By S. I. Keethaponcalan –
I have always considered Mahinda Rajapaksa as one of the most astute politicians Sri Lanka has ever produced. However, at times he could be extremely impulsive and overconfident. Now, with the ongoing political crisis, it has been proved that he is unrehabilitated as well.
Militarily crushing the LTTE in 2009 boosted Rajapaksa’s popularity immensely within the Sinhala community and he in a way became the modern incarnation of Dutugemunu Kumaraya. Rajapaksa who won the 2005 presidential election with a margin of about 180,000 votes, defeated Sarath Fonseka in 2010 by about 1900,000 votes. His party also won a series of provincial and local elections.
He became overconfident and began to believe that his appeal within the Sinhala community will remain forever. The confidence that he can win any and all elections influenced him to amend the constitution to do away with the presidential term limit. The 18th Amendment allowed him to contest for a third term as president. An overconfident Rajapaksa fixed the presidential election for January 2015, about two years ahead of schedule.
Nonetheless, the electoral map that emerged in 2014 indicated that Rajapaksa and his party was losing popularity among Sri Lankan voters, especially among minority groups. The provincial council elections conducted in 2014, for example, in Southern, Western and Uva provinces demonstrated the serious erosion of UPFA’s vote bank. For instance, following the Uva provincial council election, in an essay titled Uva Provincial Election and Its Implications for the Presidential Race, I pointed out that “Uva confirmed that the incumbent president’s chance of winning a third term would not be as easy as it was originally contended.” With all the resources of government, Rajapaksa and his people should have known more.
If the warning signs were properly comprehended and taken seriously, Rajapaksa would have used the remaining two years of his second term to fix those issues that dented his popularity and then conducted the election. An overconfident Rajapaksa went ahead with the plan for the new election and was badly beaten by his erstwhile deputy Maithripala Sirisena. I believe that Rajapaksa’s impatience and brashness played significant roles in his defeat in 2015.
He should have learned a lesson in 2015. It seems that he did not. I spent about four months of my sabbatical in Sri Lanka last year. I could sense the public mood swinging drastically in favor of Rajapaksa. People everywhere complained about the skyrocketing cost of living, and many suggested that Rajapaksa would have handled the issue more effectively (Sri Lankans have a short memory).
Other social issues, for example, the outbreak of dengue and the garbage problems greatly influenced the public opinion shift toward Rajapaksa. The trend was reconfirmed by the local government election results where his new party, the SLPP did exceptionally well.
In some of my writings last year, I suggested that the Rajapaksa headed coalition would most probably win the national elections in 2020. However, Rajapaksa is impatient, and he could not wait for another two years to come back to power through legitimate elections.
I did not consider Rajapaksa as the architect of what his loyalists call the “revolution.” One can also call it coming to power through backdoors. If it was a revolution, the architect of the revolution, President Sirisena and Rajapaksa are lousy revolutionaries. The combo very well knew that they needed 113 votes in Parliament to effectively execute the revolution. However, they did not have 113 votes. Now, they did not know how to get these votes. They seem trapped and lost.
Whatever procedural flaws the UNP sponsored no-confidence motions have, they effectively proved that the Maithri-Mahinda combo does not have the majority to run the administration. By successfully ratifying the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), the UNP led coalition once again proved that they are in command of the numbers in Parliament. The UNP seems reenergized and executing plans pretty effectively dealing blow after blow to the “revolution.”
Now the Rajapaksa government has vowed to boycott Parliament. Do governments boycott parliament? The boycott would also reaffirm the fact that the Rajapaksa group does not have the required numbers in the national legislature. I won’t be surprised if they return to disrupt because a boycott will allow the UNP to have a free hand in Parliament and to reaffirm its majority, constantly.
Regardless of what is happening in the country and Parliament, Rajapaksa and his group move around saying that they are the government. This looks funny and ridiculous at the same time. Nevertheless, my point is that Rajapaksa looks weak and naive. He should have been more careful in accepting Sirisena’s invitation. He cannot say that he did not know that they did not have 113 votes in Parliament. He was expected to be in command.
Staying in power when one does not have enough seats in parliament is unacceptable and undemocratic. The unfolding scenario makes me think that perhaps Rajapaksa was not rehabilitated as well. When in power, he presided over a semi-authoritarian stated placing almost every social and political institution under constraint. His authoritarian or undemocratic style of governance was one reason why he was defeated in 2015. There was always the possibility that the interim period helped him to realize the pitfalls of his government and rehabilitate himself.
Such a scenario would have been ideal because one day there will be a change of government and Rajapaksas could come back to power. The country is not capable of keeping them out of power forever. Then we do not have to worry about going back to the unpleasant politics of the immediate post-war period. Now, the way the Rajapaksa group illegitimately control power and the way they behave in general, impart the impression that the rehabilitation did not occur.
The thought that Rajapaksas were not rehabilitated and the country may go back to the authoritarianism of the immediate post-war period could terrify lots of people, especially voters. Such a scenario would hamper the possibility of Rajapaksa returning to power through legitimate elections. It seems that the ongoing crisis has evoked enough anxieties about Rajapaksa’s return leading to the consolidation of support for the UNP. Today, one cannot say with certainty that Rajapaksa’s party will win the next national election. One does not have to wait too long to see if Rajapaksa will win the upcoming national polls or become one of the casualties of the so-called revolution.
JD / November 24, 2018
I heard Mahinda Amaraweera wanted to join Ranil but those hopes were dashed when Mahinda Rajapakse fired him from his minister post. Fortunatley, Maithripala sirisena re appointed him to the new minister. But, he thinks there i sno need to work in order to earn money in the parliament. Now amraweera is really upset (God Natha).
Siri / November 24, 2018
Consequences of Rajapaksas’ coming back amply seen live by the people in this past month. It’s creating a nightmare for them, old memories are fleshing back in their minds, and the waves of crowd at UNF meetings is the solid proof. Their haste in accepting Sirisena’s offer has brought a big disaster for both of them. As things are, it’s going to be huge up hill struggle for them to claw back to their former glory. There past few days activities earn them the people’s profound displeasure and indignation in uncertain terms. All their stupidities, and leat regard for people’s sensitivities brought them to this dire plight.
Eagle Eye / November 25, 2018
“Staying in power when one does not have enough seats in parliament is unacceptable and undemocratic.”
When Ranil did the same thing in 2015, these buffoons did not find it unacceptable and undemocratic. When Sirisena dissolved Parliament just before COPE Report on Central Bank robbery was to be presented to the Parliament, it was acceptable and democratic. Not only politicians, some of these Civil Society guys also talk with forked tongues!
As Gotabhaya rightly said, ‘Mahinda could have waited for another one and half years but the country could not’.
Sinhalayo do not care whether President Sirisena’s action is constitutional or democratic. They are happy with his decision because it saved the country from this ‘Thuppahi Royal Gang’ who wanted to pass the Federal Constitution and suppress the assassination plot of President and Gotabhaya.
Fred / November 26, 2018
Yes, Gotabhaya is quoted as saying, ‘Mahinda could have waited for another one and half years ” but don’t forget all those cases involving the Rajapakses and their cronies coming up in the courts. So, could he really have waited for another one and half years?
Raj / November 25, 2018
MR, after tasting power, is not going to let go of his apparent ‘President for life’ ambition, Mugabe style. Sirisena, in his stupidity or utter self interest in mind, was prepared to gamble even with the devil in a desperate bid for another term in the high office to earn a few more mega bucks. Maybe he was blackmailed by MR or totally misguided by his cronies who have their own agenda but I think Sirisena was taken for a sucker & I am surprised if he had any doubts if the very man who he thought would send him to a early grave (unless it was pure dramatics to gain public sympathy & discredit MR) & same man he accused of corruption, is now ‘reformed’ to support him in running the country instead of being dumped at the earliest opportunity. Is Sirisena so naive in thinking that MR would play second fiddle to him?
Whatever the reasons, both MR & Sirisena have amply proved that they are unsuitable to govern the country. Both have no respect of the developed world & with no aid, investment or tourism from these countries, the economy of SL is in a free fall. If there are still diehards supporting these two corrupt self serving politicians, SL deserves to be where it is.
chiv / November 26, 2018
Keetha , on this I will have to disagree with you. MR may be cunning with a criminal mind but that dosent mean he is smart. In financial world the saying is ” it is easy to make money (by cheating and other illegal means) but it is very difficult to keep it because it takes a lot to do so”. Some say Trump is smart but I disagree . He was left with millions when he was in his twenties which is worth much more than what he is now. He is a guy who claimed bankruptcy thrice in business where even one says a lot about the individuals business acumen. These are men who were fortunate and propped up by life circumstances, but are using their criminals minds in saving their fortunes. Greed, Lust, Ego and Arrogance are the usual culprits in seeing their down fall.A person who cannot recognize his own mistake and make a course correction cannot be that. smart.In Lanka the advantage is public is so retarded even a fool like MR will look like a Einstein.
Thangamma / November 29, 2018
Should Eelamist living abroad be asked to give their LTTE approved views here? free speech of course, but there is zero credibility/ This boy never criticized Tigers and how they forced Tamils to boycott 2005 elections. Why? because they were in the payroll of global Tiger Terrorist incorporated.
Sinhala_Man / December 1, 2018
Dear Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan,
Thanks for the clear thinking and the lucid writing.
Please give us more; it helps.