Ravi’s ouster: yahapalanaya devouring its own rear end



article_image

by C.A.Chandraprema


Two momentous events that will have far reaching implications for the yahapalana government took place last Thrusday. Because of the drama surrounding Ravi Karunanayake’s resignation from the position of Foreign Minister, the other even more important event which took place later that evening, went almost unnoticed. Yet this second event will have a more immediate and drastic impact on the yahapalana government than even the resignation of Ravi K. This was the dissension that had emerged at the SLFP Central Committee meeting that was held in the late evening on Thursday against the idea of bringing a Constitutional Amendment to postpone the impending elections to the Sabaragamuwa, North Central and Eastern provincies which are to stand dissolved in early October this year.


 Even though this was portrayed as a ‘decision’ of the SLFP central committee, it was made due to an open revolt. One of those who had vehemently opposed any move to extend the terms of the Sabaragamuwa, NCP and Eastern PCs and to postpone the elections to those councils till October 2019, had been Anura Priyadarshana Yapa. Nobody had defended the decision to bring a Constitutional Amendment to postpone the PC elections. Yet the Bill to amend the constitution for this purpose had been approved by Cabinet which had met with the participation of President Maithripala Sirisena. The SLFP in particular has learnt bitter lessons from postponing elections through legislative fiat in 1975 and there would have been justifiable anxiety among members of the CC because of the bad experiences of the past. Furthermore, there was the certainty that this Bill to Amend the Constitution would be challenged in the Supreme Court and the near certainty that the SC would determine that the postponement of the PC elections would require a referendum because it impinges on Article 3 of the constitution.


 Maithripala Sirisena’s SLFP in particular has no appetite for any referendum for any reason. It is the Sirisena faction itself that has been opposing the holding of a referendum for a constitution that abolishes the executive presidency. If the SC decides that a referendum is necessary to postpone the PC elections, President Sirisena is most certainly not going to hold a referendum for that. Moreover, on Thursday morning, the newspapers had carried a media release issued by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa fulminating against the Bill that had been gazetted to amend the constitution with a view to postponing the PC elections. He had drawn the attention of the public to the long list of ‘outrages against democracy’ committed by the ‘yamapalana’ government including the sacking of the then chief justice with just a chit from the Presidential secretariat, among many other things.


 The specific message that he delivered to the SLFP group in the government was that they were not elected to Parliament to help the UNP to dismantle democracy and that every member of the SLFP and the UPFA in Parliament should oppose the proposed 20th Amendment and the Amendment to the PC elections law brought with a view to postponing the forthcoming provincial council elections and to extend the terms of the existing provincial councils without an election. The former President said that all the present  SLFP/UPFA parliamentarians were elected to the legislature in a campaign led by him and are duty bound to safeguard the rights of the people.


Many members of the SLFP central committee may have realized that this ill conceived constitutional amendment will leave them at a disadvantage from both ends – on the one hand there was virtually no likelihood of this Bill being able to pass the SC as a Bill that does not require a referendum; and on the other hand it will give the Joint Opposition an opportunity to tar and feather the government. Even now, by simply having gazetted the Constitutional Amendment, they have already covered themselves from head to foot with political ordure. They should have thought the thing out carefully before gazetting such a Constitutional Amendment.


  The government has been trying to mitigate the negative impact of this Amendment by saying that the PC elections will be postponed only until next year. However the Amendment allows the postponement of the PC elections until October 2019. After the resignation of Ravi Karunanayke, the next great feeding frenzy will take place over the postponement of elections unless the government simply drops this from the agenda and pretends that a Bill to postpone elections was never gazetted. However, not postponing the elections will also pose serious problems for the Sirisena faction of the SLFP. If the SLFP/UPFA provincial councilors realize that the PC elections will not be postponed and they will have to face elections starting this year, there’s going to be pandemonium.


 The few SLFP provincial councilors who are holding power in the NCP with the help of the 11 UNP members for instance had been given the specific assurance that they will be able to enjoy their portfolios until 2019. Now they are all going to be out on their rear ends come October. There’s only about seven weeks to go for the first automatic dissolutions and we are bound to see a fireworks in the coming days.


 The implications of Ravi K’s ouster


The resignation of Ravi Karunanayke from the position of Foreign Minister will have far reaching implications for the UNP. This is not just some provincial politician who can be replaced by the next person on the list. Ravi K was the Assistant Leader of the UNP and it was no secret that he had ambitions of leading the party one day. He was in direct competition with Sajith Premadasa to succeed RW. Ravi K was one of the key figures in the UNP when it was in the opposition. He had been cultivating Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera for years and his perseverance paid off when Ven. Sobitha who had been a key figure in the Sinhala nationalist camp became the principle Buddhist figure in the yahapalana campaign. It is doubtful whether the yahapalana campaign would have suceded without Ven. Sobitha to give it a veneer of acceptability among the Buddhist population or at least to reassure Buddhists that they would not be sold down the river by the alliance which included the TNA and the Muslim political parties.


Thus if not for Ravi K’s cultivation of Ven Sobitha thera, the yahapalana victory itself may not have been possible. Then there was the fact that he did help the UNP with funds when it was in opposition. It was through a political party and a symbol owned by him that both Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena contested the 2010 and 2015 Presidential elections. It was also he who dissuaded Ranil Wickremesinghe from contesting the 2015 presidential election so as to make way to Sirisena to step in. Thus Ravi’s contribution to the yahapalana campaign was even greater than that of Mangala Samaraweera. In terms of the yahapalana cabal, he ranks among the top leaders along with the likes of Sirisena, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mangala Samaraweera, Champika Ranawaka and Dr Rajitha Senaratne. Within the UNP, he was one of the top three with RW and Sajith. Ousting such a person from cabinet is going to have its consequences. Combined with all of the above, was also the most important fact that he was one of the few accessible Ministers in the yahapalana government.


Azath Salley has been saying all along that Ravi K was the only Minister in the government who would always personally answer the phone and that even if he was not able to take the call immediately, he would ring back however busy he was. After Ravi K’s resignation last Thursday, UNP backbencher Nalin Bandara said much the same thing. Thus his absence in the cabinet and in the Finance Ministry will be a heavy blow to the entire UNP. If there was dissension and unrest among the UNP backbenchers and the rank and file, that will only increase several fold without the one person in the cabinet who could or would do something to contain it.    


That Ravi K’s ouster is a conspiracy against the entire UNP hierarchy is only now beginning to dawn on UNP camp followers and pro-UNP websites. It may be pertinent to point out that this columnist has been saying so long before it dawned on anybody connected to the UNP. In the 48 hours before Ravi K’s resignation there was a flurry of furious articles in websites like Lanka e News and Lanka News Web which played a major role in the yahapalana campaign. For example on Wednesday night, the day before Ravi’s resignation, there was an article in lankaenews titled "Is the President honest? The purpose of sending Ravi to the gallows is to retain the executive presidency".


This article stated that President Sirisena had appointed the Bond Commission for the political purpose of forming an SLFP government after portraying the UNP as bigger rogues than the SLFP which had been in power earlier. The article stated that even thought the real target in all this is Ranil Wickremesinghe himself, Ravi K got inadvertently entangled in it because of a statement made by a female witness before the Bond Commission and that even before Aloysius was found to be a thief, Ravi K was declared to be one. The article further stated that Sirisena and all the other yahapalanites should remember that it was Ravi K who had provided Rs. 500 million for the campaign in the first week in November 2014 when there was no money in the kitty and that even the yahapalanites who are now asking for his resignation participated in events organized with that money and that at that time, nobody asked him from where he got that money. The article stated that the president’s mud slinging which has destroyed Ravi will definitely be aimed at Ranil Wickremesinghe as well - the purpose of all this being the appointment of an SLFP prime minister.


The snakes in the sleeping bag


The Lanka News Web website which played a major role in the yahapalana campaign also carried an article on Tuesday with the title "Many UNP supporters are watching in shock the way Minister Ravi Karunanayake is being treated by the UNP." They had referred to the fact that Ravi K had bank rolled the party for years and lamented that the big beneficiaries of the government, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, have now happily washed off their hands and forgotten the very man who put his life at risk to get Sirisena elected as President. Lanka News Web carried an article with a thinly veiled threat on Thursday after Ravi K resigned titled "Ravi Karunanayake to expose the actors?" where it stated that Ravi Karunanayake has told friends that he would meet the media next week to reveal all. Probably in retaliation for Ravi K’s ouster, both these websites carried a news release ostensibly sent by a hitherto unheard of group called ‘Democrats for Anti-Corruption’ accusing President Sirisena of corruption. It is obvious that there is still a great deal of confusion within the yahapalana camp as to what exactly is happening. Some are blaming the President because it was he who appointed the Bond Commission. The Prime Minister and Malik Samarawickrema are being blamed for having allowed Ravi K to be sacrificed. What the yahapalanites have to understand is not so complicated. It can be summarized as follows:


1.On 8 January 2015, the UNP and everyone else got together and elected as President, a person who was not a member of any of the political parties supporting his candidacy. Even though those who supported him thought that he was going to abolish the executive presidency and fade away into the sunset, that was never his intention. The Jathika Hela Urumaya which tutors him in conspiratorial politics inserted a sentence in his presidential election manifesto saying that he will amend the constitution only to the extent that a referendum will not be required. Since a referendum will be needed to turn an elected president into a non elected president, this sentence was a way of ensuring that the executive presidency will never be abolished.


2.Sirisena not only wishes to remain this term as president but also wishes to contest again as President at the end of 2019. For that he needs to maintain his support base. But the UNP is trying to deprive him of his job by abolishing the executive presidency through the proposed new constitution. The UNP and all those who want to usher in a new constitution know that there isn’t a snowflake’s chance in hell of the public accepting the new constitution unless it incorporates the two main constitutional pledges given at the 2015 elections. Hence there is a fundamental mismatch between the objectives of the UNP on the one hand and the Sirisena faction on the other.


3.The only way that Sirisena can ensure a future for himself and his closest supporters is by destroying the UNP as a political party so that the displaced voters will join the political bandwagon led by him for the lack of an alternative. Ravi Karunanayake was just one of those who had to be got rid of if the UNP was to be hijacked. Lanka e News is right when it says that Ranil Wickremesinghe is also a target in all this. If the UNP goes into the hands of a malleable character like Karu Jayasuriya who will play a subordinate role to Sirisena, that will keep the executive presidency and the yahapalana coalition together beyond 2019.


4. The next presidential election is due before December 9, 2019. If the UNP party structure remains as it is at present, they will not be able to ask their party rank and file to vote for an outsider again. The UNP will be forced to field a candidate of its own. If that is to be prevented, all those in the UNP who can be fielded as candidates at a future presidential election will have to be eliminated from the race. There are three such persons in the UNP, Ravi Karunanayake being one of them.


5. The political future of Sirisena and his closest supporters depend entirely on being able to destroy the UNP and to create something new in its place with that vote bank. The examples that can be followed in this regard have already been set by the way Sirisena was able to win as the candidate of a party whose name nobody remembers. It’s known only as the Swan party. Another example of this is the way the Joint Opposition has been able to mobilize the masses without any political party at all. What counts now are not labels or name boards but masses of people. Sirisena knows that the mass of people following the Joint Opposition will never support him. The only mass of people who may follow him are in the yahapalana camp. If the UNP has a separate command structure, he will not be able to garner the support of that base in the way he needs to if he is to be a presidential candidate in 2019.


 Flogging Wijedasa Rajapakshe


 After Ravi Karunanayke’s resignation the UNP has been thrashing around in an impotent rage without being able to even recognize who their real enemy is. Some UNP parliamentarians are venting their fury on Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe accusing him of shielding the Rajapaksas and of taking positions opposed to that of the government particularly on the privatization of the Hambantota Harbor. Trying to move a no confidence motion against the only openly nationalistic individual in the UNP will only undermine the UNP even more. Now that they have lost Ravi K, who may not be given nominations at future elections because that may have an impact on the entire party’s public image, can they afford to lose Wijedasa Rajapakshe as well – especially considering the fact that both are from the Colombo district?


 Besides, if no headway is being made in the cases against the Rajapaksas, there is little point in flogging Wijedasa Rajapakshe for that. Most of the corruption allegations that were made against the Rajapaksas were plain lies. Soon after the 2015 presidential elections, the Anti-Corruption Front headquartered in Rajagiriya advertised in the newspapers asking for details of the corrupt deals of the Rajapaksas. When they spoke about Rajapaksa corruption during the election campaign they had no proof of anything. They started collecting evidence only after they came into power which is why the investigations into these alleged acts of corruption are getting nowhere. There is little point in blaming Wijedasa Rajapakshe or the AG’s Department for that.


 So what the UNP should be doing after Ravi K resignation is not chewing their own backsides in impotent rage, but trying to identify where these challenges are coming from. Due to the revolt within the SLFP Central Committee last Thursday night, the government will not have the two thirds majority to extend the terms of the existing provincial councils as they had planned. This is the UNP’s God given chance to stop the destruction of their party. If the elections to the Sabaragamuwa, NCP and Eastern provincial councils are held as scheduled, the chances are that the Sirisena faction will get all but wiped out and only the UNP and the Joint Opposition will be left standing. The UNP may lose both the Sabaragamuwa and North Central provinces but at least their party will be left intact and Sirisena will be turned into a lame duck President.


 As of now, holding the PC elections is the least harmful alternative left for the UNP. However if these elections are going to be held as scheduled, there is the distinct possibility that there may be an intensification of anti-UNP activity between now and October so that the Sirisena faction will be able to obtain a part of the UNP vote as the party lies in shambles. If anyone else in the UNP was to be hauled up for corruption probes, that may now be fast-tracked. The UNP will have to watch out for that in the coming days and weeks. The holding of the PC elections is going to be the game changer. 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...