The Sunday Leader

The Rise And Fall Of Once-Mighty UPFA

By Santhush Fernando

(Continued from last part)

Lasantha Wickrematunge, Upali Tennakoon and Prageeth Eknaligoda

After strategically winning the 2005 Presidential Election, Mahinda Rajapaksa sought to solidify his position within the Freedom Alliance.

Presidential sibling and 2005 Presidential Election Campaign Manager Basil Rohana Rajapaksa was appointed Senior Presidential Advisor and his younger brother  Retired Lieutenant Colonel Nandasena Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, RWP, RSP, psc, was appointed Defence Secretary in November 2005. Basil was also appointed the National Organiser of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. and in September 2007, he was appointed to parliament upon the death of a national list MP.

Eldest brother in the family Chamal Rajapaksa was given the much-coveted Ministry of Ports and Aviation.

Although few days after Rajapaksa’s election LTTE supreme Velluppillai Prabhakaran announced that he would give Rajapaksa regime a chance, limited hostilities renewed in December 2005. With these attacks on the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and Rajapaksa’s inability to take any action, hard-line Sinhalaese too began to view Rajapaksa as a weak leader.

However, tables turned on April 26, 2006, with the unsuccessful suicide bomb attack on battle-hardened Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka. The Rajapaksas have been smart ever since, but their opportune moment came in July 2006, whence the LTTE engaged in an ill-conceived pressure tactic that went awry when it closed the Mavil Aru anicut depriving several thousand of Sinhalese villagers of Seruwavila in the Eastern Province of water. The Rajapaksa duo seized this opportunity to settle scores with Prabhakaran and launched a humanitarian operation to salvage first the villagers and then the Muttur town which was surrounded by Tigers. Thus with the Muttur campaign, war from Jaffna to Ampara flared up in all parts of the country.


First opposition

But rather than softening up and opening up his regime to reforms, Rajapaksa decided that not only pro-Tiger elements should be eliminated if the Rajapaksa dynasty was to rule Sri Lanka, but all opposition both within and outside government, foreign or domestic. Within days, Sripathi Sooriyarachchi was arrested by the Criminal Investigations Division of the Police on a charge of misappropriation of state property and remanded.

Strangely enough, a road accident which led to Sripathi Sooriyarachchi’s death occurred exactly on February 9, 2008, the first year anniversary of the MP’s crossing over after denouncing Mahinda Rajapaksa whom he called the ‘dictator president’.


Suppression of media

Although pro-LTTE media and Tamil journalists perceived to be sympathetic to the Tigers had been intermittently targeted in the south since the outbreak of the civil war in 1983, marking another red letter day in the history of media, the Standard Newspaper Private Limited owned by Mangala Samaraweera confidante Tiran Alles which published Mawbima, and Sunday Standard was sealed, and its accounts were frozen within days after Mangala-Sripathi split. Alles had been Rajapaksa confidante one-time.

A Tamil journalist attached to Mawbima Munusamy Parameshwaree who had been detained over three months as an act of retaliation for Mangala’s defection, was ordered to be released by the Supreme Court for lack of evidence against her. In addition, its Finance Director Dushyantha Basnayake, was arrested and incarcerated by the Rajapaksa regime under Prevention of Terrorism Act.

With criticism in mainstream media mounting against his wanton corruption, Rajapaksa was hell-bent further suppressing dissent violently, making journalists among the targets of government-sanctioned abuse.


Regime resorts to elimination

All these gruesome attacks and brutal killings culminated with cold blooded murder of the founding Editor of The Sunday Leader newspaper Lasantha Manilal Wickrematunge who was brutally stabbed at Attidiya by a killer squad of eight riding on four motor cycles on January 8, 2009, strangely in the precincts of a high security zone.

Following Wickrematunge’s murder, editor of the Rivira newspaper Upali Tennakoon was stabbed and nearly killed in the presence of his wife, who soon got the message of the regime and fled Sri Lanka. In the run up to the 2010 Presidential Election, senior journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda was abducted allegedly by high-ranking military personnel possibly proving a link to the then administration.


Strengthening the hands of President

Although after its maiden general election in 2004, UPFA barely managed with 106 seats, it even lost the race to elect Speaker ultimately which led W. J. M. Lokubandara, the opposition’s candidate, being elected as the Speaker after three dramatic rounds of parliamentary voting.

In addition, during the rule of his predecesJust as he managed to sweep all retaliation over any opposition against him in the pretext of strengthening the ‘humanitarian operation’, for the first time in the history of parliamentary politics, a notion of ‘strengthening the hands of President Rajapaksa in his fight against terrorism’ came into being.


Jumbo Cabinet swells further

Just few days after his election, on December 14, 2005, CWC MP Vadivel Suresh joined UPFA, creating a wave of crossovers from Opposition to Rajapaksa’s side. On January 25, 2006, two United National Party MPs, Keheliya Rambukwella and Mahinda Samarasinghe, joined UPFA only to be joined by 18 more on January 28 2007 – Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Rohitha Bogollagama, P. Dayaratna, R. M. Dharmadasa Banda, Navin Dissanayake, Edward Gunaserkara, Bandula Gunawardane, Karu Jayasuriya, Gamini Lokuge, M. H. Mohamed, Milinda Moragoda, M. Mohamed Musthaffa, Hemakumara Nanayakkara, Neomal Perera, G. L. Peiris, Rajitha Senaratne, C. A. Suriyaarachchi, Mano Wijeyeratne, and Mahinda Wijesekara joined despite an understanding between UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa to support the government. Six SLMC MPs join on January 30, 2007 whilst eight MPs of the Jathika Hela Urumaya too extended their support to Rajapaksa.

Although another blow came on December 12, 2007 with four SLMC MPs – Hasen Ali, Cassim Faizal, Rauff Hakeem, and Basheer Segu Dawood – crossing over to the opposition, Rajapaksa managed to command the loyalty of the remaining two SLMC MPs.


Causing JVP split

Causing all major parties to split loyalties and rewarding pro-MR MPs with portfolios, Rajapaksa managed to cause defections within all major parties in the country from the JHU, the UNP, the SLMC, the JVP, and even the TNA.

In December 2008 Rajapaksa toasted the victory when his regime caused the JVP to split. 12 MPs left the JVP led by firebrand JVP MP Wimal Weerawansa and formed the National Freedom Front joining to ‘strengthen Rajapaksa’s hands’. Weerawansa steadfastly continued to back Rajapaksa even after his defeats at 2015 Presidential Election and 2015 General Election.


Maneuvering pc elections

Between 2008 and 2009, Rajapaksa held provincial council elections in eight of the country’s provinces, except the Northern Province. This was a crafty tactic by Rajapaksa to hold elections in different provinces on a staggered basis, a break in the usual protocol of holding PC elections for the whole country on one particular day. Rajapaksa regime positioned these as referendum on the on-going civil war executed by UPFA and the public responded likewise. This tactic worked and riding high on war victory, UPFA recorded resounding victories in all eight PCs.

The first was the Eastern Provincial Council election held in May 2008 to elect members to a province from which the LTTE had been routed out on July 10, 2007. Six months before, in January 2007, a fundamental rights petition was filed in the Supreme Court which ruled that the Eastern Province be demerged from the Northern Province, which was also a blessing for Rajapaksa. UPFA managed to win all three districts and polled 20 seats or 52.21% of the votes polled.

Likewise in August 2008, Rajapaksa bagged the North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces and in February 2009 clinched the Central and North Western Provincial Councils riding high on the capture of Tiger’s hitherto de-facto capital Killinochchi. The regime continued to muster victories in the Western Provincial Council in April 2009, and bagged the Uva Provincial Council in August and the Southern Provincial Council in October, after the complete eradication of the LTTE in May 2009.


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