2) Did not the Yahapalana government in which SJB leaders figured prominently and JVP supported, in effect facilitate money laundering when it repealed the Exchange Control Act No. 24 of 1953 and brought into law the new Foreign Exchange Act No. 12 of 2017? The new law certified on 28 July 2017 became effective from 20 November 2017. Eran Wickramaratne who is now very concerned about money laundering was State Minister of Finance from May 2017!
3) A precursor to the dangerous Yahapalana inspired Foreign Exchange Act was the ‘invitation’ issued by then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake through India’s prestigious ‘The Hindu’ of 5 October 2015 to “Sri Lankans and Indians who had to take back their deposits from banks in Switzerland to place their funds in Sri Lanka”. He had further assured that “No questions would be asked”!
4) As if these were not bad enough, then CBSL Governor Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy under whose tenure this dangerous Act became effective, had the audacity to cite this Act to justify CBSL inaction to determine legitimacy of offshore accounts in tax havens held by Sri Lankans named in the Panama Papers:
“The time period prescribed by the Foreign Exchange Act No. 12 of 2017 to conclude investigations under ECA expired on 19.05.2018 as stipulated in the Foreign Exchange Act No 12 of 2017. These investigations also lapsed on that date.”
SJB & Bond Scam
1) The egregious Central Bank bond scam was unleashed on the country under the watch of not only Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who was Minister of Policy Planning and Economics Affairs but also a host of SJB stalwarts which include economist Dr. Harsha de Silva who was Deputy Minister of Policy Planning and Economics Affairs under Wickremesinghe. Readers can gauge Dr. de Silva’s obvious embarrassment (21:26:23 onwards) when responding to a question from a journalist on his controversial ‘footnotes’ on the COPE report in respect of the bond scam. Should not Dr. de Silva possibly the finance minister in the event of a future SJB dominated government clarify matters in this regard?
2) It is also noteworthy that both the JVP and TNA continued to politically support the Yahapalana government despite the bond scam and its responsibility for the April 2019 Easter Sunday carnage – for both of which there is still no accountability. The incumbent Rajapaksa led presidency and government pussyfooting on the accountability for these two outrages is proof that ‘The more things change the more they stay the same’!
Although the main issue keeping this country down is the absence of social peace largely due to the minorities being debilitated since independence, the 2015 Yahapalana government even with the TNA on board merely paid lip service to minority issues. Should not have the Yahapalana government in which SJB leaders figured prominently ‘educated’ and created ‘awareness’ among the public on the need for national unity?
Although the SJB is fully aware it can never win a presidential or general election without minority support, it has still not changed track being confident it is lesser of the evils for the minorities. It is foolhardy for the SJB to think it could prevail against the SLPP on a Sinhala nationalist platform while forever paying lip service to minority grievances. All that will happen is that the status quo bleeding this country will continue with more dangerous consequences.
Let us consider one current example. Although it is common knowledge that many Colombo households employ young girls as domestic aides mainly from a minority community in the plantation areas – where some could be minors, why is it that only now there is a hue and cry and media frenzy on this issue? Why is that only now the government proposes to have a Register on domestic aides?
While holding no brief for anyone, can we in our conscience honestly say that such a frenzy would have occurred if it did not allegedly involve a controversial politician from a minority community such as Rishad Bathiudeen?
Have we witnessed an outrage and media frenzy even remotely close to the alleged Bathiudeen case when it comes to the alleged rape and sexual abuse of the 15-year-old girl from Mount Lavinia which appears to be far more depraved despite the girl being apparently alive?
How could the JVP come to the conclusion that Bathiudeen had “committed a grave offence” in the absence of an official determination? (‘Daily Mirror’ 23 July 2021)
While we await the result of the official investigation on the tragic death of J.K. Ishalini, what should concern us more is the poverty that leads to young girls being employed as domestic aides. We do not witness such a discussion which would open a can of worms for policy makers and society in general.
If the SJB wishes to be taken seriously as the ‘government in waiting’, it better conduct itself in this manner. In this connection, what is the signal SJB leader Sajith Premadasa gives the national electorate when he gets the SJB parliamentary group to adopt a ‘vote of confidence’ in him?
It is such weakness in leadership that has emboldened SJB parliamentarian Champika Ranawaka to boldly state at an interview with reference to his 43rd Brigade – “we think of future politics beyond the scope of SJB.” (‘Daily Mirror’ 13 July 2021) Should not Premadasa call his bluff? If Ranawaka has a national following, why is he sticking around with the SJB?
Similarly, what is the electorate to make of SJB national organizer Tissa Attanayake’s daughter being appointed to a diplomatic post in Australia by the incumbent government it hopes to succeed? Previously on the eve of the January 2015 Presidential election, did not this very same SJB national organizer exit the UNP under controversial circumstances and support the candidature of Mahinda Rajapaksa? Attanayake’s counterpart in the SLPP is Basil Rajapaksa.
If it is true that SJB frontliners are rooting for Karu Jayasuriya to be the leader of a opposition coalition dominated by the SJB, what does it say about Premadasa’s leadership credentials?
SJB leader Premadasa has even meekly accepted being characterized in a ‘Daily FT’ article Is Port City not important? as the “son of the mass murderer”!
It is such leadership weakness that has led to mainstream media exposés such as Will Sajith be eclipsed by Ranil in Parliament?, ‘Rejected’ Ranil to Rejuvenate a Dormant Opposition?, UNP invites Sajith to re-join the party, Ranil meets opposition MPs to discuss future political journey and Common platform against Government Champika Ranawaka says he is now ready to give leadership
By no stretch of the imagination is this writer expecting Premadasa to be an autocrat. What is being espoused is that apart from being principled and a good listener, he must exude confidence in himself. The ‘confidence’ aspect is clearly deficient.