CAN MAITHRI­PALA AND MAHINDA RE-UNITE PO­LIT­I­CALLY? It was Pres­i­dent Sirisena rather than Mahinda Ra­japaksa who seemed more in­ter­ested in uni­fy­ing the var­i­ous el­e­ments of the UPFA, SLFP, joint op­po­si­tion and SLPP to­gether

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - OPINION - By D.B.S. Je­yaraj

Ranil Wick­remesinghe is Green!

Mahinda Ra­japaksa is Blue! Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena, Which po­lit­i­cal colour are you? Former Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter and renowned states­man Sir Win­ston Churchill in a mem­o­rable ra­dio speech over the BBC in 1939 re­ferred to Rus­sia in this way - “It (Rus­sia) is a rid­dle, wrapped in a mys­tery, in­side an enigma.” Keen ob­servers of the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal scene in Sri Lanka may very well be ex­cused if they veer around to the view­point that the is­land’s cur­rent Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dent too fits Churchill’s de­scrip­tion of be­ing a rid­dle wrapped in a mys­tery in­side an enigma.

ENIG­MATIC MYS­TE­RI­OUS RID­DLE

The main rea­son for Pres­i­dent Sirisena be­ing per­ceived as an ‘enig­matic mys­te­ri­ous rid­dle’ is due to the UNP re­dictable and some­what un­ortho­dox po­lit­i­cal con­duct of the “Polon­naruwa Po­ten­tate.” It was only last week that this col­umn de­scribed this pe­cu­liar po­lit­i­cal ten­dency in these words - “The per­plex­ing po­lit­i­cal con­duct of Sri Lankan Pres­i­dent Palle­watte Ga­ma­r­alalage Maithri­pala Yapa Sirisena has in re­cent times de­fied many norms and val­ues of con­ven­tional pol­i­tics. The turns, twists and turn­arounds of the Pres­i­dent are un­fath­omable to many. So un­cer­tain have Maithri­pala’s po­lit­i­cal moves and ma­noeu­vres been that the only cer­tainty about Sirisena is his un­cer­tainty. Many are his topsy-turvy in­con­sis­ten­cies. He has been con­sis­tent in his in­con­sis­tency.”

Although the above stated words were writ­ten in a dif­fer­ent con­text per­tain­ing to Pres­i­dent Sirisena’s per­for­mance (or non-per­for­mance) at the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly in New York, the words in essence are ap­pli­ca­ble to many other acts of omis­sion and com­mis­sion by him in di­verse sit­u­a­tions too. The lat­est be­ing the ini­tia­tive un­der­taken to mend fences with the Ra­japaksa brothers in a bid to top­ple Ranil Wick­remesinghe.

Last week on Oc­to­ber 3, Maithri­pala Sirisena en­acted an in­trigu­ing po­lit­i­cal drama that left po­lit­i­cal ob­servers and on­look­ers baf­fled and per­plexed. Pres­i­dent Sirisena went alone to former Cabinet Min­is­ter S.B. Dis­sanayake’s res­i­dence at Bat­tara­mulla where he met former Pres­i­dent Mahinda Ra­japaksa along with his brothers Basil and Gotabaya for a po­lit­i­cal tete–a-tete. The dis­cus­sion was about the prospects of Sirisena re­align­ing po­lit­i­cally with the Ra­japak­sas, re­mov­ing of Ranil Wick­remesinghe as Prime Min­is­ter and the set­ting up of a new coali­tion govern­ment un­der a new premier. The con­clave did not ar­rive at any def­i­nite con­clu­sions but did end on an op­ti­mistic note for now.

JOUR­NEY TO MEDAMULANA

A meet­ing be­tween the former and cur­rent Pres­i­dents was not a rar­ity. There have been many oc­ca­sions in the past where both Mahinda and Maithri­pala have in­ter­acted with each other in pub­lic. On Au­gust 25 this year, Pres­i­dent Sirisena jour­neyed to Medamulana in the Ham­ban­tota District to pay his re­spects at the funeral of the late Chan­dratu­dor Ra­japaksa. Maithri­pala Sirisena was re­ceived by the Ra­japaksa brothers Chamal, Mahinda and Gotabaya. Basil, then in the USA, was not present. Sirisena en­gaged in an ami­able con­ver­sa­tion with Mahinda. An amus­ing in­ci­dent oc­curred when an aide brought a cup of cof­fee and tried to give it to Mahinda in­stead of giv­ing it first to the guest, Maithri­pala, as ac­cord­ing to tra­di­tions of hos­pi­tal­ity. An em­bar­rassed Mahinda be­rated the helper and apol­o­gised to Maithri who smiled and said “That’s al­right.” It tran­spired later that the aide had been in­structed by the kitchen staff to serve the cof­fee to the ‘Janad­hipathithuma’ or Pres­i­dent. Since Mahinda is fondly re­ferred to by his sup­port­ers as Pres­i­dent still, the aide too mis­tak­enly thought the cof­fee was for Mahinda and not Maithri­pala.

Even two days be­fore the din­ner at the Dis­sanayake res­i­dence, Maithri­pala and Mahinda had met in Colombo at a wed­ding. Pres­i­dent Sirisena signed as wit­ness for the groom Dil­ruk­shan Jayasinghe and ex-pres­i­dent Ra­japaksa signed on be­half of the bride Re­shani Dan­galla. The groom in­ci­den­tally was the son of Anuradhapura District UNP MP and Women and Child Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chan­drani Bandara. Both Mahinda and Maithri­pala were seen en­gag­ing in a cor­dial con­ver­sa­tion at the event where sev­eral min­is­ters and MPS were present.

FACE-TO-FACE MEET­ING

A face-to-face meet­ing be­tween Mahinda and Maithri­pala with the ob­jec­tive of iron­ing out dif­fer­ences and forg­ing an al­liance had been in the pipe­line for quite a long time. It was Pres­i­dent Sirisena rather than Mahinda Ra­japaksa who seemed more in­ter­ested in uni­fy­ing the var­i­ous el­e­ments of the UPFA, SLFP, joint op­po­si­tion and SLPP to­gether. Ef­forts in this di­rec­tion by Maithri­pala Sirisena’s con­fi­dantes in­ten­si­fied af­ter the Fe­bru­ary 2018 lo­cal au­thor­ity elec­tions where the Mahinda-led SLPP scored a tri­umphant vic­tory while the Maithri-led SLFP fared mis­er­ably. Over­tures on be­half of Maithri­pala were ini­tially made by the in­flu­en­tial Bud­dhist monk Ven. Medagoda Ab­hay­atissa Thera. Sub­se­quently, the man­tle fell upon vet­eran politi­cian and na­tional list MP Dis­sanayake Mudiyanse­lage Su­manaweera Banda Dis­sanayake known as S.B. Dis­sanayake. Af­ter stren­u­ous at­tempts, SB suc­ceeded in bring­ing about a pre­lim­i­nary meet­ing at his Bat­tara­mulla res­i­dence on Oc­to­ber 3, 2018.

Although over­tures for a ‘unity’ meet­ing with Maithri­pala were be­ing made for a long time, Mahinda had been some­what re­luc­tant to move on the mat­ter firmly -- a chief rea­son for this be­ing the dif­fer­ences of opin­ion among Ra­japaksa fam­ily mem­bers. In­deed, the main rea­son for re­la­tions be­tween Mahinda and Maithri­pala sour­ing had a ‘Ra­japaksa fam­ily’ di­men­sion to it.

Maithri­pala Sirisena de­spite his affin­ity towards Chan­drika Ku­maratunga strongly backed Mahinda Ra­japaksa for the Prime Min­is­te­rial post in 2004 and as Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in 2005. In do­ing so, he in­curred the dis­plea­sure of Chan­drika. Sirisena who served as the Gen­eral-sec­re­tary of the Sri Lanka Free­dom Party (SLFP) was a trusted deputy of Mahinda who made him Act­ing De­fence Min­is­ter when­ever the Pres­i­dent had to leave the coun­try. It may be re­called that Pres­i­dent Sirisena re­cently in New York­made ref­er­ence to the fact that it was he who was in charge as the Act­ing De­fence Min­is­ter dur­ing the fi­nal two weeks of war with the Lib­er­a­tion Tigers of Tamil Ee­lam (LTTE) in May 2009.

ACT­ING DE­FENCE MIN­IS­TER

Dur­ing his stints as Act­ing De­fence Min­is­ter, Maithri­pala Sirisena built up a healthy work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the then De­fence Sec­re­tary Gotabaya Ra­japaksa. The rap­port es­tab­lished then ex­ists even to­day de­spite the pre­vail­ing po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences. On the other hand, Maithri’s in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with an­other Ra­japaksa sib­ling Basil has had its stresses and strains. This be­gan from the time both Basil and Maithri­pala worked to­gether as of­fice bear­ers in the All-is­land SLFP Youth Or­gan­i­sa­tion. Basil was the Gen­eral-sec­re­tary and Maithri­pala the Trea­surer. Later when Basil crossed over to the UNP at the time of the 1982 Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, Maithri­pala suc­ceeded him as Gen­er­alSec­re­tary. Sirisena’s re­la­tion­ship with el­der brother Chamal has been some­what steady be­ing nei­ther too close nor too far apart.

Af­ter the 2010 Pres­i­den­tial and Par­lia­men­tary polls, Maithri­pala Sirisena had hoped to be­come Prime Min­is­ter un­der Pres­i­dent Mahinda Ra­japaksa. Basil how­ever staked his claim and it ap­peared that Mahinda was in­clined to pre­fer Basil over Maithri­pala. It is be­lieved that Maithri­pala ap­pealed to Gota who put in a good word for Maithri and ob­jected strongly to Basil be­ing made premier. Mahinda was in a dilemma. Fi­nally, he re­solved it by choos­ing the vet­eran Kandy­dis­trict MP D.M. Ja­yaratne as Prime Min­is­ter in­stead of both Basil and Maithri­pala. Sirisena how­ever smarted from the slight and ap­par­ently nursed a grudge silently against Mahinda and Basil. Bid­ing his time with quiet des­per­a­tion, Sirisena waited for a suit­able op­por­tu­nity. It came years later in Novem­ber 2014 when he was picked as the prospec­tive com­mon op­po­si­tion can­di­date. Sirisena par­took of an egg hop­per din­ner with Mahinda Ra­japaksa and crossed over the fol­low­ing day. He chal­lenged Mahinda at the hus­tings on Jan­uary 8, 2015and emerged vic­to­ri­ous. The rest is now his­tory!

So when over­tures were sent on be­half of Maithri­pala for rap­proche­ment and pos­si­ble po­lit­i­cal re­align­ment, the Ra­japak­sas had mixed feel­ings. It is learnt that Mahinda played his cards close to his chest and so­licited the views of fam­ily mem­bers with­out re­veal­ing his line of thought on the mat­ter. El­der brother Chamal was some­what in­dif­fer­ent. He did not ob­ject to some sort of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion but was averse to any form of a tie-up with Maithri­pala. El­dest son Na­mal who had ear­lier col­lab­o­rated with

Maithri­pala in the ill-fated ex­er­cise to de­feat Prime Min­is­ter Wick­remesinghe through a No-con­fi­dence mo­tion was sup­port­ive of a work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Maithri­pala. Ac­cord­ing to some sources, Shi­ran­thi Ra­japaksa too was amenable to the sug­ges­tion. Gotabaya who had con­tin­ued to main­tain a line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Maithri­pala wel­comed a tac­ti­cal al­liance with Sirisena. It was opined that the Pres­i­dent could be a use­ful ally in deal­ing with the var­i­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions and le­gal ac­tion be­ing mounted against the Ra­japak­sas. Basil how­ever was un­will­ing.

SRI LANKA PODUJANA PERAMUNA

There was lit­tle love lost be­tween Basil and Maithri even when they were to­gether in the same po­lit­i­cal camp. Basil’s an­tipa­thy towards Maithri­pala had ex­ac­er­bated af­ter the lat­ter’s cross­over which the former viewed as a treach­er­ous be­trayal. Basil’s po­lit­i­cal stock how­ever had risen con­sid­er­ably af­ter the lo­cal au­thor­ity polls vic­tory. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) with the Lo­tus bud sym­bol was Basil’s brain­child and baby. G.L. Peiris was the de jure chair­man but the de facto leader was Mahinda Ra­japaksa. Like­wise Sa­gara Kariyawasam, the son of former Ben­tarael­pi­tiya MP and Deputy Min­is­ter Al­bert Kariyawasam was the Sec­re­tary but the de facto con­troller of the SLPP was Basil Ra­japaksa. Basil the shrewd po­lit­i­cal tac­ti­cian was the master­mind and ar­chi­tect of the ‘Po­hot­tuwa’ party vic­tory at the lo­cal polls. Basil had turned the newly-formed party into an elec­tion-win­ning jug­ger­naut. This had en­hanced his po­lit­i­cal clout and im­por­tance in re­cent times.

Hence, it was of ut­most im­por­tance that Mahinda had the con­cur­rence of Basil in what­ever ma­jor po­lit­i­cal en­deav­our he pro­posed to en­gage in. Both Basil and Gotabaya had left for the USA for three-month stays in July. They were due to re­turn in Oc­to­ber this year but Gota cut short his stay and re­turned in Au­gust due to the demise of brother Tu­dor. Basil how­ever stayed in the Usas he was un­der med­i­cal treat­ment then. Although Basil was sched­uled to re­turn only in Oc­to­ber, Mahinda got Basil down to Lanka in late Septem­ber. This was for the os­ten­si­ble pur­pose of re­vamp­ing the party in an­tic­i­pa­tion of an early poll. One move be­ing con­tem­plated is for Mahinda Ra­japaksa to take over the SLPP lead­er­ship for­mally. An­other pur­pose was to ex­plain the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of a po­ten­tial ‘un­der­stand­ing’ with Pres­i­dent Sirisena and to ex­plore re­sul­tant po­lit­i­cal av­enues. Basil af­ter dis­cus­sions con­sented to pre­lim­i­nary meet­ings with Maithri­pala Sirisena but was adamant that there should be no po­lit­i­cal al­liance with the Pres­i­dent. It is pre­sumed that while Basil and most of the SLPP stal­warts were op­posed to any form of po­lit­i­cal union with Sirisena and the SLFP fac­tion headed by him, many fol­low­ers and fel­low trav­ellers of Gotabaya were of the view that a tac­ti­cal al­liance with Maithri­pala should be formed. Chamal agreed with Basil but Na­mal was sup­port­ive of Gota’s stance.

WASANTHA AND DILAN PERERA

It was against this back­drop that the meet­ing be­tween the Ra­japak­sas and Maithri­pala took place at Bat­tara­mulla. Mahinda and Basil were the first to ar­rive at the Dis­sanayake res­i­dence. They were wel­comed by SB and two other Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans. One was Matale district MP Wasantha Lak­sh­man Perera and the other was na­tional list MP Dilan Perera. Pres­i­dent Sirisena ar­rived next. Gotabaya was the last to ar­rive. When talks among the Ra­japak­sas and Sirisena com­menced, the two Per­eras re­tired to an­other room and did not par­tic­i­pate in the dis­cus­sions. SB too left the Ra­japak­sas alone and spent time with Dilan and Wasantha Perera. How­ever he kept pop­ping in at times to see whether his dis­tin­guished guests needed any fur­ther re­fresh­ments.

MS try­ing to mend fences with the Ra­japaksa brothers in a bid to top­ple Ranil Prez says Ranil work­ing hard to un­der­mine him de­spite ad­her­ence to basic prin­ci­ples of a coali­tion govern­ment

There was lit­tle love lost be­tween Basil and Maithri even when they were to­gether in the same po­lit­i­cal camp. Basil’s an­tipa­thy towards Maithri­pala had ex­ac­er­bated af­ter the lat­ter’s cross­over which the former viewed as a treach­er­ous be­trayal

Basil af­ter dis­cus­sions con­sented to pre­lim­i­nary meet­ings with Maithri­pala Sirisena but was adamant that there should be no po­lit­i­cal al­liance with the Pres­i­dent

Although SB had pro­cured sump­tu­ous food from a cater­ing es­tab­lish­ment, nei­ther Sirisena nor the Ra­japak­sas sat to­gether at the ta­ble and had din­ner. It is re­li­ably learnt that egg hop­pers was not on the menu. Maithri­pala, Mahinda, Gotabaya and Basil sat in the main draw­ing room and con­versed while munch­ing short-eats. Again, it is au­thor­i­ta­tively learnt that cashew nuts were not made avail­able for crunch­ing. When SB asked his “guests” whether they would like “cof­fee,” there was laugh­ter all round as it re­vived mem­o­ries of Maithri’s “last sup­per” with Mahinda in Novem­ber 2014. Basil said “let’s drink green tea.” It was ac­cepted and so green tea was served. The dis­cus­sion among the Ra­japak­sas and Sirisena went on for a lit­tle longer than an hour. Gota was the first to leave. He was fol­lowed a lit­tle later by Sirisena. Mahinda and Basil chat­ted for abut 15 min­utes with SB, Dilan and Wasantha and left. Both brothers went to Mahinda’s res­i­dence and had fur­ther dis­cus­sions. Wasantha and Dilan Perera left af­ter hav­ing din­ner with S.B. Dis­sanayake.

LITANY OF WOES AGAINST RANIL

Since the meet­ing had been con­vened in def­er­ence to Maithri­pala’s re­quest, the Pres­i­dent ini­ti­ated the se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion af­ter pleas­antries were ex­changed po­litely. Pres­i­dent Sirisena started the ball rolling by recit­ing a litany of woes against Prime Min­is­ter Ranil Wick­remesinghe and a few of his min­is­ters in­clud­ing Fi­nance Min­is­ter Man­gala Sa­ma­raweera. Seem­ingly for­get­ting the fact that it was Ranil Wick­remesinghe and the UNP which en­sured his win in the elec­toral tus­sle with Mahinda Ra­japaksa in 2015, Maithri­pala Sirisena faulted Ranil and the UNP min­is­ters for ev­ery­thing go­ing wrong with the govern­ment. In typ­i­cal Maithri­pala lingo, the Pres­i­dent said Ranil was work­ing hard to un­der­mine him de­spite his (Sirisena’s) ad­her­ence to the basic prin­ci­ples of a coali­tion govern­ment. Though he was the head of State and head of govern­ment, the NON-SLFP min­is­ters paid lit­tle heed to him com­plained Sirisena. Man­gala Sa­ma­raweera had fla­grantly flouted many of his re­quests and in­struc­tions. He said the bu­reau­cracy was not co­op­er­at­ing with him.

Speaking fur­ther, Pres­i­dent Sirisena said the coun­try was be­ing mort­gaged to in­ter­na­tional cap­i­tal­ists and im­pe­ri­al­ists. The prob­lems of the com­mon man in Lanka were not be­ing ad­dressed by the eco­nomic poli­cies of Ranil, Man­gala and Ma­lik. In­stead of pro­vid­ing re­lief to the or­di­nary peo­ple, they were be­ing hard­pressed. The ru­pee was sink­ing while the cost of liv­ing was ris­ing. Some­thing had to be done ur­gently to sal­vage the coun­try and save the na­tion. Pres­i­dent Sirisena said he was un­able to ex­ert his au­thor­ity and rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion be­cause he did not com­mand a ma­jor­ity within govern­ment ranks. It was time for all po­lit­i­cal strands with SLFP roots to sink dif­fer­ences and join forces in the in­ter­ests of the peo­ple and coun­try stated Sirisena. Even while mak­ing this en­treaty, Pres­i­dent Sirisena care­fully avoided men­tion­ing two things ex­plic­itly. He did not call for an over­throw of Ranil Wick­remesinghe. He did not es­pouse the need for a united in­terim govern­ment with Mahinda or his nom­i­nee as premier. How­ever, Sirisena did ap­peal in a vague man­ner for co­op­er­a­tion.

Mahinda Ra­japaksa re­sponded to Maithri­pala by re­lat­ing his own list of com­plaints against Ranil and the coali­tion govern­ment con­ve­niently gloss­ing over the fact that Maithri­pala was the head of govern­ment. Mahinda pointed out that there was prac­ti­cally no gov­er­nance in the coun­try and that ev­ery­thing was go­ing from bad to worse. He out­lined a num­ber of in­ves­ti­ga­tions and cases be­ing con­ducted against mem­bers of the Ra­japaksa fam­ily. Mahinda said this was be­ing done so as to pre­vent the Ra­japak­sas from spear­head­ing a pop­u­lar po­lit­i­cal re­nais­sance against the govern­ment. How­ever, the peo­ple saw through all these an­tics. If elec­tions were held, the peo­ple would show what they thought of the govern­ment through bal­lot boxes, re­it­er­ated Mahinda.

MAHINDA PRE-EMPTED MAITHRI­PALA

Speaking fur­ther, Mahinda Ra­japaksa broached the sub­ject of co­op­er­a­tion. An­tic­i­pat­ing what Sirisena may have pro­posed next, the Medamulana Machi­avelli, pre­empted Maithri­pala by touch­ing on the topic of co­op­er­a­tion him­self. Mahinda said sev­eral SLFPERS in the govern­ment had lamented about the govern­ment per­for­mance and had sug­gested a clos­ing of ranks be­tween both fac­tions of the UPFA and SLFP to counter the UNP and Ranil. This how­ever was not pos­si­ble at this junc­ture, said Mahinda. “We can­not sup­port or co­op­er­ate with the SLFP led by you (Sirisena) as long as the party is part of a UNPled govern­ment” stressed Mahinda Ra­japaksa. He also said a de­ci­sion of this type could not be taken with­out con­sult­ing the party.

Tak­ing his cue from Mahinda’s ref­er­ence to con­sult­ing the party, Basil Ra­japaksa chipped in. The dy­namo be­hind the ‘Po­hot­tuwa’ told Maithri­pala Sirisena that the SLPP had demon­strated that it was more pop­u­lar among the peo­ple than the UNP or the SLFP through the re­cent lo­cal au­thor­ity elec­tions. Such a vic­tory was pos­si­ble only be­cause of party mem­bers and sup­port from the peo­ple at large. As such, any ma­jor de­ci­sion can­not be taken with­out con­sult­ing the rank and file of the party. Speaking fur­ther, Basil said he be­lieved in de­feat­ing or trans­form­ing the govern­ment through the verdict of the peo­ple only. He pre­ferred to de­feat Ranil and the UNP elec­torally in­stead of re­ly­ing on a po­lit­i­cal horse deal in Par­lia­ment to re­place them. Basil also em­pha­sised to Maithri­pala that they had agreed to meet with the Pres­i­dent as a mat­ter of cour­tesy only be­cause they re­spected him and not be­cause they wanted to en­gage in a po­lit­i­cal con­spir­acy.

MAHINDA FLINGS DOWN GAUNTLET

Con­tin­u­ing from where Basil left off, Mahinda told Maithri­pala that no de­ci­sion could be made by them with­out con­sult­ing party mem­bers and key sup­port­ers. The ex-pres­i­dent told Pres­i­dent Sirisena bluntly that his (Mahinda’s) loy­al­ists needed to be as­sured of Maithri­pala’s se­ri­ous in­ten­tions in this re­gard be­fore plung­ing into any ac­tion of their own. Elab­o­rat­ing fur­ther, Mahinda said Sirisena and the SLFP led by him must demon­strate gen­uinely that they were op­posed to Ranil and the UNP be­fore en­list­ing the sup­port of the SLPP and joint op­po­si­tion. It was not pos­si­ble to align with the SLFP as long as that party was part and par­cel of the present govern­ment. Mahinda then told Maithri­pala, “The UPFA and SLFP which are un­der your for­mal lead­er­ship must first pull out of the present UNP-SLFP govern­ment. If that is done, then our peo­ple will be con­vinced that you re­ally mean busi­ness this time and I will find it eas­ier to get their full co­op­er­a­tion and sup­port.” Hav­ing said this clearly and un­am­bigu­ously, Mahinda flung the gauntlet down at Maithri­pala, “Prove your de­ter­mi­na­tion in this mat­ter by ur­gently sum­mon­ing a meet­ing of the UPFA and the SLFP and of­fi­cially de­cid­ing to pull out of the govern­ment.” Maithri was left speech­less.

Apart from this key is­sue, some other top­ics were also dis­cussed at the meet­ing. Chief among them was an is­sue raised by Gotabaya Ra­japaksa. The ex-de­fence Sec­re­tary re­minded Maithri­pala that he had in­formed the Pres­i­dent of a con­spir­acy to as­sas­si­nate Sirisena and him­self al­most two months ago, but no con­struc­tive ac­tion was taken. The al­leged con­spir­acy how­ever re­ceived a blaze of pub­lic­ity af­ter the per­son known as “Na­mal Ku­mara” had pub­li­cised it in the news­pa­pers. Gotabaya said a plot to as­sas­si­nate the Pres­i­dent was a very se­ri­ous con­cern and it was UNP ar­don­able that a re­spon­si­ble govern­ment did noth­ing. Mahinda and Basil too en­dorsed Gotabaya’s view­point and told Sirisena, “We may have our po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences but we treat any threat to your life as some­thing de­spi­ca­ble. Proper in­ves­ti­ga­tions must be done and ac­tion taken.”

Sirisena re­sponded by telling Gotabaya that he had in­formed the De­fence Sec­re­tary Kapila Waid­yaratne im­me­di­ately af­ter the ex-de­fence Sec­re­tary had in­formed him but very lit­tle fol­low up ac­tion was done. The Pres­i­dent hinted that a new De­fence Sec­re­tary would have to be ap­pointed soon. He also con­demned IGP Pu­jith Jaya­sun­dara as a “joker” and blamed much of the al­leged lethargy dis­played by the po­lice to the IGP. Sirisena said the IGP was be­ing pro­tected by the Prime Min­is­ter. How­ever, Pres­i­dent Sirisena said a new IGP would be ap­pointed very soon. There were also dis­cus­sions about the Chief Jus­tice po­si­tion, the Supreme Court, the At­tor­ney-gen­eral’s De­part­ment and the Con­sti­tu­tional Com­mis­sion.

BASIL RA­JAPAKSA IN CHARGE

As stated ear­lier, Mahinda and Basil Ra­japaksa had a sep­a­rate dis­cus­sion among them­selves af­ter the Maithri­pala meet­ing was over. In that fra­ter­nal di­a­logue, Basil once again em­pha­sised that they need not try to top­ple the govern­ment through a re­align­ment of po­lit­i­cal forces in Par­lia­ment and that it would be bet­ter to have the sanc­tion of the peo­ple through elec­tions. Mahinda agreed but said they could try and force the pace of polls if pos­si­ble through a show of strength within Par­lia­ment. How­ever, both agreed that given the No-con­fi­dence mo­tion fi­asco the move may prove counter pro­duc­tive if it failed. Both Mahinda and Basil were firmly of the opin­ion that any for­ward move­ment in this mat­ter should be pred­i­cated on Maithri­pala Sirisena pulling out the SLFP led by him out of the govern­ment headed by him. It was also de­cided that Basil Ra­japaksa would be in charge of any fu­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions with Pres­i­dent Sirisena or other SLFP stal­warts in this ex­er­cise.

Mean­while, news of the Maithri­pala-mahinda meet­ing be­gan ap­pear­ing in dif­fer­ent forms in dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the me­dia. Spec­u­la­tion about a Mahinda-maithri­pala part­ner­ship and set­ting up of an “in­terim” or “care­taker” govern­ment caused con­vul­sions in the Mahinda, Maithri­pala and Ranil camps. The re­ac­tion in the Mahinda camp was ex­tremely hos­tile towards the no­tion of a re­align­ment with Sirisena. To the av­er­age Ra­japaksa loy­al­ist, Maithri­pala is a traitor who back­stabbed Mahinda and joined forces with the UNP to bring about a de­feat of the SLFP. No re-union was pos­si­ble with Sirisena. Be­sides, Mahinda should not ac­cept Maithri­pala’s lead­er­ship in any form. Mahinda Ra­japaksa al­layed these con­cerns at the meet­ing of 41 SLFP Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and said noth­ing had been de­cided upon and that no de­ci­sion would be taken with­out the con­sent of the party. It was re­solved that Mahinda would be the sole au­thor­ity to fi­nalise any de­ci­sion on this is­sue.

There was much con­ster­na­tion and indig­na­tion within UNP folds too. As in the case of Mahinda loy­al­ists who per­ceive Maithri­pala as a treach­er­ous back­stab­ber, there are many in the Ranil-unp camp who view Sirisena as an un­grate­ful up­start who has kicked the lad­der on which he climbed to the top. Sev­eral Un­pers be­gan blast­ing Sirisena. In a bid to as­suage hard feel­ings, Sa­jith Pre­madasa is­sued a state­ment ex­press­ing hope that Pres­i­dent Sirisena would not be­tray the man­date .he re­ceived from the peo­ple in Jan­uary 2015 Pre­madasa in re­cent times has re­port­edly grown closer to Sirisena. Some UNP big­wigs how­ever were not pre­pared to let Sirisena off the hook so eas­ily. They have re­port­edly re­sorted to “clan­des­tine” ne­go­ti­a­tions with some MPS in the Sirisena camp. It is be­ing spec­u­lated that about 6 to 10 SLFP Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans would re­main with the govern­ment if and when Sirisena de­cides to pull out the party from the coali­tion govern­ment.

RANIL WICK­REMESINGHE “CAPT COOL”

Although the UNP in Sri Lankawas per­turbed over these de­vel­op­ments, its leader and Prime Min­is­ter Ranil Wick­remesinghe kept his cool and was seem­ingly un­fazed. Ranil had departed from Sri Lankan shores on the morn­ing of Oc­to­ber 3 on a visit to Nor­wayand Bri­tain. Sirisena’s meet­ing with the Ra­japak­sas was on the same evening. When an ex­cited se­nior UNP min­is­ter tele­phoned Ranil to break the news about Sirisena’s meet­ing with Mahinda, Ranil seemed dis­in­ter­ested and replied non­cha­lantly, “Wena Mon­awada?” (what else). When the min­is­ter told Ranil that ac­cord­ing to re­ports, Maithri­pala had said he would set up an in­terim govern­ment with­out him as Prime Min­is­ter, the UNP leader’s re­sponse in “cap­tain cool” style was “Eya Kiyana Ewwa Ko­ranna Nahe Ne?” (he does not do what­ever he says).

All this makes the ‘spot­light’ beam on Maithri­pala Sirisena. The onus is on him to demon­strate that he is gen­uinely de­ter­mined to re­move Ranil Wick­remesinghe as Prime Min­is­ter and set up a re­con­fig­ured govern­ment un­der the pre­mier­ship of Mahinda Ra­japaksa or his nom­i­nee. The Ra­japak­sas are sub­ject­ing their one-time ‘neme­sis’ to a trial by fire. Maithri­pala Sirisena must prove his bona fides to the Ra­japak­sas by for­mally pulling out the SLFP from the govern­ment. The bot­tom line in this sor­did ex­er­cise is that Mahinda does not trust Maithri­pala and vice versa. D-day will be Oc­to­ber 16 when SLFP par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and key of­fice bear­ers are sched­uled to meet. What will the SLFP de­cide and what will Maithri­pala Sirisena do there­after? Above all how will the western na­tions and In­dia coun­te­nance this en­vis­aged Mahinda-maithri­pala re­align­ment? Que Sera Sera!

D.B.S. JE­YARAJ CAN BE REACHED

AT DB­SJE­YARAJ@YA­HOO.COM

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