The Sunday Leader

Trying To Stop The Third Force

Ranil Wickremesinghe, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Rajitha Senaratne and Mahinda Rajapaksa

The Supreme Court has made its observations on the proposed 19th Amendment and noted that on the whole the proposal is acceptable constitutionally. The Court also noted that several questions needed a referendum of the people if they were to go ahead.

Many of the points for which a referendum is envisaged relate directly to the prime minister’s role in the future in terms of the transfer of certain powers of the President to the Prime Minister via parliament.

President Sirisena immediately announced that when the 19th Amendment is passed, he will dissolve parliament. It appears that he has suffered some amnesia in the sense that his calls and vision for electoral reform have been forgotten. An analyst noted that ‘it is highly unlikely’ that electoral reform will be achieved anytime in the near future, adding ‘the best chance we had has been squandered’.
In any event the current parliament would have finished its term by April 2016, so this dissolution of parliament is just under a year earlier.

Many questions now come into play and one of the principal reasons Maithripala Sirisena has decided to dissolve parliament is on the advice of and in consultation with Chandrika Kumaratunga.

This is designed to stop in its tracks the possible third force led by Mahinda Rajapaksa. Although Rajapaksa allies have demonstrated that their ‘leader’ has enormous support from the rural mass, they are yet a long way off from putting into place the necessary party infra-structure at district level.

Mrs Kumaratunga speaking in Gampaha told the tale – as she is wont to – of how Mahinda Rajapaksa tried to sabotage the party unity on at least three occasions. She gave him a clear message: stay with us, support us, join us for unity’s sake or else get out. How and on what basis this ‘right’ to lecture Maihinda Rajapaksa has accrued to her is something that not many analysts could explain. Instead they collectively pointed out that both Kumaratunga and Rajapaksa are on par when it comes to their status in the SLFP. Both are Patrons of the party.

The timeframe that Mahinda Rajapaksa and his allies had was until April 2016. That rather lengthy luxury has now been cut down. It is thought highly unlikely that he will be able to form an alliance and set up the necessary local level infra structure and contest with his allies from another party in time for the next election.

Strenuous efforts are going ahead to ensure that the SLFP are well united prior to the hustings and frantic efforts are being made to bring about a cordial relationship at its best between Chandrika and Mahinda. But far more serious matters are at play.

Giving nominations for various people is one such instance. Namal Rajapaksa and Sajin Vaas Gunawardena are at risk. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has indicated a willingness to enter politics. Basil Rajapaksa is supposedly expected back around the 20th of April. All of these individuals can easily emerge victorious under any symbol and certainly will do so under the SLFP symbol. In that context and in order to ensure a resounding victory for the SLFP, Sirisena will be keen to ensure that victory for his party. However whether Kumaratunga will permit him to include the others like Namal, Sajin and Basil is doubtful unless she can be persuaded that every seat counts and that personal agendas must be left behind.

The matter of public opinion, some of whom openly state, that ‘no Mahinda no vote for anyone’ is also something that Sirisena will be taking into account. No one says an analyst ‘can ignore Mahinda’s appeal. He is a crowd puller and he knows it.’

In this context Sirisena met with representatives of the 60 members of the SLFP who are moving for Rajapaksa to be given the Prime Ministerial nomination. The so-‘called ‘dissident’ group of the SLFP have pointedly told Sirisena that they will form a “New SLFP” alliance and contest the forthcoming elections under that with the former strongman as the principal force. Sirisena was told to note that die-hard, blue-as-they-come SLFP members were risking their long-standing loyalty because they felt strongly that in the interests of that same party, they firmly believed that Rajapaksa for PM would be an eminently marketable solution at the next election.

Equally it was pointed out that with the two term limit reintroduced under the 19th Amendment, Rajapaksa cannot be a threat to the Presidency again. It was as they pointed out, a win-win situation.

A third force emerging will split the vote three ways – SLFP UNP and the New SLFP. In this scenario it is eminently possible that the UNP may enter into an agreement with the Rajapaksa faction to form a new government post elections. In a curious sort of way, says an observer, it would be a national government with the president’s own party being left out of the equation. Mahinda Rajapaksa on the other hand is convinced that “that woman will impose her will and it will cost party unity” as he is privately saying at the moment referring of course to Chandrika Kumaratunga.

The appearance of Gotabhya Rajapaksa into the political arena will see the least discredited of the Rajapaksas making an entry. Chamal Rajapaksa it must be noted enjoys the freedom of not having been tainted by any suspicion of anything untoward. He is expected to retire from politics after the dissolution of the current parliament.

He has apparently, “been wanting to enjoy retirement for a very long time” according to a source familiar with the eldest of the Rajapaksa brothers.

Gotabhaya has a compelling story whichever way one looks at it.

He shares a genuine credit for the war victory at least in parts of the organisation of funding and worked in tandem with the then Army commander to ensure that the military goal was achieved. After the end of the war he extended his organisational capabilities into beautifying the city and even urbanites will acknowledge that.

The downside is the allegations that he gave covert support for the BBS – something he denies vehemently – and that his outlook towards the minorities was least sympathetic. Although at the centre of various allegations of financial abuse of power, the interim government have been unable to pin anything of substance against the former defence secretary.

The remark made by Champika Ranawaka and Dr Rajitha Senaratne against Ranil that he is trying to manipulate the 19th Amendment for the benefit of his position and that of his party is being construed by the politically astute as being the voice box of Maithripala Sirisena.

The charge and feeling is that Ranil has not addressed or played to the conservative Sinhala Buddhist voter, a situation which will make his re-election even more difficult. For all the great ideas he has – and he has many – the fact is that Sinhala Buddhist voters are bound to accuse him of pandering to the western ideologies and countries at the expense of ignoring home grown solutions.

In matters of the appointment of Arjuna Mahendran and the proposed appointment of Dr Razeen Sally – an economist with specialisation in world trade matters and enjoying worldwide acclaim – Wickremesinghe stands accused of ‘going shopping abroad’ for the expertise necessary to take Sri Lanka forward. Nationalists will be aghast and die hard UNPers say that although these appointments are first rate they will not go down well with the public at large especially in the rural mass.

Clearly the marriage between the UNP and the national unity coalition has broken up. The Prime Minister virtually acknowledged as much when he said at the AMCHAM luncheon that the alliance only came in for 100 days – which in fact is what RW came in for. To achieve regime change and to change the culture of corruption, the fear psychosis and the growing disregard for accepted international norms when it came to procurement and investment and of course the appointment of the independent commissions.

Not all has been achieved but the PM has been able to achieve some matters. The greatest failure on the part of the PM was for his intransigence on the Treasury bond matter. It has become the largest failure of the national unity alliance and the blame falls firmly at the PM’s feet because as Vasudeva Nanayakkara says, “Mahendran was handpicked for the job by the Prime Minister”.

The charge is that with the falling interest rates the awarding of Rs 5 Billion of the 30-year treasury bond to Perpetual Treasuries connected to the Aloysious family –at an average rate of 12.30%, that company was able to make gains (either realised or unrealised) of something in the order of Rs 1,500,000,000 (Rs 1.5 Billion). It was spoken of in many circuits that the Arjun Aloysious family would be the Daya Gamage’s of the UNP world – financiers of some repute to the party coffers.

As of Friday, the report submitted by the 3-member UNP-lawyers committee looking into the bond transaction had not been given by the PM who is being accused of being deliberately slow to act in order that the bond will get even more entrenched in the system, making it impossible almost for the bond to be suspended, revoked or for Perpetual to be fined by the Central Bank or at best for them to lose their licence.

Many UNPers are now taking to privately blaming Ranil for taking on the mantle of pushing for the 19th Amendment and trying to bring in consensus on the Prime Minister’s powers without first taking leave of the other component members of the coalition. Champika Ranawaka was the most vociferous followed closely by Dr Senarathna.

If RW had left it to the man who received the mandate to do the changes, Sirisena, then it would have been Sirisena’s fight with the opponents of change. As a result of this tactical blunder RW had to take the flak and detractors found it easy in the extreme to take RW on – saying quite simply that RW had no mandate from the people and that it was Sirisena who should be doing the changes he promised. It was a point that could hold no real counter.

On Thursday 9th April the SLFP Kurunegala District members had their meeting with about 1,000 delegates in attendance. All invitees were party faithful. It was an event which was to highlight to the President the deep unhappiness of the party rank and file with Chandrika Kumaratunga.

President Sirisena arrived along with Chandrika in tow. The first sign of trouble started when the PA system announced Chandrika’s name to light the traditional oil lamp. There were a few hoots. Ahead of the meeting Chief Minister Dayasiri had been made aware that there was trouble brewing and had warned the SLFP Genereal Secretary of the impending threat to Chandrika.

It was then decided that following Sirisena speaking, Daysiri and the General Secretary would speak before brining an end to the event. In essence to keep Chandrika on the back burner.

However when the event did come to a close and the President was making his way out, mayhem broke out. There were very loud hoots against Chandrika and she was being openly abused in “the choicest of the Sinhala language”.

A Pradeshya Sabah member from Nikaweratiya who tried to defend Chandrika, was assaulted and was hurt in the process. Many were heard telling Chandrika that Mahinda was their real leader and that she is trying to discredit their leader (Mahinda) like she had done on TV a few days before that (in Gampaha).

Thanks in large part to the security detail of the President, Chandrika was able to leave without injuries but a rather damaged ego making up.

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