By Hilmy Ahamed –
Mahinda Rajapaksa is an untouchable in the eyes of President Maithripala Sirisena. He made his bold and unexpected statement on the 14th of July 2014. “He does not approve of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s candidature at the forthcoming general elections as a UPFA contestant; yet, he is willing to relent to popular demand of his coalition partners in the UPFA and let him contest but not with his blessings”. Attempts by the UPFA to discard Maithripala Sirisena from the leadership of the SLFP and UPFA were thwarted by his legal advisors with an enjoining order on the 15th of July. President Sirisena has committed to remain neutral at the forthcoming General Elections. A leader of a party, who is not willing to lead his lot from the front, and thereby give the advantage to the opponent. A charge he will have to live with, at least until August 17th 2015, and probably thereafter should Mahinda Rajapaksa face a humiliating defeat.
President Sirisena has been named and shamed with everything on earth from traitor to betrayer of the common opposition by many (including me) for not taking a stand against Mahinda Rajapaksa’s zealous gamble in reentering electoral politics. Has he managed to clear his conscience with his (very very late) statement? Has he done justice to the people who elevated him to the highest office? Has he done justice to the party that he served for 49 years? These questions would remain in the minds of friends and foes through out the tenure of his presidency and may be engraved in his tombstone.
The forthcoming election is turning out to be, not just about loyalty to political parties, but encouraging signs of principles in politics. The January 8th regime change has set in motion increasing signs of returning to the cherished democratic values that became a rare commodity with JR Jayewardene’s draconian Executive Presidential powers. For the first time in the Sri Lankan political history, issues of democracy, ethanol, corruption, drugs, nepotism, and more importantly, undesirables in parliament have become the most talked about platform slogans. The wheeler-dealers who have dominated Sri Lankan politics during the last three decades may disappear.
The UPFA, which was forced to give nominations to most of the sitting MPs of the last parliament (most of whom have multiple charges of indiscipline) have come under severe flak from their opponents for not cleaning up the undesirables from politics. President Sirisena’s attempt to influence positive changes failed. The Presidents legal advisors thwarted an attempted coup by the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction with an enjoining order against the SLFP’s attempt to convene a meeting of their central committee, probably to oust Maithripala Sirisena. Some have broken ranks from the UPFA and joined their foes in the UNP to fight their common enemy, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Sri Lankan’s who favour the new coalition, the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) will breathe a sigh of relief for the opportunity to continue their January 2015 quest for democracy and good governance. They will overwhelmingly vote for the elephant symbol. It is indeed a twist of fate that the likes of Champika Ranawaka and Venerable Rathana Thero were forced to join their arch rivals, Ranil and the UNP clan that includes the minorities to survive in politics. They would have ended up as political discards, should they have attempted to contest on their own. Their bold rebellion against the mighty Rajapaksas’ was briefly rewarded with success at the January 2015 Presidential elections, yet Mahinda Rajapaksa and the political orphans of the UPFA’s, Dinesh Gunawardena, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa and Bandula Gunawardane struck back with venom by taking control of the UPFA. The unprincipled politicians wanted to regain power at any cost, found support in the leader of the opposition, Nimal Siripala De Silva, the SLFP and UPFA Secretary-Generals Anura Priyadharshana Yapa and Sisil Premajayanth. These politicians were in power for over two decades. Their unexpected role in the opposition during the last six months has been difficult without their perks and privileges.
While congratulating the movers and shakers of the newly formed United National Front for Good Governance, there needs to be a strong conviction amongst the partners to ensure that their noble ideals are adhered to, and no space is provided for the wheeler dealers in parliament to join the band wagon, post August 17th as evidenced after the January 2015 victory. The concept of a National Government is honorable, yet should not be at the cost of democratic values as experienced during the 180-day experiment with Maithripala Sirisena’s UPFA. The rogues joined a desperate Sirisena who wanted to bring in his promised reforms in 100 days. It became a free for all carnival with the most undesirables jumping the UPFA ship in support of the Maître led government.
The United National Party (UNP) and Ranil Wickremesinghe who shouldered the bulk of the responsibility in the campaign to bring Maithripala Sirisena as President were not provided the necessary recognition for their sacrifices. The UPFA led opposition’s majority in parliament paved the way for them to hold the President and Prime Minister to ransom over the 100-day reforms. The passage of the 19th Amendment to the constitution can be attributed as the single most significant success of Maithipala Sirisena. The other major reforms, including the reforms to the electoral process failed, mainly because of the opposition led by minor and minority parties. This may have been averted if the reforms were rushed through immediately after the January 8th victory and an early election announced.
While it could be argued that the President and other constituent members contributed their best to maintain a stable government and bring in the promised reforms, the treacherous behind the scenes activity of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his clan within the UPFA contributed to the unforeseen delays in implementing the 100 day programme.
The body language of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the United National Party seem to indicate that the bond between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe was always intact. Was it a strategy adopted by Maithripala to keep the coalition intact for the general election and destroy any momentum Mahinda Rajapaksa may have achieved with his bunch of corrupt and nefarious partners in the SLFP/UPFA? Whatever the reasons may be, Sirisena was seen as losing credibility until he spoke out, a speech that most Sri Lankans feel came a little too late. He should have stayed firm, and said a definite no to the candidature of Mahinda Rajapaksa and thereby eliminate the undesirables from Sri Lanka’s legislature. He would have proved that he was a statesman who changed the course of Sri Lankan history at the cost of his party.
Maithripala Sirisena made a conscious decision that he would take on the draconian ruler, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP scarified their pride and drew a lot of flak from party cadres for giving the leadership to Maithripala Sirisena during the January 2015 elections. All this has opened up opportunities to make Sri Lanka, the real miracle of Asia with a new crew who could pilot Sri Lanka to prosperity.