The recent security buildup in the city hung a virtual question mark on the faces of concerned citizens. People mostly looked worried that their civil liberties and safety had come under implicit threat from an increased security presence.

There is a mystery surrounding last week’s government move to deploy heavily armed troops in the city and suburbs.

No one seems certain of the cause. Many people believe the government was trying to prevent a massive protest against it by Colombo University students and is what triggered the security alarm.

The reason given by the government is that the university students had placed an order for 1000 packets of lunch from the refractory. The security apparatus had heard what was expected to unfold in the city. The response was increased security around the campus. Additional personnel were also deployed to ensure the safety of other students and staff. According to some all these measures were taken to ensure the protest didn’t turn violent.  However, heavily armed security were also seen elsewhere in the city, giving rise to unusual speculation that something was wrong somewhere. The security personnel in the city were deployed as a precautionary measure to prevent any potential outbreaks of violence or disruption that could have occurred due to the protest. Additional personnel were also placed around the campus to create a sense of security and to make sure the protest remained peaceful. Although the situation fizzled out as nothing but another drama in a country where accountability is an illusion, pertinent questions remain.  What was the cost to the taxpayer from the security beef-up and worst, the cost to the reputation of the intelligence services and security forces, already being accused of political servility.

The other reason attributed to the heavy presence of security personnel in the city was a story based on conjecture that the former President and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was to take oaths again as prime minister in the Ranil Wickremesinghe government. It was the opinion of many that there could be an uprising against Mahinda Rajapaksa comparable to that of May 9, 2022. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the party that holds parliamentary power, denied the accusation. However, the SLPP and the former president’s supporters were optimistic that a new prime minister would be appointed. But it never happened. This forced the SLPP General Secretary to summon a press conference and announce that Mahinda Rajapaksa never requested to be appointed prime minister. He said Mahinda Rajapaksa would assume any high position with the people’s blessings. There was no political leader of his caliber born on this soil who ended three decades of terrorism. He said that the four leaders who ruled the country prior to Mahinda Rajapaksa failed to put an end to the terrorism orchestrated by the LTTE and Mahinda Rajapaksa was the only leader who was successful in eliminating the LTTE threat. He concluded the press conference by stating that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s name will be praised for generations to come for his historic feat. He further added that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s success in ending terrorism was a testament to his leadership and dedication to the country.

Later, Rajapaksa’s elder son also came forward to defend his father’s stance that his father would only take over any position with the consent of the people. He left because people wanted him to quit and return when they wanted him to do so. He stressed his father had been a leader to the people and would not accept a position without their approval. He also maintained his father never intended to stay in power and had always put the needs of the people first. However, people are still trying to figure out the reason for the security alert.

In the midst of all this, the president moved swiftly to remove three governors and appoint three new faces to replace them. His quick response has been seen as an attempt to normalise the situation and regain the trust of the people. This move has been seen as a sign of progress towards rebuilding the nation. The sitting governors initially refused to step down, citing that there were no provisions for the president to remove them without a provincial council. Some of the governors sought legal advice to remain in their positions. The media reported that former chief justice Sarath N. Silva offered them some advice so that the governors could continue their full term of five years from the date they were originally appointed by the president. The legal advice was based on Article 154 of the Constitution. The argument was that Ranil Wickremesinghe, as the successor to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa or the stand-in president for the remaining period, could not call for the resignation of the governors. Wickremesinghe pooh-poohed all those arguments to call for their resignations in terms of theconstitution.

However, the constitution states,

154B. (1) There shall be a governor for each province for which a provincial council has been established in accordance with Article 154A.

(2) The governor shall be appointed by the president by warrant under his hand. He shall hold office, in accordance with Article 4(b), at the pleasure of the President.

(3) The governor may, by letter addressed to the president, resign from his office.


(a) The Provincial Council may, subject to subparagraph (b), present an address to the President advising the removal of the Governor on the ground that the Governor

(i) intentionally violated the constitution;

(ii) is guilty of misconduct or corruption involving the abuse of the powers of his office; or

(iii) is guilty of bribery or an offense involving moral turpitude if a resolution for the presentation of such an address is passed by not less than two-thirds of the whole number of members of the Council (including those not present).

(b) No resolution for the presentation of an address to the President advising the removal of the Governor on the grounds referred to in sub-paragraph (a) shall be entertained by the Chairman of the Provincial Council or discussed at the Council unless notice of such a resolution is signed by not less than one-half of the whole number of members present.

(5) Subject to the preceding provisions of this Article, the Governor shall hold office for a period of five years from the date he assumes office.

(6) Every person appointed as governor shall assume office upon taking or subscribing to the oath or making or subscribing to the affirmation set out in the Fourth Schedule before the President.

(7) Upon such assumption of office, a governor shall cease to hold any other office created or recognized by the Constitution, and if he is a member of parliament, he shall vacate his seat in parliament. The governor shall not hold any other office or place of profit.

Depending on legal advice, the governors refused to step down until the President sacked them from office using Article 154(4)(B)(2).

The president will also remove the other governors, as agreed upon with the SLPP hierarchy, to share governor positions.

The actual reason for the decision is that the president found he could not proceed with his political project with the governors who were asked to depart. Their relations with Tamil politicians in the North and East were questionable and not compatible with the government’s thinking. In short, their public relations were at a low ebb. This meant that the president was unable to gain the trust of the local population and the international community, which was necessary to carry out his political project. As a result, he decided to remove the governors in order to create a better public relations campaign.  Nevertheless news about the appointment of PSM Charles as governor of the northern province did not go down well in Jaffna where people, carrying placards, came out to protest. They said that Charles, who has already served as governor there for three years between 2019 and 2021, did nothing for the province nor the people at the time and that her reappointment was to protect the president. In any event controversy is not new to Charles.  Earlier this year, when the government was   holding in abeyance the decision about holding the local government election, Charles who was a member of the Election Commission broke protocol and handed in her resignation to the president but not to the Election Commission.  There was no official reason given by her, the government nor the Election Commission for her strange move although the bets were high that it was a politically motivated move.  This time around too her appointment is seen as a ‘thank you’ for her role in throwing a spanner in the conduct of the local government election.

Despite the pitfalls, the president was moving on a meticulously designed political trajectory to remain in power for the next five years. To achieve this objective, he needs to draw up a plan to clinch the coveted position through the will of the people.

In such a scenario, the president may opt for a decisive constitutional amendment after carefully gauging the political climate.

The opposition leader wholeheartedly agreed to such a move, which would advance the presidential election. The election date, according to constitutional requirements, is November next year. Only the incumbent of the office elected could seek reelection at the completion of a four-year tenure. As a result, the stand-in president cannot use the provision since he or she is elected by parliament for the remaining period. Hence, if the stand-in president decides to hold an early election, he needs a constitutional amendment in place.

The president however, deflated the high hopes of the opposition parties, who were preparing the ground for the local government elections during the early part of the year. The president and the ruling party knew that an election at that point, when the country was going through an apocalyptic crisis, would spell doom for them. Hence, the government used all the tricks in the book to put off elections. Nevertheless, the people had some expectation that the JVP-backed JJB would make it possible for them to have an election to show their dissent towards the government in power. The opposition ranks were not untied or in unison in their decisions to push the government to hold elections, and they failed in their endeavor.

Up to date, there has been some sort of resurgence in the rank and file of the JVP-backed JJB and the Sajith Premadasa-led SJB, but now it is gradually fading away, putting the opposition in total disarray since they were not able to get the LG elections in accordance with their pledge to the people.

The hype enjoyed by the JJB and SJB has fizzled out. This is after the government deliberately postponed the local government elections despite appeals by various international organizations to abide by the country’s democratic rule. Now the government is relaxing and taking its own time to unfold its political project. This is done with various handouts designed for an election aimed at the end of this year or early 2024.

The president is banking on the North and East to support him in the next presidential election. The talks with the northern and eastern political parties are partially aimed at this. However, the talks with the Tamil parties ended in a stalemate. Nevertheless, the President took a commendable step regarding the archaeological explorations in the north and east. He told senior officials to submit a report on such excavations in the future. This must be done according to an approved plan, the president said. He reminded them to submit a plan for approval, told them that funding for archaeological explorations should only come through the government’s annual budget, and directed them to suspend all such explorations done under private funding by various funding agencies, donors, and Buddhist monks. As a result, officials were directed to look at Maha Viharaya Dimbulagala and the Malwathu Oya. This is where the roots of Sinhala civilization are found, as the president emphasised. The suspension of excavations in the north and east is a relief for the Tamil people, who claim that the Buddhist monks are encroaching on their land under the guise of archeological explorations.




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