By Vishavanath

The government, unable to shore up its crumbling image due to its bungling and poor performance, has apparently sought to weaken the Opposition in a bid to overcome challenges on the political front and prevent a possible electoral setback. It is bent on engineering defections from the Opposition, and has already succeeded in winning over several Opposition MPs. SJB National List MP Diana Gamage, who switched her allegiance to the government and voted for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, has taken on SJB leadership over an attempt to expel her from the party and deprive her of her parliamentary seat. Two more SJB MPs have recently rebelled against the party leadership and resigned as organisers. They are Hesha Withanage and Chaminda Wijesiri. The government would have the public believe that some more Opposition MPs will decamp come the Budget vote.

Opposition and SJB leader, Sajith Premadasa, is at his tether’s end. Troubled by the SJB’s internal disputes and the government’s relentless efforts to divide the Opposition, he has decided to take the bull by the horns. Last Thursday, he went on the offensive, lashing out at his opponents for what he called a vilification campaign, and a conspiracy against him. He, however, left most of them unnamed.

The government is not alone in attacking Premadasa and plotting against him. SJB dissidents and the UNP are also doing so.  

When Sajith, last Thursday, complained of a character assassination campaign against him, he sounded just like his late father, President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who in the aftermath of the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali in April 1993, accused his opponents of targeting his character.

Premadasa Snr requested his enemies to assassinate him, if they so desired, instead of damaging his reputation, which, he said, he cherished more than his life. The situation Sajith finds himself in is not as bad as the one his father was in, about three decades ago, but it could worsen unless properly managed. Sajith has chosen to go on the offensive.

Sajith’s meeting with Cardinal

After a meeting with Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, in Colombo, on Thursday, Premadasa told reporters that he had cleared up some misconceptions created by his detractors about his handling of issues affecting the Catholic community. Upset that there was what he called a conspiracy to turn the Catholics against him, he said his political enemies had launched a misinformation campaign, claiming that he had denied SJB MPs Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando opportunities to make some damning statements against the government about the Easter Sunday attacks. He insisted that he had always allowed them to express their views freely. Denying another allegation that he had not helped rebuild the Catholic churches damaged by the Easter Sunday bombings, when he was a Cabinet minister, he said he had personally seen to it that all churches that suffered extensive damage were repaired speedily.

Sajith also said it was being falsely claimed in some quarters that he had not resisted a move by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) to declare an area extending from Peliyagoda to the Negombo lagoon as an ecologically sensitive zone at the expense of the livelihoods of thousands of people, who are mostly Catholics. Claiming that he had fought for the rights of the people to be affected by the project, and would continue to do so, he said the SJB would take legal action against the UDA, and joined the Cardinal and other priests from thwarting the government bid. The following day, SJB MP Dr. Kavinda Jayawardena, representing the Gampaha District, and a fisherman, K. S. N. Fernando, from the area, filed a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court, seeking an order nullifying the Gazette notification declaring the Muthurajawela marsh as a Ramsar Wetland and it would be developed as an ecologically sensitive zone.

The government has been levelling various allegations against Sajith, but it has not claimed that he is not supportive of the Catholic community. Instead, it is flaying SJB MP Champika Ranawaka for allegedly manipulating some senior Catholic priests to exert influence on the Cardinal. If the government had made the allegation at issue, Sajith would have named the persons concerned unhesitatingly when he made a public statement, denying it. He would have done likewise if the UNP had said something to that effect. So, those whom he criticized for having made the allegation in question but stopped short of naming must be some SJB dissidents. He also faulted an unnamed group for claiming that he had not defended Harin, when the latter faced reprisal for his allegations against the government as regards the Easter Sunday attacks. He said he had stood by Harin.

Sajith echoed the Cardinal’s views on the Easter Sunday tragedy. Insisting that the terrorist attacks had not been properly probed, he demanded a thorough investigation to get to the bottom of it. He said the mastermind behind the attacks had not been revealed, and the doubts and suspicions that the Catholic community harboured had to be cleared and justice served expeditiously. In so saying, he, however, exposed his flank to his rivals, who could ask him why he did not make such a demand while he was a Cabinet minister in the yahapalana government, which was in power when the Easter Sunday attacks took place. 

Sajith denies links to Intelligence

Premadasa also vehemently denied an allegation that he was being manipulated by some intelligence big guns. He said he had nothing to do with the intelligence community, and his rivals were spreading false rumours to discredit him. He again did not name those who had levelled that allegation. Such allegations are usually made via social media.

The Opposition Leader should have named names, on Thursday, because the allegations he sought to counter are of very serious nature. His rivals, whoever they may be, are attacking his character and credibility to project him as a misfit. The worst that can happen to an Opposition leader, or any other political leader for that matter, is to be branded as a puppet of a spy outfit, and those who are trying to do that to Sajith are obviously on a campaign to destroy his political future.

Government politicians are bent on ruining the SJB’s chances of winning future elections because they are unable to think of any other way of averting an electoral setback due to their plummeting approval ratings. Some SJB dissidents are undermining Premadasa, and Ranawaka is said to be having presidential ambitions. The UNP is on a campaign to grab the Opposition Leader’s post to gain some political traction. It has already approached several key SJB MPs who have fallen out with Sajith in a bid to win them over to unsettle the SJB.  

Thus, Sajith has had to defend himself on three fronts simultaneously. It is a tall order. Why is vexed and has sought to go on the offensive is understandable, given the kind of pressure he has come under. But attack is not the best form of defence in certain situations like the one Sajith finds himself in. It will be a mistake for him to get provoked and go into the attack mode, for nobody looks intelligent or becomes popular when he or she is seen foaming at the mouth in public. Many are the allegations that should be laughed away or just ignored; when they are taken seriously and countered, those who make them get encouraged to step up attacks via social media.

The late President made the same mistakes as Sajith in trying to overcome challenges to his leadership and countering allegations against him, and played into the hands of his enemies, who wanted to unsettle him. The need for a cool head in a crisis cannot be overstated.     


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