Earlier this week, Indian media quoting new External Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera reported there was a fear of a real coup in Sri Lanka during the early hours of January 9, when it was becoming evident to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa that the poll results were not in his favour.
However, as the first light of the day hit the city of Colombo on January 9, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa accepted his defeat and left Temple Trees, assuring a smooth transfer of power to the incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena. This came as a surprise to many, and mostly to those who foretold the 2015 Presidential election would record the highest election violence in the history of polls in Sri Lanka. However, these claims of the alleged attempt to stage a coup on election night have cast doubts on whether his exit was as peaceful as it appeared to be . . .
It was on January 1, 2015, that the present Prime Minister, who was then the Opposition leader, disclosed details of an alleged attempt being formulated by the Rajapaksa regime to deploy ex-servicemen and utilize the military establishment to manipulate the elections process in their favour. He gave the media, a document titled ‘Western Province – Colombo District Campaign Segment (II)’ that contained a list of names/contact information of ex-servicemen who had been assigned to ‘handle’ a part of Colombo that had been divided into four areas – Kolonnawa, Kotte, Maharagama and Dehiwala.
Although the document does not specify the tasks that these officials had been assigned, it notes that each of the four areas had been given a group leader, an assistant group leader, a full-time group consisting of two ex-servicemen and two additional groups consisting of four ex-servicemen each. They were to take turns during November 10 -24, 2014, December 8 – 12, 2014 and January 5 – 10, 2015. The document also contained details of other groups of ex-servicemen who had been assigned to several other parts of the country including Badulla, Sabaragamuwa, Anuradhapura etc.
The former regime denies the allegations and claims it was a ‘purely political campaigning exercise’. Yet, the deployment of the military in Colombo in the days leading up to the elections and on the election day, has been in clear violation of election results.
The Elections Commissioner on several occasions in the days leading up to the elections reiterated that the security forces had no role in the polls and that the Police were capable of protecting the polling process and the voters. Despite the EC’s assurance of not involving the military in the elections process, a confidential letter titled ‘Operation Directive: Provision of assistance to the Police by the security forces during the Presidential election 2015’ issued on December 24, 2014, signed by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Jagath Jayasooriya states that military was to be deployed to assist the Police to maintain law and order during the run up to and the aftermath of the election.
In a category titled ‘Special instructions’ in the letter, notes have been made on providing security to ‘vulnerable points’ with effect from 1800 hrs on January 5, 2015 and the tentative date for the troops to be relieved has been noted as January 11, 2015. Those calling for action against the alleged ‘election night coup’ and the masterminds behind it, claim these directives are a clear violation of the election laws, since the deployment of troops has been carried out without a request of the Elections Commissioner.
Although the credibility of these allegations or the specific details of this alleged plot – if true – are yet to be revealed, the politicians of the new interim government state that all measures were set to implement the plan under the directions of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, the former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya. They also state the alleged coup attempt was thwarted by the Attorney General Yuvanjan Wijeyathilake, the IGP and the Elections Commissioner, who stood against the plan and thereby saved the country from being pushed towards an unprecedented carnage by the wee hours of January 9 – a claim that has neither been acknowledged nor denied by any of these officials so far.
These accusations have however been denied by the former President Rajapaksa.
However, last week, new Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) requesting an urgent probe on the alleged plot that would have ‘subverted the democratic processes of the country’. Meanwhile, last week the Attorney General Yuvanjan Wijeyathilake himself instructed the CID to probe the alleged ‘election night coup’ when his advice was sought to commence the investigations.
The details remain sketchy and the truth remains blurred. Was the transition of power as smooth as it seemed? Are these simply political claims? Or was it the outcome of a failure in a dangerous plan that could not be hatched?
The Dailymirror spoke to several officials whose names have been linked with the issue and to several politicians who have been voicing their concerns on the matter . .
Rajapaksas plan was to ask the Police to call for a military intervention
JHU General Secretary and Minister of Power and Energy – Patali Champika Ranawaka
“This was a part of the multifaceted plan formulated by the Rajapaksas to gain the upper hand at the elections if the results were not in their favour.
They appointed ex-servicemen to coordinate with the elections process. The Colombo district was divided into 17 sectors, and each sector was designated with high-level military officers to coordinate with the political representatives. It was a plan that amalgamated ex-military, existing military and the political mechanism.
However, this plan met with severe protest from the officials on the lower ranks. Moreover, the people’s movement was gaining ground and the Rajapaksas felt the heat. That is why their plans were scuttled.
Unfortunately, MR was spurred on by the Defence Secretary and a few personnel in the Defence sector”.
In fact, I can say with assurance that they established armed cordons covering various key points in Colombo. One circle was to cover the area spanning from Wellawatte bridge to the Kelaniya Bridge; the second was to encircle us – the Opposition politicians from Sirikotha to the Elections Commissioners office – Royal College and DS Senanayake College counting centres. The Rajapaksas tried every possible move in order to remain in power, but all their schemes fell apart. Democracy is still prevailing in this country, thanks to the bravery of our Elections Commissioner, the IGP, the Attorney General and some of the military commanders.”
This was a part of the multifaceted plan formulated by the Rajapaksas to gain upper hand at the elections if the results were not in their favour.
These claims are too sensitive and politicized
Army Commander – Lt. Gen. Daya Ratnayake
I am not aware of any ‘coup’
Former Director/Spokesman – Media Centre, Ministry of Defence Brig. -Ruwan Wanigasooriya
“The Sri Lanka Army; both before and after the elections did the utmost to protect the democratic freedom, which they are committed to preserve. Over 30,000 lives were sacrificed in the North and East in preserving democracy and freeing our country from the clutches of terrorism.
Therefore, we neither confirm nor deny these claims, let the investigation reveal the truth. . .”
I am not aware of any ‘coup’ or any other such attempt, but, since there is an ongoing investigation on the matter, I would prefer to refrain from commenting the topic.
The military was strategically located in various key points in Colombo
Election Monitoring body – CaFFE
CaFFE Executive Director, Ranith Keerthi Tennakoon however states that they can confirm that between 1.00 am – 2.30 am on January 9, there was a definite attempt to involve the military in violating the election process.
“The military was strategically located in various key points in Colombo, including leading media institutions as well as telecommunications towers and operation centres. That indicates a plan that was underway to shut down the communication structures.
It has been confirmed that some top officials of the state including the top official of the judiciary and the Attorney General were among those summoned to Temple Trees that night. Through our observations, we can also note that certain Brigades of the military were ready to follow the instructions of the former regime to activate their scheme of which the master plan is yet to be revealed. But it is important to note that the Police was ready to take up any challenge that night and was ready to thwart any attempt to violate the elections process.
When I visited the Elections Department that night, I saw the Police and even the STF preparing themselves but they did not allow us to panic. It is also important to note that none of the state officials whose names have been linked with the events that expired that night, has denied the facts that were made public concerning the events that took place on election night.
It was obvious that ‘something’ was about to happen and now when you add up the bits and pieces together, it is evident that an act that would have been detrimental to the democratic process of Sri Lanka was about to take place. But fortunately, for the Police and the enthusiasm building among the masses to challenge the military set up did not allow for it to proceed.”
Additional 2000 troopers got down to Colombo to implement this plot
Leader Democratic Party/ Ex-Army commander – General Sarath Fonseka
“According to the information we have received, the Army Commander under instructions of the President, the Defence Secretary and Chief of Defence Staff planned something fishy, something irregular and to implement this plot, they got down an additional group of 2000 troopers to be deployed in Colombo. It did not materialize due to a request by the IGP or the Elections Commissioner. Hence, it was a definite violation of law and order in the country. It was an unwanted, secret deployment and specific officers were assigned to be in-charge of this deployment.
We learnt that when the election results were going against Mahinda Rajapaksa, they were to do something similar to the plan they implemented in 2010, where the EC would be detained and the results changed. This time, we heard that even at the last minute, they were discussing on how to stay in power for at least another two more years without announcing the results.
The army deployment was irregular and it was definitely not in the interest of the security of the state. On the election day, it is not lawful to deploy military in that nature and this indicates a definite coup attempt.
Finally, because the results were way against them anddue to the mounting international pressure to refrain from meddling with the results, they took a step back. The Army was there even for the next two days until former President Chandrika Kumaratunga informed the Defence Secretary to instruct the troops to be pulled out of Colombo”.
The Army Commander is responsible for the deployment of the troops and it was a clandestine arrangement. Neither the Army Chief nor the Chief of Defence Staff can wash their hands off the act now.”
When the election results were going against MR, they were to do something similar to the plan they implemented in 2010
I have no evidence to comment
Election monitor – PAFFREL
People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections, Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi says he will neither confirm nor deny the claims that are being made of the alleged ‘election night coup’. “I’m not in a position to say anything about what occurred at the Temple Trees that night, because I was not present there. So without any evidence, I cannot make any comments. However, we deployed our observers to 15 selected counting centres and I can assure you that those processes continued in a peaceful manner.
In fact, I personally visited some of the counting centres in Colombo and these claims of the military being stationed in close proximity to the counting centres are not true.
I’m not in a position to say anything about what occurred at the Temple Trees that night
We know nothing of what happened outside
Elections Department official
When contacted by dailymirror , the Elections Commissioner was unavailable to comment on the alleged ‘coup’ attempt by the former regime. However another top official of the ED has the following to say: “Many have been asking me as well about these claims that are being made about an attempt to involve the military in annulling election results. But we know nothing of what happened outside. Within the Department of course, there was no such issue. . .”
It’s nothing more than a political witch-hunt
Former Defence Secretary, -Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa completely denies allegations made concerning the alleged attempt to stage an ‘election night coup’.
“It is a baseless allegation made to discredit the former President and other officials. It’s nothing more than a political witch-hunt; even before all the results were announced the President and all his staff left Temple Trees. Firstly, no such ‘clandestine’ discussion took place behind closed doors that night. Former President, with his supporters and staff members were gathered room observing the results. I was actually in a different room. He (MR) then contacted the then Opposition Leader/ current Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe between 3.00 – 4.00 am and asked to meet him in order to discuss certain matters, which included the security of the President and myself.
Yes, the Attorney General was called to Temple Trees, but that was to discuss maintenance of law and order, such as whether or not a curfew should be imposed since the Opposition at the time had made public claims of surrounding the Temple Trees. So that was a situation that needed to be addressed. To that end, the IGP and the service commanders were present at Temple Trees at that juncture. The AG is entitled to advise the government, and if there was an attempt to stage a coup, do you think the AG would have been consulted?
As for the claims being made concerning the use of ex-servicemen, they were involved in a purely political campaign, and as citizens of this country, they have every right to do so.
So these claims might be solely for political purposes. It must be stressed that the deployment of military was not carried out under my instructions. Those were military matters and I am sure they must have been issued orders for that. Those are usual standing operational procedures. . .”
It’s very clear that no such thing took place; even before all the results were announced the President and all his staff left Temple Trees.
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