The recent UPFA Anuradapura meeting did not see hundreds of CTB buses, transporting supporters as were the case in the presidential election. But the crowds appeared bigger and were definitely larger than the UNP meeting in Kandy. And this was after Sirisena had back-stabbed his own party three times, in the process becoming irrelevant in the future.
The most revealing of Sirisena’s three back stabbings (“hopper” turnarounds) was the speech that he delivered after the MR nomination for Parliament. Sirisena said that he, the party’s leader, will not be supporting his party’s candidates at the coming election, becoming the only leader in the world not supporting his own party. Sirisena also said that he dissolved Parliament to prevent the defeat of Ranil at a no-confidence motion on the bond scam and that he had been against granting nomination for Rajapaksa when the vast majority of UPFA members wanted MR. He was clearly not loyal to his party and the question is who really are his masters. Let us recall.
The coalition of improbable and contradictory forces brought together by local and external forces for Sirisena has collapsed. The UPFA/SLFP grass root pressure for MR with all MR’s faults had built up so much that Sirisena, the nominee of the UNP, Chandrika and foreign forces including foreign spy agency NGOs buckled under. This was the second “hopper” betrayal by Sirisena as he betrayed those foreign forces, who brought him to power. The UNP which had not been informed of his turnaround was furious. Chandrika spat venom on TV and left in a huff to London. The JHU left the UPFA. Ratana’s aide was arrested for drug trafficking. The SLFP Treasurer, Navinna joined the UNP. Well paid social media propagandists for the Sirisena election were furious. Several of these now betrayed by Sirisena joined the UNP camp. Meanwhile, pavement hawkers were back only a few weeks after Colombo was voted number one. The government press attacked the decision to promote MR indicating who actually controlled the government media-Sirisena or Ranil.
The Hundred Days (okay, it was not 100, much more) resembled one of those films where locals and spies struggle on a cliff’s edge. There was credible talk that the American CIA, Indian RAW and the British secret services getting involved in regime change while the Chinese looked on. This fight had twists and turns. Firstly, there was Mahinda Rajapaksa, deemed unassailable when he called for an election two years before the due date – on the advice of his astrologer. And there was his “obedient” Cabinet supporting all his decision still the last moment of backstabbing. A colorless Sirisena who had hitherto sung all the praises of MR including calling him a “Real Maharaja”, now had his last supper (of hoppers) with Rajapaksa, knifed MR and announced his campaign. Sirisena declared that the MR family owned helicopters, a son had bought a horse from Buckingham Palace which he flew to Nuwara Eliya and another owned expensive Lamborghinis. All were found to be total lies. He continued the lies when he declared in the 70th birthday felicitation for Chandrika saying the latter never stole, although she was found guilty by the Supreme Court. And the biggest thievery by her was giving Sri Lanka’s territory to the LTTE.
As the new minority UNP government ruled, an unelected Executive Council of anti-MR forces acted as an unconstitutional law enforcer. On election as President, Sirisena swore in the minority UNP’s Ranil as Prime Minister while Sirisena’s own party had much greater numbers. This was also while Jayaratne, his own party’s PM, was still in office. Lawyers comment that this was irregular, if not illegal. Other questionable events followed quickly. The Chief Justice Mohan Pieris who came in after the injunction of Shirani Bandaranayake, was removed as the pro-UNP faction of the Bar Association acted out mob rule. Bandaranayake herself had been hurriedly removed by the MR regime but with the formalities of a Parliamentary injunction. She was now brought back and immediately replaced by the new Chief Justice, again raising issues of legality and propriety.
At dissolution, the “100 days” government had shown its many contradictions and cracks. The economy was stalling, infrastructure building stopped, and basic services like garbage collection was being delayed (I live barely 300 yards from Sirisena’s new palace but the garbage collector now comes only rarely). And the helicopters flying over my house seem at times roughly the same as during the time of MR. Sirisena and his supporters had campaigned to bring supremacy to Parliament but in its last week’s Parliament had virtually come to a halt.
The primacy of international forces on Sirisena was revealed when possibly the two closest local advisers to Sirisena, Champika Ranawaka and Rajitha Senaratne heard of the Parliament dissolution only after Indian and Western diplomats had been informed by Sirisena. And the JVP, presumably Marxist and so against Western imperialism and Indian sub-imperialism had also fallen into the Western line. Seemed so far away from the time the JVP got 41 seats in parliament. These all appeared to recall how the US regularly changed governments in Latin and Central America and did coups in Vietnam and Iran to prevent their majority coming to power. The nearest parallel in Sri Lanka was perhaps the 1962 attempted coup by essentially Catholic officers in our Army, disgruntled by the nationalist changes in the mid-1950s.
Rajapaksa had partly helped bring about his own downfall. If the greatest threat to MR was from the West and India, he had manned our foreign service within except cronies and relatives. The latter came under the heel of Sajin Vaas Gunawaradane who from some accounts had been the equivalent of a wharf clerk in Dubai before befriending MR. Most of these personnel had had no contacts with opinion making groups in those countries such as in universities and foreign policy think tanks. To expect them to defend Sri Lanka and MR was plainly stupid as the West angry at MR for not heeding their demands to stop the war and not completely defeat the LTTE. Tamara Kunanayakam, our best envoy in Geneva (and incidentally without any connections to foreign intelligence like India’s RAW) had concluded that the “US seeks to eventually partition Sri Lanka”. MR’s casual disregard of the foreign front was seen when he first visited the UN General Assembly accompanied by nearly a plane-load of his favorites. To understand more, we must go further back.
MR had taken over after the disastrous 2001- 2003 Chandrika/Ranil government with its Norwegian/LTTE crafted CFA. And later were Chandrika’s pro LTTE initiatives of P-TOMs, and ISGA. (Chandrika had earlier promised 10 years of rule to the LTTE.) The CFA had given de-facto control of large parts of the country to the LTTE, essentially no-go areas to key Sri Lanka government organs. And the LTTE began erecting all the institutions for a separate state. The commitment to the defense of the country of Chandrika was seen when, as she was rushing to the airport, Kolonnawa oil tanks were attacked by the LTTE but she did not turn back. (With the recent MR nomination, she again fled to the airport).
The 2009 war victory and consequent massive popularity had ensured MR an easy winning the 2010 election. He could have then entered the ranks of statesmen. But through the 18th Amendment, he removed the brakes on a third term and strengthened provisions for arbitrary rule. This included an enormous budget for the President’s department whose details were not revealed to the public. And while doing nothing against the un-Buddhist BBS, he lost the Muslims who had supported the war against the LTTE and had hailed his support for the Palestine cause. Yet, a high rate of development, especially in infrastructure occurred. This was reminiscent of the building of super highways in the US after World War II or the building in Germany of Autobahns after World War I, both leading to economic booms. The Sri Lanka high growth was facilitated by China’s help.
Behind the MR’s façade, elements in his own group were plotting his downfall. Asoka Abeygunarwardana a JHU ideologue has written that their “stabbing process” had started in January 2013. The LTTE mouthpiece Tamil Net reported that an understanding had been reached in 2013 in a meeting in Singapore where it noted Mangala Samaraweera had come “as a ‘beggar’ urging Tamil support for regime change”. Others in the Singapore meeting included elements of the Tamil Diaspora, the Global Tamil Forum and Sri Lanka based Tamil and others including Colombo University personnel. Other Colombo University personnel later wrote how they too had planned the overthrow. Chandrika in a triumphant mood recalled how she helped the plot. News appeared how she as a member of the Clinton Foundation whose Hillary Clinton had promoted the “US Tilt to Asia” to counter China probably gave her Western contacts. These charges appeared unsurprising when I recall how around 15 to 20 years ago, a group of us in New York were asked by the father of the disgraced Sri Lankan Raj Rajaratnam whether we wanted to see Chandrika’s proposals for the Tamils. I said no, simply because I thought how would Rajaratnam Senior have had access, unless the proposals were jointly written with separatist groups by Chandrika. These suspicions were confirmed, when on election Chandrika started giving in to the LTTE agenda.
On Sirisena coming to power, there was a spate of accusations and arrests for financial impropriety of the MR regime by a new agency FCID, appointed directly under the Ranil Cabinet. According to some, this political FCID was not legally binding and some of the accused have gone to courts against it. After dissolution Ranil now says that he will on reelection in August bring laws to make the FCID legal. The FCID did not go into the Central Bank bond scam under Ranil. Publicity was given of alleged tens of billions of dollars that the MR family had stashed away overseas-an improbable figure much higher than Sri Lanka’s total revenue and so a complete fiction. At first sight, the charges appeared believable because of the MR family having tight control on many decisions (and in the future some charges might even be proved). More believable were the government monies spent to buy potential opinion makers on large-scale tamashas (dansalas) at MR’s Temple Trees. That did not help this time. The accusations of corruption were carried by those who all had been members of the cabinet (including Sirisena, Champika, Ratana, and Rajitha) and who were therefore collectively responsible. The infrastructure development projects were now stopped especially those funded by the Chinese.
Sirisena’s mental attitude to foreigners was revealed when on return from his visit to the UK, he proudly declared to his SLFP that the British Queen had shaken hands with him without gloves. This is ignorance and revealing a slavish attitude, I have seen the British Queen twice at close quarters when two close relatives met her, and she shakes hands without gloves. Commenting on the same UK visit, Sirisena mentioned slavishly again that British PM Cameron had come to his car to greet him. But Cameron personally comes to the car when heads of states visit. I felt so ashamed.
Fast forward “100 Days” and some of the promises were kept and others not. Of the promised reduction in prices, the most touted were those of fuel prices. This was not surprising as around the world fuel prices had collapsed and every country dropped fuel prices. Eventually no significant faults in infrastructure developments like expressways and the ports including the port city had been found and the Sirisena/Ranil government quietly restarted them. Just after dissolution, Sirisena and Mangala restarted the construction of Matara-Hambantota expressway with the 19th, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was largely undone, but nominations to the independent commissions were not forthcoming. Sirisena’s nominee, Champika was objected to. Of the three non-political appointees, only Saleem seemed to fit the bill.
Radhika Coomaraswamy’s NGO had advocated R2P- a new colonial code for Western armed intervention. And Sarvodaya’s Ariyaratne was no supporter of transparency as he had avoided appearing before the Premadasa appointed Commission on NGOs when huge frauds came to light. And Sarvodaya in cahoots with the Norwegians had illegally settled in the Vanni those Indians being sent back to India under the Sirima-Shastri Pact. These became the last soldiers of the LTTE. Of the “Right to Information” provisions, significantly the NGOs had been left out of the draft bill precisely because if details of their money sources were out, some of the connections to foreign spy agencies would be revealed. The 20th Amendment was dropped. And Parliament was dissolved in a hurry as Sirisena admits, to prevent the no-confidence motions against Ranil and Ravi.
In the coming weeks, this drama written on a foreign script would be played out.MR had said that he had learnt lessons including on the BBS and hopefully on the mistakes of concentration of power and neglect of the foreign front. But over the last six months, since he lost he had risen up as an underdog through an exercise in back-to-basics politics like in the US primaries. Soon after his defeat, crowds came to see him. I checked several times and they were not transported crowds like during his last election. The meetings organized by his supporters to bring him back gathered momentum and the huge Matara meeting was an eye opener. Another was the large May Day meeting by MR’s supporters. In contrast, the Sirisena May Day was a flop. It would appear that MR and his group could now have the edge. But to his lessons learnt should be added upgrading the thinking apparatus of this country, a major factor in developing self-confidence. I do academic travel often (on invitation) and I can see the huge difference between local and say, Indian intelligentsia. MR, build the locals and forget your cronies and forget the insulting dansal. They will then not become prey for NGO and foreign spy money. More important, they will be the best defense for you and the country.
The current election campaign has brought the contradictions between the two leaders of the UPFA, Sirisena and Rajapaksa. Indian media reported that the anti-Rajapakse group that defected to the UNP did so with the blessings of Sirisena. Sirisena has now declared that he will not support parliamentary bids of his own UPFA candidates, the majority of whom are with Rajapaksa. If the UPFA gets the majority, it will be against Ranil and Sirisena. Sirisena has already become isolated from his own party, and as he admits attacked as a “dhushtaya, drohiya and pavadenna”, “villain and betrayer”. He further declares that “There has not been a President who has been insulted like I have been”. The coming Parliament will not be stable. Sirisena and the country are in an unenviable situation. And Sirisena has already become irrelevant seemingly only a greedy puppet on foreign strings.