MAHINDA’S HUR­RIED BACK­DOOR POWER GRAB AND THE GOTABAYA FAC­TOR

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

For­mer Pres­i­dent and cur­rent Ku­rune­gala dis­trict MP Mahinda Ra­japaksa was in­ter­viewed re­gard­ing the present po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion by Kelum Bandara of “Daily Mirror” last week. One of the ques­tions posed to Mahinda in the in­ter­view was – “There is per­cep­tion among some that you took over the gov­ern­ment en­ter­ing through the back­door de­spite your abil­ity to win elec­tions in the fu­ture. What is your view?” Mahinda’s some­what de­fen­sive re­sponse was as fol­lows;

“There is no such thing called cap­tur­ing power through the back­door. A po­lit­i­cal party is not meant to be in the op­po­si­tion for­ever. It should try to be­come the rul­ing party on the very first oc­ca­sion made avail­able to it. We vowed to top­ple the gov­ern­ment af­ter two Ve­sak Poyas. One Ve­sak Poya is over. We top­pled the gov­ern­ment be­fore the next Ve­sak Poya. Our duty is to top­ple the gov­ern­ment if it is pos­si­ble. It is ac­tu­ally in the greater in­ter­ests of the coun­try. The pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment alien­ated the na­tional as­sets. If it con­tin­ued, there would be noth­ing left in the coun­try for pos­ter­ity. We re­versed the move to in­tro­duce a sep­a­ratist Con­sti­tu­tion. Other­wise, it would also have been de­clared as adopted by voice vote in Par­lia­ment (Ekath aye uye gala sam­matha karai.)”

“In that con­text, we have taken a cor­rect de­ci­sion in the in­ter­ests of the coun­try. We also faced a sim­i­lar prob­lem with re­gards to the Free Trade Agree­ments at that time. The pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment did not think of the coun­try. They acted in their per­sonal in­ter­est and the in­ter­ests of for­eign coun­tries”.

The ques­tion posed by about the per­ceived back­door en­try by Mahinda Ra­japaksa to the prime min­is­te­rial seat is a per­plex­ing point that has been the sub­ject of many a po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion. Af­ter the re­mark­able elec­toral per­for­mance of the Sri Lanka Po­du­jana Per­a­muna (SLPP) at the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties’ elec­tions in Fe­bru­ary 2018, it was clear that the writ­ing was on the wall for the Sirisena-wick­remesinghe Gov­ern­ment. The sit­u­a­tion was such where the con­fi­dent Mahinda Ra­japaksa camp was de­mand­ing elec­tions to the Pro­vin­cial Coun­cils where polls were due. The gov­ern­ment had no con­vinc­ing an­swer. It was sim­ply trot­ting out lame ex­cuses for de­lay­ing elec­tions thereby strength­en­ing the im­pres­sion in the coun­try that a re­turn of the Ra­japak­sas to power through elec­tions was in­evitable.

In a fur­ther twist, Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena and Mahinda Ra­japaksa who were sup­pos­edly at log­ger­heads with each other seem­ingly buried the hatchet in a po­lit­i­cal move aimed at un­der­min­ing Prime Minister Ranil Wick­remesinghe. The po­lit­i­cal grapevine buzzed with the news that the Sirisena and the Ra­japaksa camps had re­aligned po­lit­i­cally. There were also un­con­firmed re­ports of clan­des­tine can­vass­ing of mem­bers from many shades of opin­ion within Par­lia­ment. A sub­stan­tial num­ber of MPS from the SLFP as well as sec­tions of the UNF were tipped to switch loy­al­ties. There was a strong pos­si­bil­ity of the UPFASLFP fac­tion within the gov­ern­ment “of­fi­cially” pulling out. Spec­u­la­tion was rife that the po­lit­i­cal re­con­fig­u­ra­tion process would re­sult in a de­feat for the gov­ern­ment dur­ing the bud­get vote. If and when this hap­pened Pres­i­dent Sirisena was ex­pected to ap­point Mahinda Ra­japaksa as the Prime Minister who would then be seen as com­mand­ing the con­fi­dence of the House in a dras­ti­cally-re­con­fig­ured Par­lia­ment. This be­lief be­gan gath­er­ing mo­men­tum and it seemed that the re­turn of the Ra­japak­sas was in­evitable. Many even be­gan pre­par­ing for such an even­tu­al­ity.

PUR­PORTED PRIME MINISTER AND MIN­IS­TERS

Against this back­drop, where Mahinda Ra­japaksa was ex­pected to march in tri­umphantly to­wards his right­ful po­si­tion of Prime minister through the prover­bial front door, re­cent events have be­lied all such spec­u­la­tion. In­stead of the an­tic­i­pated front door en­trance, Mahinda made an un­ex­pected back­door en­try. On Oc­to­ber 26 Pres­i­dent Sirisena re­moved Prime Minister Ranil Wick­remesinghe and re­placed him with Mahinda Ra­japaksa as prime minister. The newly-ap­pointed Premier did not have a ma­jor­ity. In or­der to fa­cil­i­tate the cob­bling to­gether of a ma­jor­ity of MPS through var­i­ous “in­cen­tives,” Par­lia­ment it­self was pro­rogued un­til Novem­ber 16. Al­though some MPS did jump from horse to horse through sus­pected horse deals and were re­warded with posts and perks, there were no large-scale crossovers. As a re­sult of which a vi­able ma­jor­ity eluded Mahinda Ra­japaksa. This very ob­vi­ous truth was demon­strated on more than one oc­ca­sion with a ma­jor­ity of Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans vot­ing ad­versely against the pur­ported Prime Minister Ra­japaksa and his pur­ported min­is­ters.

Pres­i­dent Sirisena then dis­solved Par­lia­ment and sched­uled fresh elec­tions in an­other con­tro­ver­sial move. Sev­eral Fun­da­men­tal rights pe­ti­tions were filed against the pres­i­den­tial de­cree and a Three -Judge Bench of the Supreme Court is­sued a stay or­der af­ter pre­lim­i­nary hear­ings. In a re­lated de­vel­op­ment, 122 MPS sought a writ of Quo War­ranto from the court of ap­peal against pur­ported Prime Minister Mahinda Ra­japaksa and 48 oth­ers func­tion­ing as pur­ported cab­i­net min­is­ters, state min­is­ters and deputy min­is­ters re­spec­tively. The Ap­peal Court too is­sued an in­terim or­der tem­po­rar­ily re­strain­ing Mahinda Ra­japaksa and oth­ers func­tion­ing as Prime minister and as min­is­ters pend­ing fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tion of the case. Like­wise a seven judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Jus­tice Nalin Per­era com­menced hear­ing the FR pe­ti­tion cases against dis­so­lu­tion of Par­lia­ment and sched­ul­ing of elec­tions.

The cu­mu­la­tive re­sult of all these hap­pen­ings has re­sulted in the diminu­tion of Mahinda Ra­japaksa’s po­lit­i­cal stature and rep­u­ta­tion. Notwith­stand­ing the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, there is no doubt that Mahinda Ra­japaksa is the sin­gle-most pop­u­lar mass-fig­ure in the seven Sin­hala ma­jor­ity prov­inces of Sri Lanka. In spite of this mass sup­port, Mahinda Ra­japaksa has been un­able to uti­lize it ap­pro­pri­ately and mount the Prime Min­is­te­rial seat glo­ri­ously. His hasty, il­lad­vised at­tempt to grab power through Machi­avel­lian strat­a­gems has re­sulted in Mahinda cut­ting a pa­thet­i­cally for­lorn fig­ure. The man de­scribed as the “Medamu­lana Machi­avelli” has been de­nied the spoils of prime min­is­te­rial of­fice. Fur­ther­more his larger than life im­age has been con­sid­er­ably dented. Mahinda is de­picted by his de­trac­tors as a self­ish, power hun­gry politi­cian with­out prin­ci­ples or scru­ples who would re­sort to di­a­bol­i­cal mea­sures to seize power. While Maithri­pala Sirisena goes on rant­ing and rav­ing against Ranil Wick­remesinghe, the down­sized Mahinda is not very vo­cal nowa­days. The once mighty roar of the “Lion of Ruhunu” is mostly in­audi­ble and when­ever au­di­ble, sounds like a howl of a Hyena de­prived of its (not so right­ful) prey.

BRANDED WITH STAMP OF ILLEGITIMACY

It is in this con­text that friend and foe alike keep won­der­ing as to why Mahinda Ra­japaksa has placed him­self in this predica­ment. In what ap­pears to be an in­de­cent haste to cap­ture power, Mahinda Ra­japaksa seems to have mis­cal­cu­lated badly in get­ting him­self ap­pointed as a “Prime Minister with­out a ma­jor­ity” to Re­place a “Prime Minister with a ma­jor­ity.” His short- lived, high­ly­con­tested stint as Prime Minister is now branded with the stamp of illegitimacy. This makes many pon­der as to why Mahinda was in such an un­due hurry to grab power through ques­tion­able meth­ods when power may have been handed over to him on a plat­ter had he been pa­tient. The Ku­rune­gala dis­trict MP him­self is aware of such opin­ion and has tried to of­fer ex­pla­na­tions when­ever pos­si­ble. His re­sponse in the “Daily Mirror” in­ter­view is one clear ex­am­ple.

There have been other such in­stances too. Some days be­fore the “” in­ter­view, Mahinda Ra­japaksa ad­dressed a gath­er­ing at his of­fice on Nov 25th. The text of a speech de­liv­ered by the Ex-pres­i­dent was is­sued as a me­dia re­lease. In that speech Mahinda made ref­er­ence to this burn­ing ques­tion and stated as fol­lows – “Some peo­ple ask me why I ac­cepted of­fice when there was less than 18 months to go for the next elec­tions. I have heard mem­bers of the UNP say­ing that if I had been pa­tient for an­other 18 months, I could have won the en­su­ing elec­tion with a two thirds ma­jor­ity. We did not form a gov­ern­ment to con­tin­u­ally ad­min­is­ter the coun­try but to hold a gen­eral elec­tion. The Pres­i­dent ex­plained in his ad­dress to the na­tion that he ap­pointed me as the Prime Minister only af­ter things reached a stage where he had ab­so­lutely no other op­tion. When the gov­ern­ment is en­trusted to me in such cir­cum­stances, I can­not in all fair­ness, shun the re­spon­si­bil­ity. This was not a ques­tion of po­lit­i­cal power. The fate of our coun­try and the fu­tures of our younger gen­er­a­tion were at stake. Fur­ther­more, if af­ter ev­ery­thing was said and done, it was still we who would have to as­sume that re­spon­si­bil­ity any­way, there was much to be said for as­sum­ing of­fice be­fore fur­ther dam­age was in­flicted upon the coun­try.”

This then is the essence of Mahinda Ra­japaksa’s ex­pla­na­tion of why he chose to grab power so hastily through an un­ortho­dox pro­ce­dure in­stead of wait­ing a lit­tle longer to gain power via ap­pro­pri­ate chan­nels. Ac­cord­ing to Mahinda he has done so for the sake of the coun­try and the peo­ple. He says he was mo­ti­vated not by the lure of po­lit­i­cal power but by a supreme sense of duty and be­cause he was con­scious of his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Pres­i­dent Sirisena was in a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion and turned to him (Mahinda) for help and that was why he took on the re­spon­si­bil­ity says the ex-pres­i­dent. “When the gov­ern­ment is en­trusted to me in such cir­cum­stances, I can­not in all fair­ness, shun the re­spon­si­bil­ity. This was not a ques­tion of po­lit­i­cal power. The fate of our coun­try and the fu­tures of our younger gen­er­a­tion were at stake.” No­ble sen­ti­ments in­deed!

POWER, PO­SI­TION, PRIV­I­LEGES AND PERKS

Al­though po­lit­i­cal lead­ers of­ten claim that they are in pol­i­tics to serve the peo­ple, the re­al­ity is some­thing dif­fer­ent. One thing we have learnt from past ex­pe­ri­ence is that in Sri Lanka al­most all politi­cians claim to have al­tru­is­tic mo­tives for do­ing pol­i­tics. None of them ad­mits or ac­knowl­edges that he is in pol­i­tics for the pur­suit of power, po­si­tion, priv­i­leges and perks of of­fice. Con­sis­tency is not nec­es­sar­ily a virtue in pol­i­tics. Many of them switch sides smoothly when­ever it suits them. Avowed poli­cies are al­tered eas­ily. Their fam­ily mem­bers and cronies pros­per within a short time of a politi­cian get­ting ap­pointed to an in­flu­en­tial post. Po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age, nepo­tism and fam­ily bandy­ism are widely preva­lent. Po­lit­i­cal dy­nas­ties pro­lif­er­ate. Yet the politi­cians will con­tinue to re­peat ad nau­seam that they have ded­i­cated their lives to the peo­ple and are mak­ing huge sac­ri­fices to up­lift the masses. There­fore when politi­cians say they are ac­cept­ing of­fice due to pa­tri­otic mo­tives , such ut­ter­ances need to be taken not merely with the prover­bial pinch of salt but with a hefty fist­ful of it.

So when a vet­eran politi­cian like Mahinda Ra­japaksa says he re­sorted to a pre­ma­ture power grab for the coun­try and peo­ple alone that can­not be ac­cepted im­me­di­ately at face value. His claims need to be scru­ti­nized more in­tensely and in­tri­cately. Any po­lit­i­cal anal­y­sis of the un­der­ly­ing mo­tives be­hind Mahinda Ra­japaksa’s il­le­git­i­mate power grab has to delve deeply into re­cent hap­pen­ings of a po­lit­i­cal na­ture within the Ra­japaksa fam­ily cir­cle. The tur­bu­lent in­tra-fam­ily po­lit­i­cal cur­rents within the Ruhunu Ra­japaksa fam­ily and the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of in­ter-per­sonal re­la­tions be­tween Pres­i­dent Sirisena and his Prime minister Wick­remesinghe need to be ex­am­ined in de­tail to com­pre­hend the pre­vail­ing po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion and un­der­stand - not nec­es­sar­ily ac­cept or con­done – the rea­sons be­hind Mahinda Ra­japaksa’s im­pa­tient power seizure ex­er­cise.

A ba­sic un­de­ni­able fact of con­tem­po­rary life in Sri Lanka is the po­lit­i­cal im­por­tance if not supremacy of the Ra­japak­sas. In that con­text the suc­ces­sion stakes is­sue within the Ruhunu Ra­japaksa clan plays a piv­otal role in the on go­ing po­lit­i­cal drama. The ‘Medamu­lana Dy­nasty’ in the Ruhunu Ra­japaksa clan com­prises the fam­ily mem­bers of for­mer State Coun­cil­lor and Par­lia­men­tar­ian Don Alvin (DA) Ra­japaksa namely Mahinda Ra­japaksa and his broth­ers Chamal, Basil and Gotabaya along with Mahinda’s son Na­mal and Chamal’s son Shasheen­dra. Al­though the ‘Ruhunu Ra­japaksa’ fam­ily has been in pol­i­tics for sev­eral decades, its as­cen­dancy to the pin­na­cle of power came only af­ter Percy Ma­hen­dra Ra­japaksa, known to his coun­try and the world at large as Mahinda Ra­japaksa, be­came Sri Lanka’s fifth Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dent on Novem­ber 18, 2005.

FIRST FAM­ILY IN SRI LANKAN POL­I­TICS

There­after, the Ra­japak­sas es­tab­lished them­selves rapidly as the ‘nu­mero uno’ fam­ily in Sri Lankan pol­i­tics. Apart from Mahinda Ra­japaksa as Pres­i­dent, fam­ily mem­bers and ex­tended fam­ily mem­bers mo­nop­o­lised plum po­si­tions. Var­i­ous posts in dif­fer­ent spheres -from De­fence Sec­re­tary to diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tive -- were held by the clan. Dur­ing the days of the Ra­japaksa regime it was an open se­cret that no ma­jor en­ter­prise or pro­ject could be un­der­taken in the is­land with­out the bless­ings of at least one Ra­japaksa. Nepo­tism and Fam­ily bandy­ism was a way of life un­der the Ra­japaksa dis­pen­sa­tion. The Ruhunu Ra­japak­sas per­ceived as the first fam­ily in Sri Lankan pol­i­tics be­gan rul­ing the roost in an au­thor­i­tar­ian mode. With the 18th Con­sti­tu­tional Amend­ment be­ing passed, the twoterm limit for con­test­ing Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions was re­moved. It ap­peared that the po­lit­i­cally-in­vin­ci­ble Mahinda Ra­japaksa was set to rule Sri Lanka for life as Pres­i­dent.

When pres­i­den­tial elec­tions were called ahead of time, party sec­re­tary and se­nior Cab­i­net minister Maithri­pala Sirisena de­fected and be­came the com­mon op­po­si­tion can­di­date. The Jan­uary 2015 Pres­i­den­tial poll re­sulted in Maithri­pala Sirisena (51.28%) de­feat­ing Mahinda Ra­japaksa (47.58%). A Unp-led coali­tion gov­ern­ment was formed with Ranil Wick­remesinghe as Prime Minister and Maithri­pala Sirisena as Pres­i­dent. The 19th Con­sti­tu­tional Amend­ment re-im­pos­ing the twoterm limit for the Pres­i­dency was passed. With Mahinda Ra­japaksa be­ing Con­sti­tu­tion­ally-de­barred from con­test­ing the pres­i­dency again, it ap­peared that the po­lit­i­cal for­tunes of Ruhunu Ra­japak­sas were on the wane. A num­ber of inquiries prob­ing the al­leged cor­rup­tion and abuse of power by var­i­ous Ra­japaksa fam­ily mem­bers were ini­ti­ated. Cases were filed in court and a few Ra­japak­sas like Basil and Na­mal were even im­pris­oned for short pe­ri­ods. Gotabaya Ra­japaksa con­tin­ues to wage many le­gal bat­tles to ward off ar­rest and pos­si­ble de­ten­tion.

The 19th Con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment de­liv­ered three blows to the Ra­japaksa fam­ily. It re­versed the 18th con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment by re­strict­ing the Pres­i­den­tial terms of of­fice to two. Since Mahinda Ra­japaksa had served two terms as Pres­i­dent he was dis­qual­i­fied from con­test­ing the Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions again. This was the first blow. The 19th Amend­ment also de­barred dual cit­i­zens from con­test­ing Pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary polls. This ren­dered Mahinda’s broth­ers Basil and Gotabaya in­el­i­gi­ble to con­test as they were US cit­i­zens also. This was the sec­ond blow. 19A also raised the age limit to be Pres­i­dent. Ear­lier it was 30 but now it was 35. Mahinda’s eldest son Na­mal Ra­japaksa was born in 1986. As such he would only be 33 next year and there­fore can’t seek the pres­i­dency even if he wanted to. This was the third blow.

SLPP BE­CAME AN ES­TAB­LISHED PO­LIT­I­CAL EN­TITY

In such a sit­u­a­tion, many po­lit­i­cal ob­servers felt that the writ­ing was on the wall po­lit­i­cally for the Ruhunu Ra­japak­sas. But that did not hap­pen. De­spite the ad­verse set­backs, the po­lit­i­cal stock of Ruhunu Ra­japak­sas con­tin­ued to re­main on par with ‘Medamu­lana Mahinda’ con­tin­u­ing to re­tain his po­si­tion as the sin­gle-most pop­u­lar po­lit­i­cal leader in the seven prov­inces out­side the North and the East. More­over, the newly-formed Sri Lanka Po­du­jana Party (SLPP) which re­volves around Mahinda Ra­japaksa got the bet­ter of both the UNP and SLFP and emerged as the lead­ing vic­tor at the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties’ elec­tions. The SLPP with its sym­bol of lo­tus bud be­came an es­tab­lished po­lit­i­cal en­tity known pop­u­larly as “Po­hot­tuwa.” In such a sit­u­a­tion the Mahinda-led op­po­si­tion seemed con­fi­dent that the days of the Sirisena -Wick­remesinghe gov­ern­ment were num­bered and that the po­lit­i­cal resur­gence and re­turn to power of the Ruhunu Ra­japak­sas was in­evitable.

Since Mahinda was de­barred from con­test­ing the pres­i­dency, some of Mahinda’s po­lit­i­cal min­ions be­gan ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of mak­ing Mahinda Prime Minister with ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers.

In what ap­pears to be an in­de­cent haste to cap­ture power, Mahinda Ra­japaksa seems to have mis­cal­cu­lated badly in get­ting him­self ap­pointed as a “Prime Minister with­out a ma­jor­ity” to Re­place a “Prime Minister with a ma­jor­ity”

Since Mahinda was de­barred from con­test­ing the pres­i­dency, some of Mahinda’s po­lit­i­cal min­ions be­gan ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of mak­ing Mahinda Prime Minister with ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers

A ba­sic un­de­ni­able fact of con­tem­po­rary life in Sri Lanka is the po­lit­i­cal im­por­tance if not supremacy of the Ra­japak­sas. In that con­text the suc­ces­sion stakes is­sue within the Ruhunu Ra­japaksa clan plays a piv­otal role in the on go­ing po­lit­i­cal drama

What­ever the state of re­la­tions be­tween Gotabaya and Na­mal, Mahinda is too sea­soned a politi­cian to let that cloud his judg­ment or turn hos­tile to his brother. Mahinda’s pri­mary con­cern was to re­cap­ture power as quickly as pos­si­ble

With the newly formed SLPP win­ning splen­didly at the lo­cal au­thor­ity polls it ap­peared that any can­di­date with Mahinda’s back­ing could romp home the win­ner in the pres­i­den­tial stakes. there af­ter Mahinda would be made prime minister with max­i­mum pow­ers pos­si­ble.the Ra­japaksa camp be­gan assert­ing boldly that ei­ther Mahinda or a suit­able per­son nom­i­nated by him would be at the helm of Sri Lankan af­fairs soon. al­though no can­di­date was openly named, there were or­ga­nized ef­forts to prop up Mahinda’s brother and for­mer De­fence sec­re­tary Gotabaya Ra­japaksa as the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. It was said that Gota would re­lin­quish his US cit­i­zen­ship at the ap­pro­pri­ate time and be­come an el­i­gi­ble can­di­date. Gota him­self be­gan pro­mot­ing him­self in­di­rectly through or­ga­ni­za­tions such as “Viy­ath­maga” and “Eliya.” While the prospect of Gota be­ing Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date was wel­comed by many in the Ra­japaksa camp there were some dis­si­dents too par­tic­u­larly within the fam­ily cir­cle.

In an un­ex­pected turn of events, the ris­ing tide of op­ti­mism within the Ra­japaksa camp started ebbing with dis­tress­ing news of sim­mer­ing ten­sions within the Ra­japaksa ex­tended fam­ily. Much of this was due to the 19 A ill- ef­fect it was felt. In the ab­sence of Mahinda who among the Ra­japak­sas could con­test the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions? Was the multi-crore ques­tion. Though Gota was the front -run­ner, there was op­po­si­tion to him too. It was ru­moured that Mrs. Shi­ran­thi Ra­japaksa and eldest son Na­mal along with Basil Ra­japaksa were not en­thu­si­as­tic about Gota. Spec­u­la­tion was rife and the ru­mour mills be­gan work­ing over­time.the po­lit­i­cal grapevine be­gan hum­ming with sen­sa­tional dol­lops of news about dis­sen­sion and di­vi­sions within the Ra­japaksa clan. It was as if the Ra­japaksa fam­ily was tear­ing it­self apart over the P res­i­den­tial can­di­dacy stakes.

It was against this gloomy back­drop that the “Pater Fa­mil­ias” of the DA Ra­japaksa fam­ily ini­ti­ated a proac­tive move to re­solve dif­fer­ences and forge unity. Though Mahinda is the most pow­er­ful and in­flu­en­tial mem­ber of the fam­ily he is not the head of the fam­ily ac­cord­ing to so­cio-cul­tural norms. In the ab­sence of par­ents that hon­our goes to the eldest son in the fam­ily. Chamal Jayantha Ra­japaksa born on Oc­to­ber 30, 1942 is the eldest of Don Alvin and Dona Dan­d­ina Ra­japaksa’s nine chil­dren com­pris­ing six boys and three girls. Mahinda is the third child and sec­ond son.

MEET­ING OF RA­JAPAKSA SIB­LINGS

Chamal Ra­japaksa ar­ranged for a meet­ing of the Ra­japaksa sib­lings in March this year.the meet­ing was held at the res­i­dence of one of DA Ra­japaksa’s daugh­ters.the Ra­japaksa broth­ers and sis­ters con­verged at the venue with­out their spouses or off­spring be­ing present.the ob­jec­tive of the fam­ily con­clave was to unan­i­mously select an al­ter­na­tive to Mahinda to con­test the Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. The se­lected can­di­date would con­test polls and hope­fully win the elec­tions. There­after he would take steps to trans­fer power back to Mahinda Ra­japaksa. The method­ol­ogy for this would be de­vised at the ap­pro­pri­ate junc­ture de­pend­ing upon the pre­vail­ing po­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances and en­vi­ron­ment. Un­til such a trans­fer of power is ef­fected the cho­sen can­di­date would abide by Mahinda and be guided by him.

Chamal Ra­japaksa de­clined to be the cho­sen can­di­date. Basil also opted out. This left Gotabaya who was will­ing. Gota said that he would re­nounce his US cit­i­zen­ship in due course and that the en­tire process would not take more than two to three months at the most. Basil also ex­tended his sup­port to Gota and said that he would help him run the gov­ern­ment if elected. It was agreed that Mahinda would re­main head of the party while Gotabaya would be the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. Mahinda also said that it would be pre­ma­ture to an­nounce the can­di­dacy now and said he would do so when the time was con­ducive. this was agreed upon.

There­after the Ra­japaksa fam­ily demon­strated through their ac­tions that they were closing ranks. Mahinda and Basil vis­ited Gotabaya’s “Viy­ath­maga” of­fice pub­licly. Gota re­cip­ro­cated by vis­it­ing the SLPP party head­quar­ters of­fi­cially.the Ra­japaksa sib­lings also re-it­er­ated in me­dia in­ter­views that there was no dis­sen­sion among them. Ev­ery­thing seemed hunky-dory and it seemed to be only a mat­ter of time be­fore Mahinda would of­fi­cially an­nounce Gotabaya’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­dacy.

But then some­thing seemed to have gone wrong with the Ra­japaksa fam­ily plans and there was soon hid­den dis­cord. The fam­ily con­sen­sus on a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date did not seem to be valid any more. It ap­peared that Gotabaya was be­ing op­posed within fam­ily cir­cles again. Mahinda Ra­japaksa’s in­ter­view to “The Hindu” news­pa­per dur­ing his trip to New Delhi in Septem­ber strength­ened this im­pres­sion fur­ther. when Mahinda was asked about the pos­si­bil­ity of his brother be­ing a con­tender at the pres­i­den­tial poll, he did not en­dorse Gota or any­one else for that mat­ter and in­stead laid down what could be termed as con­di­tions. He said, “my brother is cer­tainly a con­tender, but the party and the coali­tion will have to de­cide who the peo­ple want”. In re­ply­ing to a re­lated ear­lier ques­tion Mahinda said, an­other op­tion is to “an­nounce a can­di­date ac­cept­able to all.”

PRES­I­DEN­TIAL CAN­DI­DACY OF GOTABAYA RA­JAPAKSA

What this meant was that the prospec­tive can­di­date should be ac­cept­able to a broad con­stituency and that the de­ci­sion on a can­di­date should be en­dorsed by the Po­hot­tuwa party and the joint op­po­si­tion coali­tion. It was well-known that Mahinda had stead­fastly re­frained from pub­licly nam­ing his ex-de­fence sec­re­tary sib­ling as the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date de­spite stren­u­ous ef­forts by the pro-gota lobby. In the “Hindu” in­ter­view, the con­di­tions stip­u­lated by Mahinda were dou­ble-edged as far as Gotabaya Ra­japaksa was con­cerned. Would Gota be en­dorsed by all shades of opin­ion in the SLPP and joint op­po­si­tion? Gota may be ac­cept­able to a large num­ber of Sin­hala Bud­dhists but would he be ac­cept­able to sub­stan­tial seg­ments of the re­li­gious and eth­nic mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties in the Is­land? If the an­swers are pos­i­tive then the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dacy of Gotabaya Ra­japaksa would be a cer­tainty. If the an­swers are neg­a­tive then there could be no firm de­ci­sion on Gota be­ing the cho­sen can­di­date. this demon­strated re­luc­tance on the part of Mahinda to name Gotabaya as the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date spoke vol­umes about in­tra-fam­ily splits and pro­longed the pre­vail­ing state of un­cer­tainty.

Ac­cord­ing to in­formed sources fa­mil­iar with in­ner -cur­rents within the Ra­japaksa clan say the fam­ily con­sen­sus on nom­i­nat­ing Gotabaya Ra­japaksa as the Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date did not last long de­spite the ini­tial eu­pho­ria.the main rea­son ac­cord­ing to these sources was that the “de­ci­sion” had been taken by the Ra­japaksa sib­lings with­out the con­cur­rence of their spouses or off- spring. The main ob­sta­cle to Gotabaya’s can­di­dacy was Mahinda’s wife Shi­ran­thi and eldest son Na­mal. They were wor­ried that once the man­tle of lead­er­ship in the form of the pres­i­dency was donned by Gotabaya, the chances of it ever fall­ing upon Na­mal were re­mote.

It was no se­cret that Un­cle Gota and Na­mal were not well-dis­posed to­wards each other. Gotabaya feels that one of the chief rea­sons for Mahinda los­ing the pres­i­den­tial poll in 2015 was due to the con­duct of his sons no­tably Na­mal. Gota in fact had even lost his cool and pitched into Na­mal in the af­ter­math of the de­feat. Though Na­mal had kept silent, there are rea­sons to be­lieve that the nephew had there­after fought a “guerilla war” through me­dia cir­cles against Gota’s po­ten­tial can­di­dacy. It is well -known among jour­nal­ist cir­cles that many of the “in­spired leaks” in the me­dia that are hos­tile to Gotabaya can be sourced to the pro-na­mal es­tab­lish­ment. A con­tro­ver­sial in­ci­dent in this re­gard was the pur­ported neg­a­tive re­marks made by out­go­ing US am­bas­sador Atul Ke­shap to Mahinda Ra­japaksa at a one to one meet­ing about Gotabaya Ra­japaksa’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­dacy. It is strongly sus­pected by con­cerned par­ties that cir­cles close to Na­mal were in­stru­men­tal in a North­ern news­pa­per scoop­ing the news story.

ELDEST SON NA­MAL RA­JAPAKSA’S PO­LIT­I­CAL FU­TURE

What­ever the state of re­la­tions be­tween Gotabaya and Na­mal, Mahinda is too sea­soned a politi­cian to let that cloud his judg­ment or turn hos­tile to his brother. Mahinda’s pri­mary con­cern was to re­cap­ture power as quickly as pos­si­ble. If Gotabaya was the best pos­si­ble can­di­date to spear­head a Ra­japaksa re­nais­sance in pol­i­tics, he was quite pre­pared to back his brother notwith­stand­ing re­sent­ment evinced by Shi­ran­thi or Na­mal. Nev­er­the­less as a fa­ther, he was very much in­ter­ested in Eldest son Na­mal Ra­japaksa’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture. ac­cord­ing to un­con­firmed re­ports Mahinda is be­lieved to have asked Gota pri­vately that af­ter be­com­ing pres­i­dent Gotabaya should en­sure and guar­an­tee a smooth po­lit­i­cal pas­sage for Na­mal Ra­japaksa as Gotabaya’s suc­ces­sor if pos­si­ble. Gota known for his blunt, di­rect man­ner of speak­ing had sup­pos­edly re­fused point blank. The ex-de­fence sec­re­tary had said that no one could guar­an­tee any­one any­thing in pol­i­tics. Gota had said it was up to Na­mal to forge his po­lit­i­cal fu­ture to the best of his abil­ity and that he (Gota) would help him as much as pos­si­ble but could not and would not pro­vide a fool -proof guar­an­tee. Mahinda ap­par­ently was dis­ap­pointed by this.

Even if there was cause for Mahinda to be miffed with Gota over the Na­mal fac­tor it was not that is­sue which made the ex-pres­i­dent re­view the fam­ily de­ci­sion to go ahead with Gota as pres­i­den­tial can­di­date op­tion. Sub­se­quent course of events com­pelled Mahinda to do a re-think about it. Firstly there was op­po­si­tion within the Mahinda camp to­wards Gotabaya’s can­di­dacy. Though Gota had siz­able sup­port within the broad folds of UPFA – SLFP- SLPP com­bine, there was op­po­si­tion too. The out­spo­ken com­ments of Ku­mar Wel­gama and Va­sudeva Nanayakkara op­pos­ing Gota’s can­di­dacy be­ing in­di­ca­tors.

Fur­ther­more there was Basil Ra­japaksa. al­though Basil was pre­pared to abide by the fam­ily con­sen­sus on Gota many in the SLPP were not pre­pared to do so. They made this known to Basil ef­fec­tively and the mas­ter po­lit­i­cal plan­ner who was re­spon­si­ble for the Po­hot­tuwa’s vic­tory at lo­cal polls be­gan hav­ing sec­ond thoughts. There were two con­cerns. Basil was try­ing to re-in­vent the SLPP into an in­clu­sive po­lit­i­cal party with the aim of woo­ing the mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties as it was felt reliance on a sole Sin­hala con­stituency alone was counter-pro­duc­tive po­lit­i­cally. There were valid doubts whether Gota could ap­peal to the non – Sin­hala Bud­dhist con­stituency.

The sec­ond con­cern was about the al­ter­na­tive po­lit­i­cal ap­pa­ra­tus be­ing built up by Gotabaya to mo­bilise sup­port for him. The vast ar­ray of pro­fes­sion­als, cap­tains of com­merce, for­mer de­fence ser­vice per­son­nel and Bud­dhist lead­ers from clergy and laity be­ing en­gaged in the pro­gota cam­paign was im­pres­sive. But how was this newly formed al­ter­nate power bloc go­ing to fit in with po­lit­i­cal party for­ma­tions in the tra­di­tional mould like the SLFP, SLPP and UPFA? Was Gota plan­ning to run a pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion out­side the par­lia­men­tary cab­i­net of min­is­ters?

“HITLER-GOTA” RE­MARKS BY ASGIRIYA ANUNAYAKE THERA

More im­por­tantly the po­lit­i­cal con­duct of some prom­i­nent per­sons sup­port­ing Gotabaya and their pub­lic ut­ter­ances were chau­vin­is­ti­cally hawk­ish. Their pro­nounce­ments and view­points may have tit­il­lated ethno-pop­ulists and ethno-su­prem­a­cists within the ma­jor­ity com­mu­nity but aroused fear and loathing among mod­er­ates of the ma­jor­ity and mi­nor­ity eth­nic­i­ties. Gota him­self seemed to be un­will­ing or un­able to control these ex­trem­ist el­e­ments.an ex­am­ple be­ing the re­marks about “Hitler - Gota” made by the Asgiriya Anunayake Thera. Un­der these cir­cum­stances there were doubts firstly about Gota win­ning at the pres­i­den­tial hus­tings even if he were el­i­gi­ble to con­test. Sec­ondly there were mis­giv­ings about the forces un­leashed by Gota run­ning amok if and when vic­tory was reg­is­tered.

Given this con­flict­ing sit­u­a­tion Mahinda Ra­japaksa seemed to be mulling over the de­ci­sion to an­nounce Gota’s can­di­dacy pub­licly. For one thing the pres­i­den­tial poll was due only in 2019 and there was no hurry. But the real rea­son seemed to be that Mahinda him­self was re­luc­tant to make a for­mal an­nounce­ment about Gota be­ing the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. In spite of many di­rect and in­di­rect en­treaties made by Gotabaya and by oth­ers on Gota’s be­half that an an­nounce­ment should be made “Mahinda Aiya” was not ready to do so. It was not that Mahinda was op­posed to Gota’s can­di­dacy but the ex-pres­i­dent seemed un­will­ing to do so at this junc­ture. It was as if he was wait­ing for the cor­rect time to com­mit him­self or as if he was pro­cras­ti­nat­ing in the hope that a bet­ter op­tion may turn up. Gotabaya him­self sensed this and was un­sure of be­ing nom­i­nated as the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. Hence, his re­luc­tance to re­lin­quish his US cit­i­zen­ship at this point of time. If he were sure then Gota would have given up his US cit­i­zen­ship promptly. So Gota en­gaged in the wait­ing game while pro­mot­ing his cam­paign through reg­u­lar meet­ings held by or­ga­ni­za­tions and groups af­fil­i­ated to him.

Mean­while events be­gan to over­take. The pace and course of po­lit­i­cal cur­rents ne­ces­si­tated a dras­tic al­ter­ation of Mahinda Ra­japaksa’s plans and ob­jec­tives. It be­came im­por­tantly im­per­a­tive for Mahinda Ra­japaksa to cap­ture power di­rectly as early as pos­si­ble. Mahinda could not af­ford to wait pa­tiently for the 2019 pres­i­den­tial poll. He de­cided to dis­pense with the Gotabaya as can­di­date plan tem­po­rar­ily and in­stead de­cided to jump into the fray him­self. Mahinda was even pre­pared to patch up dif­fer­ences with Maithri­pala Sirisena and form a tac­ti­cal al­liance with the pres­i­dent for this pur­pose. Ear­lier Mahinda wanted to split the Sirisena-led SLFP from the so called “Ya­ha­palanaya” Gov­ern­ment and har­ness enough MPS from all sides to de­feat the resid­ual UNF Bud­get in a Par­lia­men­tary vote. There­after Maithri­pala would ap­point Mahinda as premier in re­con­fig­ured Par­lia­ment. How­ever when Maithri­pala Sirisena for rea­sons of his own wanted to ex­pe­dite mat­ters by re­mov­ing Ranil Wick­remesinghe and im­me­di­ately re­plac­ing him with Mahinda Ra­japaksa as PM, the ex-pres­i­dent did not want to miss that op­por­tu­nity.

LULLED INTO A FALSE SENSE OF COM­PLA­CENCY

Even though he did not have a ma­jor­ity of MPS sup­port­ing him in Par­lia­ment, Mahinda was pre­pared to be ap­pointed as premier. Mahinda how­ever was supremely con­fi­dent that he would be able to get many more than the num­bers re­quired within a very short time. For one thing Maithri­pala had al­ready as­sured him that the num­bers were there pend­ing fi­nal­iza­tion. Be­sides flat­ter­ers like SB Dis­sanayake lulled him into a false sense of com­pla­cency by telling Mahinda that there would be a land­slide of de­fec­tions from all par­ties when it be­came known Mahinda Ra­japaksa was the new Prime Minister.

It is re­li­ably learnt that Basil Ra­japaksa cau­tioned his el­der brother about the wis­dom of be­ing sworn in as Prime Minister with­out a vi­able ma­jor­ity in hand and had sug­gested that Mahinda wait un­til the Ranil regime was de­feated in the Bud­get vote and cap­ture power in a more cred­i­ble and ef­fec­tive man­ner. But Mahinda would not hear of it. He told his younger brother in Sin­hala that power would not come in the way we want or at the time we want and that when an op­por­tu­nity to seize power loomed large on the po­lit­i­cal hori­zon, it should be grasped im­me­di­ately with­out de­lay. It was this line of think­ing which re­sulted in Mahinda Ra­japaksa mak­ing a power grab through the back­door. The best laid plans of Mahinda and Maithri­pala turned awry due to their fail­ure to gar­ner a ma­jor­ity among Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans. The end re­sult has been a colos­sal po­lit­i­cal cri­sis that has paral­ysed the na­tion and made Sri Lanka an ob­ject of scorn in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Why then did Mahinda Ra­japaksa with his years of vast po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence em­bark upon this risky po­lit­i­cal ven­ture? What are the rea­sons and mo­tives that com­pelled him to opt for a back­door en­try to the seat of power in such a hurry? And where does the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion leave Gotabaya Ra­japaksa? Some of the an­swers to these burn­ing ques­tions have been touched upon briefly in this ar­ti­cle.the is­sues would be dis­cussed in greater de­tail in a forth­com­ing ar­ti­cle.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Sri Lanka

© PressReader. All rights reserved.