There is a sense of déjà vu about this: when Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe decides enough is enough with a political party it usually heralds the beginning of the end for that party although the end does not come immediately.

This has happened a few times now. Rajapakshe decamped from Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government previously. He had to wait for quite some time warming the opposition benches before being drafted into the ‘yahapaalanaya’ regime of Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe.

That didn’t last long either. Rajapakshe began criticising that government’s decisions publicly and the United National Party (UNP) took the rather unusual step of asking the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)’s Sirisena to remove Rajapakshe from the Cabinet, perhaps a first in Sri Lankan political history. Rajapakshe would rather be removed from the Cabinet than offer an apology to the UNP and retract comments he had made.

Now, it is happening again. Rajapakshe took to the media, holding a press briefing to publicly criticise the Colombo Port City project, a project which the government is banking on heavily to showcase Sri Lanka to the world and project the country as a second Singapore.

That by itself would have raised a few eyebrows and the matter would have ended there. The next day though Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe was at it again, telling us this time that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa telephoned him, allegedly used abusive language on him and he felt his safety was at risk as a result. For good measure, Rajapakshe added that, when he was abused, he responded in kind.


Officially at least, there has been no denial of Rajapakshe’s version of events. Nevertheless, Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage attempted some damage control. He suggested that this was merely an exchange of view between President Rajapaksa and parliamentarian Rajapakshe.

Aluthgamage played apologist by proxy for the President saying Rajapakshe was disgruntled because he wasn’t given a ministerial portfolio. The President maintains a very modest lifestyle and should be applauded; instead, the media is making a mountain out of a molehill, he suggested.

Several major issues emerge out of this public discourse. The first is the legitimacy or otherwise of the Port City project. We now have a parliamentarian from the government’s own ranks calling it an unmitigated disaster and accusing the government of adopting measures that would lead to the creation of a ‘Chinese colony’ in the heart of Colombo that would be exempt from key local laws.

The person saying that, no matter what his political agenda is, is a lawyer, a good one at that, and a President’s Counsel. Also, Rajapakshe has everything to lose and nothing to gain- at least for the next few years- by his actions.  It would be different if say, Rohitha Abeygunawardena or Piyal Nishantha made those observations. Therefore, at the very least, Rajapakshe’s claims merit careful scrutiny.

Another aspect is the issue of the President’s alleged conduct. Rajapakshe claims that he feels his safety is at stake, following the President’s alleged remarks, although he is quite clear that he was not specifically threatened. Even more interestingly, Minister Aluthgamage, tasked with whitewashing the President’s alleged conduct only referred to the President’s modest lifestyle, living in his personal residence at Mirihana and using only three vehicles, without uttering a word denying the alleged conversation that is supposed to have taken place. If the President did indeed verbally abuse Rajapakshe, it is unbecoming of him. As Rajapkashe himself points out, he had worked with former Presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Maithripala Sirisena and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and had differences of opinion with them but never has he been abused in such a manner. Does this display President Rajapaksa’s lack of political acumen and people skills and his proclivity to settle issues in a military style- ‘I command, you must obey’!

Also of political significance is the fact that Rajapakshe had the blessings of a section of influential Buddhist monks when he made his remarks. Among those supporting him is Muruttetuwe Ananda thero, the head of the nurses’ trade union.

It will be recalled that when Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated at the 2015 presidential election and was pondering retirement from politics, it was this monk who urged the former President not to retire but to try and make a comeback. He offered Rajapaksa his temple, the Abhayaramaya at Narahenpita which then became a virtual party headquarters for the ousted leader.

Ananda thero has recently publicly lamented the state of the current government and wondered aloud as to why Mahinda Rajapaksa is so ‘inactive’ in a regime headed by his younger brother. There are many other likeminded monks who supported the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) at the presidential and general elections who are presently disillusioned and are making their sentiments known in no uncertain terms. Trying to win elections with a hostile Buddhist clergy is always difficult in Sri Lanka.


The other issue is not who said what but what underlies these simmering tensions within the ruling coalition dominated by the SLPP. This is not the first instance when these fraught relations have been played out in the public domain. Recently, Minister Wimal Weerawansa found himself in hot water after suggesting that Gotabaya Rajapaksa should lead the SLPP. Even if that crack was quickly plastered over, it is evident that, despite their absolute control of Parliament and the collective opposition’s apathy and inertia, not everyone in the ruling coalition is happy.

What would become of Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe? After this alleged outburst from the President, it is now highly unlikely that he will be considered for a Cabinet portfolio. Being the restless political animal that he is, it is also unlikely that he will remain in the SLPP until the next elections. It is equally unlikely that the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) will be keen to welcome him with open arms, what with SJB stalwart Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka being quite frank and forthright about what he thinks about Rajapakshe and his links with the Avant Garde Company.

Rajapakshe could of course return to the shambolic ruins of the UNP but that is hardly something to look forward to. This then is a saga that will unravel in time to come. Rajapaksa vs. Rajapakshe will be a tussle worth watching!


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