Deposed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will make a decision on whether he will return to Sri Lanka after Wednesday’s vote in parliament that will decide which member of parliament will complete the remaining two years of his term.
Colombo Telegraph learns that the former President is placing all his bets on the man he picked to be his prime minister during the most beleaguered season of his presidency, Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Rajapaksa is caught between a rock and a hard place, sources close to Gotabaya Rajapaksa told Colombo Telegraph, after Singapore determined that he cannot stay more than a fortnight in the island as a visitor. Singapore is home to a large Tamil population and the Government of the country fears unrest and protests could erupt if the country were to host the unpopular Sri Lankan leader for too long. After his transit in the Maldives created a huge scandal and protests erupted against President Solih’s government in Male over the decision to grant him sanctuary in the archipelago, the Maldivian Government is unlikely to give Gotabaya Rajapaksa safe passage and security a second time.
Having given up his US citizenship, Gotabaya Rajapaksa travels on a Sri Lankan diplomatic passport, which provides visa free entry only to a handful of countries, including Singapore and The Maldives. Sources told Colombo Telegraph that Rajapaksa’s best hope now is to ensure Wickremesinghe is elected President on Wednesday, since he could then return to Sri Lanka in safety. Wickremesinghe had assured the deposed President that he would be given the highest levels of security, despite the fact that he is no longer entitled to such privileges having resigned from office on July 15th.
Colombo Telegraph learns that phone lines are buzzing between Singapore and Colombo as Rajapaksa engages in frantic negotiations with the SLPP caucus to secure the votes Wickremesinghe needs on Wednesday to be elected to complete Gotabaya’s five-year term. Leading negotiations on his behalf is media and advertising tycoon and Derana CEO Dilith Jayaweera who has thrown the entire weight of his popular channel behind Wickremesinghe’s bid for the presidency. Joining Jayaweera’s efforts is drug kingpin and Negombo District Parliamentarian Nimal Lanza and Bond Scam perpetrator Arjun Aloysius. Also backing Wickremesinghe because they know he holds the key to Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s return to the island, and will pave the way for the deposed leader to finish his term by proxy, Avant Garde chairman Nissanka Senadhipathi. Senadhipathi is throwing both money and muscle into Wickremesinghe’s campaign, Colombo Telegraph learns. At Avant Garde Security, Senadhipathi commands some 5000 plus ex-security forces personnel, mostly lower ranking troops from the army, navy and air force. One such employee – Arabi Wasantha – performed yeoman service for the Rajapaksa Government when he set a bus alight during the Mirihana protest on March 31st, driving a vicious crackdown against peaceful protesters agitating in front of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence.
Political observers opine that the SLPP has lost all legitimacy to govern and must have no role in deciding which of the candidates in the fray will function as interim president for two more years. Verite Research Chief Dr Nishan De Mel recalled that in 2015 and 2019, governments that had majorities in Parliament stood down and allowed the newly elected administrations to govern, even in minority. In 2015, the UPFA government stepped aside, allowing President Maithripala Sirisena to appoint his cabinet, while the UNP-majority government resigned in November 2019, paving the way for Gotabaya Rajapaksa to appoint his own cabinet of ministers.
Greatest threat to #SriLanka stability, at this time, is SLPP asserting its parliament majority to become a proxy for the rejected leaders of the country.
After 2015&19 elections, parliament majority of the defeated presidential candidate, stood down. SLPP shld do the same now.
— Nishan de Mel (@NCdeMel) July 10, 2022
Observers are warning that if the SLPP helps to elect the proxies of a de-legitimized and deposed President to complete his term, the country will continue to be in turmoil with the populace pressing for Gotabaya’s successor’s removal. Wickremesinghe has already proven that he would not be afraid to crackdown on these popular uprising, through actions that will ensure a bloodbath on Sri Lanka’s streets if the Aragalaya movement refuses to recognize his legitimacy to govern, the observers warned. “It is beyond ironic for the SLPP who came to power in 2019 promising to prosecute the perpetrators of the Central Bank bond scam to be contemplating making its chief protagonist President of the Republic,” said one political analyst who spoke to Colombo Telegraph. “What a strange twist that after the people rejected him repeatedly, it is the Rajapaksas who have made his presidential dreams come true.”
Wickremesinghe has long-cherished hopes of the executive presidency and has set the tone for what Sri Lankans can come to expect under his interim presidency.
Twice in five days, Wickremesinghe has declared a state of emergency – the first such declaration came before he was lawfully sworn in as acting president and was only holding office under the terms of Article 37 (1) of the constitution, which makes provision for overseas stints by an incumbent. He also imposed lightning curfews, stranding tens of thousands of citizens during the middle of day, and deliberately and determinedly vilified and demonized protesters as fascists and Hitler-led mobs. Last week, after protestors moved out of the key government buildings they had occupied from July 9th, Wickremesinghe opened the doors to the media, inviting them to witness the “damage” caused and ensuring the images were broadcast across the island to discredit the protest movement. He then sent the CID into the buildings to gather fingerprints and other forensic evidence to charge occupying mobs with damage to public property. But Wickremesinghe has gone even further, getting his police department to issue dire threats against people posting on social media. On Monday Sri Lankan police said special police cybercrime units were identifying social media posts that were threatening MPs about voting in Wednesday’s election in Parliament. Many Sri Lankans are warning their constituent MPs to refrain from casting their votes for the unpopular acting president who shamelessly served as Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s premier when he was on the cusp of being unseated in May 2022.
Parliament votes on the President who will complete two years of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term on Wednesday with emotions running high in the country and under a state of emergency, in which security forces become a law unto themselves and can use virtually any means necessary to quell “a disturbance of the peace”.
For Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Wednesday’s election may well determine where he will spend his years in political exile.