By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
“Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein.” – Bible
January 8th was not really the date of the fall from grace of Mahinda Rajapaksa, former President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. That marked, no doubt, his electoral defeat. But his false image never died. It continued with the “Mahinda Sulanga” phenomenon. Leaders fall only when their public images fall. With the verdict of the Bharatha Lakshman murder case delivered on Thursday 8th September 2016 the tragic fall of that image of the former Sri Lankan dictator begins.
Former Mahinda Rajapaksa’s and Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s key backer and Minister, Duminda Silva, and four others were sentenced to death. The rest of the 15 defendants were released.The case was heard before the trial –at-bar comprising High Court judges Shiran Gunaratne, Pathmini Ranawaka and C.B.S. Moreis.
It was a sultry day and clouds were gathering in the outside sky.
This has been one of Sri Lanka’s highest profile cases as big guns of the former government were involved. The gruesome murder itself that took place in the open streets shocked the nation. The murdered and the convicted murderer had both been Mahinda Rajapaksa supporters but they hopelessly fell out over the issue of the UPFA government’s decision on the Kolonnawa Organiser. The personality acrimony had been developing fast and Mahinda Rajapaksa took the side of Duminda. According to testimony the two met on the streets and the brawl broke out into murder. Duminda had gone ready with his pistol.
Shortly after, Duminda rushed himself to Sri Jayawardena Hospital and, reportedly, among the earliest visitors were both President Mahinda Rajapaksa and powerful brother Defense Secretary, Gotabaya. That had been one of those numerous acts of impunity on the part of the former President. Mahinda still continues that behaviour visiting convicted jailbirds of his former government. Not the model behaviour of those with Presidential status. But the incident made it clear to everybody that the two powerful would back Duminda right along the way. As another typical MR ‘shaping’ tactic, Bharatha Lakshman’s wife got the job of a Presidential coordinating secretary! Among the prestigious panel of such advisors were political fall-outs, musicians, and astrologers.
MR, perhaps, believed that the whole matter could be hushed up this way. There was no serious attempt to bring this up to court until the new Yahapalanaya government came into being. That confirmed speculation that the government was doing its best to cover up Duminda. Hot gossip lines kept ticking: It was alleged that the hospital staff had been all transferred that night when Duminda arrived to enable the latter to put on a new costume and commence an elaborate act. He had claimed brain damage as a result of the “accident.” Government arranged to despatch Duminda away to Singapore for “special treatment.” That was at taxpayer expense and it did take a long time for Duminda to return, “cured.” When he eventually returned and attended court he claimed he had amnesia and couldn’t remember anything that occurred on that dreadful day in the streets. Duminda became the butt of Facebook jokes. The Rajapaksa government’s reputation got a bad assault. But a President who thought he would never be beaten in elections didn’t bother. The 18th Amendment was in his pocket.
The obvious MR/Gota backing for Duminda was made even more clear when MR with Gota’s consent appointed the “cured” Duminda as Supervising MP for the Ministry of Defence. In the circumstances, that was an appalling decision. First, to make an obvious murder suspect a Minister and a Supervising MP in the very Ministry that oversees the police! This act demonstrated, once again, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s overwhelming sense of impunity. He just didn’t care about accountability or appearance. He was a cocksure President. He didn’t bother about the dignity of his high office where manifest appearances of justice and fair play are crucial. “Justice and honesty must not only be done but must manifestly appear to be done,” particularly by those in the highest offices of state. But have you seen our former President caring about such courtesies?
Despite all these acts of horrible misdemeanour Mahinda Magic still lasted and it had been easy for MR to draw crowds at Mahinda Sulanga meetings and Pada Yaathraas. Most people didn’t believe in all the bad gossip about him and his cronies. “They were all exaggerated,” they thought. Let’s tolerate the man who “won back the country.”
On the other hand, the Bharatha Lakshman murder verdict represents no fancy gossip; but court verdict. It is also a cue for many of the other alleged crimes entering the zone of fact.
Yahapalanaya, at last, seems working. The justice system is made to work after at the dark age of its abuse and political massaging. The peoples’ doubts and scepticism about Rajapaksa behaviour have begun to be confirmed. True, there is more that must come for the Rajapaksas to go tumbling to I don’t know where.
But this case gives a definite signal that, one by one, it will all come. The Thajudeen case? The Lasantha Wickrematunge case? We are living in exciting times-indeed!