21 November, 2019

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Return Of Rajapaksa And Post-Election Politics

By S. I. Keethaponcalan

Dr S.I. Keethaponcalan

Dr S.I. Keethaponcalan

Sri Lanka successfully concluded the much anticipated presidential election on January 8, 2015. The New Democratic Front (NDF), or the opposition alliance candidate Maithripala Sirisena, won the election. He polled 51.3 percent of the total votes cast and his rival, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, managed 47.6 percent of the votes. The successful conclusion of the election and the results were a victory for the people of the once vibrant democracy. The election was relatively free despite the abuse of resources and violence and the transition of power to the opposition coalition was smooth. Surprising many in Sri Lanka and abroad, President Rajapaksa left his official residence even before half of the results were formally announced.

Attempted Coup?

Insiders, along with some leading members of the new government now claim that Rajapaksa, sensing the defeat, attempted to suspend the counting of votes with the assistance of the armed forces.

According to this theory, his brother who was the Defence Secretary, played a major role in this conspiracy or what some call the attempted coup. So far, military coups have not succeeded in Sri Lanka. This time also, insiders maintain that the commanders of the armed forces refused to collaborate. The military thus far has not refuted the claims that the president sought the assistance of the armed forces to suspend the election. If true, this is a serious issue, which needs to be investigated carefully. One could expect more details to emerge in the coming weeks.

Largely due to the alleged attempted coup, Maithripala Sirisena was sworn in immediately as the 6th Executive President on January 9th and the United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinge became the Prime Minister. President Sirisena and his confidants are in the process of forming an all-party government. The problem, however, is that the opposition alliance does not have adequate seats in the 225 member parliament to successfully prove its majority when the national legislature reconvenes at the end of January. One way to handle this issue is to convince members of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), party of the former president, to join the new government. Reports indicate that some UPFA members have already agreed to support the new administration. Given the political culture of elected representatives in Sri Lanka, mustering adequate support to form and continue the administration will not be an impossible task.

Return of Rajapaksa

Mahinda WimalHowever, a turn of events took place when Rajapaksa suddenly came out of presumed retirement within one day of his retreat to his ancestral home and got his party supporters to declare him the president of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), dominant partner of the UPFA. Why did Rajapaksa return? So far, nobody from the Rajapaksa camp has given an explanation. One possible reason is the full comprehension of the election results. When Rajapaksa reached his ancestral home, he declared that he did not really lose the election, but was voted out by the “Tamils.” He probably meant minorities. It is possible that Rajapaksa quickly realized that he lost the election with a narrow margin and a substantial majority of the Sinhalese voted for him.

This factor is significant because the 51 percent of votes Sirisena received was generated by an ad hoc coalition. It is possible that at least some coalition partners will contest separately in the forthcoming parliamentary election. The JVP, which stayed out of the presidential race, will also contest. These votes therefore will scatter. Rajapaksa’s votes probably came from a unified coherent block of votes. In fact, they could be called Rajapaksa votes. If parliamentary elections are conducted in the near future, Rajapaksa may be able to win the majority of the seats in the national legislature and effectively challenge the Sirisena presidency. He only needed to retain control over his party, the SLFP. Hence, the return.

Rajapaksa’s Challenges

However, retaining control over the party in the long run will not be easy. There are two reasons for this.

One, Rajapaksa does not have a well-established or deep-rooted base within the SLFP. It was and to a certain extent is a party of the Bandaranaikes. In the last decade Rajapaksa effectively controlled the party solely due to his authority as the president of the state. Now he needs to compete for the control over the party with Chandrika Kumaratunga, daughter of the founding father of the party, S.W.R.D. Bandaraneike. Doing it without the powers and authority of the presidency will be challenging. The majority of the party stalwarts would probably prefer an alternative leadership due to the authoritarian style of governance by Rajapaksa.

Two, Maithripala Sirisena did not leave his party, the SLPF, to contest the presidential election. He was sacked by Rajapaksa. Sirisena maintains that he is still a member of the party and as the highest office holder, could claim right to the leadership. Therefore, this case could end up in a court of law. Sri Lankan judiciary is not fully independent and as proved under Rajapaksa, most of it became an extended arm of the government. The judiciary can easily be pro-incumbent. Therefore, if this case goes to the court, the decision probably will favor the incumbent president Maithripala Sirisena.

Consequences

Nevertheless, the return of Rajapaksa has the potential to (1) slow down the democratization process the opposition alliance promised and (2) exacerbate ethnic polarization. These problems will become profound if Rajapaksa manages to sustain his present agenda and politics.

The idea behind Rajapaksa’s return is to enter parliament and lead the opposition to the newly-elected administration. The Sirisena led coalition promised to remove authoritative presidential powers and strengthen parliament. Strengthening parliament would allow Rajapaksa to return to power in the long run. This fear might slow down the constitutional reform agenda of the present administration. Also, active politics of Rajapaksa might necessitate tough actions against the former president and his allies, for example, on issues such as corruption and abuse of power. Any serious action against the former president and his company could and would entail not so democratic measures.

If Rajapaksa continues in active politics he would most probably use racial slogans against the present government and fear of the LTTE as a main weapon. Immediately after the election, Rajapaksa openly complained that it was the Tamils who defeated him. Pro-Rajapaksa elements also unleashed a campaign suggesting military camps in the North were stoned by LTTE supporters and LTTE flags are flying in the region (again). The campaign was so strong that the military had to come out and deny these reports. Any concession by the present government to the Tamils will be depicted as a sellout of the motherland. Rajapaksa is a master of street politics. Therefore, a Rajapaksa led opposition will mobilize masses on to the streets with protests and marches forcing the administration into a muted mode on this front.

President’s Options

What are the newly elected president’s options? First, he cannot make tactical errors in the early days of his presidency. When taking oath as president, Sirisena stated that he will not contest again and will be a one-term president. He repeated the same statement in his address to the nation from Dalada Maligava. This would no doubt boost the confidence of Rajapaksa and his supporters because they now know that they only have to survive for six years and then they can take another shot at the presidency. All Sri Lankan executive presidents who contested the second term have won. If one goes by this logic, President Sirisena will be able to win another term.

Therefore, the general expectation would be for him to occupy the office of the president for twelve years. In twelve years Rajapaksa will be too old to compete and succeed. This assumption will prevent people from rallying behind Rajapaksa. Therefore, even if President Sirisena intends not to contest for another term it is better not to talk about it until he consolidates his position and authority.

Second, taking full control of the SLFP would prevent Rajapaksa from using parliament as a means to challenge the programs of the Sirisena administration. It is suggested that parliament will be dissolved after 100 days, probably in April 2015. Dissolving parliament without full control of the SLFP would not be a smart strategy. If the 2015 presidential election results are of any indication, Rajapaksa with the SLFP and most of the UPFA under his command will win most seats in parliament as a single entity. An immediate parliamentary election would most probably favor Rajapaksa. Therefore, Sirisena may want to postpone the idea of dissolving parliament until he takes full control of the SLFP and proves his credentials as an effective and democratic administrator, especially to those who did not vote for him in the just concluded presidential election.

Third, as a presidential candidate, Sirisena started his campaign with the slogan to abolish the executive presidential system. His manifesto however, talked about reforming or trimming the autocratic powers of the president. The chances are that the executive presidency will remain with some reform. A reform program would necessitate a constitutional amendment. If President Sirisena could muster the required two-thirds majority in parliament, the new administration could introduce an amendment reintroducing the two-term limit applicable to the present president and all former presidents. This would shut down any hope of Rajapaksa returning to power and provide space for the new president to press ahead with his democratization agenda.

*Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan is Chair of the Conflict Resolution Department, Salisbury University, Maryland

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Latest comments

  • 12
    5

    The first challenge for MS group is to prove that Rajapakse involved in the military coup. I don’t know how far this is true and if it is true can they prove undoubtedly in an independent investigation. Further, there are lots of allegations about corruption undere MR regime. If the MS government able to prove at least few of the corruption allegations then I don’t think there will be a future for Mahinda.

    • 6
      1

      Sirisena needs to prove the coup allegation, but corruption…every one knows.

      • 4
        0

        Every one knows it but it should be legalised and some one should face justice. That will have much impact on peoples eye and memory for long time. The law should be amended if necessary that corruptors should not be given any public office.

  • 7
    0

    Corruption investigations have to be carried out with a statute going back to past presidents too. People have short memories. some of the past crimes of corruption still remain as such and cannot be wiped off. All politicians are corrupt in some form or the other. If you can find a clean one, they should be “cloned” because it is very rare.

  • 4
    11

    Sirisena and his regime including Mangala fears president Rajpaksa.
    People will wait only 100 days with this regime. After that people will deside what is good for the country.
    My advice to Mangala, stop trying to fool the people of Sri Lanka .
    Sirisena regime can only talk of corruption and that’s it… ?? No vision, no plan for the country ???

  • 6
    2

    PRESIDENT M.SIRISENA TOGETHER P.M. RANIL W. WILL CARRY THROUGH THE 100 DAYS SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETING THE ASSURANCES GIVEN TO THE MASSES DURING THE ELECTIONS. THE MASSES BOTH FROM THE SOUTH AND NORTH WILL REALISE HOW THEY HAVE BEEN FOOLED BY THE RAJAPAKSE RULE.

    FURTHER, SEVERAL CASES OF CORRUPTION, RAPE, IN ADDITION TO ACCUSATION OF ATTEMPTED COUP ETC IS GOING TO REVEAL SEVERAL INFORMATION UNKNOWN TO THE MASSES WHERE THE RAJAPKSE AND HIS FAMILY WILL BE EXPOSED AND THEIR FUTURE POLITICAL LIFE BEING MADE A QUESTION MARK.

    • 0
      0

      First RW must get the parliamentary majority to proceed further.

  • 2
    0

    Hon RW, PM FOR THREE MONHTS
    —————————

    The writer has clearly described the
    forth coming problems for the coalition. By hook or crook, RW will
    remain PM until the parliamentary election and his position after
    the election ,will be determined by the no. of seats he gets. There will be strong opposition from the SLFP(S) to support UNP, Nation
    wide. To avert this problem, UNP should form a strong coalition with leading parties JVP, TNA & Muslim congress and if JVP refrains from joining any coalition, as they have stated many times that they will contest alone,and communal card will be played once again by SLFP(R)clan and there are chances that SLFP(R) could get larger no of seats and MR could become the leader of the opposition and stop passing of legislations, like the position, Obama is in and fortunately he has veto power and US marches on. Its going to be a tricky situation and UNP has to work hard to get the votes and at the same time they should expose and prove corruption charges against the previous govt. UNP can surely work out their math to find out how many electorates voted UNP in large numbers in the recent EP election and choose their coalition partners accordingly, early as no party will support without MOUs.
    People will certainly give RW a chance this time provided he proves the corruption charges against the past regime and ensure proper governing
    avoiding nepotism and corruption.

  • 4
    1

    Does anyone know where G.L. Peiris has disappeared to? He was a major player in, and the main spokesman for the Rajapaksa administration overseas. Yet since the election, according to a Google search, his name has not been mentioned once in the press.

    Does anyone know where he is?

  • 3
    1

    There are two things that the new President and his government should concentrate on. One, to gain the leadership and total control of the SLFP and the other to prove at least some of the serious charges of corruption against Rajapakse and his siblings. Proving the coup attempt may not be so easy unless there is sufficient evidence, which at present appears scanty.

    Sengodan. M

  • 1
    2

    Return Of Rajapaksa And Post-Election Politics

    Rajapakse is not a stupid. He knows that there is no international Airport in Hambantotta and after the UNHCR verdict he has to catch a plane to the HAGUE from Katunayake.
    He rushed back as he dindnt want to miss the plane.

  • 1
    2

    Have a look at the article in the Lanka Telegraph.This is how honest the present Finance minister is .
    Corruption is rife .my3 is mahinda and mahinda is my3. So its a case of u scratch my back and I’ll scrach yours

  • 3
    0

    Thank you for a good analysis; it is somewhat surprising and disappointing that the new President has not moved against MR and GR in relation to properly investigating the coup allegation. I think a clear clarification of this from all quarters is critically important, particularly, the Army Commander’s evidence – if he is allow to give it. Ranil’s “Suriyakanda” record indicates that this may not happen. If proven true, the coup allegation will finish MR, GR,and his backers. I also agree with the writer that MS needs to take control of the SLFP, and in fact, ban those under corruption charges from attending any meetings or Parliament. That is the norm in many democratic countries; but it may be wishful thinking in Sri Lanka!

  • 4
    3

    Dear writer, I have a big sense that you don’t have even a very small knowledge about the Sri Lankan politics and the culture. You can write thousand of articles by sitting in front of your computer and publish them. But it doesn’t mean that they are saying truth and valid. Going back to election, MR did not lose election from majorities vote only what happened was majority of the minority vote and the floating vote from majority went for MY3 and that is how he won. How ever still MR is the popular leader in SL. That is why JVP, JHU, CBK and other dirty mouth in UNP start and continuing throwing mud on him and his family. Because they know that well. But that is not going to be work for long. It work at the beginning and that is why MY3 won. But eventually truth will come and people will invite him to come back to politics. It doesn’t matter how old he is at that time. It doesn’t matter how much they try to take CBK back, SLFPer or people will not choose here over MR. CBK is the most hated and corrupted person in Sri Lankan politics and very popular as Queen for Corruption. So theory is not always work and correct. If it works why still Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt ect has lots of treble e and unstable.

  • 4
    0

    Of the 3 main factors that contributed to MR’s loss was Corruption, Dynasty building and the High Cost of Living. The first two may go away or diminish but COL is here to stay for a long time to come. In my opinion, it was Sinhalese ‘Battlers’ vote that brought down the UPFA. Tackling this problem will not be easy simply because the standard of living has risen exponentially since the end of the ethnic war.The luxuries of the past have become the necessities of today. Like cars, wide screen TV’s, computers, overseas holiday/travel, education abroad, two level homes with 4 burner gas cookers- to name a few. People judge their standard of living by that of their fellow countrymen. They don’t see the starving masses in say Biafra but those of their relatives in Australia and Canada. Poverty wont go away in a hurry for the ‘Battlers’ of 8 January and an EGALITARIAN society in SL, is far away.

  • 2
    1

    can one of these expert analysts publish a well researched and nuanced article on the economic impact of this regime change on the Sri Lankan economy? I am starting to read about concerns from the rating agencies.

    • 2
      1

      The rating will go through the roof top once they begin to recover all the loot and jail the culprits.

  • 3
    2

    You sound as a anti Rajapakse and pro Tamil writer. What we all SL needs is a strong leader who can stand up for the country against any American or Westerm influence.

    Rajapakse made us strong and healthy , he was voted out by Tamil speaking people as they want him in hauge. The majority of the majority should take note and reinstate him soon if SL is to succeed as a unified state.

    Tamil speaking people should learn to co exists as we see how the Turks and Morocons do in Europe!

  • 0
    0

    Whynobody commented about the picture? MR already finished the meal on the Kehelkolaya.Wansa has lot to eat on the plate. Wansa will finish it some how.

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