Atheists and nonbelievers in karma will have their work cut out to explain what is happening on Sri Lanka’s political front, especially the predicament of key political leaders and their parties struggling either to redo what they once undid or to undo what they did. Take, for example, SLPP MP and former President Maithripala Sirisena, who has undertaken the uphill task of revitalizing the SLFP, whose downfall he brought about, in one fell swoop, for expediency, six years ago.

Sirisena is doing his darndest to undo the damage he inflicted on the SLFP. He was the General Secretary of the SLFP at the time of his defection to the Opposition to realize his presidential dream. The SLFP suffered a massive setback, when Sirisena brought down the UPFA coalition led by it, immediately after being sworn in as the President in January 2015. The UPFA government had 142 MPs at the time of his decampment, as opposed to the UNP’s 47, but Sirisena appointed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe Prime Minister. He himself mentioned this fact in a recent television interview in a bid to prove his point that the UNP was indebted to him for its five-year stint in power. He meant it to be a boastful claim, but it in effect amounted to an unwitting admission that he ruined the SLFP. In fact, the UNP’s alliance with the SLFP proved to be the proverbial kiss of death for both parties. The UNP is lying supine with no prospect of recovery in the foreseeable future.

The SLFP has not recovered from the 2015 setback, when Sirisena’s takeover of its leadership led to a crippling split. Today, it is riding on the coattails of its offshoot, the SLPP, and its leaders including Sirisena suffer many indignities at the hands of their SLPP counterparts. Hardly a day passes without an SLPP politician taking a swipe at either Sirisena or some other SLPP senior. It is a pitiable sight to see a former President sitting in the parliament and being ridiculed in this manner. Some SLPP ministers are publicly asking the SLFP to leave the government! Never in his wildest dream would Sirisena ever have bargained for a situation like this when he was elected President.

Sirisena went all out to sack the UNP-led yahapalana government in 2018, claiming that it had failed. His effort did not succeed as he and Mahinda Rajapaksa could not muster a working majority in the parliament, and the Supreme Court deemed the sacking of the UNF government unconstitutional. Curiously, facing a hostile campaign by the SLPP, he has claimed in the parliament, recently, that the yahapalana government should not be blamed for everything that had gone wrong for the country, and its achievements were so many that even a seminar could be held to discuss them. If so, why did he break ranks with the UNP and try to bring down the yahapalana government in 2018?

The Rajapakasas’ nemesis

The previous Rajapaksa regime (2005 to 2015) earned notoriety for wasteful expenditure, especially of previous foreign exchange, which has always been in short supply in this country. The situation took a turn for the worse after 2010, when the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa won a second term and secured a two-thirds majority in the parliament. Lured by kickbacks, that administration invested borrowed dollars in mega projects, some of which have become white elephants. Leaders of the yahapalana government including the then President Sirisena accused the Rajapaksa family of having stashed away a great deal of funds at the expense of the economy. They could not substantiate their allegations, but the general consensus is that corruption was rampant during the Mahinda Rajapaksa government, and its leaders enriched themselves at the expense of the country.

Today, the Rajapaksa family has had to straighten up the economy, which is believed to have suffered immensely due to corruption, enormous waste and reckless borrowing on their watch, and to shore up the dwindling foreign exchange reserves. Basil Rajapaksa as the Finance portfolio is running around desperately to raise funds. Perhaps, there could not be a severer punishment for anyone than to be Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister at this juncture!

If the previous Rajapaksa government had managed the country’s foreign reserves frugally and refrained from obtaining foreign loans at commercial rates, and investing them in useless projects, the incumbent dispensation and the country would have been free from foreign exchange woes, which are so severe that whether the country will be able to import essentials including fuel, food and medicines, at all, a few months hence, is anybody’s guess. It needs to be added in the same breath that the yahapalana government, too, mismanaged the economy considerably and did little to strengthen the country’s foreign reserves, which it utilized to service debt among other things; moreover, corruption thrived on its watch as evident from the Treasury bond scams.

The Rajapaksas surely did not expect things to get this bad when they made a comeback in 2019, but it has so happened that they are facing the consequences of their previous actions, and their popularity has plummeted as never before. They find themselves in an unenviable position, and if they fail to overcome the daunting challenges on the economic front, doomed will be their political dynasty. They have had to do what they condemned their predecessors for—the sale/lease of state assets to foreigners to raise funds. Chief Opposition Whip and SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella has gone on record as saying that the government has agreed to hand over the Trincomalee oil tank farm to India in return for financial assistance. Prime land in Colombo Fort has also been leased to Chinese companies, according to media reports.

TNA’s plight

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been really busy, meeting some Colombo-based foreign envoys and visiting dignitaries from the western countries, and urging them to pressure the government to grant its demands. One of its complaints is that the Provincial Council (PC) elections have been inordinately delayed. But what it has left unsaid is that it is trying to undo what it did about four years ago.

In 2017, the TNA cooperated with the UNF government to postpone the PC polls by helping amend the Provincial Council Elections Act. It is now going behind foreign envoys including the Indian High Commissioner, seeking their assistance to have the PC polls held soon. It would not have been in this predicament if it had acted out of principle rather than expediency, four years ago. It should not have given the UNF government carte blanche to put off the PC polls while advocating devolution of power as the solution to the ethnic problem.

During the SLFP-UNP honeymoon, the yahapalana government was scared of midterm elections, which it knew would threaten its unity, as it knew the SLFP and the UNP would have to contest separately and pit themselves against each other at an election. Together, they amended the Provincial Council Elections Act to put off the PC polls indefinitely and the amendment Bill was loaded with sections without judicial approval. The TNA and the JVP voted for the Bill, which was carried. The success of their strategy was short-lived as there was no way they could postpone the local government elections scheduled for April 2018 in a similar manner. The SLPP swept the mini polls and its victory marked the beginning of the end of the yahapalana rule so much so that a few months later President Sirisena himself threw in his lot with the Rajapaksa family.

UNP and Ranil

The Grand Old Party is simply done for so much so that stories are being floated via social media that it is mulling over an alliance with the government, a claim the UNP has vehemently denied. However, if the UNP recovers from its unprecedented electoral setbacks to the level of being able to win a future election at least within the next few years, it will be a miracle.

Former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is trying to rebuild the UNP, which he ruined by sticking to its leadership, and undermining others, for nearly three decades. Having lost his seat at the 2020 general election, and entered the parliament thanks to his late uncle, President J. R. Jayewardene, who introduced the National List mechanism, Wickremesinghe has taken upon himself the Sisyphean task of strengthening what remains of the UNP’s support base. All his trusted lieutenants, save a handful, have deserted him; they are now in the SJB. His predicament is due to his refusal to come to terms with the fact that there comes a time when everyone has to retire, or to let deserving others come up and play leadership roles in any organization.

Wickremesinghe is also facing the consequences of his actions like his counterparts in other political parties. One tends to attribute their predicament to some mind of divine punishment or karmic forces although it goes against the grain to explain complex phenomena, political or otherwise, in terms of such religio-philosophical concepts.


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