By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
Though there are several peripheral issues the main issue, whipped up by the Opposition, is to change the presidential system and revert to the parliamentary system. This is another of way of the Opposition saying: Get rid of the Rajapaksas. But changing of the constitution, in itself, is a non-issue. It has failed to cut much ice with the voters so far. Ultimately the election will boil down to a contest of personalities, I think, between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena.
As for the election itself, it lacks the fire and passion of major issues stirring the political pot. So far it has been rather a tame event, other than, of course, the musical chairs played mainly by Chandrika Kumaratunga who is hoping to sit in a chair of her own as the power behind the throne, if and when the opportunity arises.
On the issue of personalities Sirisena’s election campaign so far has been focused on projecting his image on three main bases: First, as a man with a clean and incorruptible record. Second, he claims to be a man who came from the “ al-lay, (channels) vel-lay (paddy fields) and pal-lay” (huts) man – meaning a rather simple man though the rustic image he proposes to project is somewhat misleading because his brother Dudley has amassed a fortune of Rs. 3 billion and counting. Third, he is claiming the Bandaranaike legacy with Chandrika Kumaratunga sitting next to him, which seems to be his tactic of wooing and winning the SLFP vote.
Take for instance, his claim to be a clean man, which is his main political plank. If he is really averse to corruption, and if he is the clean man he claims to be, how come his campaign is handled mainly by the most corrupt political woman of our time, Chandrika Kumaratunga. This is not what I say. This is what her best friend and political supporter, Victor Ivan, Editor of the RAVAYA, said in print. What he wrote about her in his book titled Queen of Deceit is sensational.
He says, and I quote: “President Chandrika Kumaratunga. has been the most corrupt and inefficient of all the corrupt and inefficient politicians who have come to power since Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948.” Now everyone will agree that this is a damning statement that should have made her hide from the public for the rest of her life. Like Hamlet’s Ophelia she should have gone into a nunnery. But not Chandrika Kumaratunga. The reason is also explained in a way by Victor Ivan.. He says and I quote : “To her lying was a gift from the gods, granted to her to make her life easy. She was not afraid to lie, not even in the official bio-data presented as President of Sri Lanka. ” says Ivan.
He goes on to say:“ She let it be known that she had a degree in law from one university, a degree in political science and economics from a Paris University and was qualified to read for a doctorate. While she had not even passed her AL Exam she proudly proclaimed to a forum of medical associations that although she earned sufficient grades to enter Medical College, she did not make use of that opportunity because she was not interested in becoming a doctor.” – p. 67.
Victor Ivan also quotes her late husband Vijaya Kumaratunga who had told him to leave her alone as Victor was pushing her to provide her certificates. She was running upstairs to escape Victor. Then Vijaya explained to Victor that “she felt the need to pose as an educated person though she did not even possess the qualification to sit for Law College. (p. 68)
As far I know, the only qualification she can claim, mainly because of her wide experience, is that of a sommelier – a trained wine taster. This too can be challenged because guzzling wine at Sorbonne does not qualify anyone to be a be an expert in fine wine.
But what undermines and questions Sirisena’s claim to be an honest man is once again Chandrika Kumaratunga’s unexplained fortune found in safety deposit boxes. Victor Ivan says on p. 42 that Anuruddah Ratwatte, her uncle, told the CID investigating his millions that safety deposit boxes of Chandrika Kumaratunga were in the Suduwella Branch of the Hatton National Bank. To quote his again: “The vault was not in the name of Chandrika Kumaratunga but in the name of her sister Sunethra. …According to his (that is Ratwatte’s) estimate there was (hold your breath, dear readers!) — Rs. 1.2 billion in these safes. (p.42),
When Sirisena is dependent, primarily on corrupt Chandrika Kumaratunga, it leads to the inescapable conclusion that birds of a feather flock together. The very close alliance with “the most corrupt and inefficient of all the corrupt and inefficient politicians who have come to power since Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948” questions the integrity and the honesty of Sirisena who promises to establish a clean administration. Sirisena cannot say that she is Bandaranaike’s daughter and, therefore, she is pure. In fact, Victor Ivan deals with this aspect and says that of all the Bandaranaikes only S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was pure. This is a damning indictment of Chandrika Bandaranaike who is now directing even the UNP policy from her house near the Parliament, according to Tissa Attanayake.
Besides, like a general in the army, Sirisena should shoulder total responsibility for what takes place on the main issue of corruption. As they say in law, the leader of the Opposition alliance, like the general in the army, should accept command responsibility. Sirisena in all respects is the general leading his political army to clean up the administration. So can he do that with a the most corrupt woman leading his campaign?
The corruption talked about is not somewhere way down the line. It is right next to him, sitting next to him and leading his campaign. If he tolerates corruption at that level – corruption taking place under his very nose — then he loses his claim to be a clean man. His alliance with corrupt Chandrika Kumaratuga is sufficient to prove that he is neck-deep in corruption even before he can take office.
Even if one accepts that Sirisena is a clean man can anyone seriously believe that he will lift a finger to clean up his stables with corrupt politicians like Chandrika Kumaratunga directing operations in his name. She is not manipulating behind the scenes for nothing. She will demand her pound of flesh and Sirisena has already promised it to her. In fact he announced it to the media saying that she will be given a “deserving place.” She says openly that her children do not want her to enter politics. So why is Sirisena admitting her through the backdoor? In any case, does the “most corrupt and inefficient” woman in Sri Lankan politics deserve a place in any respectable place in public services? It is her failure to serve the public with honesty and integrity that makes her the most corrupt of the Bandaranaikes.
She is not the only corrupt one in his stables. Sirisena’s MOU with the UNP too makes you wonder what his standards are in maintaining the high values of running a clean administration. Being in politics for 37 years Sirisena ought to know that anybody aligned to the UNP’s corrupt and anti-national deals under Ranil Wickremesinghe can never be clean. Sirisena can’t pretend to be ignorant of UNP’s heinous corruption because it is an open secret. For instance, Tissa Attanayake, the former Secretary General of UNP, has confirmed something more than corruption in the UNP. Rejecting the accusation of corruption against him he says in his letter of resignation to his leader, Wickremesinghe: “Actually it is Ravi Karunanayake who has obtained money illegally from Raj Rajaratnam, a well-known LTTE supporter from America. Ravi has cases pending against him for violation of foreign exchange regulations.”
This is a serious issue raised by the one of the most high-ranking UNP insiders. Tissa Attanayake should know at first hand the insider trading because he was until the other day the General Secretary of the UNP. Besides, when he raises the issue of Ravi Karaunayake accepting money from billionaire everyone knows that it has serious consequences to the nation’s future. In short, it spells doom to the nation’s peace, security and territorial integrity. So the Ravi-Rajaratnam deal is more than corruption. This is the conduct of traitor who is taking money from the enemy to sell the nation down the river, like the way Wickremesinghe did with his deal with Prabhakaran. Nothing of this magnitude can take place without Wickremesinghe knowing it.
What is more, Rajaratnam did not give money to Ravi Karunanayake because he liked his elephantine girth. No. He gave money because he cut a deal with the UNP. What is this deal? What is the UNP going to give Rajaratnam in return for the money? What happened to this money? It is the leader of the UNP, Wickremesinghe, who is answerable to these questions, now that he has pledged with Sirisena to be transparent and accountable.
Sirisena too owes it to the nation to reveal the inside story of this deal that threatens he security of the nation. Has Sirisena asked any questions about this UNP deal with Rajaratnam? Will Sirisena and Wickremesinghe answer these vital questions ASAP? The nation has a right to know about this $300 million deal. The response to these question will be a credible test of the honesty and integrity of Sirisena – the man who promises transparency.
But will Sirisena dare ask the UNP which is supposed to deliver him the votes he needs to win? So how honest is honest Sirisena? It is now quite clear that both Chandrika Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe sitting on either side of Sirisena have more than one political skeleton hidden in their cupboards. They have to answer many questions regarding the political/personal deals.
Despite the crooked past of Chandrika Kumaratunga, Sirisena has gone on record saying that he would give her a “deserving position” in his government. How can Sirisena claim to be an honest man when one of his key decisions announced even before the election is to give this crooked woman a place in his government? After she lost her last election she juggled and through her French connections got a job in UNICEF as some kind of educationist in South Asia. The public protest against the appointment was spontaneous and strong that UNICEF had to dump her unceremoniously. So if she is not fit to hold a job in the UN how can she be fit hold a job in any clean administration in Sri Lanka?
Being a party man who was close Chandrika Kumaratunga, Sirisena knows her record perhaps as good as, or even better than Victor Ivan. So if he gives her a job – undoubtedly a top job in payment for political services rendered — what is left of Sirisena’s integrity? He might as well take Kudu Naufer out of jail and appoint him as Minister with responsibilities to oversee drug trafficking.
The tragedy is that Sirisena has gone too far down the road to elections with these two corrupt leaders to dump them. It is too late now. He is stuck with them and he has to live with them. He can only sweep their corrupt practices under the carpet and pretend that the “My3-pala-naya” is the cleanest in the world. Of course, remember Sirisena has had enough practice of sweeping his son’s attack on a DIG’s son at the Malu Malu beach under the carpet. There has been no official inquires nor judgment meted out to the guilty criminals.
So including corrupt Chandrika, Wickremesinghe, Ravi Karunanayake – all peas from the same rotten pod — would be a piece of cake for honest Sirisena. What is unacceptable in this charade is his claim to occupy the high moral ground. If Sirisena is leaving Rajapakse because of corruption what’s the difference in shacking up with Chandrika Kumaratunga, Ravi Karunanayake and Wickremesinghe? They are not offering Sirisena a pure white paradise of Christs, Buddhas and Mohammeds, are they?
So the nation is back to square one as far as corruption goes. Sirisena is stuck in the mud. He can’t change the constitution within the time specified by him. He can’t chuck out his corrupt partners. He has already promised a prominent place to the most corrupt woman in his Cabinet. He has already reneged on handing over his “Executive Powers” to an “Executive Prime Minister” within 24 hours.
He is also back peddling as fast as he can. Now he says he will retain the presidency with some critical powers. He now says that he will retain the Defence Forces under his grip. He has already made arrangements to keep Chandrika next to him which will be a safety valve. She will be a counter weight to Wickremesinghe.
All this will be fine by Sirisena. But where – where, O, where? – will all this leave Wickremesinghe? When he was Prime Minister under Chandrika Kumaratunga when she was president his bone of contention with her was to grab the defence forces and keep it under his wing. Now that Sirisena has decided to keep the forces under his wing, after promising to hand over all executive powers to the prime minister, Wickremesinghe is back to where he began with no real powers to be in command of all the mighty forces.
Poor fellow! At the end of the day he is always left with holding the wrong end of the stick!
Sirisena and Chandrika Bandaranaike have already mapped out their share of power leaving Wickremesinghe to hold “My3” all by himself.
C’est la vie, Ranil!