It was evident from the time the present government came into power that the UNP as a collective entity was not in its proper senses. In 2001, when much the same individuals in the UNP came into power, they were a stabilising force which doused the flames that had been ignited by Chandrika Kumaratunga in during her blighted seven years in power from 1994 to 2001. At that time, it was the UNP that put an end to the cycle of political reprisals and revenge taking between the UNP and the SLFP and also nursed the devastated economy back to some degree of stability after CBK had run it to the ground. After 2015 however, the old cycle of persecution and reprisals that we thought we had seen the last of after 2001 has resumed with a vengeance under the very UNP that put a temporary stop to it in 2001. We have to assume that the UNP which was a sane and stabilising force in 2001 has taken leave of their senses after 2015.
The clearest sign of this was the stormy joint session of the UNP working committee and the parliamentary group last Thursday which was held to discuss the conduct of Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe. It had been akin to a feeding frenzy – no less, with virtually every one who spoke, tearing into Rajapakshe and no one rising to his defence. There was no let up even in the ‘voice cuts’ given by UNP Ministers and parliamentarians after the meeting. They were all out for Minister Rajapakshe’s blood and wanted him out of the Justice Minister’s job. The events that took place in this Joint session of the UNP working committee and parliamentary group was best summed up by SLFP deputy minister Nimal Lanza who used the phrase ‘gon relak’ (herd of bovines) to describe those baying for Rajapakshe’s blood. And indeed that was the most appropriate way to describe the collective conduct of today’s UNP.
Both the SLFP and the Joint Opposition have already said that they will not be supporting any motion of no confidence brought by the UNP against Wijayadasa Rajapakshe. The draft resolution that was unanimously accepted expressed a lack of confidence in Rajapakshe for five reasons the gist of which was as follows:
2. Failure to bring in new laws to curb corruption as pledged in the UNF manifesto
3. Failure to introduce laws to nationalize the proceeds of crime
4. The displeasure expressed by the people due to the inordinate delays in concluding criminal cases.
5. The fact that the UNP has been brought into disrepute among the people due to the conduct of the Justice Minister.
A final decision about his fate is to be announced tomorrow and Rajapakshe is also expected to make a public statement. Whether the UNP leader will be able to resist the moves being made to remove Rajapakshe is yet to be seen. Even though Rajapakshe does not have the support of the persons deputy minister Lanza described as ‘bovines’, he has the unstinted support of the SLFP, the Joint Opposution and the Buddhist establishment. In fact Rajapakshe has never been in as high demand as he is at present and this controversy has not brought him down but actually taken him to new heights. Even if his colleagues in the UNP want him out, will the President who is obviously aware of the unstinted support that Rajapakshe has from the Buddhist establishment, consent to remove him from the cabinet?
UNP’s self-destructive impulse
The reason why the UNP is out for his blood is because he has not been expediting legal proceedings against the Rajapaksas and their followers. Obviously, what the UNP expects him to do is to direct the affairs of the AG’s Dept and even the judiciary in such a manner as to give priority to the cases against the political opponents of the UNP. No senior lawyer with any sense of responsibility will ever try to do anything like that as that will undermine the very foundations of the law. Minister Rajapakshe has explained that trying to single out cases pertaining to the Rajapaksas and their followers will go against the principles of the equal application of the law and the presumption of innocence – both of which have been enshrined in our constitution. What is quite surprising is that there is virtually nobody in the UNP who seems to be willing to take a rational approach to things.
During the first days of this government, only the UNP was acting rationally while the JVP and JHU were running amok. Only a handful of UNP politicians went on ‘raids’ in the first couple of days and that too stopped quite quickly. Usually, after an election, there are a few days of disturbances. Under this government, things were never allowed to settle down and normalize. The UNP started playing ducks and drakes after the JVP and JHU had quietened down. Where the UNP started losing its marbles was when the FCID was set up with a committee made up of politicians and political activists to direct complaints to it. This committee was made up of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe as its head, with Ministers Mangala Samaraweera, Champika Ranawaka, Rauff Hakeem, and parliamentarians Anura Kumara Dissanayake, R. Sampanthan, M. A. Sumanthiran, Sarath Fonseka, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, J. C. Weliamuna and Malik Samarawickrema. The Urgent Response unit of this committee was made up of MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake as its Coordinator the urgent response team comprised of financial specialists and officers of the CID among others.
We saw this insanity at its height last Thursday. Even though the UNP has been collectively gnawing at its own backside because of the lack of progress with regard to any of the cases against the Rajapaksas, there are cogent reasons for why this has happened. Firstly, there is the issue that virtually all allegations of corruption made against the Rajapaksas during the elections were completely false. Most, if not all the allegations they are being investigated on now are new accusations that came up after the elections. Even with regard to these allegations, evidence is in short supply which is why these cases are not making much headway either at the level of police investigations or court cases. Quite a few cases have been filed without a snowflake’s chance in hell of succeeding and there is no point in flogging the AG’s Dept. or the police investigative bodies for that.
In the meantime, the water seems to be closing over Ravi Karunanayeke. A new minister of foreign affairs has been appointed and the two lotteries institutions that were attached to the Foreign Ministry at his request have been given back to the Finance Ministry. Even though some speculated that Ravi K’s removal from the cabinet would only be temporary, it seems to be working out into a permanent situation. Ravi K’s main problem is that he has this scandal simply hanging over him with no likelihood of resolution any time soon. If it had been subject to court proceedings, he could have expected to be either declared guilty or acquitted. As it is, there are no legal proceedings against him and no way that he can shake off the allegations against him either.
The IGP has literally been in hiding since a video showing him threatening and manhandling an employee of police headquarters was leaked to the media. With the whole government having collectively taken leave of their senses, one cannot really expect the IGP have his wits about him. We have an IGP that suits the government he serves under. The whole apparatus of the Constitutional Council with representatives from the government as well as the opposition was set up with the expectation that the best candidate for high positions would be appointed. Yet on appointing this IGP, everything seems to have gone horribly wrong. From the very beginning, it was obvious that he was not suited for the position of IGP. When the IGP was appointed by presidential fiat in the past, there were no jokers like this holding such a high position because he would have been removed by presidential fiat. The mere fact that the IGP is still holding office, and that the police spokesman has had to trot out lame excuses on his behalf, is an indictment of the whole system.
Govt. will need miracle to win Sabaragamuwa, NCP
The reduction of taxes on mobile data usage, on Japanese made motorcycles and on single cabs and mini-trucks is an indication that the government is gearing up for the inevitable elections. There’s less that six weeks to go for the automatic dissolution of the Sabaragamuwa, North Central and Eastern provinces. The desperation of this government to avoid holding elections was made evident by the fact that the 20th Amendment to the Costitution was gazetted to amend article 154E of the constitution so as to be able to extend the terms of the existing provincial councils until October 2019. This article 154E is the constitutional provision that brings about the automatic dissolution of the provincial councils once their five years is up. The mere fact that such an amendment was even contemplated shows how desperate the government is because there is such little chance of this Bill making it through the Supreme Court without a referendum being deemed to be necessary since the amendment impinges on Article 3.
The Thursday before last, the 20th Amendment was shot down by the SLFP central committee owing to an internal rebellion against it. That was not very surprising because a good part of the SLFP now serving in the government has openly announced their intention of decamping and joining the opposition and they would not do that after having voted to postpone an election. There is a good reason why the government is worried about these elections. At the presidential as well as the parliamentary elections in 2015, the UPFA won both the Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provinces. At the Presidential elections, Mahinda Rajapaksa obtained 281,161 votes to Maithripala Sirisena’s 238,407 in the Anuradhapura district. MR’s majority in that district was 42,754. In the Polonnaruwa district, MS got 147,974 votes to MR’s 105,640 and MS won the district with a majority of 42,334 votes. Overall, MR won the North Central province at the last presidential elections with a slim majority of 420 votes. With regard to the Sabaragamuwa Province, MR got 379,053 votes to 292,514 for MS in the Ratnapura district and won the district with a majority of 86,539 votes and in Kegalle MR got 278,130 votes to 252,533 for MS and the former won the district by 25,597 votes. MR thus won the Sabaragamuwa province with a majority of 112,136 votes.
At the Parliamentary election of August 2015, the UPFA won the Anuradhapura district with a majority of 16,793 with the UPFA getting 229,856 votes to the UNP’s 213,072. The Polonnaruwa district was won by the UNP with 118,845 votes to the UPFA’s 103,172, the majority being 15,673.Thus the province was won by the UPFA with a slim majority of 1,120 votes. In the Sabaragamuwa province, the UPFA got 323,636 votes to the UNP’s 284,117 in the Ratnapura district – the majority being 39, 519 votes. The Kegalle district was won by the UNP with 247,467 votes to the UPFA’s 227,208 which gave the UNP a majority of 20,259 votes. However, the UPFA won the Sabaragamuwa province with an overall majority of 19,260 votes. This was at the lowest point ever reached by MR and the UPFA. If after all the water that has flowed under the bridge since then, if the yahapalana government is able to win the Sabaragamuwa and NCP provincial councils, that will be nothing short of a miracle.
RW’s pitch for 2019
Many people viewed the various events held to mark Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s unbroken 40 years in parliament as his pitch for the presidential elections in 2019. Last week a photo exhibition depicting milestones in RW’s life was opened to the public. Ironically, any hope he may have of contesting the presidential elections in 2019 or ever enjoying unfettered power in this country, depends entirely on the elections to the three provincial councils to be held after October this year. Unless he turns Maithripala Sirisena into a cipher before Maithripala Sirisena turns him into a cipher, there’s going to be no presidential election for RW. The executive presidency itself may not be abolished as was promised by the yahapalanites unless Maithripala Sirisena’s group is trounced at an election and loses all bargaining power. So this election is in many respects as important for RW as it is for the JO.
The photo exhibition to mark his 40 years in parliament was ironically titled ‘Heta dakina Ranil’. This is a way of trying to establish the view that RW has a futuristic vision. There is no doubt that RW is a well read individual which cannot be said of many politicians these days. However it is also true that he is not in touch with ground realities in this country. And as far as political strategy is concerned, ‘heta’ is exactly what he has never been able to see – or even if he did see it, the very elements seem to conspire against him to ensure that he cannot capitalize on what he sees. He wanted to contest the 2015 presidential elections but allowed himself to be cajoled and blackmailed into not contesting even when it was very clear that the UNP was on an upward trend through the results of the Uva and Western PC elections in 2014. And now he is saddled with Maithripala Sirisena whose catchers are gobbling up everything that should rightfully have belonged to the UNP.
If RW is now trying to gear up for the next presidential elections with his 40 years in parliament celebrations, just imagine in what an unassailable position he would have been in today if he had contested the 2015 presidential elections even to lose. Even if MR had won that election, by now his government would be clearly on its way out and RW would have been the clear winner even before the next presidential election is declared. As for the next presidential elections, RW need not even bother because if he goes into 2019 in the present circumstances it is he who will be facing defeat even before the contest is announced. He will have not have even a fighting chance at a future presidential election unless he manages to abolish the executive presidency and forms a government with himself as its leader at least a year before the next presidential poll is due. Going for such a move too close to the elections will not yield results because then it will be seen as a break up of the government, not a case of the UNP asserting itself.
This is a period in which all the partners in the yahapalana coalition are groping their way around trying to map out survival strategies. The JHU had sent its special agent Ven Hedigalle Wimalasara thera to infiltrate the anti-government movement that has been taking shape by joining the anti-SAITM protests. Ven Wimalasara in fact is now a familiar presence at such protests. The JHU has also once again started talking about the Sinhalese. Last Friday, they put out a statement saying that this government does not have any mechanism in place to look after the interests of the majority community. The JHU was making public its reaction to the US State Department’s latest report on religious freedom where it had been claimed that this government (of which the JHU is a part) does not have any mechanism to safeguard the rights of minority religious communities.
This reports is said to have stated that the law had not been implemented in relation to bhikkus who are responsible for attacks on Muslim and Christian minorities. The JHU claims that in the past two years there had not been any serious attacks on minorities resulting in deaths or the destruction of property even though a few minor incidents had taken place. The JHU alleged that the State Dept. report had been based on false information provided by NGOs. The statement said that in the North and East, the rights of Buddhists were being violated. They have even claimed that nobody is looking into the discontent within the majority Buddhist community and that it has become fashionable to label organizations that talk of the rights of the Buddhists as religious extremists or chauvinists.
This statement is a clear case of trying to make political capital out of a situation they themselves created. Last week’s statement said nothing about the JHU’s own responsibility for bringing the present government into power and creating a situation where Buddhists in particular and the Sinhalese in general are being discriminated against. They criticize the US State Depatment for publishing reports tilted against the majority community. Yet they have said nothing about the way they knowingly or unknowingly fulfilled the wishes of the US government in 2014/15. The US Ambassador in Colombo at that time Michelle Sisson was one of those who was adamant that the 2015 presidential candidate should not be RW but a common candidate. Stalwarts of the JHU have publicly claimed that it was they who played the major role in getting Maithripala Sirisena to defect to the opposition. If such is the case, then the JHU has lent itself as an instrument of US policy in Sri Lanka wittingly or unwittingly. One would assume that if they had been only unwitting collaborators, they would by now have admitted their guilt.