Will Ranil, Cardinal and bond scam defeat Sajith?



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By Amrit Muttukumaru


The ground reality is that the media – particularly the electronic media has portrayed throughout the country the egregious Treasury Bond Scam to epitomize the worst excesses of the yahapalana government’s alleged corruption and abuse of power for which Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is widely held mainly responsible. The perception is that it is the largest financial scam to hit this country since independence in 1948. The scam with all details right from the time the CBSL the issuing agency for Treasury Bonds was unprecedentedly removed from the finance ministry and placed under the purview of Wickremesinghe, a non-national being appointed CBSL Governor through the intervention of Wickremesinghe and to what appears to most people as a blatant cover-up was vividly brought to the attention of even remote hamlets.


In the context of Wickremesinghe ‘stock’ in the country and among a vast majority of the UNP faithful perceived to be at an all time low, is it not imprudent for Sajith Premadasa to identify himself so strongly with him? This is especially so when Premadasa himself – UNP deputy leader and senior minister has been virtually a silent spectator. Does this not play right into the hands of his main rival Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who could persuasively argue that nothing would change under a Premadasa presidency since Sajith has clearly indicated at the UNP convention to persist with Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and UNP Leader in the event the UNP has a majority after a general election?


Ranil’s Standing


Reasons for Wickremesinghe’s ‘stock’ being low in the country and among a vast majority of the UNP faithful include:


(i) Not holding those concerned under the Rajapaksa presidency accountable after alleging in the run-up to the 2015 national elections of terrible corruption, violence and abuse of power.


(ii) Reneging on the promise of good governance by unleashing the yahapalana version of terrible corruption and abuse of power chief of which is the Bond Scam with no one being held truly accountable.


(iii) Perception that the Yahapalana government allowed the Easter Sunday carnage to take place by ignoring several intelligence warnings.


(iv) Wickremesinghe’s virulent opposition to Premadasa’s nomination as UNP presidential candidate although it is widely believed that he is the only candidate who poses a real threat to SLPP presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa.


(v) Perception that Wickremesinghe would be more comfortable under a Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency rather than Premadasa’s. This perception is supported by media reports (not denied) that Wickremesinghe who does not have even a ‘snowball's chance in hell’ to defeat Rajapaksa was seriously considering being the UNP’s Presidential candidate.


(vi) Belief among a wide section of the UNP faithful that there is a nexus between him and the Rajapaksa clan.


(vii) Hanging on as UNP leader for the better part of 25 years virtually by force by the brute power given to the leader by the UNP constitution.


(viii) Losing a record number of nation-wide elections and also probably losing thousands of exasperated party supporters.


Does he not know that he may be throwing it all away by clearly indicating to have Wickremesinghe as UNP leader until 2024 and more damningly to have him as Prime Minister if the UNP is the majority party after a general election under his presidency?


Does he not know he will lose his competitive edge over Rajapaksa if he were to have Wickremesinghe and his cronies on his election platforms?


UNP Convention


At the recent UNP convention where Sajith Premadasa was nominated as UNP presidential candidate he is reported to have "pledged" to set up "an administration without corruption". In this connection he is said to have stated: (‘Daily Mirror’ 4 October 2019)


1) "I will work with the Prime Minister to form an able administration."


2) "I got this opportunity today as there is a party leader who is willing to make sacrifices."


‘The Island’ 4 October 2019 reports as follows:


1) "Sajith predicts historic Presidential Election victory in partnership with Ranil"


2) "UNP Convention endorses Sajith as UNF’s Presidential candidate, Ranil as UNP leader"


3) "Also present on the occasion were Assistant UNP leader Ravi Karunanayake"


Even a schoolboy would know that Wickremesinghe much against his wish was compelled at the last minute to propose Premadasa as UNP candidate after realizing the overwhelming support he had attracted at his several rallies. The same applies to Wickremesinghe’s cronies who now scream ‘Jayaweva’!


Minorities


Even if Premadasa does not address minority concerns, the chances are that those who will vote from this category – particularly Tamils and Muslims will support him instead of Rajapaksa.


The support Wickremesinghe supposedly gets from the TNA is overrated. For the most part it is dependent on Colombo based lawyer M. A. Sumanthiran, who is among the leadership of the TNA. The Sri Lanka Tamils by and large feel let down by the UNP in general and Wickremesinghe in particular on whom they placed immense confidence in the run-up to the 2015 national elections which brought the UNP led yahapalana government to power. Despite this, the Sri Lanka Tamil electorate would largely feel more comfortable voting for a UNP presidential candidate rather than a candidate from the SLPP. This is particularly so in the case of SLPP’s Gotabaya Rajapaksa.


Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith


The catholic vote base in the context of the Easter Sunday carnage is up for grabs. It was reported few days ago that Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has written to President Sirisena requesting "security" to "catholic institutions" due to "fresh concerns".


A spokesman for the Cardinal is said to have stated that "security" was requested for two reasons:


1) Cardinal "feels that easing of security in the institutions is not a wise move"


2) "information received on impending threats"


However Police Spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekera is reported to have stated that these "concerns" were "without any confirmation from the intelligence units" (‘Daily Mirror’ 5 October 2019)


This writer is confused. Did not at least some major churches in Colombo which are directly under the supervision of the Cardinal after months of heightened security in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday carnage suddenly relax security and thus compromise their safety? Was this not with the full knowledge of the Cardinal? If the Cardinal knew nothing of this, is he no better than the political leadership of the country which claimed to know nothing of intelligence warnings issued prior to the Easter Sunday carnage?


Conclusion


Would not Premadasa lose his competitive edge over Rajapaksa if it is effectively marketed that it will be business as usual under a Premadasa presidency with Wickremesinghe continuing to be Prime Minister even if the UNP were to have a parliamentary majority after a general election?


Would this not demonstrate that Premadasa is willing to compromise on anything to merely attain the presidency?


Would not this project Premadasa as weak and indecisive as compared to Rajapaksa’s excellent image in this department? Would this not tarnish his credentials on national security?


Are not Premadasa’s anti-corruption credentials also compromised by some of his frontline supporters being identified with the egregious bond scam in relation to the controversial ‘footnotes’?


Are not these issues crucial in what is likely to be a tight race with high stakes?


The bottom line for the country is that irrespective of who becomes Executive President, the prognosis for the country is dire both socially and economically.


Does anyone in authority or even the presidential candidates bothered that Sri Lanka since February 2018 has been on the EU ‘Blacklist’ for money laundering subsequent to the ‘Financial Action Task Force’ (FATF) placing the country on its ‘Grey List’ from November 2017? FATF recommendations are "recognised as the global anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorist financing (CFT) standard." There are no signs these will be removed anytime soon.


Just today (8 October) there is a media report of another detection of a huge haul of heroin with a "street value of one billion rupees". On 24 February this year there was a media report of another detection of heroin valued at more than Rupees 3.5 Billion. This goes on and on. Just imagine the quantity that is not being detected?


Although it is obvious to everyone that a sine qua non for any progress is (i) all citizens being treated equally (ii) the rule of law having no exceptions, none of the aspirants will ‘bite the bullet’ even on these basic parameters.


What confidence can one have on the observance of the rule of law when high ranking law officers of the state reportedly behave in a manner that beggars belief?


Irrespective of all other considerations will the Deep State have the final say?


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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