By Ranga Kalansooriya –
It was from zero to hero last January – within six months hero to zero – but again on Tuesday this week President Maithripala Sirisena attempted to revive his position back – from zero to hero. So far he has been successful but the SLFP’s tug of war is now in the courts.
This is politics in Sri Lanka. Never a dull moment – and full of surprises. In fact the entire landscape of contemporary politics in Sri Lanka was always designed and destined by surprises. If we analyse at least past 25 years – assassination of President Premadasa, Gamini – Lalith assassinations, Chandrika’s emergence and her second term Presidency thanks to LTTE suicide bomb, Mahinda’s victory in 2005 thanks to LTTE’s boycott of northern votes, Maithri’s candidature and his victory, and also the developments thereafter for the past six months were perfect case studies for such political surprises.
These three cartoons appeared in media within last six weeks are perfect examples to the turn of events within a short span of time. Cartoonists send a humorous but strong social message relates socio-political issues or personalities and this is how Dasa Hapuwalana of Lankadeepa explained the recent political developments of the country, mainly with regard to the conduct of the President. But the cat is out of the bag now and we see a heavy internal battle within SLFP, the main constituent party of the UPFA after the “ballistic missile attack” on Mahinda by Maithri.
He, during the much awaited speech, justified retaining SLFP and UPFA Chairmanship under tremendous pressure while attempting to clarify how it was important in delivering the 100-day promises in a battle through Parliament. President’s repeated claims about a Prime Minister of 47 seats in a 225 member Parliament was a signal that he himself had to handle Parliament battles single-handed, even to the extent of safe guarding the minority government against no-confident motions. Also he exposed clandestine plans to bring Rajapaksa back as Prime Minister following the no-confident motion against Wickremesinghe.
This speech spelt out the reasons for his silence and clarified his stand, much to the relief of Yahapalana supporters. But against many odds, he never stated that he was cornered and pushed to the wall by his own two general secretaries – Anura Yapa and Susil Premajayath, the most powerful duo of his camp mainly during an election period. Also he never explained how Rajapaksa camp got strengthened day by day – against all his attempts to thwart their plans and retain his grip within the party.
Rajapaksa who assured his political retirement on January 8 night at a closed door meeting with Ranil Wickremesinghe and requested his and his family safety (as we read in media), first made his appearance through a window frame in Medamulana within 48 hrs of his defeat. And then he went up to his roof-top with a megaphone to address a crowd in front of his house two days later, followed by daily temple visits cum politico-religious rallies, established an electoral office in Abhayaramaya, Narahenpita and then established a strong wing within the Darley Road SLFP headquarters. His buddies started rallies from Nugegoda without him on stage but at the last one in Matara he did not get into the political stage but got on a parapet wall to watch the rally. Maithri was watching the expansion of Rajapaksa camp – not day by day but on hourly basis – and responding to each single action of Rajapaksa in an attempt to retain his grip within the SLFP and UPFA, but he continued to fail. Maithri was a solitary fighter in that game.
Against all gossips of a newly emerging Mahinda – Maithri coalition, the President categorically claimed that his hostility towards Rajapaksa still remains intact and he was still against grating nominations to his predecessor. As explained through his own words Maithree had three choices. First was to resign from his party leadership – but it will allow Rajapaksa to comfortably replace him as party leader and run for polls at a point of strength. Thus, he did not want it to happen. The second option was to deny his nominations – and the Rajapaksa camp was ready with a strong plan B along with prepared nomination lists, party symbols and manifestos where again he would emerge from a position of strength. The third was to provide Rajapaksa and his cronies with nominations against all his wishes. One comment that appeared on social media after Maithri’s Tuesday speech was “Maithree pumped air into the balloon of Rajapaksa, let it go up and shot at it with a sharp bullet.”
Maithri’s decision to accept SLFP/UPFA leadership was widely criticized but his explanations could be justifiable – mainly to gain Parliamentary support for the implementation of his election pledges. But he failed to retain his grip as the party leader. Why? What was the mistake? To my mind he made a fundamental mistake in retaining the same office bearers who served under Rajapaksa regime, who back-stabbed him during the nomination battle. Anura Yapa was a strong confidante of Rajapaksa who was appointed to several responsible positions by the latter in order to safeguard the political interests of the regime. Remember the Parliamentary Select Committee to oust the Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake that conducted a rapid process within a few weeks under Yapa’s Chairmanship? Thereafter Yapa was ‘gifted’ with a powerful ministerial portfolio. Who was the immediate choice of Rajapaksa as the party general secretary when Maithri defected him at a crucial presidential elections? Thus, how can one expect Yapa to change his loyalty towards Maithri against Mahinda? A few changes in the party central committee did not bring him desired results. Both Susil and Yapa played a crucial role against their party leader to favor Rajapaksa.
On the other hand, Maithri claimed that all his attempts were to avoid a split within the SLFP. As Gamini Viyangoda, the convenor of the Purawesi Balaya explained Maithri put his party before the country. But be that as it may, I am puzzled whether Maithri – with his 49-year experience in politics – did not fore see the fact that a split within the SLFP rank was imminent whatever choice he would make out of the above said three options. He opted for the last option – provide nomination to Rajapaksa and then stab him in the back. One could easily argue that, the last option would destroy all the plans of Rajapaksa and make him but nothing at the general elections – as other two options would make him a strong candidate. But now it is clear that Maithri is not with Rajapaksa camp, Mahinda will not be appointed Prime Minister even he manage to secure majority seats, or even the opposition leader post. The last thing that Mahinda can expect is to become is a Member of Parliament for Kurunegala District.
Who has done et tu brute now?