President’s seat gets hot

DAYAN JAYATILLEKA  Author and former  Ambassador

Going by a recent report on a ‘behind the news’ segment on TV, President Sirisena has told the UPFA leaders that he is under tremendous pressure from the West and India. What Prime Minister Modi wants cannot be done but nor can we refrain from doing so; he is supposed to have said. He explained his advocacy of a National Government which included the UNP by saying that it was an unavoidable answer to western pressure because Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP were the only ones who could talk to the West, interface with it and keep it at bay. If this story has veracity – and it has yet to be denied – this Presidential disclosure tells us many things.
Western applause
Democratic ‘regime change’ and the Western applause notwithstanding, the new President is under pressure.
This in and of itself reveals that contrary to the perception of even those in the pro-Mahinda camp and perhaps Mahinda himself, ‘regime change’ was NOT the aim and objective, but only a means. The primary target was not Mahinda; or rather Mahinda was targeted because he stood in the way of the attainment of the real objectives of the West. If Mahinda were the target and regime change the aim, then there should be no serious pressure on President Sirisena, now that Mahinda is no longer the president.
According to the President, the source of the pressure is the West and India. At least one aim and objective is that which was articulated by Prime Minister Modi who recommended “moving beyond the 13th Amendment” and explicitly flagged federalism.
One receives confirmation from the reports of discussions between the government and visiting US Asst. Secretary of Human Rights and Labour Tom Malinowski that the pressure from the West is on Accountability.
fonseka_mahinda_gotabhayaPrime Minister Wickremesinghe writing in the Japan Times disclosed a third objective, namely “re-setting the strategic position of Sri Lanka in the world”. One notices that State Minister for Defence Ruwan Wijeratne, writing in a daily newspaper, draws attention to, commends and almost upholds as a model, Sir John Kotelawela’s embarrassing attempt at confrontation with China’s Premier Zhou En Lai, an Asian icon, at the Bandung Conference 1955. That’s a suitable note to accompany his boss and uncle Ranil’s attempt at ‘resetting of Sri Lanka’s strategic position in the world’. Sixty years ago, that conduct earned Sir John the local sobriquet of Bandung Booruwa. It also fed into the silent revolution of the following year 1956. (Now, 60 years later will Ranil Wickremesinghe earns the same response from the voter at the upcoming parliamentary election?)
According to The Hindu, “Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had said Sri Lanka is neither pro-India nor pro-China.” (‘Sri Lanka is neither pro-India nor pro-China: Ranil’, K. Santhush, The Hindu 19 April). In this the PM is wrong because Sri Lanka is and should be both pro-India and pro-China, though perhaps in reverse order (for eminently Kautilyan reasons). However, it could have been a political Freudian slip on Wickremesinghe’s part, because he, his Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and his neoliberal clique at the apex of the UNP are certainly “neither pro-India nor pro-China”; they are simply pro-West. These three objectives – (i) de facto federalism, (ii) intrusive accountability and (iii) realignment with the West—constitute the agenda. MR was the obstacle and regime change was the prerequisite to achieving these aims and implementing this agenda. Now the time has come to pay the piper and President Sirisena discloses that he is under pressure to deliver.
Global Tamil Forum
The character of the ethnic reforms envisaged by the Tamil Diaspora and the agency through which they expect it is made transparently clear in an open letter to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga from Rev F. S.J. Emmanuel, President of the Global Tamil Forum.
He names, perhaps accurately, the prime mover, or should I say the prime local proxy of the regime change strategy as ex-President Kumaratunga.
He names her as the leader of a forthcoming ethnic reform and reconciliation through a radical re-designing of our political order.
He also indicates the sheer magnitude of the change they envisage – nothing less than “the very foundations of the structure of our government”.
The role of CBK in the diaspora agenda is clear:
“Your wisdom in becoming the architect of the new coalition to effect a regime change is well accepted and appreciated.
In my recent article “For genuine Reconciliation all religions must collaborate” (The Island 08.04.2015), I had mentioned in passing your choice to lead the initiative of the new regime for reconciliation. Today I wish to give my comments about your role for a new and challenging leadership…
… A second bold initiative you made was by your proposals or political package of 3 August 1995 for Constitutional changes.
… Your role assumes a unique opportunity, to reflect on the very foundations of our structure of Government … Now is the time, a second chance for all the people to rethink and organize their system of governance… You are uniquely called at this hour of the nation to mobilize all the progressive forces from the different sectors of our population, not merely the politicians, but also the civic and religious leaders, philanthropists and professionals, to make a collaborative effort for Reconciliation and peace…” (‘An Open Appeal to Chandrika Kumaratunga’, S.J Emmanuel, the Island 17th April, 2015) The question is: who on earth elected Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the Queen of Has-Beens who is jeered at her own party’s conclaves, to play this role? What mandate does this faded political pin-up of two decades ago, have? Where, when and from who does it derives?
If President Sirisena finds the pressure quite so difficult to withstand in peacetime, one can well imagine Sri Lanka’s fate if he had faced the combined western pressure, from Hillary Clinton, David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner – together with a call for a “humanitarian pause and reopening negotiations” that President Obama delivered from the White House lawn – that Mahinda Rajapaksa did in 2009! General Fonseka would have found himself in the same situation as Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Vijaya Wimalaratne in 1987, with the added factor that the US would have promised to use whatever means necessary to neutralize the Sri Lankan troops in case they rebelled against a ceasefire. Those who know the inside story of Kargil, know who interdicted the column of heavy tanks of the recalcitrant Pakistani general (deceased by drone), who sought to defy the ceasefire that the US had pushed through.
Luckily for this country and its armed forces, in April-May 2009 it was Mahinda Rajapaksa who was facing the international pressure and making the final political decision. History will record that was Mahinda’s and sovereign Sri Lanka’s finest hour.

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