By Kassapa 

 When Maithripala Sirisena startled everyone by announcing suddenly that he knows who masterminded the 2019 Easter Day attacks, the first question that many asked was whether Sri Lanka’s Sixth Executive President had finally lost his marbles.

The claim was bizarre because Sirisena was already neck deep in the mire with regard to his actions- or lack of it- during the attack. A Presidential Commission that he himself appointed had sanctioned him and recommended that criminal proceedings be instituted against him. The Supreme Court had imposed a 100-million-rupee compensation payment for negligence of his duties which he has said he cannot afford to pay.

Despite all this, Sirisena now says that he is aware of who masterminded the attacks which shattered Sri Lanka’s decade long peace after the end of the Eelam war and cost the lives of 269 innocent civilians.

There were strong indications that Sirisena missed a trick when making his ‘revelation’ just before this year’s Easter celebrations. That was because, soon after his statement, there were calls to arrest him for allegedly concealing or withholding evidence. Sirisena has since tried to escape culpability for that by claiming he was made aware of the ‘mastermind’ just three weeks prior.

Sirisena’s critics will argue that concealing vital information even for three weeks is still an offence, so he should be prosecuted. He has indeed been to the Criminal Investigations Department to provide a statement to Police but when he was ordered to provide a statement to the Magistrate’s Court, he declined, saying he has already stated all he knew to the CID- this, from the man who solemnly said only days earlier that he will ‘reveal everything’ if he is allowed to do so before s judge.

Making sense of Maithripala Sirisena’s actions is not easy. They are both unpredictable and bizarre and at times, appear to be self-destructive as when he acted on a whim, sacked Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and installed Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place in the Prime Ministerial chair. The important question is, why is Maithripala Sirisena doing all this now?

To understand these events, they must be read in the current political context. Sirisena is politically destitute now. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) he leads is in shambles. Historically, it is still the party which has governed Sri Lanka for the longest period of time. Ever since Sirisena took over its leadership in 2015 soon after his presidential election victory, it has been superseded by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) formed for the singular purpose of immortalising the Rajapaksa family in Sri Lankan politics.

Sirisena had a chance to make the SLFP great again when the Rajapaksas were at the lowest point of their popularity in mid-2022 and Gotabaya Rajapaksa was compelled to resign and flee but Sirisena was such a repellent force that all those who veered away from the SLPP- Dullas Alahapperuma, G.L. Peiris, Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila et al- left and formed their own alliances rather than join the former President.

Moreover, around the same time, Sirisena was not even able to keep the SLFP MPs in Parliament numbering just over a dozen together. He first picked fights with Nimal Siripala de Silva and Mahinda Amaraweera who joined Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Cabinet, albeit for their own selfish reasons. The SLFP’s then General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera, a popular politician with considerable potential, backed him to the hilt in this dispute. Weeks later, with the 100-million-rupee compensation ordered by the Supreme Court hanging over his head, Sirisena decided to invite De Silva and Amaraweera back to the SLFP and sacked Jayasekera instead! Lost for words, a shocked Jayasekera told the media that he couldn’t understand why someone who he had he respected ‘like a father’ would treat him in this manner. Now, the duo are locked in a court battle over the sacking.

Just days after making his Easter Day attack ‘revelation’, Sirisena was to indulge in more of the same. In one fell swoop, he sacked Duminda Dissanayake, Lasantha Alagiyawanna and Mahinda Amaraweera of their posts in the SLFP. They too have gone to court and obtained a stay order against their sacking.

The more Sirisena engages in these shenanigans within the SLFP, the more the party suffers. It is fast losing the few politicians it has who are capable of mustering some degree of public support. In an election year, these politicians, especially those who stand a chance of re-election owing to their own popularity in their home bases such as Jayasekara in Kurunegala and Dissanayake in Anuradhapura, will look elsewhere to ensure the continuation of their political careers. The SLFP will then be a ghost party with Sirisena at the helm with only a few hangers on remaining.

It is after finding himself in this predicament that Sirisena makes his ‘revelations’. There is a common thread that runs through all of Sirisena’s recent actions: an attempt to ensure his own political survival, at the expense of principles and at the cost of betraying those who have been loyal to him.

Sirisena believes, perhaps mistakenly, that by making a sensational claim about the Easter Day attacks, he can again become a politician who will be talked about. He also believes, by being coy about what that claim is, he will create a sense of unease among other political parties which will then think twice about attacking him. It is quite possible that he also feels that he can somehow find a way to escape the sanctions against him- the recommendation to institute criminal proceedings and the 100-million-rupee compensation payment- if he now makes fresh revelations about the attacks.

Sirisena has succeeded, at least in making headlines locally and internationally. Whether this will give him the political breathing space that he craves for is unclear just yet. What is clear is that all the forces that are arraigned him have united in calling for him to come clean. They will most certainly not want him in their corner for the next election.

Make no mistake, Maithripala Sirisena is no political fool. He is more manipulator than maverick. Still, his decision to reveal the Easter Day ‘mastermind’ will add to the long list of his serious political mistakes.