The Sunday Leader

Rajapaksa Governance

Mahinda Rajapaksa — President for life?

“President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Rajapaksas will rule this country for a long time…. The Rajapaksas will become beloved leaders of this country…. The next chapter in Sri Lanka is reserved for the Rajapaksas…”

(An Astrological prediction published in the state-owned Silumina – 7.6.2009)

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

There is good governance; there is bad governance; and there is Rajapaksa governance.
The remarkably smooth transition of Sri Lanka from a vibrant, albeit a flawed, democracy into a Familial Oligarchy, in just five years, symbolises the potency of Rajapaksa governance, its remarkable ability to achieve the inconceivable and turn the abnormal into the new norm. The only (really existing) impediment to the Rajapaksa dynastic project, presidential term limits, is on its way out.
According to media reports, a constitutional amendment removing presidential term limits is to be enacted before November. Once that shackle is removed, Mahinda Rajapaksa can become President for life (aided by the Augean Stable-type mess in the UNP), to be succeeded by either son or brother. (Only the wilfully obdurate will fail to realise that Namal Rajapaksa is being groomed to step into his father’s shoes; if no crisis intervenes, Baby Doc will take over from Papa Doc, someday).
The process of concentrating all power in the hands of the President (and the Ruling Family) is gathering momentum. The Attorney General’s Department and the Legal Draughtsman’s Department have been taken over by the President; this would enable Rajapaksa to interfere in the judicial process, legally. Inadequate speed and zeal in prosecuting terrorist suspects by the AG’s Department is the specious justification given for this gross violation of the principle of separation of powers.
Now the President (and the Ruling Family) will be able to prosecute on suspicion alone, without bothering about hard evidence. The fact that this momentous step was taken with nary a public protest, either from the legal fraternity or from society, is symbolic not only of the level of impunity achieved by the Rajapaksas but also of the degree to which Sri Lanka has become accustomed to such acts of impunity. The cancer of impunity has spread so far, so fast, that it no longer seems a malady but a very part of the body politic.
(A necessary digression: A powerful Presidential sibling has often expressed dissatisfaction about the lack of missionary zeal on the part of the AG’s Department in prosecuting ‘terrorists’. In a recent interview he emphasised the ‘pivotal importance of the judiciary, particularly the Attorney General’s Department, in supporting the government’s efforts to suppress terrorism’ and railed against moves ‘to release some LTTE operatives held in connection with the assassination of Gen. (retd) Janaka Perera’ by the courts, for lack of evidence. All such abominations will now end. This sibling is also on record calling for ‘new laws to meet new security requirements. That wish too can now become a reality.)

Enabling Amendments

Other pending amendments would enable the President to spread his tentacles all over the Lankan states, still further. One proposed amendment will empower the President to appoint members to the Independent Commissions created by the 17th Amendment. Independent Commissions will thus be independent in name only; in reality they will function as appendages of the President, implementing or rubber stamping his decisions. The 17th Amendment was crafted with the express purpose of reducing some of the excessive powers of the executive president; therefore it has the potential to seriously impede the project of Familial Rule.
The proposed amendment would turn the 17th Amendment into its antithesis – from a law which reduces the powers of the President into a law which enhances the powers of the President! This is a classic example of Rajapaksa governance — the Independent Commissions will not be abolished; they will merely be rendered utterly meaningless; from new centres of power they will be transformed into juicy pastures for Presidential favourites and stage props to keep the illusion of democracy alive, in the midst of Familial Rule.
Another proposed amendment will enable the President to sit in parliament and take part in parliamentary proceedings. This amendment too will be touted as a ‘democratising’ measure which reduces the power of the President by making him accountable to parliament. In reality, it will enable the President to attend parliament at will, interfere in its work, and most importantly, to keep government parliamentarians on a very short leash.
The Rajapaksas would know that an impeachment motion or a radical power shift in parliament, though not highly likely, is not impossible. Chamal Rajapaksa was made the Speaker precisely to prevent such a mishap. With the new amendment, the President himself will be able to play the ‘Big Brother’ to UPFA parliamentarians. This amendment, which violates the principle of separation of powers, will further empower the President under the guise of restraining him.
The Rajapaksa approach to constitution making is symbiotic of Rajapaksa governance; piecemeal changes, one amendment at a time, until any and all factors impeding the dynastic project are removed. No constitutional upheaval, no controversial referendum; just a gradual process of transformation until quantity turns into quality and the Jayewardene Constitution becomes the Rajapaksa Constitution. In the end, the constitution is revolutionised, without a constitutional revolution. Powers not in consonance with democracy will be granted to the President, democratically, by the Constitution.
The following comment by Nazi official Ernest R. Huber on the nature of the National Socialist state would be applicable to the new Rajapaksa state: “We must speak not of state power but of Fuhrerpower…. The Fuhrerpower is not hemmed in by conditions and controls, by autonomous preserves or shelters and jealously guarded individual rights, but is free and independent, exclusive and without restriction” (quoted in Germany – Gordon A Craig).
The piecemeal transformation of the constitution would also enable the regime to turn such thorny issues as devolution, democracy and basic rights into non-issues. The 13th Amendment will stay in place, while, eventually, a new amendment will be enacted, which will render it meaningless. Just as independent commissions will be turned into presidential commissions, provincial devolution will be vitiated to village level administrative decentralisation. The Tamils are powerless. Delhi many protest, but its protest will be politely deflected, with another promise or another commission; whatever real capacity India had of influencing Lankan policy on the minorities died with Velupillai Pirapaharan on the shores of Nandikadal lagoon.

Lessons Unlearnt

Almost 100,000 civilian Tamils are still living in camps in the north, forced to endure the torrential rains in their inadequate shelters. Out of public sight, their tragedy will remain out of public mind. The Rajapaksas surmised correctly, when they surmised that limitless abuse is possible so long as it goes unrecorded and unreported. In the absence of independent reporting, it is easy to turn lies into truth and render crimes invisible.
The absence of independent reporting enabled the Rajapaksas to create and sustain the twin myths of ‘humanitarian operation’ and ‘zero civilian casualties’. But myths cannot last forever, and, already, seemingly credible evidence of civilian casualties has emerged. The staunchly anti-Tiger UTHR has issued a couple of reports packed with details; the latest report of the International Crisis Group (and the latest video of BBC’s Channel 4) indicates that the issue is unlikely to go away in the foreseeable future.
The Eelam War was a civil war. Therefore, in the interests of a Sri Lankan future, it would make sense to investigate allegations of war crimes, not just by the LTTE, but also by the Lankan Forces. How can we expect the Tamils to put the past behind them and look to the future, if they are to be deprived of justice or the right to mourn their dead, normalcy or political freedom? Even if the regime thinks that Tamil sentiments can be ignored, it would realise the need to address Indian and Western concerns to some degree (especially since the fate of the GSP+ hangs in balance) and to prevent a UN investigation of any sort. What better way than to appoint a commission dignified by an esoteric title, packed with loyal servitors and predestined for failure via a nebulous framework?
Titles are a Rajapaksa forte. Once, not so long ago, there was the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP); now there is a ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC). The new commission’s terms of reference are vague; and its members include the man who delivered the 2009 D.A. Rajapaksa Memorial Lecture (he began his peroration by declaring ‘It is no secret that the national and the international community stands in gratitude and salutes Your Excellency for your unwavering leadership, our defence leaders and personnel for their enormous sacrifices..; he ended it by asking ‘the international community and humanitarians’ to ‘help Sri Lanka nurture its heritage’ since ‘this is no time to point fingers and find blameworthiness for punishment; ‘May the true humanitarians stop forward and show their true colours’ was his rousing finale – Asian Tribune – 4.12.2009).
Another member was so affected by ‘the awe inspiring sight of the President worshipping the ground’, so filled with ‘pride and veneration for this remarkable leader who defeated terrorism for good’ that he was moved to draw ‘an invaluable portrait of President Mahinda Rajapaksa paying homage to Mother Lanka’ (The Daily News – 21.6.2009). Clearly a most suitable commission, which will produce a most useful report; in the meantime, hopefully, Delhi can be fobbed off, Brussels persuaded to renew the GSP+ and the UN cajoled into postponing any ‘war crimes investigation’.
Behind the regime’s half-hearted attempts at generating an illusion of compliance and moderation, the transformation of Sri Lanka into a national security state continues unabated. Despite the publicity blitz (doubtless aimed at an international audience), senior journalist Tissainayagam is yet to be pardoned. Prageeth Eknaligoda is still missing. Sarah Malini Perera (the Sinhala Buddhist convert into Islam) is to be tried under the Emergency for ‘insulting Buddhism’. A third court martial is to be set up to try Gen. Fonseka while a powerful Presidential sibling has declared, portentously, that anyone seeking to undermine Sri Lanka’s sovereignty is a traitor who deserves capital punishment (death).
Namal Rajapaksa’s new Television channel, YV, was launched by his brother Yoshita (Vice President of Namal’s NGO, Tharunyata Hetak). Thus, the Rajapaksa – Sinhala supremacist triumphal chariot marches forward….

In the meantime, the crisis in the UNP is turning into a black comedy. Removing Ranil Wickremesinghe from party leadership, forthwith, is the only way out of the current impasse. However, thanks to the Wickremesinghe policy of preventing the emergence of a second level leadership, there is no alternative leader acceptable to all factions of the party; consequently the danger of a two (or even a three) way split is very real. Replacing Wickremesinghe with a Leadership Council, as an interim measure, can prevent a shattering leadership battle (which will benefit none but the Rajapaksas; a split in the UNP will be a welcome bonus to the regime). Let this council commence the re-organisation drive and from that nation-wide mass effort, a new leader may emerge. Remaking the UNP while safeguarding its unity is a necessary precondition for the necessary task of taking Sri Lanka back from the Rajapaksas, someday.

11 Comments for “Rajapaksa Governance”

  1. kumar soysa

    Why are you of the ‘Sunday Leader’ so terribly resentful towards President Rajapakse? Why do you assume all these things? We have had so many chnges in government but what have these respective governments done? I recall the period after 1956 when the Bandaranayake period began with strikes, hartals and the start of the ethnic crisis. Then in 1977, I was an active member of the JRJ UNP that allowed the LTTE free access to violence. I recall the late Minister Cyril Mathew say in parliament, “Panina rilawunta ini-man hadanawa” (provide ladders for monleys) that eventually led to his (and many of us) being kicked out of the government and the UNP. Ever wondered how much would have been saved if JRJ had the guts, loyalty to this nation and the spirit of Mahinda Rajapakse way back in 1979? Have you ever considered a world leader who could have withstood the enormous pressure by the large and powerful foreign nations to determinedly rid the nation of this LTTE mennace? Even wonder what this nation would be still at, if MR and bros did not do what they did?! You are just stubborn and knave! Sorry, but that is the truth.

    • ANTON

      You dont get what the writer is trying to say because you are looking thru a Rajapaksa glass. We fully agree with you that Rajapaksas did what other leaders could not do by getting LTTE wiped out. No doubt about that. But that does not give the authority to Rajapaksas to convert this Island in to a undemocratic place. This is what Tisaranee is trying to show us. As a experienced writer ,she can foresee what our country is heading if Rajapaksas behave like this. As humans we should beleive that no body is above the law. It is same for Rajapaksas. Majority of our people cannot undersatnd this simple truth.

      • Gamaya

        Very well said, Anton. Many Sri Lankans will not understand what you say. Truth will win one day.

        “Today, the so called democracy has some amazing features. A member of the parliament – candidate who had the courage to oppose the president at the last presidential election – is kept in illegal detention. He is tried before two military tribunals created especially for the purpose – a clear violation of the rule of law. Attorney General’s department is taken under the purview of the President violating the independence of the Judiciary. The government is trying to remove the Chief Magistrate of Colombo who is presiding over the only civil case file against General Fonseka because the government so far failed to have their way with her. The government has ensured that the free press does not exist and the abducted journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda is still missing. Members of the Parliament, who made a visit to the IDP camp at the Menik Farm were denied access to the facility. The Defense Secretary of the country, the brother of the president, keeps on transferring police officers at his will and pleasure who refuse to carry out illegal orders! THIS IS THE STATE OF SRI LANKA’S DEMOCRACY”

  2. SB

    Well said, Anton. Unfortunately, our short sighted sinhalese majority do not realize this. And it will be too late when they finally realize. Then they will suffer. But above all of us is the super power, to which even the Rajapakses also have to bow. Let’s wait and see. RW is the main culprit.

  3. gabriella

    Brilliant article. But why betray an agenda at the conclusion ? Simply state the facts – let the masses decide the next course of action . The electorate has ‘spoken’ and they will eventually deliver the verdict i.e. by ballot or bullet .

  4. Ishan Jalill

    Truly good article by Tisaranee. Very analetical indeed. As for Mahinda Rajapakse’s dream to be the ‘president for life” it will not take too long.

    All Rajapakse goons, wait until november 2010 for your life bonus.
    All democrats, patriots, and moderates, wait until november 2010 for life imprisonment of democracy, the rule of law, and national reconciliation.

    In our hearts, at last we’ll all say, “mia kalpa’. – “we’re guilty”.

  5. Mura uk

    This is not new for Modayas.

    Modayas will dance for any tune.

  6. vintage voter


  7. I like Rajapakse for what he had done and what is doing. Thisaranee hate Rajapakse for what he had done and what he is doing. That’s the difference between us.

    Most things that I have predicted here since the start of the Eelam war1V has come true. But, all that Thisaranee had prophesied everywhere had gone for a six. May be most people knew about it, and thats why just eight people have commented on her writeup for six days. It may well be a proof for her time-tested lies and boring details and descriptions, I suppose.

    If you like to know more about her humbug you can read it here:

    Fedrica: Why not you think of placing one of my write-ups in your paper for a change. I am sure; it will stir much more interest than Thisaranee’s monotonous rubbish. Some will like it and some others may not like it, but you will get a whole lot of attention. How about it, eh.

    • ANTON

      OK we will agree that Thisaranee is the most useless reporter in this whole world and we will canvas sunday leader to have your entertaing articles published instead. No problem we can do that. But, before that,as a decent analyst, can you counter attck the allegations Thisaranee has made against your beloved Rajapaksa regime. In your reply you have personally attcked Thisaranne but not her allegations.This is the problem with most of our people. Khoheda yanne.Malle poll. No wonder our country is at this stage.

      • Anton: I must have written more than hundreds of detailed comments to various articles in SL on Rajapakse related subjects. I just didn’t want to repeat them here, in case, such repetition might bring boredom to readers. But, in my writeup to lankaweb as shown above, I have proved that all Thisaranee’s prophesies hadn’t come true, to date. That is one of the things I wanted to highlight. The other is that she has a grudge against Sinhala Buddhists.

        You see Anton, I take everything in relative terms. I wrote about President Rajapakse in comparison to other Presidents. Shall I ask; which former President had done more than MR in aspect of war or economy.

        Many a economic Pundits had been predicting our economic doom ever since MR had become President. So much so, by 2008, they had wanted to devalue the rupee by as much as 30%. Today the rupee is not just steady but is strengthening daily. And those pundits are in stark silence.

        Take LTTE; everyone said it is invincible. But Rajapakse had not only wiped it out but had send all its leaders to hell as well. The IC was against it. So they did their best to take our President the way they took Omar al-Bashir, the President of Sudan. Can they ever do that? No. Why? Because, the people of Sri Lanka are with him. Looks like US has learned it or are they chicken up? Whatever it is I am sure, all other detractors will follow suit.

        As for corruption, if you just read what SL and Sirasa say nowadays; it looks like RW has already beaten MR. That is without being President. Can you imagine what it would be like if RW had been the President?

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