President’s political fortunes on way up
attention of the world was focussed on the killing
of Osama Bin Laden this week and the incident was
not without significant political and diplomatic
ramifications for Sri Lanka.
Even if Bin Laden’s death was welcomed by most
nations, there has been controversy surrounding the
circumstances of his killing. The White House
changed its version of events and embarrassingly for
the United States, it has transpired that Bin Laden
was unarmed at the time of his death.
Despite this, Sri Lanka officially congratulated the
US for its efforts. There was a sense of ‘we told
you so’ in that message because Colombo is now being
taken to task for ending its own war on terror and
killing Velupillai Prabhakaran.
By co-incidence, at the time of the
Bin Laden killing, US Assistant Secretary of State
for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert Blake
was in Colombo for the purpose of determining Sri
Lanka’s response to the report commissioned by the
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Blake was in an uncomfortable position, on the one
hand having to justify the killing of Osama bin
Laden and on the other hand, known to be calling for
international inquiries into the killing of
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader
It was only days before the Bin
Laden killing that the ruling United Peoples’
Freedom Alliance (UPFA) had converted its May Day
rally into a massive protest against the Moon panel
report, with the underlying message that this was
the stand of the government of Sri Lanka.
If anything, the Bin Laden killing would give
impetus to the government and its leadership over
the potential war crimes charges that are being
dangled before them by interested parties. Now,
certainly Sri Lanka can take the moral high ground.
This is even more so because of the
circumstances of Bin Laden’s death: the US invaded
another country, Pakistan, to assassinate Bin Laden
and the terrorist leader was unarmed when he was
shot and killed. Prabahakaran’s death in battle was
certainly more justified.
Obvious though these facts are, Sri Lanka will still
have to answer questions before the international
community with regard to its own war because that
process has now begun and the Bin Laden killing will
not automatically halt it.
However President Mahinda Rajapaksa
and the ruling UPFA are taking the necessary
precautions to ensure that come what may in the
international arena, the President will remain
popular in his home country - unlike other leaders
who have been accused of human rights abuses.
Indeed, the more pressure President Rajapaksa and
his government comes under from the UN and the
western bloc of nations, the more popular he would
become locally being hailed as the person who
sacrificed his own reputation to free his motherland
This is not lost on the opposition
it is why the main opposition party, the United
National Party (UNP) is making a somewhat
disorganised attempt to try and appear not to be too
critical of the government on this issue.
However, given the rather fragmented state of the
UNP at present, the impact of these efforts will be
lost on the electorate and the best it could achieve
is not to be stuck with the ‘traitor’ label-and even
that could be considered a significant achievement.
That its fractional in-fighting is not over by any
means became all too apparent this week when
Co-deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa took it upon
himself to challenge the appointment of Ravi
Karunanayake as the party’s national organiser.
Premadasa’s nominee for the post is
Moneragala district MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara. The
latter’s argument is that the composition of the
Working Committee which ratified Karunanayake’s
appointment was irregular.
What was striking though was the fact that Premadasa
chose to call a press conference to air his
grievances. This he did, flanked by Madduma Bandara.
It was an unprecedented step where the Co-deputy
leader was berating the leadership of the party in
The underlying intention is to
convey to UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe that his
actions will no longer go unchallenged and that when
his decisions are indeed questioned, it will be in
public, thereby undermining Wickremasinghe’s
authority as party leader.
If the UNP leader were to strictly follow party
disciplinary guidelines, he would now have to call
explanation from both Premadasa and Madduma Bandara
for their actions and an inquiry would have to be
held-and that can only aggravate the crisis.
Whether Wickremasinghe would do so
or bide his time and strike when the opportunity
arises is left to be seen. However it is clear now
that his reappointment as party leader, warding off
Premadasa’s challenge for the post is no guarantee
that he will enjoy an easy ride in his role.
Person for person though, it must be said that
Karunanayake is arguably more suited than Madduma
Bandara for the post of national organiser. But
Premadasa obviously values loyalty over merit - a
trait that his father, the late Ranasinghe Premadasa
Premadasa would do well to realise
that those tendencies in his father was to the
detriment of the UNP. And by antagonising and
marginalising Karunanayake at this stage when the
party is still in the opposition, he is standing in
the way of a united party effort to fight the
As Premadasa becomes more vocal in his criticism and
as Madduma Bandara hints of a legal challenge to
Karunanayake’s appointment, it is the credibility of
the UNP in the eyes of the electorate that takes a
severe beating, eroding what little confidence it
has left in the UNP.
But at present such considerations
are cast aside in favour of petty party politics in
the party obviously with an eye on the future where
the party expects to be returned to power as the
only viable alternative to the Sri Lanka Freedom
Party (SLFP) led UPFA.
What both factions in the UNP must realise is that
this will not happen by default alone and that the
party must regain public confidence. And, with
rivals like the UNP locally and Ban Ki-moon
internationally, President Rajapaksa’s political
fortunes can only be on the way up.