Make no mistake, it was not from a position of strength that Dudley Sirisena was speaking against a government that had an all-powerful Executive President by virtue of the 20th Amendment and a steamroller two-thirds majority in Parliament that could rubber stamp any legislation that the Rajapaksas wanted enacted.



That is the question asked by many after the rice price fiasco that we saw unfold last week, demonstrating yet again that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is not the ‘weda karana ape viruwa’ or ‘our hero who gets things done’, if more evidence was at all needed after his debacle in handling the Covid-19 pandemic.

This was after Dudley Sirisena, rice mill owner, business magnate who heads the Araliya group of companies and most importantly, younger brother of former President Maithripala Sirisena who remains a member of the ruling coalition government, defiantly and publicly challenged the government.

It was only on the 2nd of September that the government issued a gazette decreeing the maximum retail price of various types of rice and also, sugar. This was in response to a public outcry at escalating prices, further aggravating the economic burdens that have been accumulating as a result of the pandemic.

A week later, the government raided several warehouses that stored rice in Polonnaruwa including those owned by Dudley Sirisena and State Minister Siripala Gamlath and took over massive stocks of rice. These included the ‘Araliya’ and ‘Nipuna’ warehouses, the latter being owned by Gamlath.

The President was obviously keen to let the public know about this ‘achievement’ because the Presidential Media Division said that “the Commissioner General of Essential Services Major General Senarath Nivunhella and Consumer Affairs Authority Chairman Major General Shantha Dissanayake personally conducted the raids after mill owners acted contrary to an agreement they reached with the government to release sufficient stocks to the market”.

A few weeks later, on September 28, Dudley Sirisena calls a media briefing and does the unthinkable: he simply announces the retail prices of rice and declares that these new prices- much higher than the previously gazetted prices- will be the price at which rice will be sold at in the market, effectively telling the President and the government, ‘it is we who run the show, not you’.

On the same day, rather than call Sirisena’s bluff and enforce what it had decreed earlier, the government does a ‘U’ turn: the Cabinet decides to withdraw the gazette notification, allowing Sirisena to have his way.

This chain of events made the government look incompetent and impotent and attracted much ridicule, some commentators saying that Dudley Sirisena had done what his elder brother Maithripala couldn’t do- make the Rajapaksa regime eat humble pie.

The elder Sirisena is, of course, eating a lot of humble pie these days. He is a silent spectator in the government holding on to a seat in Parliament by virtue of his popularity in the Polonnaruwa district. He has been accorded a front row seat but has been ignored for any position of authority and responsibility.

Maithripala Sirisena remains the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) but that party, which still holds the distinction of governing the country for the most number of years since independence, is now a shadow of its former powerhouse, being reduced to just more than a dozen Members of Parliament.


Sirisena (Snr.) is also ostracised by both the Rajapaksas and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. The former have never really forgiven him for challenging and then defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2015 presidential election. The latter has blackguarded him in public for destroying the party that her father founded and her mother nurtured.

The former President hardly makes a public comment on any issue and has studiously kept a low profile, avoiding controversy or discussion. He obviously wants to prevent any kind of conflict with the ruling cabal, lest his political future- or what is left of it- be in jeopardy.

The Rajapaksas do have a weapon up their sleeve which they can use against Maithripala Sirisena if and when they need to. That is the report of the Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the 2019 April Easter bomb attacks.

In the ultimate irony, the Commission which was appointed by Sirisena himself, found that Sirisena’s actions preceding the attacks amounted to criminal negligence and that charges should be instituted against him for that.

That is the perfect political weapon. The moment Sirisena steps out of line or makes any allegation against the current political leadership, all the government has to do is to implement the Commission’s recommendations. It would, after all, only be acting on a Commission appointed by Sirisena himself- and who can find fault with that when everyone including the Archbishop of Colombo is asking for justice for the Easter attack victims?

The only reason why the sword dangling over Sirisena’s political career is not falling is arguably because the ruling coalition needs the support of Sirisena’s dozen or so SLFP parliamentarians to ensure their two thirds majority in Parliament, particularly with plans in the pipeline to introduce a new Constitution sometime before the next general and presidential elections. Without that little bargaining power, Sirisena’s political career would have been reduced to ashes by now.

This is the political background in which Dudley Sirisena was making his defiant declaration. So, make no mistake, it was not from a position of strength that Dudley Sirisena was speaking against a government that had an all-powerful Executive President by virtue of the 20th Amendment and a steamroller two-thirds majority in Parliament that could rubber stamp any legislation that the Rajapaksas wanted enacted.

Yet, the government crumbled under Dudley Sirisena’s verbal onslaught and gave him what he wanted. Now wonder then that the public was heard asking, if Dudley Sirisena could do as he wanted, why do we need a government? Others were suggesting that if the younger Sirisena was made President, he would do a better job than the current incumbent!

This particular Rajapaksas vs. Sirisenas episode will soon be forgotten- but it should serve as a marker for just how messed up this government is and how a military officer’s maiden foray into politics has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. It is time for the President to learn that, in the chain of command in politics not everyone salutes you and says ‘Yes, Sir,’- there will always be dissent and at times that dissent can take disastrous proportions, just as it did with Dudley Sirisena.


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