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Maithripala’s ‘Watery’ Battle for Good Governance

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“Where is yahapalanaya (good governance) in the new overnment?” Now this seems to be the million dollar question, at this juncture.

Two and a half weeks after its election, the new government, led by President Mathripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has already shown some ominous signs where the idea of good governance is concerned.

It is now becoming clear that those who were really instrumental in forming a Common Opposition Alliance and bringing the opposition back to the victorious path are being sidelined due to some obscure reasons.

A sizable proportion of Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists, who did everything possible (literally) to ensure the victory of the former President, are now aligning themselves with the new President. Some of them have already been appointed to top positions in the new government, sending shockwaves across the rank and file of the UNP.

P.B. Abeykoon, who is now the Secretary to President Maithripala Sirisena, was known as a strong Rajapaksa. Maybe there were ‘deals’ and ‘agreements’ that they arrived at prior to the election, but such sleights of hands are in stark contrast to the concept of ‘good governance’.

Abeykoon’s appointment can only be understood as one among several moves that diminished hopes of the people who expected a real change. The next controversial move was to appoint President Sirisena’s brother, Kumarasinghe Sirisena as the Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom. Although Kumarasinghe Sirisena had experience at the senior management level of the state sector and necessary educational qualifications, the ‘timing’ of the appointment was a serious question.

Sri Lanka came out of a suppressive “family rule” barley two weeks ago and therefore any move that even remotely resembles a parallel ‘dynasty’ would be treated with contempt by the people. It is now that Kumarasinghe Sirisena was appointed as the Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom, despite concerns raised by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Sri Lanka is three months away from the announcement of a general election and the 100 day program should be implemented before April 23 – the day the government is planning to dissolve Parliament.

Although a commission has been set up to probe into bribery and corruption, no law enforcement action has so far been taken against culprits. Although there is more than enough evidence for the present law enforcement mechanism to take action in this regard, it is clear that someone or something is standing in its way.

It is widely believed that President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have arrived at an understanding with former President Rajapaksa to ‘protect’ the latter and his family. Protecting him from international war crimes tribunal does not amount to protecting him and his family members from the local enforcement mechanism of the country. If the President and the Prime Minister have decided to stand in the way of that process, that means they are showing the characteristics of the rulers who were voted out by the people, two weeks ago.

The biggest contributor to President Maithripala Sirisena’s victory is the ‘civil society’ of the country. Political observers dubbed this move as a major step in the direction of making “intellectuals” a key element in Sri Lanka’s policy-making in the future. Many were of the belief that the ‘civil society’ would play a powerful role in the political agenda of the government under Maithripala Sirisena’s administration. It was in that sense that the middle-class voters believed President Sirisena’s ascension to power would be a turning point in multiple ways.

Although “civil society intellects” were used as a tool in pro-Sirisena propaganda machination, they have been abandoned after ascension to power. In the end, “power” has been transferred from one camp to another with no real qualitative change. In the hindsight, the recently held presidential election is finding its place in the history as the waterloo of the Rajapaksa and a ‘watery battle’ for democracy and good governance JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanyake, who also represents the National Advisory Council, reads the present “political moment” more accurately than anyone.

“Do not have big hopes about the new government. We know who Maithripala Sirisena is and we know who Ranil Wickremesinghe is. When you have bigger hopes, the bigger will be your frustration and disappointment.

We all know that there is a general election after April 23. The President was elected on January 8 and Parliament will be dissolved after 100 days. Within this interim period of 100 days, we need to get certain things done. The main task that needs to be fulfilled is the abolition of Executive Presidency. There are several other reforms too. After getting them done, we have to go for the Parliamentary election. That’s where we need to fight hard for a real change,” Dissanayake said.

Developments that took place during the last couple of weeks are something to go by, it would be really naïve to assume that the Sirisena government is serious about making a ‘real change’ in the Sri Lankan political culture.

Where will former President Mahinda Rajapaksa stand in the present equation? Now that is an important question.

The former President has now entangled himself with allegations over an attempted coup. The CID is proceeding with investigations with the consent of the Attorney General and the Chief Justice of the country has already been questioned by the Police on this matter and certain quarters from the government are pushing hard to expedite inquiries.

At this point, the former President’s political future looks bleak. The biggest battle he wages at the moment is to safeguard his membership of the SLFP – the party which he led proudly not so long ago.

Internal sources of the party have already revealed that Mahinda Rajapaksa is likely to lose his position as a Patron of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party if the ongoing investigations prove his involvement in the attempted election night coup.

The SLFP Central Committee met last evening with President Maithripala Sirisena at the chair and the CC took certain decision to fill vacant positions in the party. It is clear that the majority of the SLFP top-rung members are yet to fully embrace Sirisena’s leadership. However, they are now realizing that the SLFP’s Rajapaksa era is coming to an end.

If the ongoing investigations into the attempted coup bring forth a substantial outcome, the former President will be accused by the party of conspiring against a democratically elected SLFP President.

“Such a development,” the SLFP sources said, “will cost him all the positions he holds in the party and his membership.”

A turn of events of that nature will officially bring the Rajapaksa era of the SLFP to an end.

Rajapaksa’s removal from his present position in the party will also expand the authority of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga over the SLFP. Presently, both Kumaratunga and Rajapaksa are at the same level, as patrons and as former Presidents. Former President Kumaratunga, who hates the Rajapaksas with serious venom, has already pledged that she would rid the Sri Lanka Freedom Party of the Rajapaksas.

It was already in the grapevine that the former President was exploring the possibility of forming a new political party with his loyalists to contest the forthcoming parliamentary election. It is becoming clear that Rajapaksa will find it hard to survive in the SLFP until the next general election.

Last modified on Sunday, 25 January 2015 00:57

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