2 December, 2023


The Final Frontier Of A Retrogressive Journey

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“….the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think” – Tom Paine (Rights of Man)

In 2005 when he was nominated the SLFP’s Presidential candidate, Prime Minister Rajapaksa named his election manifesto Mahinda Chinthanaya (The Philosophy of Mahinda), after himself.

Within seven years, the Rajapaksas conquered the government, occupied the state and subdued the society.

With Basil Rajapaksa’s appointment as the National Organiser, the Siblings are set to breach the last frontier: the SLFP.

If Ranil Wickremesinghe did not exist, the Rajapaksas would have had to create him. Since he does, and Sajith Premadasa is no better in terms of effectiveness, the Siblings do not have to be overly concerned about the UNP. The JVP is too busy waiting for its own Godot – another ‘Indo-Lanka Accord moment’ – to seize the socio-economic issues with requisite vigour.

It is thanks to this oppositional impotence that Keheliya Rambukwella, the spokesman of a cabinet of welfare kings and queens who pay just Rs.2000/- per month for electricity in their free official residences, would dare to say, “People expected to eat without paying for it…. People expected everything free. They ask for subsidy for everything. When the country has to be taken forward we cannot tolerate people who ask for subsidies”.[i] And get away with it.

Logically, the Rajapaksas have more cause for concern about the SLFP than about the Opposition. The party which serves as the necessary vehicle for the Rajapaksa dynastic project was founded not by the Rajapaksas but by the Bandaranaikes. Though Mahinda Rajapaksa is one of the senior-most SLFP leaders, Basil, Gotabhaya and Namal Rajapaksa are relative newcomers. Mahinda Rajapaksa worked his way up to the top; the other Rajapaksas parachuted there, straight from California, US and St. Thomas’, Mt.Lavinia. This wholesale elevation of the Rajapaksa family to the zenith of power cannot but cause discontent, humiliation and resentment among party leaders of long standing, who had spent decades defending and promoting the SLFP.

The Siblings used various stratagems to deal with this problem. They axed the cardinal potential-troublemaker, Mangala Samaraweera. They used managed–elections to increase the proportion of Rajapaksa-loyalists in the parliament, the provincial councils and local government bodies.  They also commenced rewriting the history of the SLFP. The purpose was to crease a new collective memory according to which the SLFP was founded, nurtured, protected and defended by Rajapaksas – fathers and sons, brothers and uncles, nephews and cousins.

Take for instance, an article by ‘Senior Journalist’ Dharman Wickremaratne on the 1989 parliamentary election: “Going through my old diary I came across the date March 4, 1988. Place: IRED Institute, Horton Place, Colombo 7…. There is no doubt that the discussions there laid the seeds of all the victories of the present President…. All plans were prepared for the 1989 General Election. It was Basil Rajapaksa who predicted that some day a President will emerge from the South. Basil was the brains behind all the strategies…. Gotabaya Rajapaksa regularly gave advice from abroad[ii](The Sunday Observer – 21.11.2010; emphasis mine).

In a familial party, kinship ties form an unbreakable glass ceiling. In 2005, many leading SLFPer may have believed that Mahinda Rajapaksa would do for the SLFP what JR Jayewardene did for the UNP: free it from dynastic-shackles and turn it into a modern political party. Instead President Rajapaksa commenced his own dynastic project. Had JR Jayewardene not included the term-limit provision in the 1978 Constitution or had Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga possessed a two-thirds majority, the SLFP would have remained a Bandaranaike-fiefdom. It was the term-limit provision which enabled the creation of the first non-Bandaranaike (by birth/marriage) leader of the SLFP. One of the first tasks of the Rajapaksas, post-2010 Presidential Election, was to close that democratic loophole with the 18th Amendment.

Arguably the most potent impediment to the success of the Rajapaksa project, nationally, is that non-family members hold the key positions of SLFP General Secretary and Prime Minister. The appointment of Basil Rajapaksa as the National Organiser is clearly intended to work around the problem of an ‘untrustworthy party secretary’. His task would be to do to the SLFP what brother Gotabhaya did to the military: forge it as a Rajapaksa preserve and instrument. The new National Organiser will use every ounce of state power and resources to ensure that the SLFP becomes as incapable as the post-impeachment judiciary in mediating/checking Rajapaksa power, let alone challenging it.

Once the SLFP is turned into a full-fledged Rajapaksa party, President Rajapaksa would be able to appoint a Sibling as the PM, ensuring the continuance of familial rule after him.

The Politico-ideological Glue

The Opposition seems to be depending on a split in the Ruling Family to bring about a regime-change. Currently there is a powerful negative bond which keeps the family together, despite indubitable personal differences and competing ambitions – the knowledge that the fall will be a generalised one, endangering all family members alike.

Plus, so long as Mahinda Rajapaksa is president, familial-differences will be managed successfully.

The real weakness of the Rajapaksa project is that it lacks the cohesive power which an integral ideology can provide. ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’ cannot fit the bill; which is why the Rajapaksas have adopted Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism as their leitmotiv. The Rajapaksas are depicting themselves to the Sinhala South as the true heirs of 1956. In 1956 the SLFP presented itself not as the champion of the poor but as the champion of the Sinhalese. Its appeal was not class-based but premised on language/ethnicity/religion. The Pancha Maha Balavegaya was a Sinhala-Buddhist bloc from which the minorities were viscerally excluded. Poverty was an issue only if it could be depicted as an outcome of the anti-Sinhala exploitative activities of the rich and greedy minorities. The SLFP’s populism was of the backward looking, reactionary variety, part majoritarian-supremacist, part feudal-socialist, anti-modern and anti-pluralist. Consequently the ‘1956 Revolution’ did not succeed in bringing hitherto marginalised segments of society into the democratic mainstream[iii]. What it did was to radically transform the character of democratic mainstream – from a pluralistic one to a mono-ethnic one. This is best evidenced by the fact that within ten years of that ‘revolution’ all Southern parties – including the old left – had become strident backers of Sinhala Only.

Under Rajapaksa Rule, the 1956-1987 commonsense, which permitted, excused and even justified naked, unbridled Sinhala/Buddhist chauvinism, has made a triumphant return. Today racial/religious slurs are once again comme il faut. Not even the thought of another Black July scares the Sinhala-South because it no longer fears another war; the belief is that the Rajapaksas can win a new war just as they won the old one.

This Rajapaksa commonsense is not just majoritarian-supremacist; it is also triumphalist and militarist. The Rajapaksas have their own version of the Pancha Maha Balavegaya, in which the army (rana- viruwo) is second only to the monks (sanga).

Since the glue of Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism needs enemies and threats for best effect, the Siblings allow their acolytes to ignite small racial./religious fires. These they then put out, gaining relevance as indispensable guardians of the nation and conflict-managers safeguarding order and stability.

Thus they keep an economically-flagellated majority and a politically-persecuted minority in thrall.

[i] Sri Lanka Mirror – 19.4.2013

[ii] Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s career did not seem to have suffered despite his family connection to one of the most strident opposition leaders. According to Mr. Rajapaksa’s official biography on the Defense Ministry website, “During his military career Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was awarded the President’s Commendation Letter by former President JR Jayewardene and decorated with the Rana Wickrama Padakkama and Rana Sura Padakkama…by former Presidents R Premadasa and DB Wijethunga”. He seemed to have enjoyed his full quota of foreign training as well, including stints inPakistan,India and theUS. He was in charge of Matale in 1989-90, Weli Oya in 1990-91 and the Deputy Commandant ofSirJohnKotelawalaDefenceUniversity in 1991-92. He retired in the midst of the Second Eelam War. Since he obviously was not victimised by the UNP, the question as to why he chose to retire in the midst of the war and leaveSri Lanka for financially greener pastures cannot but arise. The obvious interpretation is that he retired upon completing 20 years of service, got his pension and commenced a second career in America – a conduct somewhat unbefitting the Rajapaksa notion of ‘patriotism’.

[iii] In 1956 voter turnout was 5% lower than in 1952 (1952-74%; 1956-69%); it was also the lowest turnout in a national election held under conditions of normalcy.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    The Rakapakse’s were not always SLFP as they now claim. MR’s father D.A. Rajpakse who crossed over from the UNP with SWRD, left the SLFP in 1959 and joined the MEP led by Philip Gunawardena. So, did Lakshman Rajapakse, DM’s son. D.A. contested Beliatte at the 1960 March election as an MEP candidate but lost. Laksman and his brother George contested Tissamaharama and Mulkirigala respectively as MEP candidates and both won. After Philip got close to the UNP after the elections, George and DA both joined the SLFP and won the 1960 July elections as SLFP candidates.

    Basil left the SLFP with Anura and was Secretary of the SLFP-Maithripala wing in 1981/2. While Anura went back to the SLFP, Basil joined the UNP. Basil supported the UNP at the infamous Referendum of 1982. In 1983, he actively campaigned for the UNP against George’s daughter Nirupama at the 1983 by-election and was also the UNP candidate’s election agent. He was very close to Gamini Dissanayake and left the country when the impeachment against President Premadasa failed. He came back only after Mahinda became Prime Minister.

    In 1982, after the defeat of Hector Kobbekaduwa, many SLFPers such as Maithripala Senanayake and Haleem Ishak supported the Referendum. Mahinda also was toying with idea of following them. Sarath Silva claims that Mahinda spoke to him about joining the UNP (probably at Basil’s instance) as he felt the SLFP had no future. Silva used to say that he disuaded Mahinda from joining the UNP to support the referendum.

    • 0

      I can add something more. The 1983 by-election was won by Ananda Kularatne, the UNP candidate. Nirupama filed an election petition alleging that Basil made a false statement about her character. Basil had stated that Nirupama had shown no love or gratitude to her late father George Rajapakse who earlier represented Mulkirigala electorate and that she was a hypocrite and a fraud to ask the voters to vote for her to show their gratitude to the late George Rajapakse.

      The courts decided that this was a false staement and that Basil had committed a corrupt practice and Kularatne lost his seat. At the 1985 by-election held after Kularatne was unseated, Basil was not allowed to be part of the UNP campaign.

  • 0

    A very well crafted and thought provoking
    piece Tissaranee. Congrats to you.

    You say if there was no Ranil Wickremesinghe,
    one would have had to be found. Well, the need
    did not arise since Ranil is there, will be
    there and will do all what MR wants. MR has not
    only made him UNP leader for six years (even more
    thereafter) but has given RW such a hefty travel
    budget. So why not travel the whole world. From
    Angus steaks in the UK, Dom Perignon in the US to
    cobra soup in Laos, the tax payer foots the bill.
    Whilst power prices were upped, he was in Laos
    enjoying its beauty and working out international
    strategies with Sagala Ratnayake. These are days
    when G.L. Peiris’ foreign policy has come in for a lot
    of criticism. So RW and Sagala will have to chart new
    courses for full frontal attacks, not at each other, but
    all enemies.

    Sajith is GR (Gota) what Ranil is to MR. Otherwise
    he will not have his large retinue of body guards
    or continue to guard his body from many others. Karu Jay
    is like a directionless ship, no strategy and no foresight.
    He can only have a press conference every fortnight garnished
    with contradictory news releases in between. Other than that,
    he is heavily over rated and stick planted in mud.

    So, the opposition’s predicament is as much worse as that of
    the government. Whom do the people turn to?

    Ranil has sold his soul and will never win the confidence of
    the public at large. This is why the UNP have had to plan several
    May Day events. It cannot put together a 10,000 crowd anywhere.
    Ranil has to depend on MR even for personal favors.

  • 0

    So is the Rajapakse history. Out of the blue will be the appointment of
    Namal as PM! Watch out.

  • 0

    Ms T is right on the money about the defeatist phsyche of the Opposition.

    How could a Medumullana Jonny do this to this English educated Elite in Colombo who considered them to be born to rule and had taken a caveat on us inhabitants?.

    But on economic flegellation and minority thrall, she is dead wrong.

    Perhaps the paymasters put a blindfold on her when driving her around.

  • 0

    The premises occupied by “IRED” is owned by Sunimal Fernando, who was once a C-ordinating Secretary of the late Prime Minister Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Now Sunimal Fernando is an Advisor to Mahinda Rajapaksha. During the pre-election era of 2005 Mahinda Chintanaya group held its meeting at “IRED” owned by Sunimal Fernando. He is one of the persons heavily profited by the Mahinda Rajapaksha regime and he had forgotten the Bandaranaikes who helped him to particicpate in SLFP politics and enrich himself.

  • 0

    All the song and dance of the Rajapakse is possible only because Ranil is weak and the masses are taken on a merry go round by the regime. Its time for the opposition to join hands, appoint a common candidate now itself to contest the next Presidential Election.

  • 0

    Had JR Jayewardene not included the term-limit provision in the 1978 Constitution or had Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga possessed a two-thirds majority, the SLFP would have remained a Bandaranaike-fiefdom.

    Tisaranee’s simplistic way of thinking does not reflect reality. Just because you have a law stipulating term limits does not mean nepotism will vanish instantaneously. How many Bush’s are in political office in the USA? What about Bill Clinton and his clan? The same thing in Singapore; Lee Kuan Yew has created a political dynasty. The same thing in India; look at the Nehru’s and Gandhi’s.

    Even if Rajapakse had had to give up the Presidency, his relations elsewhere would have been making a lot of political noise. That’s how politics works in the real world.

    • 0

      Not in Sri Lanka, Lester. Don’t be an apologist for corruption, wastage, and thuggery.

      • 0

        Why don’t you answer the points I have made, rather than blindly attack Rajapakse.

        • 0

          Jughead I hate Zionist Jewish Pooks on the web

  • 0

    Tissarani ,a 100% to you for a true write up,but the question is how to free the country from the Rajapakses clutches ?

    • 0

      To add to TG’s sum up, 1956 general election was held over three days. The first day’s results certainly influenced the second day and the third day voting. Although the SLFP led coalition govt won the majority seats in the parliament to form a govt, they failed to secure a majority vote wise, in the country. This is because the UNP had worked for the masses with the opening of new Colonization schemes providing a lot of subsidies to the poor in the country. If one turns back in history, there is no dispute the UNP had done more for the masses than the SLFP led coalitions. Under SLFP led govts mostly the party cronies and their families have benefited. But under the UNP all have benefited irrespective of political hue. In the ’50s only the affluent had a vehicle, a telephone, a refrigerator, a radio and other house hold luxuries. After the UNP opened the economy in ’87, the so called luxuries have become common amenities, where even the poor have acquired. The beneficiaries of economic gains were not confined only to the UNP catchers but even to the Opponents. Today the greatest critics of the Open Economy then, are the best beneficiaries now, with their off spring with Foreign Degrees and IT qualifications holding top jobs, both here and abroad. What Hypocrites?

      I can understand TG’s ire against RW for the perks she enjoyed under RP not being given recognition during his short stint as PM in late 2002. But the fact remain, RW is a better strategist, with patience, who will not burn himself out by striking before the iron is hot. Let us take a hypothetical situation. The majority, mostly those very people who helped MR to become President are the most vociferous critics of RW, for RW not coming out openly to commence a Sri Lanka Spring. Bad enough these very critics were foolish to have appointed MR in the first place now want RW to thrown MR out. RW is not that kind of fool to agitate the masses and bring them on to the streets for many to get killed and arrested, leave alone becoming the President. It is well known how Peaceful Demonstrators are dealt by this Corrupt regime today. So can one be serious with our arm chair critics coming out by the thousands to the streets if RW makes a call? I wonder? Then wait for that call where all can participate without risking one’s self, at demonstrations to throw MR out, where all of us will have a very effective means of ending the CURSE of MR and his Family.

      • 0

        Gamini, you seem to get hurt only RW is attacked ?

        Why ?

        Why do you want to defend him further, entire world is criticising the country today not ONLY because MR and the bunch are incapable but also studying closely the manner of current opposition in the parliament. RW stay dead silent where he has to run amok in parliament.

        Few Examples from the very recent past issue:

        a) Impeachment process against CJ Dr. SB
        b) Appointment of NEW CJ not considering his cases that have currently been investigated
        c)BBS and its attacks against muslims

        • 0

          Samson there is a human quality called ‘gratitude’ which should be a sin qua non for a society to be prosperous. The present state of Lawlessness, chaos and sufference is due to lack of it amongst the masses. If RW has not betrayed the trust of the masses, to have robbed, lied and killed to come to power, then it is the responsibility of us, the masses to repose our trust in him. There is no point in blaming him, that he failed to prevent the Impeachment of CJ de jure or the appointment of the CJ de facto or the BBS goons on the rampage, as there is very little RW can do after MR has usurped absolute power by fooling the masses with a hoax of a war victory over the LTTE where he had struck a bargain with a section of the same LTTE, KP faction by eliminating VP section.

          Alright what is the difference that would have resulted even if he protested in Parliament? Nothing! as happened with the protest of the Judiciary? Besides it was a dog eating dog situation as all of them were together earlier to scuttle RW. Mark my word, see how RW will manoeuvre at the correct time.

          • 0


            RW was robbed of his government by India, which persuaded Chandrika to sack him.

      • 0

        Good to hear even fervent anti Rajapaksians have commonsense.

        Ms T’s Mob would love to drag the masses on to the streets for a “Spring”.

        Pretty faced Facebookers did a test run,

        Will the ordinary punters join them?.

        What is in there for them ?.

        Spain where unemployment has reached high twenties, people are on the streets pelting stones.

        Pretty faced Facebookers and their wellheeled Mummies can’t find even domestics to work in their abodes in Colombo postcodes.

        • 0

          Did they increase your “pandam-padiya” that you are back to inflict your stupidities on us?

        • 0

          “Perhaps the paymasters put a blindfold on her when driving her around.”
          Tsunamisekera: The Amude TROLL.

  • 0

    It is the inept opposition that makes the Rajapakse rule alarmingly grandiose which otherwise is hollow and lacks substance.

  • 0

    The country is like a rudderless ship with Ducatis, Lamborghinis, Casinos on the port and extreme religous virtue and piety on the starboard. Regime is fast running out of options and friends. Very soon we will see the rats deserting the sinking ship.

  • 0

    While commending the writer on her articulation and language skills, I also suspect that her message is directed at those within the portals of power (other than the core) and a somewhat mischievous attempt to create a rift between them on the basis of fear of losing the high stakes in which they would all be invested in…

  • 0

    Mountbatten’s Description in a different context is more picturesque. “Like a ship on fire in mid ocean with munition in the hold”.

  • 0

    A good psycho analysis of Rajapakeses

  • 0

    Another great piece of work by Tisaranee.

    Tisaranee also may give some tips on how the Rajapakse Titanic going to sink in the political ocean when the Band playing….Nearer my God to thee.

    I think Rajapakses are a breed of old home grown tacticians which many times tend to fail in this modern Hi tech, laptop computer, face book and SMC, tweet world.

    What is Rajapakses Southern Sinhala vote base that he relies upon to have such a big power play to occoupy parliament.
    Rajapakse Southern Sinhala market only consist from Matara, Tangalla to Tissa including few inroads like weeraketiy, Embilipitiys, walasmulla, Beliatte etc…..nothing else.

    Does anyone have any clue how Rajapakses could win an election only through this 15% Southern Buddhist Sinhala Population. It’s not going to work and it’s better if Rajapakses know about it.

    It is Chandrika Bandaranaike who opened Rajapakse Pandora Box, and I think it is she who should closed it and nobody else.

    Ranil (the famous JRJ’s nephew) is the cause for allowing Rajapakses to manupulate citizens without voicing their Grievences when required. At the moment he is on a bon voyage cruicing around the world.
    Ranil is venturing in the world when members are debating electricity bill.
    This what happens when you are given 87 million payroll with no children to take care, while the UNP Party Senior Citizen MP’s enjoy their Double Pensions.

    I think winning future election will be decided only through peoples economy….economy and more economy. No othere Rajapakse comedies such as BBS, Ravana, Rawaya, Sinhala budhist cults, Jathi aalaya, or arousing conflicts with minority population by the armed forces could replace peoples economic struggle and could face the wrath of the people when they finall find they been deceived.

    First time in Sri Lanka’s history IMF 1.5 Billion US loan request was turned down, exports plummet by 50%, loss of GSP, over 400 Free Trade factories been closed, Sri Lankan/ Mihin loosing 70 million rupees each day, mattala airport loosing 22 million each day, CEB accumulated losses 250 Billion rupees, 40% export drop, 20% unemployment, 30% inflation(don’t trust CB data) COL at 22% are few of them.

    Right now Rajapakses are on the path of economic catestrophe(implosion) and coming months will decide their existance.

  • 0

    Gamini – People like you are part of the problem. Even
    if Ranil slips and falls, you have a sound reason for
    it and would call it strategy. If he shakes Sagala’s
    hand or stokes his head, it is friendly demeanour. If
    he sucks up to MR, it is political cunning. I puke at
    people like you. Apologists with no rationale but blind
    bum sucking.

  • 0

    I am coming back. My Clone is alive and well in Nasareth in Nadu.The Second Coming will end all this wranglings. Sinhalalums your days are numbered.

    • 0

      Beware Dolly did not last long so dont tell them.

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