1 July, 2022


Mahinda Should Have Retired After Two Terms: Chamal Rajapaksa – Gota Should Resign Now!

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Speaking reflectively in Parliament last week, Chamal Rajapaksa, the oldest of the Rajapaksa brothers saw wisdom in hindsight and said that Mahinda Rajapaksa should have retired from politics when his second term as President ended. “One should be prepared to give up positions,” Mr. Rajapaksa, the elder, said. Shouldn’t this apply to Gotabaya Rajapaksa as well? It should and perhaps it would have but for the intervention of Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Whatever may have been the subjective intentions of Ranil Wickremesinghe in becoming Prime Minister for a beleaguered President, the objective outcomes of the new diarchic arrangement are now clearly in evidence. The desired political response to the protest movement that began in Mirihana, would have been the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the setting up of an ‘interim government.’ The interim government would not only provide urgent economic management but implement much needed constitutional and electoral reforms.

One clear objective of the interim government would have been to reform the presidential system by doing away with the direct election of an executive president and providing for the Head of State to be elected (from among qualified citizens) as President by parliament, and for the Head of Government to be located in parliament as Prime Minister. In this new arrangement, the powers of the President could be defined to address any implications that the removal of the current system might have for the functioning of the Provincial Councils system.

Specifically for the purpose of economic crisis management, the interim government was expected to bring in experts and professionals as cabinet ministers by first admitting them as MPs through the National List. This idea was widely popular and would have required the SLPP and even the SJB to sacrifice some of its current National List MPs to make way for new and better replacements. But neither party showed any willingness to do this, only the JVP did. Finally, the interim government was expected to achieve its objectives in a period of 12 to 18 months, and set the stage for general elections and for the people to elect a new parliament under a reformed presidency.

It is now clear that the events of May 9 and the appointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe have scuppered the interim government route to economic recovery and political reform. The appointment of nine more (there is nothing new about any of them) cabinet ministers on Friday further confirms that this is all the change that can be expected under the Ranil-Rajapaksa administration. There is no need to pick and parse individual cabinet ministers. The whole thing is a betrayal of the people. On top of all the economic hardships they have been forced to bear.

Political Sedation

It is remarkable how the appointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe has changed the political dynamic from what it was before May 9 to what it is today. On the economic front, RW has brought more than a semblance of ministerial competence, where incompetence has been the rule not only for the last one and a half months but for the whole two and a half years under the current President. While there are furlongs to climb before the economy is out of the hole, the political consequences of RW’s intervention are quite immediate.

First, Mr. Wickremesinghe’s handling of the economic crisis would seem to have had a sedating influence on protest politics. This is possibly due to a general acknowledgement that the ‘new government’ should be given some time and space to implement its economic relief measures. There are and there will be protests over scarcity and prices, but they may not have the same political edge calling for resignations, as they very much were before May 9. This is not to say that that the dynamic will not change. In fact, it can change quite dramatically without even a moment’s notice

Second, there is a new dynamic in parliament, with almost unanimous support from all political parties, alliances and MPs for the Prime Minister’s economic initiatives. There is also reported parliamentary consensus that the Finance portfolio should stay with the Prime Minister, perhaps a recognition of his abilities and not his office. But on political and procedural issues, MPs, especially SLPP MPs, are content to stick with party-line voting. This was quite evident in the quite ridiculous votes for the election (yet again) of a Deputy Speaker and for suspending Standing Orders to debate a Motion of Displeasure on the President, and the even more ridiculous divisions they produced.

At the same time, SLPP MPs have openly started showing their internal cracks in providing multiple and conflicting versions of the background to the morning violence that spilled over from Temple Trees on Monday, May 9, and the afternoon rejoinders to it in other parts of the country. SLPP MPs and (former) Ministers are not only criticizing the police and the security bureaucrats but also one another for what transpired on that day. The recent spat in parliament between Ramesh Pathirana, former Plantations Minister, and his colleague Chandima Weerakkody MP, is quite indicative of the level of political interference that has been going on in the transfers and OIC appointments creating police incompetence and indiscipline in police stations.

Mr. Pathirana does not seem to have responded to Mr. Weerakkody’s and others’ criticisms over his interference in police matters. Now he doesn’t have to, because he has been reinstated to the same plantations portfolio in the Ranil-Rajapaksa cabinet. May be that is reward for his standing up for the President and criticizing the police for the mayhem that spun out of Temple Trees on May 9. In fairness to him, his is not the only controversial appointment to the cabinet on Friday. In fact, every appointment is a disgrace and an insult to the people who have been protesting for positive changes in government.

The third consequence of Ranil Wickremesinghe becoming Prime Minister is that he has rescued the Rajapaksas even before he could do anything for the economy. The immediate upshot for the family is that they have had a week of respite since RW became PM. For President Rajapaksa, last week must have been the calmest week since the protests against him began in Mirihana on March 31. And after a week of sojourning in a naval safe house in Trincomalee, ex-PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and scion Namal Rajapakse are back in Colombo and even attended parliament.

For all this and more, the President and the rest of the Rajapaksa family, whether they are now a house divided or not, owe a mountain of gratitude to Ranil Wickremesinghe for stepping in so chivalrously and sedating the political situation that was toxically antagonistic towards the whole Rajapaksa family. Without Ranil Wickremesinghe’s intervention the Rajapaksas would not have had the reprieve they are having now. No one knows what their immediate political plans are, and no one knows what plans the police and the Attorney General have to question the former Prime Minister on the background to the violence that spilled over from Temple Trees on May 9. Especially since other MPs have been questions, and some even arrested.

Toxic Mix

The political question of the day, however, is the future of the presidency of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Is the protest against him still strong enough to force an early resignation? Or has he weathered the storm to survive till his single term is over, or will he leave prematurely when the political dust settles and in a more dignified manner than his brother? A second related question is what prospects are now left for achieving the political and constitutional reforms that seemed to so within grasp before May 9?

Friday’s cabinet appointments have destroyed whatever economic good will that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe may have mustered in the few days he has been Prime Minister. There is already bad blood in parliament over the co-option of SLFP and SJP MPs as cabinet ministers ignoring the decision of the two parties not to accept cabinet positions while supporting the economic initiatives of the Ranil-Rajapaksa government. Maithripala Sirisena has warned in parliament that the people will “lose confidence in the new government too.”

The fact of the matter is that there is no new government and it has no confidence to lose. Ranil Wickremesinghe may have given some semblance of newness to the government based on his approach to handling the economic crisis. But if he thought that he could handle the economy independent of politics, that is proving itself to be a gross miscalculation. In a well circulated tweet explaining why he could not accept a cabinet position in the current situation, SJB (ex-UNP) MP, and Economist, Harsha de Silva said that the Sri Lankan crisis “is a toxic combination of economics and politics. The resolution depends on both and my joining Cabinet as an ‘independent MP’ will only worsen the political crisis.” Ranil Wickremesinghe, the more experienced of the two, has just done that.

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Latest comments

  • 3

    Rajan this is Silly Lanka. None of what took place last week could make any change.In many countries the President would have accepted responsibility and resigned. Others, government it self would have resigned. Few , after such upheaval the stubborn leaders or government would have resigned. But none of that in our Silly Lanka. It’s business as usual. When the country is bankrupt we are told, money has to be printed to pay salaries for govt employees, why do we need ministers, state ministers… etc….etc. To do what ? Non essential employees are told to stay and not to attend days of work. What will these ministers do without any money?? Warming chairs as our great comrade Vasideva suggested???

    • 4

      Rajan, did you see RW’s comment to foreign press. When asked about reviving tourism, RW with his usual wry smile replied ” they may still visit to experience and be part of our current protests “.

  • 1

    Mahinda Should Have Retired After Two Terms

    What people said one year back now it said in parliment. Same all others, Why People power has power . Parliment has only 225 brain and thinking Power But the country has 22million brain thinking power Public opinion is the thermometer a monarch should constantly consult. and the invited parlimentarian are not peoples opiniun, They srive to be wothy of recognized for internally and not recognised vote.

  • 7

    Why Chamal is holding on to his MP post still he should resign and set an example as an older brother.

  • 1

    There will be a time soon when Parliament will echo the words Ranil Wickremasinghe should have hung up his boots [ Though he may be anything but a Sportsman ] when he was defeated at the last Parliamentary Elections……….
    He has put his feet into quick sand………….

  • 4

    ”Mahinda Should Have Retired After Two Terms…… Gota Should Resign Now!” No way Jose.

    Our politicians have no shame, & in their minds, resigning or retiring gracefully probably indicates defeat or may not be even in their vocabulary. When it comes to the Rajapakse bros, remember, they are ‘Ranaviruvo’ with King Dutugamunu’s blood running in their veins, they fight to the very end.

    They will have to be dragged out kicking & screaming from Parliament & I won’t be surprised if their ghosts will haunt the Parliament after death because of their attachment to the material world, their souls will not be free to leave the world of the living (according to Buddhism). Even without the loot stashed abroad, the perks & privileges of a very generous pension, as well as, the accolade of saviours of the nation, would have given them an extremely comfortable lifestyle & the respect but sheer greed stood in the way. Seems lifelong close association of Buddhist monks have not taught them the basic philosophy of Buddhism.

  • 0

    His people’s tears of sorrow past endurance, are not they
    Sharp instruments to wear the monarch’s wealth away? (Kural 555 Chapter The cruel sceptre)

    Will, not the tears, shed by a people who cannot endure the oppression which they suffer (from their king), become a saw to waste away his wealth ?

    This was written during the days of kings who were absolute rulers, but it still holds good in democracy as well.

    This is exactly what happened to the Rajapaksa royal family. They thought they were born to rule the country whatever others may say. If one says you want to have it The more you taste power the more you want to retain it.

  • 2

    There is no legitimate “Opposition” in the country. Neither are there are intellectuals (within the country) with civil service experience ready to take the helm. The alternative is to bring in a foreigner, but the majority might not be ready for that kind of quantum leap. This is the kind of situation where a Lalith Athulathmudali or Lakshman K or Neelan T could render the country good services. Unfortunately they succumbed to suicide terrorism and the rest of the brainy crowd left to greener pastures. Given this vacuum, Rajapakse will rule the nest for a while to come.

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