Game Of Politics Plays On!
The lack of support for Sirisena has puzzled observers who are beginning to believe that CBK has engaged in a super-league game of brinkmanship and that by propelling Sirisena forward she hopes to attract at least 24 others to her fold
Up until passing the Budget, there were palpitations at Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) upper balcony. This was caused not so much by any uncertainty from the bulk of the SLFP parliamentary group but more in anticipation of who would ‘do the dirty’ and openly display their ‘treachery’. In the event, the budget passed comfortably amidst jeers Madam lanuwak dunna, Nayaka thuma iwarai (Madam has given a rope and Opposition Leader is now finished). The ruling members of course were alluding to the previous week’s events when the Secretary General of the SLFP Maithripala Sirisena crossed over to the Opposition to become their ‘common’ candidate to challenge incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa. They were also referring to the role played by Former President Kumaratunga who is said to have pulled off ‘the biggest coup ever at the SLFP’.
Immediately after Maithripala Sirisena made his announcement at the New Town Hall, the international TV channel Al-Jazeera carried a broadcast on their “inside Story” current affairs programme. They referred to President Rajapaksa’s quest for an ‘unprecedented third term’. They had on their show two members of Sri Lanka’s legislature namely Prof Rajiva Wijesingha and Harsha De Silva. Also on the show was Suren Surendiran the spokesperson for the Global Tamil Forum (GTF). It puzzled many as the programme appeared to report on the Presidential quest for a historic third term and the presence of Surendiran appeared to be out of place as the agenda of the GTF was one to promote the interests of the defeated LTTE group and the rump that is left behind all over the world – whilst the presence of the opposition parliamentarians albeit one supportive at times of the President – was easy to comprehend.
Predictably Surendiran used the opportunity to make what has now become near rhetoric – claiming that there were some who said that the events towards the end of the war was ‘genocidal’. MP Harsha De Silva from the United National Party (UNP) was to find himself in hot water in parliament when his parliamentary colleagues berated him for appearing on the show with Surendiran and speaking in unison they accused him. De Silva hotly denied the charge and confirmed that he had in fact acknowledged the contribution made by President Rajapaksa to peace by winning the war. Indeed Dr De Silva went on to say that the current position was that ‘Sri Lanka must move forward and win the peace’ (as opposed to winning the war).
During the programme it became clear the real intent of the CBK-backed common opposition. Surendiran expressed an opinion that suggested that ‘come March” the moves to prosecute Mahinda Rajapaksa would gain ground. Surendiran was suggesting that Rajapaksa would lose the forthcoming election and would then lose his status as ‘Head of State” and the consequent loss of protection afforded under International Jurisdiction laws.
This is exactly what sources say is the ultimate game-plan of President Kumaratunga who has for long held a grudge against Rajapaksa. To achieve this say analysts, Mrs Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe would need to act in concert. Inside sources revealed highly sensitive information that two foreign powers have indicated their support and have given guidelines that it would be necessary to have a common candidate who would be amenable to their bidding. It would help, they were advised, if the candidate also had an axe to grind against Rajapaksa. Many of these details were firmed up when Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga were in the United Kingdom.
It is in this context that Mrs Kumaratunga worked her plan towards securing the support of Maithripala Sirisena who has for long been subservient and loyal beyond reproach to the Bandaranaike political dynasty. His vengeance for Rajapaksa was clear for all to see at the press conference – which indicates that CBK had got things almost right apparently.
Maithripala Sirisena is a genial sort of fellow and showed his genial nature when he said that he always respects his ‘gurus’ and that with the permission of his colleagues and all those present, he would always respect the Leader of the Opposition and that no matter the heights he went to, he would refer to RW as “Sir”. A wit said “In case he did win, it would be interesting to see how Maithripala as President would refer to Wickremesinghe after a couple of months. Ranil may end up calling him Sir.” Inside Politics
is reminded of how Sarath Fonseka the retired Army Commander who was the first ‘common candidate’ that Ranil Wickremesinghe turned to in an attempt to push Rajapaksa out of power, kept Wickremesinghe waiting outside without giving him any special treatment – indicating to many observers at the time of the harsh realities of electing a former military man who knows only about giving orders out and expecting delivery without question.
Further details have emerged as to how Maithripala Sirisena kept information of his impending crossover under wraps. He commandeered the help and assistance of a Muslim businessman with interests in the power sector. Conveniently the businessman owned a top-of-the-range apartment at theMonarch block of apartments. His modus operandi would be to arrive with his entourage at the block in Colpetty, next door to the Cinnamon Grand hotel and go up to the apartment where he would have his clandestine meets. To go around he would emerge and go about in another private vehicle with only his most trusted security officer – for communications he was given one of 13 satellite telephones with the Inmarsat service that was given to the CBK Ranil cabal by the foreign power. The technology to track these types of phones is available but not in Sri Lanka – a fact well known by the donor foreign state.
The lack of support for Sirisena has puzzled observers who are beginning to believe that CBK has engaged in a super-league game of brinkmanship and that by propelling Sirisena forward she hopes to attract at least 24 others to her fold – or rather towards supporting Sirisena’s candidacy. Thus far a total of nine have made the crossing in as yet calm waters.
During Sirisena’s customary visit to pay homage to the Bandaranaike memorial at Horagolla, although plenty of notce was given, CBK’s followers were unable to garner anything more than about 200 supporters at Horagolla to greet the Presidential aspirant. Says one media man, “We had notice in advance and we thought there would be a very much bigger crowd. From a photo opportunity moment it was disappointing.”
The landmark visit of the Secretary General of the SLFP to the traditional rivals’ headquarters was somewhat better but it was a poor show by Tissa Attanayake and Sajith Premadasa. It became obvious to many UNP supporters that Premadasa was only a star because there were no others. His speech failed to inspire – neither did Attanayaka’s for that matter –and many were quite bored. Until the powerful oratory of Rajitha Senaratne rejuvenated the hopeful and the faithful alike. Sirisena to his credit also made a speech which a spin doctor described as ‘great’. Sirisena spoke in a way that touched the hearts of many UNPers. He spoke of how he had met Ranil for the first time with Gamini Athukorala at the Mulkerigala by-election. He recalled how he had to run for his life and had to hop on a bus that was plying the road to escape the wrath of the UNPers. He had now come full circle. It gave the necessary feel-good factor and perhaps instilled a sense of gratitude amongst UNPers who have long forgotten what it is like to be in power and to be led by a man who has failed to become electable for the past 10 years. He has neither been able to inspire the population to vote for the party itself. In more ways than one, the UNP hopes are all riding high on Maithripala Sirisena.
The disappointment though on Premadasa was more pronounced clearly because so much was expected of the former President’s only son. Many present felt that in spite of Ravi Karunanayake’s many disappointments – he wanted badly for the Deputy Leadership post – he has played the true role of a UNP loyalist and has given his all casting aside personal ambition. This despite his own troubles which he is fully aware the Government can use against him at a moment’s notice. Karunanayake has displayed a fearless loyalty and has spoken out on far more national issues than had Premadasa, complained many UNPers at the meeting. Their welcome for Premadasa was at marked odds which Premadasa received many months ago at Siri Kotha.
Sirisena was shown around the Siri Kotha complex and was taken to the backyard where once stood two dilapidated buildings. These had been renovated and two very ‘pukkah’ offices had been set up to house the UNP media campaign team. As we revealed in earlier weeks, it was an office any techno phobe would be proud of. Even the 63-year-old Sirisena recognised this and remarked as much. The man who was to greet him there was Sugath Chandrasekera. Many parliamentary MP’s who had not seen the offices also appreciated the office. The man who created this near-phenomenon out of a dilapidated building was nearby. An observer said it was like “watching the working elephant and the elephant dressed up to go for the perahera.” Inside Politics asked who the working elephant may have been: Krishantha Cooray provided the reply. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s actions rarely inspire long-term loyalty. Certainly he has experienced that with Mangala Samaraweera who very nearly catapulted himself towards the SLFP a few weeks ago – thanks to the persuasive powers of Malik Samarawickrema that disaster was averted.
The smorgasbord of politics in Sri Lanka has been served up and the people will be nibbling away right now. The people though it appears are unlikely to be impressed by Chandrika Kumaratunga’s antics which many felt was designed to keep the Bandaranaike political dynasty alive by getting Vimukthi Kumaratunga to return from Bristol and engage in politics in Sri Lanka a country that is becoming a distant dream for the young veterinary surgeon.
However with one foreign power supporting the Opposition with a USD 50 Million budget, another with a smaller USD 10 Million plus strategic advice and offers of on-going development support once regime change is achieved, neither opponent is short of money. An industrialist headed a list of private donations with a pledge of Rs 1 Billion – when shown the list the President refused to believe that he was on it. Stranger things have happened at sea Sir.