By Kassapa 

Every country, it is said, gets the government it deserves. In addition, Sri Lanka appears to have the misfortune of getting an opposition it does not deserve, going by the recent antics of its main opposition party, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and particularly its leader Sajith Premadasa.

Premadasa was ridiculed by the government and Ranil Wickremesinghe for not accepting the Premiership when it was first offered to him by then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the height of the ‘aragalaya’ in mid-2022.

Premadasa had his reasons. He baulked at the prospect of governing with the corrupt cabal of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) who have a parliamentary majority. Unlike Wickremesinghe who is at the tail end of his political career, Premadasa had to look at the longer term of possibly about another two decades in politics and what the impact of being a Prime Minister under Gotabaya Rajapaksa and a SLPP-led government would have on his career. Most importantly, no one could then foresee that Rajapaksa would be forced to flee and that the Prime Minister would become President.

To take that argument to its logical conclusion, even if Premadasa had accepted the offer and become Prime Minister, would the SLPP have elected him as President in the manner they elected Wickremesinghe? Most certainly not, for Premadasa would not be amenable to the many deals Wickremesinghe hatched with the Rajapaksas to get to the Presidency.

One cannot therefore blame Premadasa for the refusal of the Premiership in 2022. Considering how Wickremesinghe’s popularity has plummeted since taking on the Presidency, one can in fact say that it was a smart and far-sighted move by Premadasa.

It is now however that Premadasa appears to be losing his way politically, with a presidential election only a few months away. Ironically it is also not because his standing or popularity is under threat from Wickremesinghe or his government but because of the apparent rise of the Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB).

Premadasa has gone into panic mode. He is worried that his presidential candidacy will be derailed for a second time, this time by the JJB and its candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayake. So, his response has been to enrol anyone and everyone who wishes to join the SJB.

There is nothing wrong with getting the support of high-profile personalities with charisma and integrity into your party prior to an election. It elevates the image of the party, making it more attractive to the masses. It is a tried and tested tactic the world over. However, such persons should be chosen with care and their credentials should be carefully scrutinised before they are made welcome.

Premadasa is doing the exact opposite of that. He is extending invitations to politicians with extensive links to the SLPP and particularly to the failed regime of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Examples are G.L. Peiris, Nalaka Godahewa, Channa Jayasumana and Daya Ratnayaka.

Peiris, is another S.B. Dissanayake, though cloaked in academic garb, specialising in cross-overs so he could remain in government, no matter what the government is. He was the Chairman of the corrupt SLPP. He has been in governments led by Chandrika Kumaratunga, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, such is his political flexibility. He is the kind of politician the voters now love to hate- and he has no vote base because he often sneaks into Parliament through the National List.

Godahewa was a principal architect of the ‘Viyathmaga’ which propelled Gotabaya Rajapaksa into power and promptly enacted policy changes that plunged the country into an economic precipice. He is now Premadasa’s principal economic advisor, sidelining the likes of Harsha de Silva, Eran Wickramaratne and Kabir Hashim. Premadasa seems to think that the policies of the latter are too close to Wickremesinghe’s. Is reverting to Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s policies the best response to that when the whole country knows what a disaster that was?

Jayasumana it was who first cried foul about Dr. Shafi Shihabdeen claiming the latter was performing forced sterilisations of Sinhalese women. As a medical doctor, Jayasumana would have known this was not physically possible but he said so anyway and so began the anti-Muslim hype that propelled Gotabaya Rajapaksa into power. He is the typical SLPP politician who, lacking in charisma and competence, uses the race card instead to get elected.

Ratnayake too was a chosen acolyte of the Rajapaksas. It was he who summarised evidence against Sarath Fonseka when he was court martialled. He was appointed first as Chairman of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority and then as the Secretary to the Ministry of Industries by Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He is being welcomed to the SJB Premadasa perhaps with the intention of sidelining Fonseka who has not taken kindly to this. Being the loose cannon that he is, Fonseka has let out a barrage of criticism that threatens the unity of the SJB.

Apart from inviting individuals who are viewed as toxic by the public, the infiltration of the SJB by these ‘outsiders’ has another impact. Damaged goods they may be but most of these politicians have a high profile and their names are instantly recognisable. As a result, on a district list, they have a higher chance of getting more preference votes -and therefore a greater chance of getting elected, than tried and tested sitting SJB MPs who have stood with the party during its difficult days in the opposition.

These MPs are now worried that their prospects of getting re-elected would be seriously jeopardised and are reconsidering their options. On the other side of the political divide, President Ranil Wickremesinghe is waiting with open arms, waiting to welcome them because they were, after all, once his proteges.

What will happen next is very predictable. The more Premadasa shifts towards enlisting newcomers, more sitting SJB MPs would gravitate towards Wickremesinghe at the time of the next parliamentary election. Just as much as Premadasa took a faction of Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) and formed the SJB, Wickremesinghe is now about to take a faction of the SJB back to the UNP.

This is why Sri Lankans should be worried: not because their government is incompetent but because their opposition is even more incompetent than its government and appears hellbent on committing political suicide.        


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