24 September, 2020

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Sri Lanka Elections: Tumbling Skeletons & Bumbling Politicians

By R Hariharan

 Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

With a week to go before Sri Lanka people elect a new parliament, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa predicted the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which had fielded him, to win “up to” 117 seats. However, a pre-election survey showed only 27.5 percent voters preferred him over his bête noir and prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of the rival United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG), who led the survey with a hefty near 40 percent preference.

The secret of Rajapaksa’s confidence may not be solely due to the good luck charm – an elephant hair bracelet – he is seen wearing these days. Nor it can be astrological prediction that let him down badly in the presidential poll.

The survey conducted by the Centre for Policy Analysis end July showed Tamil and Muslim minority voters who handed him a defeat in the presidential election continue to be firm supporters of Wickremesinghe. However, it must be consoling for the former president to know that he remained the favourite of Sinhala voters with 36 percent support, while Wickremesinghe trailed him with 31.9 percent support.

Probably it was the Sinhala voter-support and the impressive line-up of UPFA leaders including some of the senior stalwarts of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), who turned up in his support on the stage with him probably encouraged Rajapaksa’s optimism at the press conference. Their support for him, despite their leader President Maithripala Sirisena’s dénouement of Rajapaksa, was probably heartwarming for the former president. He was so sure of UPFA getting a majority that he dismissed the idea of forming a national government as suggested by the United National Party (UNP) leader Wickremesinghe. Rajapaksa said it only showed the lack of confidence of his opponent.

Mahinda April 12 2015The UPFA election manifesto for a change seems to be more voter friendly than in the past with the coalition opening the social media network to welcome interactive feedback from the voters. It is a welcome change from the days when Rajapaksa remained the sole fountainhead of wisdom of the coalition (has it changed?).

Despite Rajapaksa’s confidence the odds do not seem to favour him. His problems are more serious than Wickremesinghe’s. Rajapaksa is contesting an election when he is out of office for the first time after he became president in 2005. Now he has neither favours to trade for political support nor powers to command the official machinery that aided his election campaigns in the past.

Government officials openly canvassed in support of Rajapaksa in his heydays. When he contested the presidential poll for the second time, the then army commander appeared on the TV in his support! But the electoral environment has changed now.

Police and election commission have remained neutral as far as possible. Army commander Lt Gen Crisanthe De Silva has issued a series of orders to prevent service personnel from engaging in political activities during the election lest they are lured by political parties canvassing for their support. The restrictions on service personnel include even to expressing their views in the social media network or allowing the use of army video footage for political propaganda. Army Headquarters has warned that punitive action would be taken against those acting in contravening the orders. These orders could hurt Rajapaksa more than his opponents, as his military victory against the Tamil Tigers in 2009 had earned him more admirers among armed forces and their families.

A second aspect is the continuing internal squabbles between Rajapaksa loyalists and anti-Rajapaksa factions that have paralysed the internal party apparatus. The convening of the SLFP central committee meeting has been suspended till after the election through a court order! This has produced an anachronistic situation with the two factions openly working against each other rather than focusing on winning the election! Former president Chandrika Kumaratunga as well as President Sirisena have continued to remain in SLFP despite their stout opposition to Rajapaksa’s candidature. And they seem to be doing their bit to undermine the party support to Rajapaksa.

Ms Kumaratunga had been more direct in her attack on Rajapaksa; she has accused him of spreading racism and using religion to achieve political ends. Though Sirisena has said he would remain neutral, he has repeatedly appealed to the people for carrying forward the changes ushered in January 8 with the defeat of Rajapaksa and vote for corruption free government.

In fact, at the farewell ministerial meeting of the cabinet, Sirisena told the outgoing cabinet that he was looking forward to work with them again to carry forward his January 8 agenda clearly hinting his support to the United National Party (UNP) led coalition.

President Sirisena has continued to be firmly opposed to appointing Rajapaksa as prime minister even if the UPFA wins a majority and chooses him as the prime ministerial candidate. So we can expect “UPFA and SLFP Logjam-II” to be enacted even if Rajapaksa turns defeat into victory.

But more damaging to Rajapaksa are the skeletons tumbling out of the cupboards locked up during his regime. The latest allegation relates to the suspected murder of Sri Lanka’s rugby star Wasim Thajudeen whose body was found burnt inside his car in a Colombo suburb on May 17, 2012. Though at that time, the police closed the case as accidental death, Minister Dr Rajitha Senaratne had alleged that three Special Task Force (STF) personnel attached to Presidential Security Division at that time were involved in the murder. So the charred body was exhumed after the CID obtained a court order for further investigations as they considered it a murder. Evidently, there were a number of lapses in the earlier police investigation as many pieces of evidence were not considered. The CID conducting the investigations for the second time said Thajudeen was attacked with a sharp object in the neck and beaten with a blunt object.

There were scenes of low comedy as bumbling politicians from both UPFA and UNF camps traded threats and insults freely.

When SLFP spokesman Dilan Perera took out four bottles of poison and invited the UNFGG members to drink them, UNP’s Harin Fernando retaliated by brandishing two cans of poison at a news conference and said Dilan Perera was welcome to drink them. Rival group of gangsters fired shots at an election meeting of the UNFGG in the early stages of the campaign. But overall probably there were less violent incidents this time perhaps due to greater vigilance and shorter gestation period for the election process.

Ranil Wickremesinghe heading the UNFGG has not started counting the seats he would win; but he must be beaming at the survey results. He has entered the election fray under a cloud of corruption surrounding the Central Bank bond issue. How much it would affect the chances of the UNFGG, particularly with his emphasis on clean governance, remains the big question. As the pre-poll survey was conducted end July, generally swing votes can be expected to make all the difference between defeat and victory. So it is to be seen whether he would continue to retain the support base that helped him to engineer the defeat of Rajapaksa in the presidential poll.

The UNFGG manifesto like all election manifestos in Sri Lanka is tall on talk and full of promises. Whether it can deliver them particularly when the economy is cash strapped is the moot point; this applies to all political parties. But the most disappointing was the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) manifesto. It started with the traditional ‘manifesto focus’ on the history of Tamil struggle for equity that had been repeated many times, rather than bringing up front the burning issues of Tamils which have been tucked towards the end. How much it would impress the impatient younger generation of voters who are tired of pedantic style of politics and its ponderous ways remains to be seen. But the TNA’s advantage is it enjoys the support of Global Tamil Forum (GTF), perhaps the largest Tamil Diaspora body.

There are two other dark horses challenging the political free run TNA had been enjoying in the North and East. The ‘Crusaders for Democracy’ a new outfit formed of former cadres of the LTTE is contesting the election as an independent group focusing on the grievances of Tamils in the post war scene. It was cobbled by Vithyatharan, former editor of Uthayan, Jaffna Tamil daily, and political wheeler-dealer after the TNA refused to field any former LTTE cadres as its candidate. The entry of rehabilitated Tiger cadres in the political arena is a welcome sign that Tamils are at last coming to terms with the political reality of Sri Lanka after 2009. But TNA’s bigger challenge could be from veteran Tamil politician GajendraKumar Ponnambalam-led Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF).

The UPFA campaign, de facto led by Rajapaksa, seems to have learnt a few things from his defeat in the presidential election as acknowledged by Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, the coalition’s foreign policy advisor, when he met the foreign correspondents at an interaction. He said “the foreign policy of the UPFA will be a series of concentric circles, the closest circle being the immediate neighbourhood. Specific mention has been made about India in the foreign policy segment of the UPFA manifesto. Good relations with India is axiomatic. Good relations with India will be a corner stone of the UPFA’s foreign policy.” On relations with other countries he said “the first circle in the series of concentric circles will be South Asia; the second will be Asia; the third will be Euro-Asia, the fourth will be the Global South and finally the world.”

Dayan’s foreign policy construct is logical; he had always valued India’s special status in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy firmament. But in the past, Rajapaksa had shown neither the patience nor the interest in such a nuanced approach to policy making. Can he change his style of work? Let us wait for the election results for the question to become relevant.

*Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group. E-Mail: haridirect@gmail.com Blog: http://col.hariharan.info 

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Latest comments

  • 13
    4

    The Sinhalese and the Buddhists have been pilloried long enough because of the actions of a few.

    On the whole Sri Lankans who are both users of the Sinhala Language, and have been brought up to think rationally as Buddhists, are not racists. When it comes to voting, our electorate is influenced far too much by “cost of living promises”, but I can’t help feeling that by now we have been disillusioned owing to this sort of talk only leading us only up blind alleys. Yesterday I found that my pension had jumped up quite a bit; thank you. So, yes, the government in power is able to do such things to manipulate in its favour. Obviously, however, if we print money, we may have to devalue our currency significantly by the end of the year.

    It is not owing to such issues alone that the Rajapaksas are likely to lose the village vote – and I do live in a remote village. I feel that the horrific stories that are now emerging of corruption and of sadism and violence could well result in a total collapse of the Rajapaksa vote bank.

    We have the ongoing saga of revelations relating to the murder of Wasim Thajudeen. Let us not forget what a moderate Buddhist monk was subjected to a year ago:

    Before all else, we must ensure common decency in public life. That is a message that the Sri Lankan nation could well deliver to the political parties that are contesting. Things got so bad during the last decade or so that there is no reason why the people should not defy the conservative predictions of pollsters. It is around eleven million individuals who are going to vote, and we could well throw out all those who have been associated with filth.

  • 8
    5

    RW will sweep the polls. Mahinda will not even get 65 seats or 4 million votes. He’s gonna have to eat humble pie and face the music including war crime charges. Fonseka who is complicit will be bought and turn into a witness. Gota is frantic these days and you can see that in his demeanor. UNP will get a 125 seat majority.

  • 4
    9

    My advice to the retired Intel man is to get reliable data before writing an analysis. The poll he is referring to is published by Pakiasothy’s centre for policy alternatives. It is a biased anti Rajapaksa entity. There polls are no way independent. The polls do not show the sample size nor the composition.

  • 2
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    You(Indian Intelligence) poking your finger into Sri Lankan politics will make Rajapakse the PM. It was your Your intelligence that voted him in the first time??

  • 2
    3

    The Indian stooges are all in full display. We know how strongly India supports the Sri Lankan Dark state and its president.

  • 2
    4

    Mr Hariharan has many skeletons in his cupboard which he can reveal more easily. How many Tamil civilians did the IPKF kill? How many war criminals does the Indian Army hide?

    His disappointment with the TNA manifesto is logical. It is his personal dismay, not that of the Tamils.

    As to his statement that the GTF represents the diaspora, that is a joke. The GTF cannot even hold a public meeting within the diaspora because it cannot attract enough people to make a crowd and the likelihood is that they would get booed out, if they do hold a meeting. The strength of the GTF lies only in the imagination of some.

    As to Dayan Jayatilleke, no one takes him seriously enough to comment on his policy statements which keep changing. If Rajapakse wins, he will be back with the Chinese. Jayatilleke bends with the winds.

  • 5
    2

    Remember the VVT massacre and WAR CRIME by IPKF Colonel? Why mute about Indian affairs and its sickening interference in Sri Lanka before you butt into to comment about elections and SL’s INTERNAL affairs? Why don’t you right about mass rapes, massacres and crimes against humanity by your Indian forces when you were an active participant?

    YOUR INDIAN ARMY WERE WAR CRIMINALS. VVT and Jaffna Hospital massacres were just a few.
    WIKI

    The Jaffna hospital, also known as the Jaffna teaching hospital and Jaffna general hospital, is the premier healthcare providing institution within the densely populated Jaffna peninsula situated in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. It had functioned throughout the period of civil war as a sanctuary that was out of bounds for combatants. After the deterioration of the relationship between the rebel LTTE and the IPKF, an attempt by the IPKF to capture Jaffna town was expected. Because of fears of a military operation by the Indian Army, some staff of the hospital had kept away from duty. But others had reported to work assuming that the Indian Army would be considerate because of assurances provided by the Indian Embassy in Colombo to a group of prominent Jaffna citizens that a major military action was not imminent. By October 21, 1987 which was Diwali, a high Hindu holiday, over 70 dead bodies had accumulated in the mortuary as a result of shelling and other military activities

    WIKI: \On August 2, 1989 around 11:15 two Indian patrols numbering 30 men approached the Valvettiturai market square on foot when gunfire was heard. This was a crowded market area and was full of people. The ambush by LTTE of the IPKF foot patrol in a crowded market area caught everyone including the civilians by surprise. Six IPKF soldiers were killed and another 10 injured. Following the initial confrontation many troops started moving into town and the LTTE ambush party left the area. A number of people were killed and burnt inside shops. Many people of all ages and both sexes were made to sit in the town square and three rounds were fired into them killing four persons. Many hundreds of civilians took refuge in the spacious houses of one Mr. Subramaniam and Mr. Sivaganesh. Approximately 300 people were in these houses.[2]

    At 13:30 Indian soldiers entered the house of Mr. Subramaniam and killed him along with eight others in the house.[1][2] At 16:00 Indian soldiers entered the house of Sivaganesh, took 8 men to a cowshed and shot them but 4 survived. By the end of the day the VVT Citizens’ Committee reported that 52 dead persons had been identified. On August 3 the IPKF imposed a curfew and rounded up large number of young men. About 75 youths were made to roll on the road and were assaulted and 6 killed. Some who did not know about the curfew in nearby villages were also shot and killed.[2]

    Many of the injured civilians were given first aid by local medical practitioners and were taken to the nearby Oorani government hospital. Some injured had walked to Point Pedro hospital, 5 miles away by late evening on 2 August. The arrival of injured civilians at the Point Pedro hospital prompted Mme. Jacqueline, the nursing sister from the Médecins Sans Frontières, to attempt to send an ambulance to the scene of the mass killings. She was refused permission to reach the scene of the killings. It was reported that no attempt was made to help the injured by the Indian military officials. After the relaxing of the curfew on August 4, those who survived the massacre reached the major hospitals for treatment.[2]

  • 7
    2

    How do you sleep at night pontificating ? How do you sleep at night after committing war crimes in Sri Lanka?

  • 0
    2

    As a shrewd political analyst and keen watcher of the Lankan scene he is, I expected the Colonel to make some observations of developments in recent times that can have a significant impact on the August 17 elections. These probably do not attract the attention of the ordinary voter in the street and yet can have seminal consequences in the coming polls.

    Chief amongst them is the division in the Sinhala Buddhist clergy ranks that was earlier – from 1956 – almost 100% anti-UNP in all subsequent major national elections. It was not merely and presence and campaigning of the Ven. Maduluwewe Sobita Thero and Ven. Rathana Thero (formerly of the JHU) but the coming into open of the influential Prelate of the Malwatta Chapter against Rajapakse and his coalition that will provide a make or break difference. While the support of the Ven. Sobita and Rathana Theros gave Sirisena his January 08 victory the two Kandy Prelates did not come out openly then. This time they have – although the stance of the Asgiriya Prelate is not known. The other significant feature that can go against Rajapakse is the loss of former Minister Champika Ranawake and his ranks. Ranawake creating a division in the former JHU ranks weakens an important platform in the Rajapakse campaign – the vote base of the virulently anti-minority Sinhala supremacist wing. The SLFP itself is divided at the centre with Maitripala Sirisena and former President CBK working openly against Mahinda Rajapakse. In the event of a convincing victory of the UNFGG, General Sarath Fonseka may insist on maximum punishment to the Rajapakse family. He may go to the extent, as he says he will, work with UN sources to lay the blame of Human Rights and War Crime charges against the main Rajapakse duo. The nature of the man judged from his rhetoric is he is more for personal vendetta than electoral gains only. CBK, in the nature of things, may gladly fall in line with the General if it comes to that.

    The estimated 300,000-500,000 of rejuvenated JVP votes may tilt matters in favour of the UNFGG against the UPFA rather than eating into the support base of the UNFGG. The national middle class, the urban voter, Tamils (including those from the Plantation areas) Muslims and Christians are expected to vote against Rajapakse.
    A more alert, vigilant and independent Election Commissioner can be expected to minimise the incidence of vote-cheating (hora votes)- a major contributor to Rajapakses victories in earlier elections. With the effective ban on posters, the absence of hijacked State vehicles and the resources of the State – which the Rajapakses used freely – a cleaner election is likely to go against the Rajapakses. The recent exposure of the Rajapakse sons in their insane profligacy of State resources, alleged murder for personal reasons etc have brought the Rajapakses further unwelcome publicity. The biggest handicap of the Rajapakses is the fierce private electronic media – the regular televised political discussions where both sides are featured. This now has a nation-wide following in most homes in the country. The advent of the energetic multiple social media – that has an active national following – highlights most Rajapakse excesses.

    Considering all of this, it surprises very few that Mahinda Rajapakse lost his cool in a well-attended public meeting where he went angrily forward to assault a heckler – now deemed supporter. He is so nervous he refuses to offer the BBC an televised interview.

    Kettikaran

  • 2
    2

    Once i have seen here Col. Hariharan been warned not to write or analyzes or reports about Sri Lanka.

    same as we Sri Lankan on our way to take crucial decision reconciliation or same status after 17-Aug-2015.

    Col.Hariharan in hindi Tum bahen chood, Bodhnaasiya from that text please stop writing about Sri Lankan politics it’s humiliation to OUR motherland, you were here as Peace keeping force military and you destroy many lives and assets of this land. now you totally engaged to weaken our internal MoU between communities. Don’t ever burn your finger again as Rajiv Gandhi did.

    We Sri Lankan may have pioneer for Politics like JR.J, R.Premadasa, Bandaranayake, Ranil, somewhat Mahinda Rajapakse in terms of maneuver war with Indian inhuman support.

    also we had fearless V.Prabaharan leftist too. Bloody India doesn’t stand with one admirable politician all are crooks or conflict makers., see your former PM Rajiv Gandhi assassination manipulator Subramanya Swamy still walking free. Your govt is boghus, inferior too. look at your TV channels you still teaching to use toilets, not to litter.

    come Sri Lanka if your show one Sri Lankan sit and shits in public takeover Sri Lankan health ministry…. Bloody Indians stop regardless of writing about Sri Lanka politics. Yes i am Tamilian fearless was missed my chances to join as rebellion but it was good i missed it because i would trigger to fight with own men, wonderful humans Sinhalese relatives. very soon we Sri Lankans executes Indians whoever comes here to deceive us by politically or business or any stream INDIA not a good friend neither China too.

    COLOMBO TELEGRAPH tell us one good reason why you allow INDIAN INTEL to write criticize or humiliate our own men and wommen.

    will you allow us to write about INDIA ?????? August 10-11 PM Modi visits Tamil Nadu spent a night or dinner with J.Jayalalitha’s residence at Boyace Gardens !!!! why ? what may be cause dinning with sleeping with old glamor actress ? Bachelor Modi …..if you not stop your intel guys Sri Lanka journalism will strike against to all Indian higher autocrats.

    my fellow Sri Lankans, you can be Sinhala, Tamil, Malay, Burger, any religion do we really need Indian Intelligence criticizes ??????? if i am wrong in any above please correct me.

    my request was Indians STOP interfere in Sri Lanka. Col.Hariharan was high military official during IPKF in Jaffna in early 1990’s Now himself assigned tarnish Sri Lankan pride. create conflict among ethnics again. RAW Hariharan stop if not Indians will humiliated here in Sri Lanka.

    TAKE A DECISION are we SLAVES TO INDIANS ? WE DON’T benefits anything from INDIA. we have done enough to INDIA. we pays 400% profit from each and every indian vehicles.

    THOSE who says Kottiya, Demalah, Those who says Sinhagalaya , ambayaa whatever remember Indian government behind all these mindsets. they are pioneer in ruining others.

    do you know how decent Sri Lankans are?

  • 1
    1

    Broom stick mustache is again wailing …….

    we know the beauty of Indian elections specially in Tamil Nadu ….where uneducated people vote for cash..liquor…gifts ..

    When poverty India conduct election every 5 years this is called worlds largest democracy ..what a crap..

    We have many skeletons here ..are you ready for an international inquiry about the atrocities committed by so called IPKF sent to SL even without the approval of your parliament by Rajiv Feroz Khan ..?

    Remember you also have the blood of SL Tamils in your hands …

    Instead of writing this comedy go and sweep Chennai streets where people shit daily …

    Cheers

  • 0
    0

    I will not under estimate the capability of Mahinda Rajapakse. He will be polled 500,000 preferential votes. His party UPFA will get around 100 seats. However Ranil Wickramasinghe will be the prime minister of the national government. (UNP 85,TNA 16, JVP 6, cross overs 10).
    Nimal Siripala de Silva will be the opposition leader.
    Mahinda Rajapakse will resign the parliamentary seat to enjoy the privileges of former president
    Dr M.L.Najimudeen

    • 0
      0

      Mahinda Rajapakse will not slip away into retirement. Since 2004 he and his family are used to living it up on the poor peoples expense.
      This habit has now gone into the blood stream of the father, mother and the utterly spoilt brats. Like Anura B, the Rajapakses thought the Nation – and the Buddhist Sinhalese in particular – owe them a life-long debt. They will learn the hard way, as Anura did and drank himself to death, in sheer frustration. The war was won by the ordinary soldier in the front. Tens of thousands of them died fighting to defend the country. But Mahinda and Gota claimed they did it.
      The truth is slowly but surely coming out.

      Backlash

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