Ball In Maithri’s Court

13The meeting between the defeated president and the winning president was given as much hype as was possible for a team that has very little access to media institutions. Yet what the meeting has achieved is give a few column centimeters to newspapers and several seconds of news coverage. Essentially it was, as a regular observer said, “nothing but a damp squib.”

The fact remains that for all the exhortations by Mahinda Rajapaksa supporters, Mahinda knows that there is absolutely no chance of Maithripala Sirisena giving him the Prime Ministerial candidacy. In any event even under Rajapaksa the Prime Minister was only announced after the election result was known. This enabled Rajapaksa at the time to keep his Ministers in tow. Indeed to such an extent that even Basil Rajapaksa wanted the position but his presidential brother was unwilling to give him the top spot for a variety of reasons.

Although everyone including Maithripala Sirisena are aware that by bringing in Mahinda Rajapaksa to the fold, the chances of electoral victory for the SLFP would be all but assured, the resolve to not have Mahinda takes precedence over rational political judgment.

The stage therefore is now set for the imminent split of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and for Mahinda Rajapaksa to make a separate bid. 

Mahinda’s Strategy

Mahinda’s strategy is that he will form a separate party, introduce a different logo and go for the next parliamentary election with the aim of securing the Leader of the Opposition role. Once that is secured Mahinda will begin his own maneuvering. Speaking on MTV’s Hot Seat programme, former Chief Justice Sarath Silva described Mahinda Rajapaksa as a political animal meaning the former President had a vast array of political stratagems that to ignore Mahinda Rajapaksa is to do so entirely at your own peril.

This scenario would then see an intensification of the legal efforts against the Rajapaksa family and others closely connected to the former first family.

Basil Rajapaksa of course within the custody of the Colombo magistrate, appears likely to have at least a further five weeks in which he can experience the questionable benefits of a remand prisoner. Several legal luminaries we spoke to expressed their horror that this case could go against the grain so much. They pointed out that in open court the police confirmed that the monies taken by the Ministry of Economic Development to pay DIvinaguma members was never taken home by either the Minister or his Ministry officials.

In essence with the virtual breakup of the SLFP unity by the covert refusal of Mahinda Rajapaksa to be an active proponent of the party (he has not said anything either way officially) the long standing wish of one of the country’s more experienced politicians’ will come to pass: Ranil Wickremesinghe looks almost certain to become the next Prime Minister and at his fourth attempt as Prime Minister will be all but assured of a full term. Wickremesinghe has been PM three times and they have all been for partial terms.

The time is opportune indeed says a regular observer of political Lanka, for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to shine as a statesman. No one either in opposition or in government (it’s difficult these days to tell the difference) will deny that in Ranil Wickremesinghe the people of Lanka are fortunate to have a man of some vision as Ranil.

As Rauff Hakeem puts it, ‘if only Ranil could control his temper’ he will be rather good at what he does! There is much hope that Wickremesinghe will dedicate a bit more time to perfecting his PR and gives up his penchant to attack those he perceives as having been against him, Wickremesinghe can work for the overall betterment of Sri Lanka.

Perhaps recognising that with the breakup of SLFP amidst the almost regular booing and jeering that now greets President Kumaratunga from time to time, CBK has made a start at gravitating towards Ranil Wickremesinghe. Just last week she spent virtually the entire day at Temple Trees with Wickremesinghe.

In the backdrop of the meeting of the two most recent presidents, there was yet another opportunity for those that continuously wish to perpetrate claims against the Rajapaksas to now claim that the reason the Rajapaksa team objected to the way in which the FCID was conducting its investigations was because they wished to sweep under the carpet investigations into many members of the Rajapaksa supporting entourage. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera an acknowledged media spinner, spun the story that according to some foreigners who were helping Sri Lanka trace lost assets, the value of assets syphoned away by the previous administration and their associates amounted to USD 18 billion. The claim appeared to have no rationale whatsoever.

The average GDP during the Rajapaksa years was approximately USD 50 Billion. The average public investment spend as never more that 6% of GDP. On the basis that Samaraweera espouses, the Rajapaksas are remarkable politicians and dealmakers!

However some of Mr Samaraweera’s statements border incredulity. His claim that some of the foreigners whose help has been sought to recover any monies and assets gained through questionable means and held internationally, have estimated that amount in the region of USD 18 Billion.

It must be noted that the sum total of financing from China to Sri Lanka in every different form, amounts to USD 6 Billion. The average GDP during the Rajapaksa years can be calculated at USD 50 Billion. Public investment was never higher than 6% of GDP.

Therefore in the final analysis public investment for the full Rajapaksa nine years would have been a total of USD 27 Billion, calculated at 6% of USD 50 Billion per year for nine years.

It borders the astonishing that of the USD 27 Billion, the Rajapaksa government has managed to syphon away USD 18 Billion – leaving aside ‘only’ USD 9 Billion for development work that has included the road network, a flagship power station, a vanity Hambantota port project and an international airport as well as funding the war effort was all done with the ‘residue’ of USD 9 Billion. 

Spin doctors and PR organisations

When spin doctors and PR organisations gather forces they usually come out with statements that can easily capture the publics’ imagination. In essence with something that is believable. Even ‘Q’ the man in charge of James Bond 007’s high-tech gadgetry came up with products that the public were able to relate to – including the now famous ‘ejector’ seat in the Aston Martin – even if the changing number plates was unbelievable but technologically possible!

To ask a population who enjoy a literacy rate in the 90% region, to believe that the former government spirited away three times more money than China has ever granted Sri Lanka or that they helped themselves to over 60% of the total public investment in those nine years, is to enter a dream zone that is several billion light years into the netherworld.

A key insider at the SLFP divulged this: “our Party needs to protect itself against the activities of small groups of inflexible politicians. They are extreme so-called left and in a few cases extreme so-called moderates, having in common only their arrogant dogmatism”. He was of course alluding to those who cannot see the woods for the trees, said a former colleague.

The matter of the 19th amendment although having been passed by parliament and not being available for public scrutiny has caught many people unaware and left them all feeling rather dazed by its lack of availability in the public domain.

Former Chief Justice Sarath Silva bemoaned the fact that the full detail of the 19th amendment was yet not freely available. However he pointed out that although a start had been made there were marked differences in what was originally envisaged and what later was passed in parliament. One of the more puzzling factors which he warned could result in a form of political stalemate was with regard to the appointment of Ministers. Under the new amendment Ministers would be appointed by the President on the advice of the PM. The President on the other hand decides on the actual work the Minister will do. (The allocation of subjects). On the other hand if the President does not agree with the PM’s advice, there could well be a political stalemate. However under the new amendment the President would be unable to coerce the PM into his line of thinking or wishes, by dissolving parliament as under the new rules parliament can run four and a half years before the President can dissolve parliament. Mr Silva said that on the face of it there could be a comparison with the Buddhistic ‘middle path’ but for constitutional reasons clarity will need to be brought in perhaps by further amendments.