Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa delivered a resounding slap in the face to civil society representatives and the Tamil constituency that got behind his presidential candidacy in 2019, when he appointed former Rajapaksa Ambassador Dr Dayan Jayatilleka as his international affairs observer on Tuesday (5).
The SJB released a photo soon after the appointment was made, where Jayatilleka was shaking hands with Sajith Premadasa, while SJB MPs Eran Wickremaratne and Dr Harsha de Silva stood beside them. Both opposition legislators are advocates of a liberal economic policy and reform antithetical to Jayatilleka’s positions on same issues. Ironically Jayatilleka has also been a vocal critic of Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs when Dr Harsha De Silva was Deputy Foreign Minister.
Jayatilleka, a staunch Rajapaksa supporter for years, famously backed the failed coup attempt by President Maithripala Sirisena and the Rajapaksa family in October 2018.
In an email advising former President Mahinda Rajapaksa how to execute the coup, Jayatilleka charged that “reactionary forces” – namely the legitimate Government led by the UNF in which Sajith Premadasa was a minister – should never be allowed to consolidate and sustain a parallel power centre/command centre at Temple Trees.
At the time, political observers noted that Jayatilleka who was then Ambassador to Moscow, appointed by President Sirisena, was practically advocating the removal of PM Wickremesinghe from Temple Trees by forcible means, turning the constitutional manoeuvre into a hard coup. Jayatilleka admitted to writing the email and stood by his advice to the illegal prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa about forcing the coup through despite its patent illegality, as ruled by Sri Lanka’s highest courts.
But Jayatilleka’s dalliance with the Rajapaksa cabal and ideology has been a prolonged affair. In February 2015, Jayatilleka took up the mantle of chief theologian of the ‘Mahinda Sulanga movement’ and repeatedly undermined the will of 6.2 million voters who defeated President Rajapaksa in the January 8, 2015 because they were not Sinhalese nationalist votes.
Jayatilleka consistently attacked the Yahapalanaya Government and promoted the Podujana Party. When Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Viyathmaga led candidacy was emerging in 2018-2019, Jayatillake originally celebrated the rise of the strongman, writing gushing articles about “Operation Shangri-La”. Jayatillake subsequently opposed the former Defence Secretary’s nomination and backed the Samagi Balawegaya after Sajith Premadasa was nominated as Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s challenger in the 2019 election.
When President Sirisena appointed Jayatilleka envoy to Moscow, the Rajapaksa idealogue faced the toughest confirmation process by the High Post Committee of Parliament after dozens of petitions against his nominations flooded into committee members.
Rights activists told Colombo Telegraph that Premadasa’s appointment was tone deaf, not unlike his shining endorsement of Army Chief Lt. Gen Shavendra Silva. In the November 2019 election, Premadasa was resoundingly endorsed by Sri Lanka’s Tamil community, that has been struggling for justice for grave human rights abuses committed during the war for over a decade. In the Tamil dominated North and East, Premadasa won 80-95% of the presidential vote.
Dayan Jayatilleka, as Sri Lankan envoy to Geneva, France and Russia has stood stoically against pushing for accountability for these crimes by the international community. Jayatilleka also vehemently efforts by the former Yahapalanaya Government to engage with the United Nations on a resolution urging Sri Lanka to promote accountability and reconciliation.
Lt. Gen. Silva and his wife are personal friend of Premadasa’s wife, and when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Opposition Leader lobbied the Government to demand that the US lift its travel ban on Silva who is implicated in war crimes. The move was a great betrayal of the tens of thousands of Tamil people who supported Premadasa’s presidential candidacy and braved fears of reprisals from the military to vote for him in November 2019. Sources told Colombo Telegraph that Jayatilleka’s appointment was based on the long-term relationship the former ambassador/academic has maintained with the Premadasa family, having served President Ranasinghe Premadasa decades ago. In the event Premadasa had won the 2019 election, Jayatilleka might have been appointed Foreign Minister the sources added.
“Jayatilleka was the one leading the charge against accountability for #SriLanka‘s alleged war crimes at the UN Human Rights Council back in 2009, gloating about the “diplomatic bay of pigs“ for the West later. He‘s now advising the supposedly liberal opposition leader Premadasa,” said German Foreign Relations Council Fellow and Sri Lanka researcher Gerrit Kurtz.
Rights activists also believe it was folly to expect more from the Opposition Leader whose raison d’etre is to become a Rajapaksa-style populist. “He has consistently betrayed the moderate cause and abandoned constituents who have consistently voted for his party,” one activist told Colombo Telegraph. “It’s shameful that he has gut-punched the Tamil people in this way, by elevating a personality who is so principally opposed to justice for rights abuses,” the activist added. “It only proves what we have always known about Sajith Premadasa, that he believes in nothing, stands for nothing, so he has no ideas what his supporters stand for either,” the activist said. (By Janakie Mediwake)