The Sunday Leader

Missing The Wood For The Trees

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe

Everyone’s an amateur psychologist. That’s the trouble with Sri Lankan political and civil society. Instead of listening to or reading what someone says and treating it on its merits, the name of the game is to speculate on what motivated him. What’s s/he after? Who is he with now? Thus it is that gossip substitutes for analysis.
The upshot of  the personalised normative reactions of Sri Lankan society, i.e. reacting to who is saying it rather than what is said, deprives us of learning anything of value that the writer or speaker may have to offer.
So, it goes something like this. If you are critical of Ranil Wickremesinghe you are either a supporter of Mahinda Rajapaksa who is trying to disrupt the unity of the UNP or you are a clandestine opponent of Mahinda Rajapaksa who disregards his wishes and interests with regard to the leadership of the Opposition. What if one is a supporter of Mahinda Rajapaksa but also a supporter of a healthy democracy which presupposes a viable opposition? What if what one is saying about the UNP has nothing to with Mahinda Rajapaksa at all?  Not bloody likely, you’d say, but what if it can be proved? Keep reading.
If one asserts that Sri Lankan democracy is not dead, and the country is neither totalitarian nor a dictatorship but that Sri Lankan democracy has always been unevenly developing and subject to contractions and expansions, the automatic response is that the writer or exponent of this view is attempting to whitewash the Rajapaksa rule. But again, what if the Rajapaksas do not enter the picture? Why not examine or debate the point rather than speculate about motives?
To provide one final example, if one advocates architecture for Sri Lankan foreign policy which is designed for sovereignty and security and laden in favour of Eurasia and the ‘East’, one is echoing President Rajapaksa’s predilections and prejudices with a view to currying favour. Once again, what if it is demonstrably NOT about Mahinda Rajapaksa?
Let’s test out my proposition. When was the following written, who by and how accurate is it?  “If things remain unchanged, the UNP is going to lose, and lose big, at the forthcoming parliamen­tary elections. Take cricket, for example. If we didn’t make changes at the top, that is to say the captaincy, the coach and the Board, Sri Lanka could not have pulled out of the nose­dive it got into during the last World Cup. But we did make those changes — not early enough to avoid humiliation at the World Cup, but soon after, and here we are, back in the big league and close to the top. And let us always recall that the cricket captain we had no choice but to replace (belatedly, it should have been done in ‘97) is one who led us to a historic victory in 1996; once a very popular leader and always a fine cricketer.
“By contrast Ranil Wickremesinghe has scored a hat-trick in reverse. He had led his party to consecutive defeats at three (of the four) levels of the political structure: local authority, provincial councils, presidential. And it’s three out of four only because elections have not yet been held for the remain­ing level! Nothing short of reshuffling the leadership helped restore our cricket for­tunes. Nothing short of that will work in re­storing the UNP’s political-electoral fortunes either. But the pay-off is big. Once the change is made, once the surgery is over and done, recovery time is pretty short and the take-off is almost vertical, because the potential has been lying within, locked up.
“Even the re­placed captain performs better, carrying less freight, playing his natural game. It worked for our cricket, it’ll work for our Opposition. Nothing — and I mean nothing — else will, because nothing else can.” (‘Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Game’ Weekend Express, Saturday, March 11 – Sunday March 12, 2000, P6)
Now that was published in March 2000, and written by me. I’m still saying the same thing. Mahinda Rajapaksa was merely a cabinet minister at the time, years away from the opposition leadership or the prime ministership, let alone the presidency. Ok, so was it for or against the president of the day? Who knows? I had been critical of CBK for years, but supported her at the December ’99 presidential and year 2000 parliamentary elections. From what she told S.B. Dissanayake and Mangala Samaraweera at the airport before emplaning for London after surviving the Tiger suicide bomber, she very much wanted Ranil to remain as UNP leader.
That had nothing to do with me, so I called it as I saw it, as I tend to do. What is important is whether what I wrote has stood the test of time and is evidence of accuracy in analysis.  What is even more important is that the struggle to dislodge Ranil from the UNP leadership has been on for at least a decade (in my case, from 1997).
Next up is Sri Lanka’s democracy. Consider this text:
“What are the special features and distinguishing characteristics of democracy in Sri Lanka?  I would list the following: its unevenness, its dual embattlement, its co-existence with the archaic, its zero-sum nature, its nexus with the unitary state, and finally its resilience. Lankan democracy has been an uneven democracy. Its unevenness is manifest in two senses. Firstly if one takes a decades-long view, there has been a spasmodic rhythm in our democracy. There have been periods of high democracy and low democracy. The pattern is one of expansion and contraction of democracy. And even this expansion and contraction itself has not proceeded in any regular cycle.
“The heartbeat of our democracy has been arrhythmic. The unevenness of Lanka’s democracy has been present in a second sense too. At any given time an overhead satellite photograph so to speak of Lankan democracy would reveal its uneven distribution and exercise.” (‘Sri Lanka’s Uneven Democracy’ Kandy News, March 4, 1998) Now this surely is a defence of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Mussolini-esque totalitarianism! Hang on a minute — this piece by me was published in 1998, when Mahinda was an obscure minister whose portfolio I cannot recall. Ok, so then it was probably a justification of whoever was president at the time. The problem with that explanation is that in 1998, CBK was the president and I was strongly opposed to her ‘union of regions package’. So, my political scientific conclusion with regard to Sri Lankan democracy has remained consistent and must be examined today on its own merits.  A final example from the field of foreign policy: “ In the East, that is from Russia to China through India, there is an equally powerful mood against separatist terrorism… The Chinese leadership chose the 50th anniversary of the setting up of the Peoples Republic last October to officially prioritise this threat and designate it as that of ‘ethnic splittism’… A strong Eurasian ‘heartland’ thrust, arcing from Moscow through Ankara, Tehran, Delhi and Beijing can be conceived of and operationally undertaken in the form of shuttle diplomacy and summitry.”
Both Western and Eurasian thrusts can be complimentary ‘arches’ in a single foreign policy architecture for Sri Lanka… The central pillar of our foreign policy architecture must be the relationship with India, not in contrite genuflection to anyone as a regional hegemon or because we are in anyone’s backyard but because we have certain common strategic interests.” (‘Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy Vacuum’, Weekend Express, March 18, 2000 pp.6-7)
This is obviously a pandering to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s turn to the East and embrace of China, and written to secure an ambassadorial posting (once again). Well, actually, it is my column ‘Reflections’ in the Weekend Express of a decade ago. Was it perhaps to secure a DPL posting from the then president and foreign minister? If so, it could hardly have carried the caption that it did, namely ‘Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy Vacuum’, a stricture hardly designed to flatter either President CBK or Minister Kadirgamar. This was published years before LK’s re-orientation towards China and even before his rapprochement with the JVP (which may have been a domestic driver of that shift).
A postscript if I may. The no confidence motion against the External Affairs Minister proved instead to be a massive vote of confidence in him. As expected, the affair proved pathetic, with the UNP unable to mobilise either its own ranks or those of the Opposition overall. Prof Peiris provided documentary proof of Wickremesinghe’s ‘behind the lines’ perfidy, echoing the LTTE propaganda during the war, and paralleling the Diaspora campaign afterwards with regard to economic pressures and cutbacks. One of the more amusing aspects of the debate was the media spokesman of the UNP’s Ranilist ‘rump faction’ lecturing the Professor and former Rhodes Scholar on the importance of ‘the highest professionalism’ in the conduct of our external relations, unmindful that the sole professional — and highest educational — qualification he can lay claim to is in dress design!
More designing than discerning, he also attempted to negate my role in the UN Human Rights Council special session vote of May 2009 (which went considerably better than the no-confidence vote did for his side), even transferring merit across the Atlantic ocean. The Economist which Karl Marx described as ‘the most intelligent defender of capitalism’ chose instead to write: “…Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Geneva, who warded off the threatened UN war-crimes probe in May…” (‘Behind the Rajapaksa Brothers’ Smiles’, The Economist, August 6, 2009).

22 Comments for “Missing The Wood For The Trees”

  1. angeline akkas kolla

    Another sunday morning charade by DJ. This time, a weak attempt at consolidating his supposed loyalty to the ruling regime which will no doubt be treated with suspicion, given his fame as a political acrobat.. Another weak balancing-act. another failed attempt. Try again DJ, this time leave out any references to the current regime in trying to use your sense of unintelligible logic. You may then, succeed. Perhaps.

  2. Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Hi Angeline Akka, if I knew your address I could perhaps drop you a picture postcard from Paris :))

  3. aliyar

    no point talk about democracy unless our public know what is right a nd wrong.
    Our society must change to work towards fair go.All in Srilanka expec some kind of favourism, which weakness often used by crooks.
    Why can not you work for bread rather than expect it free or cheaper.
    Is it make sense?
    All section of public have weaknesses, and it reflex at top too.
    we all need to change.

  4. gamarala

    “Dayan Jayatilleke………………………………………..warded off the threatened UN war crimes probe in May…………………….”
    Why did you “ward it off” if sri lanka had nothing to fear as it is a democratic regime in every sense? The probe would have proved the innocence and purity of the state of sri lanka.
    At the same time, you wanted Britain to hold a referendum on the Monarchy!
    Your blaming Premadasa’s and CBK’s regimes have no connection to your Ranil/UNP bashing now – which is indirect defence of MR’s regime. You never even once mentioned that MR strengthened his regime by poaching MPs with bribery from the opposition parties and thus consolidated his & his familily’s power for the future. Now your future too is assured.

    Now you have successfully got your posting as a result of bashing ALL opposition parties – thus indirectly praising the junta. Do not think that all of us are idiots.
    Send a postcard to your friend Devananda from Paris – & dont forget Pillayan, Karuna, KP & Daya master, all of whom are pillars of the ‘democratic’ regime.

  5. Van Donkey

    this useful idiot cries out loud for a considerable time, to get noticed by the royals, now it has been rewarded with French connection, what a political stooge, watch his double talk and he loves to twist and turn to show off as he is the man, in reality he is another opportunistic low level very qualified ( as he claimed ) useful idiot to undermine the intelligence of the general public.

    • Rajinda Silva

      “To the left to the right step it up step its all right” Do not forget the Kannattha incident in 93.

  6. Geroge


    By cook or crook, you have achieved your target. This is good place for for sight seeing and night club. Your unofficial friend Kirubagaran also could host you. Then you both could work on 13th amendment

  7. ponna bible

    Wow! last we heard that he was lunching with a high-browed LSE professor in a glass paned revolving restaurant high up in the skies of singapore . Now he tells us (subtely of course) that he can send post cards from paris.What a lucky son of a gun! Poor me and you and you….. and you.

  8. Ravana

    if you are expressing your opinion without any ulterior motive, go to Hyde Park and stand on a soap box !

    You are in the wrong place not to mention the wrong Country.

  9. Ponuthurai


    You are very late to write this article. What were you doing when Tamils were talking the facts about the war and Sinhala extremists naming them as LTTE supporters and LTTEers?

    People of your caliber are silent when Tamil bloody conflict is taken for discussion. Your future boss GL is talking nonsense and what are doing about it.

    Why cant you teaching political science to GL than teaching students in S’pour.

    France is not Switzerland. It is too late to ask GG Ponnambalam or Sir John about Paris but you could still ask from CBK.

  10. pat

    Sad reality about this excellent analysis is that a good 70% to 80% of UNP supporters following this forum do not comprehend what you are on about. Until such time the situation changes, the likes of Ranil will remain at the helm of UNP much to the detriment of a healthy opposition aka healthy democracy,

  11. Stanley

    Come on Dayan

    Presently party politics and difference is not important.

    what are we going to say internationaly about a solution to the ethnic conflict.

    can we say that Dayan is re-appointed as an Ambassador or can we say we people in the South are motivating MR to find a solution. or we going to say that we are going to face another terrorist attack in the future.

    Stop lecturing about the difference among the indivuals and find an answer to the National question.

    By the way dont forget that your Chief Minister Varadarajahpeumal told the media that you were Minister for one day. You took oath in the mogning and resigned in the evening.

    Will you do when you become the ambassador to France?

  12. Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    Hey Stanley, my reply to Perumal appeared in this very paper a week or two ago. It was called ‘Provincial Councils and Pre-empting Perumal Putschism’. Why don’t you read before you write?

    Dear Ponuthurai, I don’t teach at the National University of Singapore. I am a Visiting Senior Research Fellow ( as is the former Finance Minister of Pakistan and former Vice President of the World Bank).

    Dear Razak,
    Then who manipulated the December 2009 offer for me to be our ambassador to Tokyo, which I declined not least because that moron Bogo was still Foreign Minister?

    Gamarala, Can’t you comprehend the English language? When, on what issue and where – ever– did I blame Premadasa, except for not finishing off the Tigers singlemindedly? If there are two leaders/administrations I have supported and defended they are those of Premadasa and Mahinda Rajapakse.

  13. Very funny Dayan Jayathilaka writing about Sri Lanka democracy.

  14. Stanley

    You are a real diplomat.
    You should have been re-appointed to UN New York not to France.
    You ignore the important questions.
    It is not fair to address your former boss as “moron Bogo” What is your gurantee that he want be the next FM? If he becomes, what will you do? will resign?

  15. Suppiah

    All are pseudo intelctuals.

    He is no better than Merwyn Silva. Both singing for their supper and both are ‘Doctors’

    • ali dong

      Both are doctors. Both are the same. Only difference is that one is trying to murder the queen by calling for a referendum in UK on the monarchy. The other murders the queen each time he opens his mouth to speak her language.

    • pat

      Another amateur psychologist at work …

  16. Suppiah

    It is ok if these ‘pseudos’ partake the ‘dankuda’ dished out by the Rajapaksa Palace and enjoy the perks given by thier masters

    But the what irks us is when these ‘subservient surfs’ try to dish out some convoluted logic to us, the common mortals, in order to justify the action of thier providers.

  17. missy bissy

    yesterday he was only a newspaper reporter running for cover today he is an ambassador. so what can you expect from such people. they know which side of the bread to lick.

  18. Justitia Omnibus

    Perhaps those that are censoring comments to this forum in the name of “moderating” it would care to inform us, the great unwashed, why Dr. D.J. is permitted to use “unparliamentary” language quite freely while those of us who have the gall to quote D.J’s OWN DESCRIPTIONS of sipping from Lakshman Kadirgamar’s “Rum Bothalay” have such descriptions censored? In the age of the mass sycophancy of the Sri Lankan media this is, indeed, a sad commentary about a publication that claims to be “Unbowed and Unafraid.”

  19. T.Ruth

    Oh dear me! In Sri Lanka you can buy most people for a chocolate. Dayan you have disappointed all of us. ” To thine own self be true”

    We expected nothing but the Whole Truth from you.

    Enjoy La Paris

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