Colombo Telegraph

Will Ranil Short-Circuit Sajith?

By Amrit Muttukumaru

Amrit Muttukumaru

The run-up to the Presidential Election due shortly is throwing up a range of possibilities some of which are cause for concern. Irrespective of who wins or loses, the prospects for the country are bleak. The country will limp along as it has done for 71 years since independence from one catastrophe to another. Due to a multitude of reasons, big power politics will not allow the country to be a classic basket case.

None of our leaders of the past or for that matter front runners for the presidency even today are addressing the core issues bedeviling this country which include (i) absence of national unity (ii) selective application of the rule of law (iii) no accountability in public life (iv) ignoring the real causes of income inequality and poverty. None of our leaders are willing to acknowledge that a Secular State is a sine qua non for national unity and progress. 

GR’s Eligibility

Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa was anointed as the presidential candidate of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) by his elder brother and leader of the party former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at its convention held on 11 August. The convention was choreographed  with military finesse. Although Gotabaya does not have the commanding stage presence and oratorical skills of his brother Mahinda, he nevertheless acquitted himself well in his acceptance speech although in content it was not too different from political speeches we have come to expect.  

Gotabaya’s nomination is controversial due to his questionable eligibility to be a candidate since the renunciation certificate of his US citizenship has still not been made public. The question arises as to how he has reportedly obtained a Sri Lankan passport devoid of dual citizenship and a National Identity Card. There is speculation that the present regime – particularly PM Ranil Wickremesinghe has assisted him in obtaining these documents. If this is the case it has several implications.

One wonders whether the US is taking Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the brink hoping to extract what it has so far failed to obtain from the Yahapalana government vis-à-vis proposed controversial agreements such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in the belief that GR will most likely be the next President of Sri Lanka.  It is widely perceived that PM Wickremesinghe is a US Proxy who does not have the political clout to deliver what the US wants. Would he not be a perfect fit for the US as opposition leader or even Prime Minister under a GR presidency?

The ‘Colombo Telegraph’ article of 5 August 2019 The Gota-Ranil Pact: Revealedif factual throws further light on this issue. 

Sajith’s Candidature

In the background of severe infighting within the ruling United National Party (UNP) as to who will be its presidential candidate, it has now practically come down to its leader PM Ranil Wickremesinghe and Deputy leader Sajith Premadasa. 

Sajith’s faction is said to consist of influential persons within the UNP which include Party Chairman – Kabir Hashim, former UNP Chairman and Ranil confidante – Malik Samarawickrama, Finance Minister – Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Telecommunication – Harin Fernando and women leaders cum Ministers – Chandrani Bandara and Thalatha Atukorale. As against this, PM Ranil as Party Leader controls the party machinery which include the all powerful Working Committee.

On a nationwide popularity basis, it is widely perceived that Deputy leader Sajith Premadasa is by far the front runner among possible UNP candidates.

The Sajith Premadasa faction fired the first salvo in the UNP presidential stakes by having what can be described as a hugely well attended and impressive political gathering in Badulla at which many influential UNP politicians and ministers were present to announce Sajith’s candidature. It was well organized mainly by popular Badulla politician and minister, Harin Fernando. Sajith acquitted himself well in his acceptance speech although in content it did not deviate much from political speeches we have come to expect. His stage presence and delivery can be said to be superior to that of PM Ranil.

Irrespective of who is fielded by the UNP, the practical reality is that the acrimony is such that it plays right into the hands of the SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In this scenario, is it far-fetched to believe that PM Ranil’s faction may work against the success of Sajith?

Feuding Rajapaksas?

The infighting in the UNP camp could to some extent be offset by what is believed in some quarters to be the potential for feuding within the Rajapaksa family  in relation to (i) The possibility that Gotabaya will upstage elder brother Mahinda particularly if he becomes President  (ii) The possibility that GR may not support MR for the position of Prime Minister (iii) Implications for the political future of MR’s son Namal who comes nowhere near to match the immense political clout of his father or even the lesser clout of his uncle GR (iv) Perceived feuding among some of the wives of the Rajapaksa brothers. 

If any or all of this is true, is it far-fetched to believe that some sections of the Rajapaksa family may even work against the success of Gotabaya so as to safeguard their personal interests? 

Conclusion

Despite the misguided prognostications of some ‘experts’, the presidency continues to wield substantial executive power notwithstanding the highly controversial 19th Amendment with questionable legality. This is particularly so in the context of a strong and charismatic individual holding office with a supportive Prime Minister.

Many of those seeking political office have allegations against them for corruption, abuse of power, plundering of the national wealth or dereliction of duty and in some cases allegations of violence which include kidnapping and even killings. Are not those who stridently made such allegations even at press conference in the run-up to the 2015 presidential and general elections and did virtually nothing when in office guilty of neglect of duty or falsehood? Worse is their government’s corruption which include the terrible Treasury Bond scam arguably the largest financial scam to hit this country in its post-independence history and absence of accountability. The muted response of the opposition exemplifies the rot in the governance of this country.  This is the ground reality in this country which is in the midst of another presidential election.

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