The Sunday Leader

Enter Maithripala Sirisena

Common Candidate to contest under our national front with telephone as symbol

– Mangala’s party


Ranil Wickremesinghe , Chandrika Kumaratunga, Rajitha Senaratne and Karu Jayasuriya

The chocs are off: President Rajapaksa asked the Elections Commissioner to set the date and opened the floodgates of speculation innuendo and jockeying. After many weeks of teasing and innuendo the Secretary General of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) has emerged as the strongest possible choice of all the opposition, the so-called Common candidate to unseat Mahinda Rajapaksa. This was preceded by the defection of  Vasantha Senanayake to the UNP. As expected for several weeks Dr Rajitha Senaratne too has decided to throw his weight behind the common candidacy.

A veritable stable of dissenters have decided to crossover or rather to throw their principles behind moves to reform the Executive Presidency. For all her protestations Chandrika Kumaratunga also sensed a plausible possibility of change and unity and in typical fashion became immersed in these activities. As she wept, she said, “thank you for letting me come home”. She did not mention that she has been coming and going without let or hindrance to her adoptive UK home for the ten years she has been out of office. Mahinda Rajapaksa once said that even in retirement he would always be a politician, clearly Chandrika Kumaratunga feels the same and they have both tasted true power being at the helm.

The Secretary General of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Maithripala Sirisena, 63, ended several weeks of speculation on Friday 21/11 when he announced that the opposition parties had selected him to be the common candidate for the forthcoming Presidential Election. At a press conference at the New Town Hall Colombo, flanked by President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Dr Rajitha Senaratne, Prof Rajiva Wijesinghe, Minister Duminda Dissanayaka, Arjuna Ranathunga, MKDS Gunasekera and Vasanth Senanayake, Minister of Health Maithripala Sirisena announced that he was confirming his candidacy.

Mr Sirisena a long standing member of the SLFP  going back to his youth, has been an ardent SLFP’er and has held several Ministerial positions. A follower of the late SWRD Bandaranaike and considered a darling of the Bandaranaike political dynasty, declared that his unhappiness over the accumulation of powers to the Executive Presidency had led to his decision. Mrs Kumaratunga appeared close to tears when she said she was “thankful for being able to come home”.

Mr Sirisena undertook that he will abolish the Executive Presidency and reinstate the 17th Amendment to the constitution within 100 days of his election as President. Maithripala Sirisena, whose first job was as a gramasevaka, and a student of the Polonnaruwa Royal College, hailing from the Polonnaruwa district made it clear that he was not anti-SLFP rather that he was not satisfied with the powers that have accumulated to the Executive Presidency with the 18th Amendment and that the balance of power was unhealthy for a robust democracy.

At a meeting in parliament of the UNP’s G-20 committee it was decided that Maithripala Sirisena should be the common candidate and there was not much hope against that. Joining Dr Senaratne at a press conference at which Mrs Kumaratunga was also present were several others all of whom are considering a principled stand against the abolition of the Executive Presidency. Many of the journalists at the press conference spoke of how it was that CBK and Ranil never worked as hard to get rid of the Executive Presidency whenever they had power as they were now doing.

Sirisena’s entry aided by the powerful oratory of  Dr Senaratne and said to include Naveen Dissanayake and his namesake Duminda Dissanayaka, marks a complete upheaval for President Rajapaksa. He may have been aware of grumbles along the way from his Ministers but as none other than Dr Mervyn Silva said very recently, “you can’t keep showing files and frightening people all the time”. The learned Doctor of course was referring to the way Ministers were kept in check by the administration. Many of these complaints referred to a growing accumulation of power, influence and interference from siblings, Silva himself no stranger to that with the trouble he has had from his son Malaka.

The balance of power especially with the accumulation of power centred principally within the Presidency has caused no end of unhappiness to Ministers. In private conversations we discussed this with some of them. “We did support the 18th Amendment but there was a reason, we wanted the country to develop rapidly where it was best if decision making could be fast tracked for that we need a mechanism”. So what was different now?  “Well unfortunately those powers appear to be used for the greater benefit of a very few people”. At the expense of the many? “Yes, unfortunately yes.” In true Sri Lanka colloquial terms, “that is a fine how do you do”.

Reaction from President’s House was virtually instantaneous if not unexpected. The President immediately relieved Maithripala Sirisena, Duminda Dissanayake, Rajitha Senaratne and MDS Gunawardena off their portfolios. Dr Senaratne however has already packed his personal belongings and had shipped them off to his private residence. However what was interesting and one that would easily bring forth a legal challenge was that in his capacity as SLFP supremo, he also removed the Ministers from the SLFP by revoking their membership. When Ranil Wickremesinghe did that to one of his crossovers he found himself defeated by a court order although that was when Sarath Silva was the Chief Justice. Such is the nature and fickleness of politics that Sarath Silva now finds himself in virtually the same camp.

It appeared that some of the Ministers had now become frustrated that their own avenues of cutting deals were stymied. After enjoying ten years of untrammelled and unfettered benefits files notwithstanding Ministers are beginning to feel as useful as mugs. The need to achieve has overcome the need for financial security, was how a cynical observer of Sri Lanka politics put it.

At least 21 other names have been bandied about as wanting to crossover and Basil Rajapaksa is likely to have his work cut out for him as the Campaign Manager.

For President Rajapaksa the possibility of a defeat will bring in its wake serious repercussions: the international agencies will look more closely at charges that he headed an Army that was undisciplined and stands accused now of having acted outside of norms. Although not one of these allegation have been proven, the Diaspora claims have made ground thanks to the millions of dollars spent on reputation management and on subversive acts designed to cause Sri Lanka acute embarrassment if nothing else. The Norwegian peace broker Solheim issued a statement in which he claimed that Rajapaksa was informed of all events and that there was no question of any covert activity on the part of the Norwegians.

However with the announcement by Maithripala Sirisena that Ranil Wickremesinghe will be appointed his Prime Minister, Rajapaksa may well be encouraged that Wickremesinghe is unlikely to do the dirty on him and shop him to the European Community or the United States of America.

Be that as it all may, the current turn of events have taken UNP loyalists by surprise. Many question the thinking of their Leader and his actions in this regard. The original candidacy was offered to Karu Jayasuriya by common consensus. The majority felt that Ranil is unelectable. However when this was put to RW he took the view that “I am the leader of this party and I should be the candidate.” Almost everyone felt that Karu J was a better bet as he would command the support of the Buddhist ecclesiastics. However instead of going with that almost reasonable line of thinking RW decided on this course and many questioned his judgement.

It has now become clear that CBK was behind the SLFP coup of 11/2014 and the current turn of events. An UNP loyalist put it that RW had lost sight of some important aspects when he decided to agree to play ball with CBK. They pointed out that it was CBK who dissolved the parliament and left RW high and dry although his was a democratically elected government and CBK pulled the rug from under his feet by prematurely dissolving parliament. She took away the Ministerial posts too. Loyalists point out that it was under CBK’s watch that the most violent elections in the history of this nation happened: the Wayamba Provincial elections. It is these events that have caused astonishment at the UNP because RW’s choice of re-establishing democracy has been given to CBK herself – says an analyst, “Hardly a paragon of democracy herself, CBK and her tactics are being relied on by RW for the re-instatement of real democracy. It is a joke and a laugh.” Due to RW’s petty jealousies with Karu J the UNP have lost one more opportunity to capture power.

At the working Committee meeting Ranil left room for him to change his mind about Maithripala being the common candidate: he told his colleagues that Maithripala’s nomination as the current candidate was dependant on Maithripala bringing in 25 SLFP MP’s prior to nomination day. This may well prove Maithripala’s undoing almost before he starts.


Commandeering JBT:

CBK had commandeered none other than Janaka Bandara Tennekoon (JBT) in her covert exercise to bring in unhappy Ministers and MP’s.  But JBT double crossed CBK at the last minute but not by design rather by forgetting to lock a door.

Two emissaries of CBK had gone to visit JBT. They were discussing various modalities and who would be enticed and how when all hell broke loose. There was consternation and panic as an emissary of the government had also arrived but unfortunately for JBT unannounced – the emissary wanting to get hold of JBT somehow as he was not answering his phone – ever since it became common knowledge that he was in with CBK.

Janaka Bandara Tennekoon was to quickly shoo-in the two CBK emissaries inside a nearby room. He then met with the government emissary and held long discussions. The CBK emissaries were furious at this sudden turn and decided to try and listen to what was going on. In desperation they tried the door. In his haste Janaka Bandara had forgotten to lock the door. The CBK duo let themselves out and positioned themselves better to hear the conversation. They were shocked at what they heard: the government emissary assuring JBT that all his future wants will be looked after in exchange for his support and continued allegiance. After the government emissary left so too did CBK’s emissaries although not before telling JBT that they had heard what they heard. Janaka Bandara Tennkoon thereafter continues to ignore calls from CBK, in embarrassment or confusion.


Ranil and ghosts

Ranil Wickremesinghe appears to have forgotten how undemocratically CBK has been in the past say analysts and also point out that Ranil himself continues to make mistake but that these are something that RW has expertise of. RW, Inside Politics is reminded, got together with CBK and virtually sabotaged Gamini Dissanayake’s candidacy. A stalwart from a UNP stronghold told us, “maybe Gamini Dissanayaka is haunting RW all the time and that is why RW can never lead this country”.


Anura Kumara Dissanayake & Robber barons:

In a speech which MTV had recorded Anura Kumara Dissanayake gave out a list of so-called robber barons from different areas. Ranil Wickremesinghe may well be aware that Maithripala Sirisena was also named by Anura Kumara Dissanayake in that list.

Analysts point out that just because of high-end activity by the Opposition, does not necessarily mean that the incumbent leader will have to suffer a defeat.

President Rajapaksa of course knows all about trying to accumulate votes – he is the past master at this and is very unlikely to take it to heart. Instead the sophistication of his political mindset is likely to shift into turbocharged mode. The President has a hugely efficient campaign manager in the form of Basil Rajapaksa. Those who will finance the undertaking are unlikely to slink away although they may take a short leave of absence whilst they cross the divide covertly and donate monies to the cash strapped opposition too!

7 Comments for “Enter Maithripala Sirisena”

  1. bil

    Absolutely superb analysis. It is only the Leader that goes out and gets the stories behind the news and that helps us the public to decode whats happening. Lanka politics is complex as it is and this analysis from the Leqader is great. “be that as it may” we live to read this paper Well done ( and do shut the door unlike JBT)

  2. Ushan

    Maithripala Sirisena becomes a Political Joker sooner than later and we only can say Ayyo Sirisena. Ranil Wicramasinghe seems to be very samart at this point

  3. Dawathie

    People should not get too excited because this man is not a saint either. Remember how he interfered in the police investigation when his son bashed a police officer’s son ?.

  4. Dr M.L.Najimudeen

    The war winning Mahinda Rajapakshe could have continued as president for many more years if not for corruption, bribery, family monopoly, interference in justice and harassing minorities. He wasted billions on Hambantota harbour, airport, and jumbo cabinet. The sins will never go unpunished.
    The victory of MS is imminent and inevitable

  5. Ushan

    Maithripala Sirisena is one of a best …. who does not have common sense [but he is now common candidate] who eats whole Rope from Chandrika. now Maithri and gand feel like HELL IN THE SHELL

  6. Ranil

    A multi-view analysis by the author. Bringing Maithreepala is a good move for rescuing the country from becoming North Korea.

    Ranil’s ineffectiveness is taken out of the equation, except for the concern that he will be the prime minister in a country without executive presidency – they sat they will abolish 18th amendment within 100 days of the victory. Maitreepala is least corrupt of the lot and has a very good reputation being a respectable politician over the years. At least he is not put on the same list as the biggest thieves and the murders as many other politicians. His presence will make the traditional blue-blooded SLFP’s members think twice. The minorities, on the other hand, will have no choice between the two. 17th amendment might be favored even though Tamils hate Bandaranaike’s followers.

    Worst case scenario would be corrupt and violent elections. During JR, Premedasa’s presidencies and sometimes during Chandirka’s, ballot boxes are stolen and replaced on their way to counting stations… It is likely to happen this time…

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