29 May, 2023


Political Is Personal – An Essay In Despair

By Jayadeva Uyangoda – 

Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda

My country has been betrayed again” –Pablo Neruda, Memoirs

In his explanation of why he removed Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe from the office of Prime Minister, President Maithripala Sirisena cited policy and personal differences between the two.

An analysis of his speech shows that personal reasons are stronger than policy reasons and the personal is very much political. The text of President Sirisena’s address to the nation reminds the citizens of the explanation he offered in the latter part of 2014 as to why he left his former political boss, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. There too, the personal was political.

In this note, I will try to show how, after October 26, the political is personal and devastatingly personal for me.

October 26 was a Friday. Although I am not a superstitious person, I look back at that rainy, gloomy Friday as the day I felt personally betrayed too. I can no longer think of Mr. Maithripala Sirisena as a symbol of political hope for the citizens of this country, and particularly for the younger generation.  His actions that Friday marked a shockingly tragic end to the political hope and promise he had epitomized since November 21, 2014.

I campaigned actively for the newly formed opposition front, which fielded Mr. Sirisena as its Presidential candidate for the 2015 January election. I did so primarily because of Mr. Sirisena, or Maithri, as we began to call him affectionately. If Ranil were the candidate, I would have just voted for him merely as an act of protest against Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, but would not have actively campaigned for his victory. It is Maithri who made me active in electoral politics again, against a backdrop of many political disappointments with other leaders, including Chandrika and Ranil.

For me voting for Rail was purely instrumentalist. In contrast, campaigning for Maithri was a politico-moral duty.

Not only me. A 51.28 percent of Sri Lankan voters found that at last there was now a man they could trust, identify themselves with, and entrust their democratic political destinies. He was actually the last hope of democracy in Sri Lanka, at a time when Sri Lankan politics under the existing regime, was moving in the direction of what we political scientists call ‘hard authoritarianism.’

To stop that nightmarish drift, a regime change was needed. For a regime change, a credible presidential candidate other than Ranil Wickremasinghe was needed. A man or woman who could personify the democratic political hopes of future generations of our citizens, particularly the young ones and first-time voters, needed. The new leader had to be one who had not earlier tasted political power as a government leader, and therefore unsullied by a record of corruption, abuse of power, megalomania and personalized rule, and limitless political ambitions.

Mr. Maithripala Sirisena fit the bill. He could turn the tide of political despair and cynicism. Somewhere towards the end of November 2014, two young vegetable sellers in rural Neluwa, Hiniduma, articulated to me in simple language the hope that I too had shared: “Who else can we trust except Maithri?’

And Maithri was willing to take tremendous personal risks. His daughter has now narrated in detail all these risks in her glossy political biography of her father.

It was the ethicality of candidate Sirisena’s message that had the greatest political aesthetics in 2015. Sri Lanka needed a new leader who valued political morality over ambition and compassion over the ruthlessness of power. It is the political morality of Maithri’s slogan yahapalanyathat fired the political imagination of more than half of Sri Lankan voters in 2015.

By 2015 I had not ever met Mr. Maithripala Sirisena. I had only seen him once in 2002 at the Shanthi Vihar Restaurant, near University of Colombo. At that time, he was out of power, but still the General Secretary of the SLFP. He was wearing a pair of trousers and a long sleeved, and slightly oversized, white shirt. A former GA of Polonnaruwa, whom I knew, and two others were at the lunch table. When I talked to the former GA across the lunch table, Mr. Sirisena and I only shared mild smiles.

My absolute lack of personal acquaintance with Mr. Sirisena did not prevent me from developing a personal admiration for him. In his public persona, I saw him as a mild mannered, gentle, and restrained individual with no ruthless political ambitions. Based on that judgment which now appears to me naive, I reached a political conclusion: To personify the hopes and aspirations of democratic revival in Sri Lanka, we needed a man or woman of gentle and kind disposition with moderate temperament who would not have the inner capacity to become a hardline ruler. Democracy is after all a government by the moderates who would exercise political power, being aware of, and faithful to, its inherent limits.

For this essential personal requirement of a democratic politician, Mr. Sirisena was insulted, slighted, and ridiculed by some of his opponents, calling him by abusive nicknames. And all of them have now begun, after October 26, to admire him and see great political virtues in him, of course, for wrong and utterly opportunistic reasons.

After he became Sri Lanka’s president, I have met Mr. Sirisena probably less than five times. I found him to be a charming and sincere political leader, not corrupted by the pretensions of the Colombo’s political elite. My first face –to- face meeting with him rekindled another naïve illusion I had been maintaining: a politician with rural social background and uncorrupted by urban class arrogance and sophistication would be a better democrat.

We all knew that President Sirisena and his Prime Minister failed to develop a stable working relationship to lead the government which they jointly formed.

We also knew that both leaders were not adequately sensitive to the popular mandate that brought them in to power in 2015. We also learned that our President and Prime Minister were amateurish in their political management of   conflicts that occurred within the coalition government. We all were hoping against hope that the two leaders would not damage the process of Sri Lanka’s democratic recovery.

But, I never expected President Sirisena, amidst all the unpleasant political and personal problems he had with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, to single handedly reverse Sri Lanka’s path to democratic recovery and consolidation. He did so by, as far as I understand the constitution, violating both the letter and spirit of the 19thAmendment of which he was a co-author. To justify that violation, he seems to have got legal advise, among others, from those who were pathologically opposed to the essence and spirit of 19thAmendment. Some others were political sycophants who saw a great chance in a President who has a not-so-strong understanding of the intricacies of constitutional law, in order to promote their own political self-interests.

The worst of all is watching how the man who we thought would clean up the country’s corrupt political life, and introduced the word yahapalanaya to our political vocabulary, is now employing political corruption, and corrupting MPs on a massive scale, day in and day out. President Sirisena seems to think that political corruption is a legitimate weapon as long as he uses it.

The damage done on October 26 evening and continues to be done thereafter to Sri Lanka’s democracy, and the democratic futures of the young generation to which the children and grand children of both President Sirisena and I belong, is a devastating personal setback to me.

Now on, recovery of democracy for Sri Lanka’s next generation is likely to be preceded by another phase of grave violations, setbacks, violence, resistance, and tragically, bloodbath.

Thus, for me, political is the personal too.

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Latest comments

  • 10

    Uyan. Your disappointment of the hopes you and many others, including myself had, comes out in your painful expression. I share with you that disappointment. I too had put faith in the new coalition that Ven Sobitha Thero, whom I have met twice during conferences by Tamils who had great faith in his fairness.

    In early November 2014 when diaspora representatives from many countries met in the US, as they are doing today, Sumanthiran and Mavai Senathirajah were invited to state their position to support Srisena and Ranil coalition. They made an excellent well argued case. But the Diaspora reps were not in favour and gave their well argued positions. After much exchange, I appealed to the gathering to support TNA to support the Coalition to defeat Rajapaksas. My point was that, “The House is burning. Let us put out the fire first and then work towards Tamil Rights and Rebuilding with the help of the Srisena-Ranil Coalition.” Others supported. But a large majority opposed it. Later they all also supportedTNA’s appeal. The whole house is burning again by the fire set out by the person who damped the fire. I guess he left the embers un-doused.

    Now it appears that the Diaspora gauged correctly not to trust any Sinhala Leaders. However many also now want constitutional democracy be restored through Parliament and support TNA position. Though they do not expect Ranil government or or any duly elected government to support TNA’s demand. We are in the brink of dictatorship if the current situation is allowed to deteriorate.

    • 4

      nagalingam ethirveerasingam

      During the last days of his hustings he emphasized his involvement in the war. He too claimed to have led the war.

      That says something about this man.
      Stupid village boys died in the war so that he could become the president.

    • 2

      Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda,

      RE: Political Is Personal – An Essay In Despair

      Thanks for the article, and further exposing the Gamarala.

      A Sinhala saying is Puhul Hora Karen Denai; The Ash Pumpkin thief can be identified from his shoulder

      We all know the Puhul Hora is the Gamarala. He stole for his own self-interest

  • 5

    An incredible spin….!

    No one ever thinks Uyangoda is so naïve to not understand the game at play in 2014/15. He knew who were the real power brokers and holders of reigns. They needed a face, a cover which they found in Sirisena, a rural based, Sinhala Buddhist with political and governmental experience. They found a slogan too. The slogan, yahapalanaya was magical. Yet remarkably they could not obtain the swing needed. If not for India’s involvement through it’s cat paw TNA, the regime change project would have been still a dream.

    But one thing Uyangoda says is true. All yahapalanistas are stunned by Sirisena’s back stabbing as they call it. They are still in despair. I can see their faces through these writings and it is really fascinating.

    The events are not surprising in the larger context, when a govt looses it’s mandate as demonstrated at the local govt elections. However the damage could have been mitigated if yahapalanaya allowed the necessary release valves to operate by way of conducting PC elections on time. Instead they continued to delay the elections and tried to even circumvent presidential and parliament elections through the 20th amendment. It is the country’s good fortune that eruption is bloodless. It can remain that way if yahapalanistas allow the events to take it’s course leading most likely to a general election where people can exercise their free will.

    • 1

      Uyangoda: It is the Economy Stupid!
      Under Bondscam Ranil, Sri Lanka was a Fake Democracy, with Fake reconciliation. Bond Ranil who protected Mahinda Jarapassa had turned the Parliament into a “Cesspit of bi-partisan UNP_SLFP corruption. MPs were bought with Duty Free SUVs to turn a blind eye to Bondscam Ranil’s destruction of institutions like the Central Bank and decimation of the economy of Lanka with outdated IMF-WB neoliberal reforms to benefit the global 1 percent and America first.
      Under bond Ranil, Lanka had lost economic soverignty to ADB, IMF and MCC , and Tokyo and Washington Debt trap and bailout business. Lanka was being sold off and asset stripped. This program of asset stripping was to intensify in the coming weeks with the “Land Bank” being established with new land legislature, too speed up asset stripping by foreign interests. Trinco Oil Farm , Colombo east terminal are tip of the iceberg.
      Sira thankfully has stopped this sale of Lanka strategic assets. This is why the rupee is up and local business sentiment positive. Sira has saved Lanka from a Greece-like economic crisis that Ranil’s Economic Hit men had arranged with crashing rupee. And China did not cause the economic crisis in Greece or Argentina. It was Washingtons Economic hit men..

      Under Bondscame Ranil who protected Mahinda Jarapassa and his family against corruption investigations to harass Sira, Sri Lanka has lost its Economic Soveriegnty and was dancing to the tunes of IMF

  • 6

    Where was democracy when LTTE was was terrorising the country
    WHERE was democracy when Ranil was selling Hambanthota, Matthala and when he tried to sell Colombo harbour?

    Where was democracy when Ranil was active in Batalanda
    Where was democracy when central bank was robbed in broad day light
    You are only a pack of tree hugging hypocrites

  • 7

    We need to send him back to Polannaruwa to appoint him as Gamaralawa. He needs to get some more village level training in public administration and politics. He did not do well at local and international level politics. He was welcomed by international community but he betrayed them all to get his power with MR and his Chinese support. He did not master the arts of politics yet, as Ranil did. Poor MS .. So, he will be impeached now.. MR and Co will wait for another opportunity. I think that Ranil will get the majority in Parliament as and when it is summoned. Now, plot is exposed.. All Sri Lankans know that.. Now, MPS will shamed to back MS and MR.
    Enough has been said and written about this coup. It will be shame any one to join this plot and coup.
    So, any one with a common sense would not support MS in this coup.

  • 7

    Prof. Uyangoda
    My feelings about Sira was exactly like yours when I heard he was going to be the common candidate. The revelation came within 12 hours of his assumption of office – when he appointed Pallewatta Gamaralalage Kumarasinghe Sirisena as Chairman, Sri Lanka Telecom.

  • 6

    Every Srilankan at this moment ask themselves a question. Whom to we trust? We trusted Mahinda as a human rights activist but he became the most ruthless dictator and he killed more human rights activists and journalists than any other in our history. We trusted Sirisena and still echoing what he promised and now we see him as a complete liar and become a dictator worse than Mahinda (Totallity of Mahinda & Sirisena dictatorship). We trusted Ranil but he failed todo anything to stop corruption or anything against corruptors. We see now openly bribing MPs and no can’t do anything to stop. Are we Srilankan need these criminals continue to ride horses on our backbone? People should come forward to stop the functioning of President & Prime minister office and Paliament completely until we get what we want. This is the only solution country Needs. People Power!

  • 6

    Since, the dark Friday, Sri Lankan’s are reliving the horror of MR’s ten years rule. Buying MPs, taking over state institutions by force and attacking the opponents are like the rerun of the MR’s dark past. Sirisena too has joint his old pals. People are on dialy basis detesting and cursing them for their despicable actions. Even little good will and respect what they had is fast vanishing, and no way now to redeem themselves from this shame. They have dug their own grave, and going to bury themselves in it.

  • 6

    will his daughter continue the biography?
    i hope not

    • 0

      I hope she does. Running out of toilet paper.

  • 0

    Sob Stories: Ooo Mahattaya, who wants your sob stories? Not me. You loved and you lost, you idiot, and that is it. Your stories make me puke.
    I did not fall in love with any of these disgusting people. I voted against the disgusting one that I knew was truly disgusting hoping that any change would be an improvement. Sri Lanka politicians can be graded by the degree of disgust they generate in Putujjana commoners like us. Not knowing anything about Maru Sira, I surmised that no one can exceed the DoD of Mara. Here, DoD means Degree of Disgust, not Department of Defense. I thought that the UD is better than the KD. Here UD and KD stand for Unknown Devil and KD… well work it out yourself.
    People like Ooo Mahattaya are unhappy that they did not get the benefits they expected from Mara and Oora (a more appropriate name for Maru Sira). In my case, I have never even seen these disgusting human animals with my naked eyes, leave alone meeting them. And I am happy about that. So I thought that Oora had to be better than Mara and voted for him.
    Anyway, what I want to see right now are not sob stories or theories. Since we have messed up by voting for this or that Oora or Mara, we have to correct it ourselves, without expecting Suddas to do it. I must say, we would not have been in this mess if Prabha was around. A last meal or two would have settled the matter, regrettably though, with the inevitable demise of a couple of innocent Vanni chicken. But solved, it would have been, once and for all.

  • 3

    Some of us spent seven decades of our life in despair – often in helpless utter despair. We empathise with Prof Jayadeva Uyangoda.
    When we inherited democracy, we tried to create our own version. First wrong step. We amended the constitution and introduced ‘Executive Presidency’ without addressing details. We adopted new electoral systems and without waiting to see how these worked, altered the system to suit personal needs of the leaders. The elite-class emerged. Consensus was replaced with dictatorial tactics.

    Amidst the toxic atmosphere, ‘coalition governance’ was tried. This had the silver lining of ‘checks and balances’. This abandoned as well.
    What next? No not another blood letting. We learned the hard way that this defeats everything.

  • 2

    Jadeva Uyangoda
    When you say ‘he fit the bill’ in 2015 what you are saying is the very characteristics of a man which are now in display were useful to you at that time. Don’t try to fool us. It is his capaciity for ‘bitrayal’ that you depended on in 2015. You knew it then as you know it now. We too. We knew it then as we know it now. You made use of that trait of a man then and we are the benefisheries of that trait of a man now. Of course you have seen this:
    [edited out]

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