By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
Offering changes to the status quo always has a charm that appeals to people at all levels. Changes are also inevitable. That is the eternal law. But change for what? And how far can changes go to make a real difference? These are nagging questions that make people believe that the more you change the more it remains the same. The perennial hope is change for the better. But does change always change for the better? The vaunted “Arab Spring” is one recent example where change did not change for the good of the people.
There is, no doubt, that the overwhelming mood was for change on January 8 – no matter what the change would bring. So when Maithripala Sirisena sailed home on the winds of change there was a sense of great relief. He even set a time table. According to his Manifesto Sri Lanka was going to be transformed into an “ideal country” in six years.
Too idealistic? Too far-fetched? Yep. It was easy to draw up plans in a manifesto. But events do not run according to plans of men and mice. The most unexpected forces of man and nature can throw the best laid plans off course. Vellupillai Prabhakaran learnt this the hard way when the tsunami whacked him flat at a time when he was all set to launch his final offensive on the Sri Lanka forces. He admitted this in his annual November speech.
In the very first days President Sirisena is beginning to feel the heat of events exploding around him. After quitting the Mahinda Rajapaksa saying that it is full of corrupt men and practices he is now forced to accept the very same men and women to maintain his power in Parliament. The 50-year-old man who climbed a roof to protest against the inclusion of Sajin Vass Gunawardena in the government benches seems to know the contents of the Manifesto more than President Sirisena.
Closer to home things got worse. President Sirisena’s son, Daham, marched into a night club near Race Course, surrounded and protected by 40 personnel from Presidential Security Division (PSD) giving the lie to the “yaha-palanaya” promised by the father. This happened at a time when even the security of ministers has been withdrawn. But the son, exercising his father’s power, has decided to run around town with 40 PSD men. His son, it seems, is determined to ruin his father’s “yaha-pala-naya” by turning it into a “yaka-gay-pala-naya”!
Equally worse, is the inexplicable act of the new Finance Minister, Ravi Karunanayake, fixing of the date of the mini-budget to be delivered on January 29 – the same date that had been fixed in last November by the Supreme Court for the hearing of his case of Rs.390 million received from billionaire Raja Rajaratnam, the LTTE financier who is in jail in New York for insider trading. Is this going to be the sign of law order that is due to come under President Sirisena’s “yaha-pala-naya”?
Then comes the latest news which states that Chandrika Kumaratunga is to be appointed as the head of the SLFP. This is a powerful post at the peak of the ruling party. She is going to be the highest symbol of the new regime that has pledged solemnly before the people not to minimize but to eliminate bribery, corruption and thuggery. But with her record of being convicted by the courts and condemned by serious accusations known to all who had read Victor Ivan’s book on her, how can President Sirisena let her take over the reins of the SLFP? What is the message sent to the people by her appointment? President Sirisena won on the promise of bringing in a “when-a-sak” (difference). What difference does it make when Kumaratunga is re-installed as the head of the SLFP? Whose brilliant brainchild was it to bring cow dung from Horagolla and place it as an adornment on the presidential chair of the SLFP?
President Sirisena has., however, gained some brownie points in appointing Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala as a presidential advisor. The plus side of this appointment is that it could please the Indians and the West. He is the blue-eyed boy of both. Also coming from the NGO lobby it can gain some applause from this claque hired by the West. There is also the flip side of this appointment which is rather ominous. The nation remember him as the father of the failed P-TOMS which was drafted with the help of two leading pro-Tiger Tamils in the Tamil Diaspora – namely, Ram Manickalingam and his brother-in-law, Dr. M. Sornarajah, a law lecturer in the Singapore University. The overall plan in Chandrika Kumaratunga’s P-TOMS was to hand over the north and the east to Prabhakaran with powers to run the administration with a Tiger majority for “ten years without an election”. The fingerprints of Manickalingam and Sornarajah were all over the P-TOMS proposals, though Dhanapala denied it.
It is this background that makes Dhanapala’s appointment as a Presidential advisor ominously significant. Practically, all the appointments so far brings together all the P-TOMS-ians, CFA-ists– i.e., Chandrika Kumaratunga, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and Jayantha Dhanapala et al — under one roof, working together to revive a revised version of both P-TOMS and CFA. If Chandrika Kumaratunga has brought back Dhanapala into the new administration Ranil Wickremesinghe has re-introduced Austin (My Belly is White) Fernando, was instrumental, along with his master, Wickremesinghe, in handing over the north and the east to the LTTE in the hurriedly drafted CFA with the assistance of the Indians but without consulting the Commanders of the Security Forces, Parliament, UNP, the people or the President, the Commander-in-Chief. These are also darlings of the West and India. It’s a case of birds of a feather flocking together. Once these heavy-weights gang up they can easily ride over President Sirisena and make him negate the post-Nandikadal gains achieved by president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
President Sirisena has so far not shown any strength, power or initiative to hold his own against the Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga combination ruling the Coalition so far. The majority of UNP Ministers in his Cabinet indicates that the UNP has had its way. It has all the hall marks of a Cabinet nominated by Wickremesinghe than by President Sirisena. The appointment of Ravi Karunanayake to the key post of Finance Minister proves that Wickremesinghe has given a plum job to his loyal, West-leaning, IDU partner, despite his questionable financial dealings with the pro-LTTE billionaire, Raja Rajaratnam. These two English-speaking power-brokers (CBK and RW) who are behind the victory of Sinhala-speaking Sirisena will have the upper hand in determining policy.
The future does not shine like the sun at dawn of January 9th , 2015. It is already looking more like 5 past 12 noon. Promises have stalled. The new ministers are same old hacks who failed earlier. Chandrika Kumaratunga, the most disastrous failure in the post-independent era, has been brought back through the back-door to a seat of power in the SLFP. Wickremesinghe is whipping the back of Sirisena, metaphorically speaking. Worst is, at a time when Mahinda Rajapaksa has withdrawn from office, giving up power, Sirisena has not gained from it because he is handing state powers to an unelected prime minister and political power to rejected “Chouri Rajiini” noted for her corruption and abuses of power.
Expectations of a pure regime was raised sky-high during the election. But those expectations are sliding down the slippery slope daily. The abuse of power has begun in the highest of places – the President’s home. If, for instance, Daham Sirisena has the uncontrolled and unauthorized power to wade into night clubs with 40 PSDs who wields power in the Sirisena’s regime? The father or the son? It can be assumed that the father would have put the son in his place after the “Malu – Malu” incident in Pasikudah beach where Daham Sirisena assaulted a DIG’s son peacefully enjoying his holiday with family and friends. That incident was swept under the carpet.
The “Malu-Malu” incident happened when his father was only the Minister of Health. The son’s power seems to have grown in proportion to his father’s power. The Race Course incident, which happened after the father became President, makes it clear that son has more power than the father for him to run around town with 40 PSDs running behind him. Who is paying overtime and other expenses (like petrol for the many vehicles carrying PSDs) involved in massaging the arrogant ego of a notorious thug like Daham? Or is Ada ham? The people in the café, sensing trouble, walked out. So what has Mr. “Clean” President done about it other than turning a blind eye? If the son can usurp the powers of his father why can’t the thugs and “kudu kara-yas” also take the law into their hands?
Of course, it can be argued that these are teething troubles of early days. President Sirisena can get away with it because the feel-good factor of the honeymoon period is still there. But how long will that last?
In the meantime, can the President clarify as to who is running the country? Is it the father? Or the son with 40 PSDs?