21 September, 2020

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The Mighty Fall Of Rajapaksas

By R Hariharan

 Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

The recently concluded Sri Lankan presidential elections belied President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s confidence as he was beaten by Maithripala Sirisena, former health minister and a long- term colleague of his. People seem to have preferred “unknown angel” Sirisena to “known devil” Rajapaksa, as he described himself in an election rally.

Rajapaksa was so confident of winning the people’s mandate for a third term that he advanced the election by two years before his second term ended. But Sirisena, general sec- retary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), emerged as a challenger on the eve of the election announcement.

According to the official results, Sirisena won by a 3.7 percent margin over the more crafty Rajapaksa and was preferred by 51.38 per-cent of the 121 million voters.

This may not appear to be a bad performance if we consider that in 2005, Rajapaksa’s scrapped through with a wafer-thin 1.86 percent majority over his rival Ranil Wickremesinghe to become president. But a decade later, Rajapaksa went to the polls with the enormous executive powers of a serving president. In 2009, he used the popularity he earned after the victory in the Eelam War to gain two- thirds majority in parliament for his United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) coalition and also handsomely wIn the presidential election for a second time in 2010.

Despite these advantages, Rajapaksa seemed to have lost direction and that cost him this presidency. But the central reason for his electoral debate has been the loss of support within his own party and the people at large, particularly minorities.

Two major aberrations—concentration of power in the hands of the Rajapaksa family and the misuse of executive presidency— marked his second term as president. Since 2010, he used his parliamentary majority to consolidate his power base. In the process, he manipulated it to pass the 18th Amendment to the constitution, neutralizing the 17th one which gave a role to parliament in appointments for national institutions such as the judiciary, election commission, etc, and which made the president more accountable. But the 18th amendment gave the president overriding powers to appoint candidates, who did the damage control caused by poor governance.

Chinese Presence 

Typically, many mega projects like the construction of Hambantota Port and airport complex and Colombo port development were financed by Chinese loans offered at usurious interests and executed by Chinese contractors. The whole process lacked transparency, as there was no open bidding. There were also reports of widespread corruption in public sector bodies, draining the exchequer.

President-and-the-family-arrives-to-vote ColombotelegraphOpposition efforts to inquire into allegations of corruption came to naught. Instead, threat and intimidation were often used to discourage them. For instance, the opposition United National Party (UNP) Commission that looked into allegations of corruption in the Hambantota project was threatened in public by a pistol-waving SLFP deputy mayor. The Bribery Commission and the Police were ineffective in taking quick follow- up action in such cases. Scribes who criticized these aberrations were hounded out of the country. The army, instead of the police, handled trade union protests and other civilian activities, indicating increased militarization of public affairs.

The writ of the president’s two brothers, Basil and Gotabaya, who were minister for development and secretary for defense and urban affairs respectively, seemed to influence most government decisions.

Thugs and ruling party goons, often led by elected representatives, were involved in many a criminal case and disrupted political meetings of the opposition and terrorized the free press. This did not stop even in the pre- election period. Ruling party goons attacked the residence of former president and estranged SLFP leader, Chandrika Kumaratunga and the election offices of Sirisena and the UNP. The Campaign for Free and Fair Elections received a record 574 com- plaints of election-related incidents, including 500 cases of election law violation. There were 47 cases of election violence, 16 relating to the use of firearms.

Sidelined Leaders 

Overall, Rajapaksa family’s enormous clout and its arrogant use of power seem to have alienated many senior leaders of the SLFP like Sirisena, who were sidelined in decision- making. The decline of Rajapaksa’s public image, coupled with his failure to carry his team, probably disillusioned Sirisena and as many as 26 MPs and scores of UPFA provincial council members crossed over to the opposition. This gave an opportunity for Chandrika Bandaranaike loyalists to encourage Sirisena to contest against the president. She joined hands with Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of the UNP, and former army commander Sarath Fonseka, who gave up their own presidential aspirations to field Sirisena as a common opposition candidate.

Surprisingly, this seems to have energized other UNP leaders, who were wrangling for control of the party. Their sole aim was to defeat Rajapaksa using Sirisena.

Even the Buddhist right-wing party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya, a long-term ally of Rajapaksa and the UPFA coalition, deserted him to support Sirisena when he did not respond satisfactorily to its complaints of poor governance, cronyism and corruption.

Rajapaksa fared no better with his Muslim allies, who generally supported him. Muslims, who form about 10 percent of the island’s 20-million population, had their faith in Rajapaksa shaken after he failed to prevent anti- Muslim activities of Buddhist fringe groups. The Bodu Bala Sena led an anti-Muslim riot in Alutgama that quickly spread to Beruwala (close to Colombo) on June 15, 2014, leaving three killed, over 80 injured and nearly 200 houses and property of Muslims torched and destroyed. Over 2,000 were rendered homeless. This forced the two major Muslim partners of UPFA—the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the All Ceylon Makkal Congress—to cut loose from the ruling alliance. Their support to Sirisena brought him the solid support of Muslim votes.

Ignored Tamils 

Despite Rajapaksa’s unchallenged power after the Eelam War, he didn’t kick-start a political process to resolve the Tamil minority’s long-standing grievances. He did not fulfil even the basic demands of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which captured power in the Northern Provincial Council elections. Though Sirisena offered no specific plans to address the Tamil issue, TNA decided to support him to remove Rajapaksa, and this paid him dividends, as the Tamils voted in his favor.

As promised in the election manifesto, Sirisena was sworn in as president and Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister. Siri sena’s manifesto focuses on three weaknesses of the Rajapaksa rule—corruption, cronyism and accumulation of power in the hands of the president and his family. It promises to replace the “present autocratic executive presidential system” with a “constitutional structure with an executive that is allied to parliament through the cabinet”. Sirisena hopes that within 100 days, he will form a multi-party National Unity Alliance government to address urgent issues, and then, hold parliamentary elections to repeal the 18th Amendment by bringing in a 19th Amendment to free national institutions from the president’s control in the next six years.

This is a tall order, because his New Democratic Front does not control the parliament. However, after defections, the UPFA’s strength has also come down. So Sirisena is likely to face a turbulent time in the next 100 days.

Whether he succeeds or not, democracy has succeeded in Sri Lanka, freeing it from the autocratic rule of Rajapaksa. Only time will tell if Sirisena can redeem the peoples’ faith in democratically setting things right.

*Col R Hariharan, is a retired military intelligence specialist on South Asia and served with the IPKF 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

  • 12
    4

    The former corrupt Dick and his family should be behind bars

    • 0
      0

      [Edited out]

  • 12
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    There was nothing “earned” in that 2/3 majority in parliament. Much of it was, quite simply, bought!
    The thin margin of victory in the 2005 presidential election was also bought, with a payment made to the LTTE.
    Democracy was completely subverted on both occasions.

    • 1
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      It’s hard to believe the LTTE gave up its long term goals for a ‘payment’ from MR. More likely they were betting that a hardliner would generate more sympathy for their cause.

      Interesting, because this ‘payment’ did not stop them from breaking ceasfire agreements. Maybe MR could have made a ‘payment’ to make them give up their struggle altoghether, not just ruin democractic elections.

  • 7
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    MR and company ran too fast and never cared to apply brakes and behaved as though the whole road was a one way traffic exclusively for them. They were blind to many real facts. The cronies who gathered around them always sang the song MR & co liked. “The absolute power corrupts” was amply proved in their case. The started playing with all aspects of country’s finance, economy and power. It looks as if they were only looking at projects where there is a large sums of money.

    They never realised the minds of the people who were angry because they had to suffer a lot under their rule and awaited for an opportunity to have a silent democratic revolution against him.

    Now, all their misuse of power and corruption at various levels are coming into light, some of which will be proved beyond doubt. It looks the whole family has been involved in corrupt activities and it is going to be big drama for some time. Some dead persons must also be rising from the grave because they may been hurt, killed or suffered due to this family.

  • 2
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    The writers doubts about My3’s 100 days programme is well founded because he has no full control of parliament and therefore not in a position to cobble up a two third majority for making important changes to the constitution or even getting rid of the Cheat Justice Mohan Pieris.
    Besides that there is no guarantee that he would be able to obtain a parliamentary majority at the next elections let alone a two third majority at that, without coming into a coalition with some other contending party or parties which may have other priorities to bargain with.
    This is my personal opinion about the Hundred Days programme which will ultimately drift into a mirage.

  • 2
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    Even if the minority parties keep alliance with MaRa regime, the minority voters decided long ago to go against. Good for so-called party leaders to change their mind at last minute or they would have forgotten masses by this time. A perfect pay back (kick back) by means of democracy for all the atrocities unleashed by the familial regime towards Tamils, Muslims and Christians.

    By the way, Retired Hariharan, you use think in large scales in millions. We are meager 20 mio. Population compares to giant India and we have no 121 mio. voters!! :))

  • 0
    0

    Thanks to Prof. Kumar David for initiating the Common Candidate theory
    whereby a democratic soft spring was achieved, and yet 46% MR supporters
    is a formidable block. This is where an effective 100 day Diary will
    bite into that block of votes, coupled by the CAC headed by Ranil W. The
    near future will see Rajapakses wiped out for ever.

    MRs over-confidence, coupled with his Astrological beliefs and blind
    support of his henchmen caused his fatal downfall. SL people are Blessed.

    • 0
      1

      We should erect a statue commemorating Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena, the astrologer, who single handedly saved Sri Lanka from an unimaginable catastrophe and also for bringing forward the demise of MR a cool 2 years. Astrology has always been as good as tossing a coin i.e. been right on average 50% of the time and thankfully this time Abeygunawardena was on the other side.

  • 4
    0

    Correction Col.Hariharan.

    The Sinhala people voted for Sirisena and Rajapksa more or less equally. Sirisena won in 11 Electorates out of 22 and Rajapaksa won in 11 Electorates. But it the Tamils and Muslims voted for the Unknown ( I do not want to use the word Angel after Unknown)with the sole determination to oust the Known Devil. Rajapaksa fully depended on his Astrologer’s prediction that he would win the third term.

    2. Rajapaksa did not have a genuine vision to take the country forward after the war with the LTTE. He wanted to hold to power and to rake and accumulate as much as he could from the country for himself and his siblings. He is an uneducated crook whom even the Pope and the world leaders shook hands. Many cronies of his government supported him openly and silently and too made financial gains.

    3. Rajapaksa did not win the war against the LTTE on his own military power but with the support of India, Pakistan, USA and UK and probably China. The Tamil youths took up arms because of the failure of the successive Sinhala governments to resolve the long standing grievances of the Tamils. It is not going to be solved now or ever. If there is a will on the part of the Sinhala leaders, there will be a way and good results.
    4. I deny that Democracy has succeeded in Sri Lanka. What happened now is fake- yet another dictatorial representation.

  • 0
    1

    121 million? population is 21 million and the eligible voters must be less than that

  • 2
    1

    Cant believe it. The countrys economy is in a mess. That too, with a first lady who is an expert trader in stolen gold. Where did we go wrong? Maybe the ex-Central Bank governor and his wife played pucks with the countrys finances with their Ponzi schemes.

    • 3
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      “..first lady who is an expert trader in stolen gold…”

      Premadasa’s wife, the damsel from the Ice-ream parlours in the slums of Dematogoda, made her millions helping a group of chosen smugglers from a minority community in the lucrative Container Contraband trade. She used her influences as the President’s wife in the long-continuing racket. Naturally, she had an army of cringing and salivating Govt. and Customs officials as fellow-conspirators in her dark deeds.

      And now, this. Mrs. Elena (JRJ) Jayawardena came from a wealthy family and conducted herself with poise, charm, dignity and decorum.
      She did not have to conspire and steal. She came from class and lived
      simply and honourably,

      Leaving aside a smaller number of decent, honest and honourable Lankans, is it the reality that most Sri Lankans have the blood of crooks in their veins???

      Backlash

  • 2
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    I wonder what Mahinda Rajapakse’s Indian Agent Dr. Subramanian Swamy is up to these days. This “Supra-Mani” was keeping Rajapakse on his head and dancing and he also pretended in front of innocent Sri Lankans that he is the voice of BJP and above all the voice of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. What a shameful character is this “Supra-Maniam” Swami.

  • 1
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    Col. Hariharan is a member of the Indian establishment and his views are in line with the position of the Indian establishment.
    It is no secret that the Indian establishment (Hariharan included) backed Rajapaksa not just until he defeated the LTTE but beyond it too. India turned against Rajapaksa not because he was autocratic nor because he reneged on the promises of 13A plus to Tamils but because Rajapaksa’s closeness to China which threatened India’s national interests.
    It would be good to know Hariharan’s views on how India is going to handle with the new government in Sri Lanka, the issues facing the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Now that a ‘pro-Indian’ government is in power in Sri Lanka, is India going to pressure the TNA to accept a political solution far from satisfactory to the Tamils?

  • 1
    2

    Hariharan is a bit of self important gas bag who does not get all his facts right. Sinhalese voted in equal proportions or actually MORE for MR even though his majorities compared to 2010 were much less. Hariharan dude, make sure your Indian slumdogs do not arm, train and finance Tamil terrorism again. Make sure you do not invade again. Take back your Illegals. Take back your crappy products and dumping.

    • 1
      0

      Even the Rajapakses held as prejudiced and venomous views of India and Indians as our friend Pakis Pettiya does here. But when it comes to the crunch, they were there at different times – all 3 brothers – cringing before the South Bloc Wallahs in Delhi hoarsely claiming “we are relatives, aren’t we?” Indian sources financing and arming some Tamil militants is old hat. It was because the Sinhala Govts. continued to treat Tamils as second class citizens and there was tremendous pressure from Tamilnadu leaders on Delhi. This is common knowledge. What is not common knowledge is the armed conflict was kept going to line up the pockets of top men in the army, navy and air-force.

      Hopefully, better sense from liberal leaders like Ranil, CBK and Mangala S will create a warmer and more accommodating relationship with Delhi. This can be done without offending China, our good and old friend, if time-tested diplomacy is used. Chinese are aware who are really Sri Lanka’s leaders and who wholesale thieves are.

      What a terrible 10 year period the Rajapakses inflicted on the fair name of Sri Lanka where every Lankan had to bow down our head in shame. Look at what American President Obama had to say about the situation from Delhi “there is new hope for democracy in Sri Lanka” That is the view of the Rajapakse rule from the outside.

      Kettikaran

  • 1
    2

    This Indian dipshit was full of wrong information for a wrong time.

  • 3
    0

    Colonel:

    Whether he succeeds or not, democracy has succeeded in Sri Lanka, freeing it from the autocratic rule of Rajapaksa. Only time will tell if Sirisena can redeem the peoples’ faith in democratically setting things right.

    *** With all due respect Democracy has only prevailed because of the Tamil vote and Majority Sinhalese voted for the Hambanthotta Thugs. They are waiting in the wings and at the next parliamentary elections they will appeal to the Racist Majority and in the Parliamentary context the Tamil vote will be marginal.
    If MR manages to secure a Majority then it will be like Obama vs Congress especially if the executive powers of MS is watered down.

  • 0
    0

    Rajapaksa’s fall was not mighty but “great” like that of Humpty Dumpty having sat on the wall of pomp,conceit and injustice and not all the men of his clan can put him back together. Bensen

  • 0
    0

    How can a family of Malays claim that they are Sinhalese?

    • 0
      0

      Well, at least they are Sri Lankans. Bad boy.! Don’t discriminate against minorities.

  • 0
    0

    Ranil is more resourceful than we think.

    He engineered this defeat. He will make sure the 100 day program happens.

    Have some faith!

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