By Alakeswara


November has much significance in the contemporary politics of Sri Lanka. On the 1st of the month the grand old but now redundantparty the UNP, commemorated the 25th death anniversary of J. Jayewardene one of its iconic leaders who was instrumental in creating a niche in the country’s political fabric.

Besides, November is significant for other reasons including the installation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the 26th of November2019. The month has religious connotations too since Christians commemorate their dead in November.

As far as the late J.R.Jayewardene is concerned, nobody can deny the contribution he made to the wellbeing of Sri Lanka and its people.

Most politically disoriented people may say that we are suffering today because of his shortsighted decisions. One example cited by the proletarian politician is that by introducing the market economy, he deliberately subscribed to the downfall of local industries.

It is part of the political rhetoric of the industrial proletariat who thrived on the principle of self-reliance. A maxim often muttered by middle left politicians is the craving to be self-sufficientwith everything on earth.

Nevertheless, some argue that introducing the market economy is opening a window to the outer world. Ghastly winds may blow, but it needs adjustments whatever the climate. Transfer of technological skills and improving the standards of products is one aspect of the move. Whether we like it or not, sooner or later, countries will be compelled to fall in line with market reforms to keep pace with  externalforces. It was easy to portray him as the local version of Machiavelli because he governed with an iron fist to achieve targets. The fact that it is admitted even by his political opponents is his ability to outwit them. Another legacy JRJ is held responsible for is that of the executive presidency. Forty- three years after introducingit to the republican constitution, the debate is still on whether it suits the country or not.

The list of his accomplishments are far greater than the failures. The Indo-Lanka Accord, devised under his aegis, has by far been the only solution formulated to resolve the ethnic issue that has plagued the country for decades. Many people believe Sri Lanka has suffered for seven decades since Independence while those countries which are below us economically have surpassed their targets.

Little did we realise that most of Sri Lanka’sgovernance problems cropped up following the failure of the government in power to resolve the ethnic question and the challenges encompassing human rights issues following the civil war victory.

The other significant event in the calendar were the celebrations associated with the fifth anniversary of the Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna (the SLPP). The special events held under the auspices of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had their merits and demerits. A large gathering of party supporters converged on the “Nelum Pokuna” auditorium to listen to the prime minister.

The prime minister, as the leader of the SLPP, made it an occasion to appreciate the services rendered by his younger sibling Basil Rajapaksa, the icon behind the creation of SLPP.

He also made a valid point at the event by insisting on the importance of accommodating everybody who contributed for a dramatic comeback.

There is no question whether they are big or small. What matters is the contribution they make, he said. A few moons back, the same prime minister spoke in a different tone where he said that anybody could join or depart his party. The premiere may have thought small parties were making political statements to embarrass the government for their survival. However, he now realises the problem has reached a critical point where the mother party- the SLPP – has started to feel the pinch. The signing of a pact with the New Energy Fortress (NFE) company to acquire 40 per cent of the shares held by the treasury has been the moot point in the current fallout. Eleven parties headed by Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa, Energy Minister UdayaGammanpila and Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara are up in arms over the purported sale of shares under the guise of investment. Gammanpila called the government the most corrupt since Independence. He said that even the governments of JRJ, Ranasinghe Premadasa, Ranil Wickremesinghe or Chandrika Bandaranaike never stooped to this level.

Nobody talked about the alleged corruption that Gammanpilla indulged in other than SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam. He said in no uncertain terms that Gammanpila is in a deal,” implying that he was interested in handing over the supply of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) to a party favoured by him. There was no reply to it from the WeerawnsaGammanpilaquarter. Maybe they didn’t want to get into a scuffle with Kariyawasam who invariably toes the line laid down by Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa.

The Wimal-Gammanpila group has been more or less at loggerheads with the finance minister from the start when they held bargaining talks with the president on the 20th Amendment to the constitution where they opposed the dual citizen clause. A clause prohibiting dual citizens from becoming members of parliament was in force under the 19th amendment to the constitution but it was abolished with the advent of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as president. Nevertheless, some smaller groups including the Weerawansa group, opposed the inclusion of the eligibility clause for dual citizens to enter parliament but later gave in on the strength of the assurances given by the President. The president gave an undertaking that a constitution with all the ills rectified may soon be in force.

Weerawansa and the others were aware that the provision was there to facilitate the entry of Basil Rajapaksa. The staged opposition with the political rhetoric of the Weerawansa group was futile and superficial.

The opposition to it was more or less a political drama to keep his vote bank intact after lobbying against Basil Rajapaksa’s entry.

Basil too, knowing the intentions of the Weerawansa group, went on a firing spree inflicting heavy political damage. Basil was tactful and used his political allies to achieve his target. There were discussions here and there to restrict the political leverage of the Weerawansa group in the government. Gammanpila, a close associate of Wimal Weerawansa, came under heavy fire from the government benches itself over a decision to increase fuel prices.Kariyawasm fired the first salvo, blaming Gammanapila, though it was a collective decision of the cabinet. Another parliamentarian, Jayantha Ketagoda, also found fault with Weerawansa for carrying on a campaign against Basil Rajapksa. Ketagodaearned the appreciation of the higher echelons of the government for paving the way for Basil.

All these political upheavals took place in the short span of two years following Gotabaya Rajapaksas ascension to high office.

The stakeholders of the government are now at odds pondering the next move. It may trigger a new crisis within the portals of the government. It could require mediation by a mature political figure who can envision intricate contours fermenting on the political horizon to strike out a formula and salvage the government from the doldrums. Presumably, it could have been the reason for Mahinda Rajapaksa to change his earlier stance on these smaller parties to a somewhat pacifying note.

At the anniversary event the prime minister made a compassionate plea for parties that made a significant contribution to make a comeback.

Nevertheless, it came to light that the event was in progress sans smaller parties and there was a significant drop in the numbers that attended the government group meeting.

After the controversy over the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with the US based NFE to purchase LNG from the Yugadhanavi power plant in Kerawalapitiya, the disillusion among the backbenchers and smaller parties have invariably reached fever pitch. Wimal Weerawansa, at a subsequent meeting, alleged that it was difficult to fathom the way the cabinet paper surfaced in the cabinet.

He also alleged that no proper study was possible due to time constraints.

In the circumstances, the prime minister may have to go the extra mile to mend fences as the constituent parties are poised to put the government in an awkward position. The government will also lose its two-thirds majority in parliament if the belligerent parties decide to sit as a separate entity.  In any case, it is going to be a difficult time for the government, especially during the budget period where the votes of each ministry will come up for discussion. As long as the government brings the NFE matter to the top of its priority list, the coming days will cause more political upheavals than ever before. On Friday, a Buddhist monk Ven Ulapane Sumangala made an application in the court of appeal for a writ of quo warranto against the appointment of Basil Rajapaksa to parliament and his subsequent appointment as the minister of finance. The moot point in the averment is his US citizenship which he failed to renounce.

Besides the issues surrounding the NFE deal, people are up in arms over the appointment of Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara as the head of Presidential Task Force on the “One Country-One Law” concept.

The Catholic Bishops Conference, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and the Centre for Policy Alternatives were the institutions that came out strongly against the appointment. At the Catholic Bishops Conference it was that that the appointment is indicative of an erosion of democratic values, while being steadfastly critical about the person appointed to head the task force. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka said it was an attempt to usurp the functions of certain institutions that have a duty assigned by the constitution. Some queried the logic behind the appointment while others who were sceptical said the objective behind the move is to whip up communal passions once again when the provincial council elections are round the corner.

Ven Gnanasara Thero possesses indelible characteristics of a rabble-rouser convicted for contempt of court and pardoned by then-President Maithripala Sirisena. He, as a Buddhist monk, has created many political upheavals targeting Muslims.

He was successful at bringing about politically profitable returns to the present regime in general.

Harping on national security and inciting communal passion among the people, he ventured ahead so much so that the Presidential Commission appointed to probe the Easter Sunday attack found fault with the existence of his outfit, the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS).

The venerable thero has had a tiff with the Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith who sought the government’s genuine intervention to bring justice to the victims of the Easter Sunday attack. The appointment of Ven. Gnanasara thero has also made Justice Minister Ali Sabry emotionally upset. There were talks about his resignation from the ministerial portfolio and him becoming a backbencher. However, the minister was dilly-dallying on the decision as he is under pressure from the elite of his community.

Be that as it may, the political fallout from the Easter attack looms large on the horizon. The latest is the witch hunt by government agencies against Catholic clergymen who are agitating for justice. The long arm of the law is engaged in a dubious attempt to single out priests and question and harass them on various grounds rather than getting to the crux of the matter.

On top of it, the government has issued a gazette notification declaring its intention to earmark Catholic areas north of Colombo as land needed for urban development while proclaiming Muthurajawela marshes as a Ramsar wetland. The Catholic clergy has already announced the ramifications of the move at Sunday’s holy mass. The people are disturbed by the decision to earmark densely-populated Catholic areas for urban development.

The government which boasted they assumed office due to patronage of the Sinhala Buddhist majority is now trying to appease the protagonists of the move, the Buddhist prelates. The chief movers criticised the government time and again until the government realised the shortcomings on their part and appointed them to positions.

Apart from Gnanasara thero, the nurses’ union chief Muruththetuwe Ananda thero and the chief incumbent of the Kelaniya Vihara VenKollupitiye Mahinda Sangharakkitha Therohave also been elevated to the positions of Chancellors of the Colombo University and the Kelaniya University respectively.

The government has decisively silencedMuruththettuwe Ananda Thera, who is a virulent critic of the president but a close associate of the prime minister. A few monks who yearned for such positions are still waiting in the wings and the government can effectively shut them up and move forward by offering principal places in the establishment.

The latest in the political melee is the brewing rift between Foreign Minister G.L Peiris and the Ministry secretary Professor JayanathColombage. Minister Peiris has inherited a chequered political history since his appointment to the Youth Commission as its vice-chairman. He had varied assignments under President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and eventually President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Nevertheless, the learned professor failed to shine in any of the positions he held as a politician.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s government had a lot of faith in him and appointed him the chief negotiator with the LTTE but nothing came of it. The paradox is that he took a completely different view on the LTTE after joining the Rajapaksas. The hope among political circles is that he will sort out matters with the secretary without taking it elsewhere since Basil Rajapaksa, the Finance Minister, is a busy man these days with many problems on his hands.Alakeswara


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