31 May, 2023


Maithripala Sirisena, The Bane Of Rajapaksa’s Political Existence 

By Rasika Jayakody

Rasika Jayakody

President Maithripala Sirisena is many things to many people. But he has only been a bane to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

It was Sirisena, who, leading an alliance representing a wide spectrum of political parties and civil organizations, defeated the seemingly invincible Rajapaksa in January 2015. 

After a brief period in the political wilderness, Rajapaksa bounced back strongly, forming a political party of his own that pulled off an unexpected victory at the last Local Government Council election. 

And, as of October 26, 2018, it seemed that Rajapaksa was at the zenith of his popularity, poised to win the next Parliamentary election with a sweeping majority.

In fact, it can be said, that both President Maithripala Sirisena and ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have covertly helped Rajapaksa regain momentum through their shortsighted actions and ineffectual governance. 

Then Sirisena made his most monumental blunder. He allowed Rajapaksa in through the backdoor one night, and stealthily appointed him the Prime Minister. At the time, Rajapaksa’s group had no concerns about a parliamentary majority, naively assuming they were in the driving seat.

President Sirisena’s repeated assurances had convinced them to such a degree, they had even expected a section of hardcore UNP MPs to perform a somersault and support Rajapaksa’s appointment. A source familiar with the discussions that took place with the two groups implied that Sirisena and S.B. Dissanayake had presented Rajapaksa with a list of 14 UNP MPs who they assumed would cross over to support the “overnight” regime change they architected.

Things, however, went horrifically wrong, when Sirisena’s grand promises failed to materialise. All their attempts to purchase MPs and engineer mass crossovers bore no fruit, as the majority of UNP MPs stood their ground, supporting Wickremesinghe. 

In fact, MP Palitha Rangebandara recorded his conversations with Sirisena’s go-betweens and released them to the public, causing the former President and his camp a great deal of embarrassment In all, Sirisena failed to fulfil his end of the deal, leaving Rajapaksa stranded, with a crown on his head but with his hands and legs tied.

With  the Supreme Court staying the Gazette dissolving Parliament, Rajapaksa was forced to return to Parliament where he suffered two humiliating no-confidence motions backed by four of the six political parties represented in the legislature. In the absence of a simple majority, Rajapaksa’s only way out was to architect an early dissolution of Parliament by creating continuous chaos in the House and disrupting proceedings. This was indeed a long shot as all political parties saw through their plan and adopted counter-strategies. As a result, their plan backfired and the unruly behaviour of pro-Rajapaksa MPs drew scathing criticism from the public. With all of this,  the pendulum of public sympathy suddenly swung in favour of the UNP. 

On the canvas of public perception, Rajapaksa has now been painted as an unlawful Prime Minister, avoiding Parliament merely because he does not have a majority. The widely circulated photographs of UPFA MPs throwing books and chilli powder at police officers have caused irreparable damage to the former President’s political agenda. Their excuses for avoiding Parliament and for their forcible continuation in office without a simple majority in Parliament have causedthe Rajapaksa group to be reviled  in the eyes of the international press. Adding insult to injury, no country, with the exception of Burundi, has accepted the legitimacy of the purported administration and diplomats from key missions have warned of targeted punitive actions against those responsible for the protracted political turmoil in Sri Lanka.

The current situation has left former President Rajapaksa in a politically precarious position. Presiding over a fragile government lacking legitimacy, he has also earned criticism from his own ranks for being so naive as to  accept premiership. Leading  the MPs criticising Rajapaksa  from within his ranks is Kumara Welgama, a long-time Rajapaksa ally and a key architect of the “pohottuwa” movement. Meanwhile, there are reports that a section of SLFP MPs, led by national organiser Duminda Dissanayake, have held discussions with former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to form an independent group in Parliament. Although Rajapaksa’s appointment as the Prime Minister was strategically positioned as a move  to ‘unite’ the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, it has, in fact, widened the divisions in the party. 

Many now  opine that the MPs around Rajapaksa, who are to face a surfeit of cases in court, pressured him into accepting the premiership, in a desperate bid to slow the wheels of justice. This may have been one reason why Rajapaksa entered a seemingly strange alliance with Sirisena. It is my view, however, that Rajapaksa made a grave strategic miscalculation, based on overly ambitious promises and assurances by Sirisena and his allies.

In his haste to oust Wickremesinghe and the UNP faction of the government, Sirisena also spoiled Rajapaksa’s chances for 2020 and pushed him into a disadvantageous position in the eyes of the public. Even at this point, Rajapaksa believes a parliamentary election will hold a favourable outcome for him and give him a relatively honourable exit route from the current rut he is in. But while Rajapaksa is still a force to reckon with at a parliamentary election, he is now much weaker than he was before October 26. The uncharacteristically defensive statement he issued on Sunday (25) explaining his reasons for remaining in the government indicates his current vulnerability. 

If the Supreme Court gives him an  unfavourable ruling on the dissolution of Parliament early next month, Rajapaksa will have very little room to manoeuvre and will come under enormous pressure to step down from office. A resignation of that sort, needless to say, will be extremely humiliating and  go against Rajapaksa personality. To avoid such a situation, Rajapaksa will either have to engineer a serious division within the UNP or architect an en masse crossover that will alter the composition of Parliament in his favour. 

At the heart of Rajapaksa’s second setback, is the man who engineered his first – President Maithripala Sirisena. In January 2015, the demarcations were clear and Sirisena led the rival camp as the common candidate of the opposition. This time around, Sirisena came in the guise of a friend and made Rajapaksa the Prime Minister at an inauspicious time, with false reassurances of a parliamentary majority and mass crossovers. On both occasions, it was Sirisena who led to the downfall of Rajapaksa, . 

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Latest comments

  • 27

    A very good analysis of the crisis and an interesting read too. Appreciate your contributions, Rasika.

    • 14

      Dear Kamal,

      The article I’m linking you to makes more or less the same points, but it also has 45 minutes of a very important and hard hitting speech by Kumara Welgama.

      It is only three days old, but many articles are coming thick and fast; this will soon get buried under the newer writings.
      Welgama’s speech is surely a most significant one; if you can follow Sinhalese I think that you must at the very least listen to this speech. Welgama is still on Rajapaksa’s side, but he comes out strongly against family rule, and he has dissociated himself from the rowdy scenes in Parliament.
      I’m placing this comment here because I feel that the number of comments it has attracted seems to indicate that most readers have passed it over. Please listen to the Welgama Speech. It is a public speech made to SLFP members in Matugama, but the focus is throughout on Welgama’s words. There’s no irritating screaming, and it is easy to follow. More than all else, it makes sense. It voices the despair that most SLFP leaders must be feeling at how they are harvesting defeat instead of victory.
      The Professor who has written the article also has praise for the performance of the JVP.
      There is nothing said here about Tamils and Muslims. So, this represents Sinhala-Buddhists at last realising the mistakes that have been made. I was hardly aware of Welgama before listening to this speech; I feel that a man given to such plain speaking could get nominated to run against somebody from the Yahapalanaya side. That inspires hope.

      • 8

        Don’t trust Kumara Welgama the thief of big time. When transport minister he robbed $20,000 per bus imported to this country. I think Ranjan Ramanayake lodged a complaint with Police?

      • 1

        Dear Yamuna,
        What you say may be quite correct. I was impressed by the lack of servility displayed by Welgama in this speech. He certainly made the point against family bandyism pretty well.
        What you say may well be correct. The dollar amount that you mention would have been more than Rs 2 million each even when the rupee was stronger. Most politicians have been making this sort of money, and the parties seem to co-operate in not investigating each others misdoings.
        The Bond Scam is so much talked about, but still being transferred from one Magistrate’s Court to another. After all these years, it’s still at such a low level of prosecution.
        It’s good that you gave us that warning, Yamuna; thanks, shall keep that in mind. But what progress are we making? What we are saying is so pathetically inadequate.

  • 5

    Yes but what if the Supreme Court on 7 Dec states parliamnet can be dissolved by Sirisena. Sure thing he can’t but judges like Malagoda who have been already given the bait by Sirisena may go against the trend. Then both Sirisena and Rajapakse are winners.

    They will win resoundly given vote rigging and malpractices.

    So argument that Sirisena cut Rajapakse grave has no substance.

  • 5

    Rasika please please please it is not that simplistic

  • 12

    There is much more to the recent ‘happenings’. Thank you Rasika Jeyakody for sharing some of your thoughts on this contentious issue.
    Evidently a section of SLFP MPs, led by national organiser Duminda Dissanayake, have held discussions with former President CBK to form an independent group in Parliament.
    The old SLFP did have positives. The international community respected Srimavo for her independent stands. We need leaders of that stature.
    SLPP (waiting with hopes of changing the name to SLFP) will fly the language/religion-divide flag. This may be a win for some elites but lay-Lankans are the losers.
    Someone must fold this flag.

  • 12

    Sirisena managed to dupe Mahinda Rajapakse and his cohorts into eating a deadly pill. Now the poisons fiercely working in the body of Pohottuwa.

    It is like the story of a game of two cunning comrades trying to outsmart each other.

    How sad to see Pohottuwa slowly dying an inevitable fast death.

    Sirisena is the Sri Lanka’s hero of the century !!!

    Ha ha ha ha ha …….Hilarious.

    • 13

      As a famous commentator said, MR was caught with a Dhathu Karanduwa on his head and his Sarong down. An unenviable situation for any man.

  • 0

    This is another failed effort to divide President Sirisena and MR through stupid tactics.

    Those crumb feeders who got used to the ‘Rasa’ of the crumbs from the yayapalana table will give up at nothing to reverse the tables.

    All in vain!

  • 1

    welgama wants to be president
    he will contest sirisena with the pohottuwa backing as they have no suitable candidate

  • 5

    It should be crystal clear that all three of them; Maithreepala Sirisena, Mahinda Rajapkshe and Ranil Wickremesinghe are not acceptable to the electorate. They have caused inordinate damage to the country in comparison to what ever good they delivered. Without all three of them Srilanka will be very well off. It will be a blessing for all of us if they quit politics for good.

  • 0

    “Maithripala Sirisena, the bane of Rajapakse’s political existence”

    How can that be when MR is still existing in politics as an MP for Kurunagala district?

    MR & the gang created SLPP some time back & performed well in LG elections so isn’t it silly to attribute his victory for sb/st else?

    The reality behind MR’s success is his deep penetration into the hearts & minds of people so that’s why there had to be a well planned procedure unexpected by anybody till the last moment to oust him in 2015.

    Nobody in the UNP was confident to defeat MR so grabbed MS for that purpose & made him common candidate; in that case MS was the bane of MR’s defeat.

    What’s sad even today is there’s nobody confident to defeat MR so trying to make a collective political party with a view of attracting racially based parties.

    All those silly arguments to keep failed UNP & RW still to in power is most apparently against the wish of majority people of the country.

  • 6

    News just in – the bahutharaya has shot up to 123 the dog Srisiena must now give back PM post to Ranil

  • 1

    The article makes for interesting reading and the comments seem to be reasonably based. If Sirisena has indeed been the bane of MR’s political existence I don’t suppose MR would want things to stay that way. For now, he is unlikely to do anything. After all, Sirisena has handed him an unexpected bonus which he will gladly accept. But pay-back time is bound to come in due course, when MR is more securely placed. From all accounts, MR did not regard Sirisena too highly when he was in MR’s cabinet. How circumstances have changed. I cannot help thinking that as Sirisena keeps flexing the Presidential muscles, he must derive more than a little sadistic pleasure in seeing MR’s discomfiture now..

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