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Midweek Review

Emergence of Champika’s outfit against backdrop of economic chaos

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Lawmaker Ranawaka addressing the national conference of the ‘43 Brigade’ at the Monarch Imperial Auditorium, Sri Jayewardenepura, Kotte, recently

Can Rescue & Thrive project attract public attention?

By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa referred to lawmaker Patali Champika Ranawaka’s public statements, during a recent private meeting with some of his supporters. The President queried whether the former minister’s declarations shouldn’t be examined, taking into consideration his record as a minister (continuously from Feb 2007 to Nov 2019 under different Presidents).

President Rajapaksa questioned whether Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Ranawaka could absolve himself of the responsibility for the current crisis the country is experiencing. In other words, if the Cabinet of Ministers, headed by the President, is collectively responsible for decisions taken, can a member of that Cabinet absolve him/herself of that responsibility?

Against the backdrop of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) at the receiving end over the current crisis and the bankrupt Opposition trying to capitalize on the public misery, civil society grouping ’43 Brigade’, affiliated to lawmaker Ranawaka, has attempted to capitalise on the situation.

President Rajapaksa’s hitherto unreported comments on the former minister should be examined taking into consideration the project undertaken by the ’43 Brigade.’ MP Ranawaka emphasised at the National Convention of the ’43 Brigade’, in January, this year that whatever the current dispensation professed, the change of the system should begin in Parliament. The MP declared the country has been bankrupted due to the utterly irresponsible conduct of rulers between 2005 and 2015, conveniently forgetting his own leading roles in that regime.

The new political outfit has emerged close on the heels of ruination of traditional political parties and alliances. They have proved their policy statements are meant to deceive the people. Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy, one-time Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (July 2016-Dec 2019), recently blamed the current crisis on the failure on the part of successive governments to manage the expenditure since the country gained Independence. Sri Lanka had been plagued by a toxic combination of populist politics and an entrenched entitlement culture among the people, Dr. Coomaraswamy pointed out adding “Time and again, the electoral calendar has undermined fiscal discipline.”

The Election Commission (EC) organised an event at the five-star Galadari Hotel, to celebrate the national Voters’ Day with the participation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on March 11, whereas the polls monitoring body, the People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) and the March 12 Movement jointly organised a public meeting at the Sri Lanka Foundation, on March 14, to mark the 90th anniversary of the country receiving universal franchise. Can celebration of such events, with a dance troupe, etc., be justified under any circumstances, at a time the country is on the verge of being declared bankrupt?

The ’43 Brigade’ has paid a glowing tribute to Dr. Coomaraswamy for the way he handled the monetary policy as Governor and head of the Monetary Board after having succeeded disgraced Arjuna Mahendran.

Former Attorney General Gamini Wijesinghe who delivered the keynote speech, at the SLF, lambasted the five-star parliamentary system for the ruination of democracy as well as the national economy. Wijesinghe quietly brashly blamed the executive, the legislature and the judiciary for the current calamitous situation. Damning declarations made by Dr. Coomaraswamy and Wijesinghe, if properly used, can possibly have quite a devastating impact on the major political parties and alliances. It would be pertinent to mention that the UNP is no longer a major political party. Instead, it has been reduced to just one National List seat filled contrary to the stipulated constitutional requirement. The electorate brought the UNP down to its knees at the last parliamentary election whereas its breakaway faction, the SJB, secured 54 seats. Lawmaker Ranawaka’s affiliation with the ‘43 Brigade’ obviously rattles the SJB.

The Opposition needs a common front against the incumbent President. At the 2010 presidential election, the Opposition accepted the then General Sarath Fonseka as the presidential candidate. In spite of being backed by the US and a coalition comprising the UNP-JVP-TNA-SLMC-ACMC as well as the civil society, Fonseka suffered a humiliating defeat.

At the 2015 presidential poll, Maithripala Sirisena quite comfortably succeeded, regardless of the then President’s personal Astrologer Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena‘s prediction in favour of Mahinda Rajapaksa. The coalition that had been unsuccessful at the 2010 presidential election achieved its objective at the 2015 election with the help of millions of dollars that the US spent on the sinister task as was revealed publicly by former American Secretary of State John Kerry.

In the run-up to the 2019 presidential election wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa emerged as the SLPP’s candidate and comfortably won the contest, primarily due to the public losing faith in traditional politicians and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution depriving Mahinda Rajapaksa another chance to contest the presidential poll.

Just two years into the Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency, the national economy is in tatters. Although the crisis cannot be entirely blamed on the global epidemic Covid-19, the SLPP has sought to largely blame it all on Covid and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Let us only hope Uncle Sam is not involved!

The Opposition cannot afford to pull in different directions. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, who is also the leader of the SJB, seems to be confident that the current crisis can be solved by defeating Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the next presidential election. Obviously, Premadasa considers himself as their presidential candidate. Therefore, his demand made outside the Presidential Secretariat for early presidential election is nothing but rhetoric. The JVP that staged a far more aggressive protest at the same place ridiculed Premadasa. The JVP for a while forgot their protest targeted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and instead attacked Sajith Premadasa.

Lawmaker Ranawaka joined the SJB protest along with defeated presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka. At one point, MPs Ranawaka and Fonseka flanked Sajith Premadasa as the SJB marched towards the Presidential Secretariat.

Having studied the ’43 Brigade’ proposals, along with a booklet launched by the then Minister Ranawaka, in 2019, that dealt with his performances as a minister over a period of 12 years, the writer sought an explanation from Attorney-at-Law Shiral Lakthilaka, a livewire of the project, as regards SJB MP Ranawaka’s role in the outfit.

Asked in what capacity MP Ranawaka addressed the national conference of the ‘43 Brigade’ held at the Monarch Imperial Auditorium, Sri Jayewardenepura, Kotte, and whether the outfit’s proposals could be considered as a sort of citizens’ manifesto for the next presidential and parliamentary polls? Lakthilaka said: “Not at all. It is a document that proposes policy framework and thinking to face the present crisis. MP Ranawaka addressed the gathering and endorsed the proposals as a leader of 43 Brigade.”

Lakthilaka, one-time advisor to President Maithripala Sirisena, stressed that the citizens’ initiative ‘43 Brigade’ was meant to mobilise people. Having launched ’43 Brigade’ in January 2021, the organisers released ‘Rescue & Thrive’ on January 23, 2022, amidst the current unprecedented economic crisis facing the country. There is no point in denying the fact that the ’43 Brigade’ exploits the ground situation to advance its agenda, the way ‘Viyathmaga’ did in the run-up to the last presidential election. Since the event at the Monarch Imperial Auditorium, in late January, the economy has suffered a series of shocks, with the government sharply divided over its agenda. At the time of the launch of ‘Rescue & Thrive’, the ’43 Brigade’ wouldn’t have anticipated, under any circumstances, the break-up of the SLPP with a section of the Cabinet rejecting the controversial decision on the Yugadanavi deal, sacking of ministers and the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has caused chaos everywhere. The unprecedented increase in the price of petrol and diesel has been blamed on the Ukraine war. It would be pertinent to mention that the US actions in Eastern Europe that threatened Russia’s legitimate security, political and economic interests, prompted President Putin to order the largest Russian offensive in the recent past.

Champika’s role, yahapalana policies

The 66-page publication dealt with the economic crisis and the ways and means of restoring stability. The organisers asserted their efforts influenced the electorate towards what they called a ‘social discourse aimed at a practical social vision.’

At the time, the ’43 Brigade’ publication unveiled its assessment and proposals, the situation was rather stable. However, since then the situation has taken a turn for the worse with practically every essential item in short supply with long queues for gas and petroleum products. Power cuts imposed for want of diesel required to generate power have disrupted life. Even before the disruption of essential supplies and services, the ’43 Brigade’ commented for the first time that the country is under a very real threat of going into bankruptcy.

Declaring that the ’43 Brigade’ has been warning of deterioration of the national economy, the outfit applauded its senior member lawmaker Ranawaka for warning the country in 2014 through the issuance of ‘Aalapaalu Deshapalanaya’ of the impending disaster and again addressing the issue at hand in 2016. However, the MP owed an explanation how/why he failed to explain the inordinate delay on his part to issue the warning having served President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Cabinet since Feb 2007. Ranawaka served as the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources (Feb 01, 2007 to April 28, 2010), Power and Energy (April 29, 2010 to January 30, 2013) and Science, Technology and Scientific Research (Jan 31, 2013 to Nov 18, 2014). Then Minister Ranawaka switched his allegiance to Ranil Wickremesinghe in Nov 2014 along with Maithripala Sirisena. In the wake of the change of government, following the 2015 presidential election, Ranawaka was rewarded with Power and Energy Ministry (January 31, 2015 to Sept 07, 2015). Ranawaka received Megapolis and Western Province Development Ministry on Sept 08 and held that portfolio until the change of the government in Nov 2019. Having abandoned the UNP in early 2020, Champika, the one-time Jathika Hela Urumaya stalwart, contested the last general election on the SJB ticket. His one-time colleague in the JHU and Attorney-at-Law Udaya Gammanpila however opted for a political career with the SLPP and recently ended up with a rebellious faction within the government parliamentary group. Interestingly, the once quite influential JHU is now defunct while Gammanpila’s PHU remains a one-MP party.

The ’43 Brigade’ has placed the entire blame on Rajapaksas for the current situation on the basis of large scale borrowings during the 2005-2015 administration. The outfit says: “Careful perusal of loan installments for 2020 and 2021, excluding the Sri Lanka Development Bonds, would reveal that 70% of the installments in 2020 was of those borrowings during the 2005-2015 Rajapaksa regime. (Fought the separatist terrorists to a finish in the battle field, while the self-appointed international community led by the West kept harping that Lankan security forces were incapable of defeating the LTTE)

The debt burden increased to 77% in 2021. In contrast, installments for loans obtained during Senanayake, Bandaranaike, Jayewardene, Mrs. Kumaratunga and yahapalana eras, combined together amounts to just 23%.”

The ’43 Brigade’ defended the yahapalana administration under fire for taking massive commercial loans on the claim they were necessary to pay installments of loans obtained earlier. The outfit pointed out that out of USD 6.1 bn loans obtained in 2018, a staggering USD 5.8 bn (95% of total borrowings) were repaid as installments and interests. If not for IMF loans, the country would have been bankrupt during the 2016-2019 period due to loans obtained during the Rajapaksa administration.

The refusal on the part of the current dispensation to seek IMF assistance should be examined against the backdrop of claims the decision to do away with IMF assistance following the 2019 presidential election caused the crisis. Former Governor of the Uva, Southern and Central Provinces Keerthi Tennakoon is also on record as having blamed the SLPP government for breaking off negotiations with the IMF. The NGO activist who received multiple top appointments, courtesy Sirisena, has faulted the SLPP over the collapsing of talks with the IMF that resulted in the present crisis.

The ’43 Brigade’ accusations that feasibility studies and national procurement guidelines had been disregarded for the benefit of those who wielded power and their associates cannot be ignored against the backdrop of accusation they had amassed massive wealth. The outfit’s comments on financial status of the country at the time of the 2015 change of government are of crucial importance. According to a comprehensive study that had been conducted with the help of the IMF, some borrowings were actually hidden within state institutions to suppress the actual national debt.

Let me reproduce verbatim what the ’43 Brigade’ stated about yahapalana policies: “The key priorities of that government was to take steps to ensure that there was fiscal discipline within the government, improve economic competition, improve the image of the government by working in accordance with good governance principles, protect the rights of the people, democratisation of state rule and lay the foundation for an innovation economy.”

The recent accusations directed at the yahapalana government by former Attorney General Gamini Wijesinghe cannot be ignored. Wijesinghe went to the extent of blaming the UNP-SLFP administration for paving the way for the 20th Amendment by its failure to properly implement the 19th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in 2015.

Fall of yahapalanaya, GR’s emergence

The ’43 Brigade’ blamed what it called internal conflicts within the government and Treasury bond scams perpetrated in Feb 2015 and March 2016 for its downfall. The outfit also found fault with the yahapalana administration for its failure to make the public aware of the crisis caused by the previous administration. The pathetic failure to punish those who had been accused of waste, corruption and serious irregularities, too, contributed to the public losing confidence.

Champika’s outfit quite correctly explained how unprecedented tax concessions as well as reduction in VAT within weeks after the Nov 2019 presidential election eroded the national economy struggling to cope up with the growing crisis. The national economy has been experiencing difficulties at the time the change of government took place and those who advocated tax concessions should accept the responsibility for the current crisis. The current dispensation is in deepening turmoil with the divided SLPP parliamentary group pulling in different directions while some have chosen to remain silent.

Recent declarations made by Dr. Coomaraswamy and Gamini Wijesinghe should prompt the electorate to seriously think of the current political party system that has ruined the country. All those who had been previously elected to Parliament and in the current Parliament should admit the mayhem caused by them due to their selfish shortsighted policies and apologise to the nation. Genuine recovery efforts can take place only if they accept what they have done to the country.



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Midweek Review

How Lanka ended up receiving humanitarian assistance from an Indian state

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UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardena and PM’s Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayake join CWC leader Senthil Thondaman and FM Prof. G.L. Peiris at a brief ceremony at the Colombo harbour where Indian HC Baglay handed over humanitarian assistance from Tamil Nadu (pic courtesy Indian HC)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The May 09 ‘operation’, whose father is yet unknown, meant to save Mahinda Rajapaksa’s premiership, has tarnished the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the police as well as the armed forces.

The controversial Temple Trees project not only caused irreparable damage to the ruling coalition, it paved the way for UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to regain the premiership for the sixth time, incredibly with just one seat in the 225-member Parliament.

With Wickremesinghe at the helm of the government parliamentary group, the UNP has begun playing an active role in the administration, though the party didn’t have any members in Parliament, other than its leader. However, Wickremesinghe has brought a selected group of UNPers into the administration while causing a division in the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) by winning over two of its vociferous members, namely Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara.

Having repeatedly accused President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of direct complicity in the 2019 Easter Sunday massacre, both received ministerial portfolios from the President. Wickremsinghe is in the process of consolidating his position.

There cannot be a better example to highlight Wickremesinghe’s strategy meant to resurrect his party than involving two former ministers Vajira Abeywardena, incumbent Chairman of the party, and Sagala Ratnayake, in the delegation that received urgently needed food assistance from India.

Sri Lanka delegation received the assistance, standing next to Tan Binh 99, the Panama registered general cargo ship, at the Colombo harbour.

The following is the text of the statement issued by Eldos Mathew Punnoose, Head – Press, Information and Development Cooperation, as regards the handing over of humanitarian assistance at the Colombo harbour: “High Commissioner Gopal Baglay handed over a large consignment of humanitarian assistance worth more than SLR 2 billion from the people of India to Foreign Minister Prof. G.L Peiris, in Colombo, on 22 May 2022. The handing over function was attended by Minister for Ports and Shipping, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Former Minister Vajira Abeywardena, Sagala Ratnayaka, Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister, Senthil Thondaman, Leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress, Food Commissioner Mrs. J. Krishnamurthy, among senior officials, and others.

The consignment consists of 9,000 MT of rice, 50 MT of milk powder and more than 25 MT of drugs and other medical supplies. It was flagged off from Chennai port by Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Thiru M.K Stalin on 18 May 2022. This is also the first consignment under a larger USD 16 million commitment of 40,000 MT of rice, 500 MT of milk powder and medicines by the state Government of Tamil Nadu.

Handed over materials shall be distributed among vulnerable and needy sections in various parts of Sri Lanka including Northern, Eastern, Central and Western Provinces by Government of Sri Lanka in the coming days.

More humanitarian consignments and other forms of assistance from India shall follow. Multi-pronged endeavour by both the Government and the people of India underlines the importance attached to Sri Lanka and reflects their concerns for the well-being of its people. Support extended to Sri Lanka ranges from economic assistance worth around USD 3.5 billion, supply of vaccines, testing kits, close to 1000 MT of liquid oxygen to combat COVID-19, immediate response by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard to mitigate marine disasters, etc.”

Sri Lanka’s utterly irresponsible political leadership has achieved the unthinkable. The country has been reduced to such a pathetic state, it has ended up receiving food assistance from the state government of Tamil Nadu. Sri Lanka should be ashamed of having to receive food assistance from an Indian state, 13 years after having proudly defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) considered impossible by many a pundit and against the wishes of the haughty West. Can that be the root of the unprecedented problems? Perhaps one day the truth will unravel through the work of an outfit, like WikiLeaks, on how Hawala or Undial underground cash transfer systems so successfully dried up foreign exchange flows into the country, leaving it unable to find even a few million dollars to clear an urgently needed shipment of cooking gas or lifesaving drugs. However much the deep state is entrenched in Western democracies with the open help of their ‘independent’ media controlled by the military-industrial complex, there are still plenty of people with clear consciences who want to do justice to the world.

R.K. Radhakrishnan, writing to India’s national magazine Frontline described the Tamil Nadu gesture as ‘a province in a developing country extending its assistance to another country.’ That line is sufficient to comprehend Sri Lanka’s plight. In spite of initial disagreement between Tamil Nadu and the Central Government of India regarding the humanitarian assistance offered by TN Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, they reached consensus on the matter. Four days before the despicable Temple Trees project, borne out of frustration caused by the government’s inability to end the sieges at Temple Trees and the Presidential Secretariat by so- called peaceful protesters, triggered mayhem in Sri Lanka. They were anything but peaceful by the way they tried to storm President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence at Pengiriwatte, Mirihana, in late March.

Then Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, struggling to save his premiership, wrote to CM Stalin: “I wish to thank you and the Tamil Nadu government on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka, for viewing the country’s crisis from a humanitarian standpoint, rather than a problem concerning another country.”

Six days later Mahinda Rajapaksa was compelled to quit the premiership. The war-winning President and his family were compelled to take refuge at the strategic Eastern Naval Command after having abandoned Temple Trees, Kollupitiya, the nerve centre of the disastrous May 09 project, fearing a fate similar to that which met Libya’s Gadhafi, where, too, the truth was turned on its head.

An elder brother’s lament

Chamal Rajapaksa, 80, possibly serving his last term as a lawmaker, recently faulted younger brother and twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa for continuing in politics even after completing two presidential terms. The elder Rajapaksa attributed the current crisis to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s continuation in active politics. Chamal Rajapaksa said that politicians should be prepared to give up power. Otherwise, they have to be prepared to face situations like this if they were greedy for power. The one time Speaker was commenting on his brother’s dilemma in the wake of him losing the premiership. Chamal Rajapaksa said: “Ranil Wickremesinghe is very lucky. In 2015, Wickremesinghe was able to secure premiership in spite of not enjoying a parliamentary majority. Now, the UNP leader secured the premiership without another MP in Parliament. Wickremesinghe is lucky and the country too is fortunate that we have him to take up the mantle of leadership despite all his shortcomings of the past, when all other politicians are playing their petty tricks to grab power while the country was literally going up in flames.

But, can Chamal Rajapaksa absolve himself of his share of responsibility for the crisis that forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to leave his brothers, Chamal and Basil as well as nephews, Namal and Shashendra, out of the Cabinet of Ministers. President Rajapaksa, himself is under pressure to do away with the 20th Amendment to the Constitution that gave him dictatorial powers. The abolition of the 20th Amendment enacted in Oct 2020 is part of the overall agreement sought by some of those who accepted ministerial portfolios in the current dispensation. Both PM Wickremesinghe and Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, will push hard for the abolition of the 20th Amendment.

Before commenting further on ongoing moves to introduce the 21st Amendment at the expense of the 20A, it would be pertinent to examine Chamal Rajapaksa’s role as the Speaker (April 22, 2010-June 26, 2015) especially against the backdrop of his criticism of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s conduct. Chamal Rajapaksa, who has represented the Hambantota electoral district since 1989, continuously has declared that his brother Mahinda should have called it a day after completing two presidential terms (2005-2010 and 2010-2015).

Having said so, lawmaker Chamal Rajapaksa owed an explanation as regards his role in the enactment of the 18 A to the Constitution at the expense of the 19 A. During Chamal Rajapaksa’s tenure as the Speaker, the Parliament passed the controversial 18th Amendment Bill on Sept. 8, 2010, with 161 MPs voting for and 17 against the Bill. The following are some of its key points:

(a) The President can seek re-election any number of times (earlier it was limited to two;

(b) The ten-member Constitutional Council replaced with a five-member Parliamentary Council;

(c) Independent commissions are brought under the authority of the President; and,

(d) The 18th Amendment enabled the President to attend Parliament once in three months and entitles him to all the privileges, immunities and powers of an MP other than the entitlement to vote. In short, it is all about arming the President with absolute power.

The 18th Amendment was meant to empower Mahinda Rajapaksa. Chamal Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Speaker, oversaw the operation. The impeachment of Shirani Bandaranayake, the 43rd Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, and her removal by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in January 2013 should be examined against the backdrop of enactment of the 18th Amendment. Chamal Rajapaksa served as the Speaker at the time Justice Bandaranaike was removed. She was accused of several charges, including financial impropriety and interfering in legal cases, all of which she categorically denied. But her husband was found guilty by courts over his shady dealings.

Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa ensured the implementation of the then UPFA government’s strategy. Having served as a minister till April this year and played a critical role in the manipulation of Parliament, it wouldn’t be fair to find fault with Mahinda Rajapaksa solely for being power hungry.

Chamal Rajapaksa also made reference to Wickremesinghe receiving the premiership in 2015 following the presidential election, in spite of not having at least a simple majority in Parliament. Chamal Rajapaksa appeared to have conveniently forgotten that he continued as the Speaker even after Wickremesinghe was appointed PM after having unceremoniously discarded the late D.M. Jayaratne. The UPFA leadership didn’t even bother to ask Jayaratne before reaching consensus with President Maithripala Sirisena and UNP leader Wickremesinghe over the premiership following Mahinda Rajapaksa’s shock defeat at the January 2015 Presidential election held ahead of schedule on the advice of an astrologer. Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran perpetrated Treasury bond scams in Feb 2015 and March 2016 in connivance with then Premier Wickremesinghe-led government.

The UNP-led government also betrayed the war-winning Sri Lanka military at the Geneva based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Chamal Rajapaksa absolutely had no issue in continuing as the Speaker until June 26, 2015 when President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved Parliament to save the UNP. The dissolution of the House was meant to prevent the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) from submitting its report on the first Treasury bond scam to the House. Now again Chamal Rajapaksa has accepted Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Premier. Maithripala Sirisena, who sacked Wickremesinghe in late Oct 2018 and then offered him the premiership back within two months following judicial intervention and the primary beneficiary of Oct 2018 constitutional coup Mahinda Rajapaksa, are also in the same parliamentary group now headed by Wickremesinghe.

Proposed transfer of executive powers

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is pushing for the abolition of the Executive Presidency. The BASL wants Premier Wickremesinghe to demonstrate as early as possible his ability to establish a consensus among the political parties in Parliament and endeavour to build a representative Government of National Unity to implement a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) in the public interest.

The BASL insists on a clear timeline to introduce critical constitutional amendments proposed by the outfit, including the introduction of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution and the abolition of the Executive Presidency.

The National Joint Committee (NJC) is concerned about the BASL’s strategy. The nationalist outfit believes the SJB and the BASL are working on a similar agenda to do away with the Executive Presidency without changing the current electoral system or repealing the 13th Amendment.

If the ongoing joint high profile project to introduce 21 A to the Constitution succeeds, the UNP leader will receive powers at the expense of the Executive Presidency. Having received an overwhelming mandate at the last presidential election in Nov 2019, Gotabaya Rajapaksa stands to lose executive powers to Wickremesinghe who accepted the challenging task of rebuilding the devastated national economy.

Those who launched the ‘Gogotahome’ campaign remained skeptical about the SLPP’s commitment to introduce the 21 A. They believe the architects of the 20 A would do whatever possible to sabotage efforts to do away with the executive presidency. They believe the SLPP founder Basil Rajapkasa, who still wields power over the party apparatus reeling under accusations pertaining to unprovoked attacks on the public demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

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Midweek Review

Flowers in Bloom

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By Lynn Ockersz

Though made somewhat anxious,

By the numberless crises in the Isle,

That have brought their elders down,

The youngsters clad in speckless white,

And heading for a make-or-break exam,

Are the only resplendent flowers,

In an otherwise benighted land,

But their Social Science Paper,

Is bound to give them some laughs,

For, though patriots, they are told,

Fought the good fight decades ago,

And rid the land of enslaving shackles,

All whom they have as current leaders,

Are fickle creatures of malleable material,

For whom pelf and power are all that matter.

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Midweek Review

Ranil takes premiership amidst BASL bid for all party-consensus

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A smiling Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe reacts to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after receiving the premiership. Gamini Senarath, Secretary to the President looks on. Mrs Maithri Wickremesinghe was present at the brief ceremony at the President’s House, Fort last Thursday evening (pic courtesy PMD)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe, in her current capacity as the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), directed the police to provide adequate protection for the President and the Prime Minister while protecting the freedom of speech and assembly through necessary and proportionate measures.

Justice Marasinghe, who received the appointment in Dec, last year, would never have believed she would be compelled to issue such a statement.

The HRCSL statement, issued on April 26, 2022, over a month after the eruption of violent protests at the private residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at Pengiriwatta, Mirihana, that lasted for several hours, didn’t name the President and the Prime Minister.

Mahinda Rajapaksa quit Temple Trees on May 10, less than 24 hours after he announced his resignation, in the wake of unprovoked violence directed at those demanding the resignation of both the President and the Prime Minister and the so-called peaceful protesters who lay siege to his official residence Temple Trees virtually making, him a prisoner therein.

The first protest, targeting President Rajapaksa, was held at Pangiriwatte, Mirihana, on March 31, 2022. What began as a peaceful protest in the vicinity, quickly turned violent after the crowds made attempts to advance towards the President’s private home. The deployment of the Army, in support of the beleaguered police, failed to bring the situation under control.

Protesters set ablaze several vehicles, including two buses that brought Police and Army reinforcements to the scene of the unprecedented confrontation. Therefore, it would be pertinent to discuss the circumstances, Justice Marasinghe called for sufficient protection for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, over two weeks after the launch of the protest campaign, in front of the Presidential Secretariat, on April 09, 2022.

Perhaps, the HRCSL should have also advised the Army, as well as the Special Task Force (STF), regarding adequate protection for the President and the Prime Minister. The Army and the STF play an integral role in the protection of key leaders. The HRCSL cannot be unaware of the involvement of the Army and the STF in the protection of the President and the Prime Minister.

Justice Marasinghe called for ‘necessary and proportionate measures’ to meet the threat on the two leaders as those who had been demanding their resignation stepped up the campaign.

The HRCSL consists of five Commissioners, namely Justice Rohini Marasinghe (Chairperson), Venerable Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara and Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan. The President constituted the HRCSL in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in Dec. 2020. Justice Marasinghe and Ven. Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera were brought in Dec. 2021 in the wake of the resignation of HRCSL Chairman Jagath Balasuriya and NGO, guru Harsha Kumara Navaratne taking up the post of Sri Lanka High Commissioner to Canada.

Did HRCSL make an assessment before Justice Marasinghe issued instructions to the police? The HRCSL intervened in the wake of the erection of a new protest site, opposite Temple Trees, as the government struggled to cope up with an unprecedented political-economic-social crisis that brought the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to its knees.

The writer, over the last weekend, sought a clarification from Justice Marasinghe. The HRCSL Chief said that instructions were issued as access to the residences of the President and the Prime Minister had been blocked. The HRCSL was also informed of possible threats to their lives, Justice Marasinghe said, adding that the issue at hand should be examined on the basis of equal protection of the law.

In spite of HRCSL’s instructions, the police, and at least an influential section of the SLPP government, appeared to have been caught napping. Was it due to the fear of the wrath of the HRCSL or they being under the so-called international community spotlight? In fact, the law enforcement authorities had contributed to the rapid deterioration of the situation to such an extent that mobs took control of roads. Had the police top brass realized the gravity of the situation, in the first week of May, they would have definitely advised the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa not to summon several hundreds of his supporters to Temple Trees. The failure on the part of the police to advise the ousted Premier was nothing but a monumental blunder.

In fact, the police appeared to have been part of a political project meant to dismantle those who had been protesting against the government, while laying siege to both Temple Trees and the Presidential Secretariat. The operation was meant to regain control. Therefore, a primary objective was to silence those who had been asking Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to step down.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, too, has been of that view, in the wake of about one-third of the SLPP parliamentary group demanding Premier Rajapaksa’s resignation to pave the way for an all-party interim administration.

PM, family take refuge in SLN base

Just two weeks after HRCSL asked the police to ensure protection of the President and the Prime Minister through ‘necessary and proportionate measures’ the latter had to move out of Temple Trees, under heavy security escort. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to authorize the deployment of SLAF assets to evacuate the ex-Prime Minister and some members of the family. They took refuge at the strategic Eastern Naval Command premises, Trincomalee.

By then, Yoshitha Rajapaksa, the ousted PM’s second son and Chief of Staff and his wife, Nitheesha Jayasekera, had left the country. Interestingly, Yoshitha left for Singapore at 12.50 am on May 09 on Singapore Airlines flight SQ 469 several hours before SLPP activists started arriving at Temple Trees.

Yoshitha Rajapaksa couldn’t have been unaware of the meticulous plans underway to bring in hundreds of supporters from all parts of the country to Temple Trees where the Prime Minister was to address them. Those who believed Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa was to announce his resignation were proved wrong. Instead, lawmaker Johnston Fernando and the then Premier Rajapaksa created an environment conducive for an ‘operation’ to evict those who had been protesting against the Prime Minister and the President. The operation boomeranged. The end result was the Prime Minister having to take refuge in the Trincomalee Navy base.

Two days later, the Fort Magistrate’s Court issued a travel ban on Mahinda Rajapaksa, MP Namal Rajapaksa and 16 others. They are Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Johnston Fernando, Sanjeewa Edirimanne, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, C.B. Ratnayake, Sanath Nishantha, Kanchana Jayaratne (Pavitra Wanniarachchi’s husband), Sampath Athukorala, Mahinda Kahandagama, Renuka Perera, Nishantha Abeysinghe, Amitha Abeywickrama, Pushpalal Kumarasinghe, Dilip Fernando and Senior DIG Deshabandu Tennakoon. The Senior DIG had been present at the time, SLPP goons broke through the police line, near the Galle Face hotel, to demolish the Galle Face protest camp.

The Magistrate also imposed a travel ban on seven others who had been wounded during the violence on the fateful Monday or were eye-witnesses to the attacks.

President of the Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association Lakshman Perera told the writer that the Attorney General‘s Department moved the Fort Magistrate’s court amidst preparations made by his outfit to move the court. Speaking on behalf of the Association, Perera underscored the pivotal importance of ensuring the safety and security of all, regardless of whatever the accusations directed at them.

For how long would the ex-Premier have to live under the protection of the Navy? In response to media queries, Defence Secretary retired General Kamal Gunaratne told a hastily arranged press conference, at the Battaramulla Defence Complex, that as a former head of State Mahinda Rajapaksa was entitled to required security. When would the ex-PM be able to move freely as protests demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation continue amidst traffic disruptions on main roads, especially over shortage of cooking gas? The situation remains extremely dicey.

Politically-motivated mobs destroyed many properties belonging to the Rajapaksa family. Mobs set ablaze the Rajapaksas’ ancestral home at Medamulana, Hambantota, and did not even spare the memorial built for their parents also at Medamulana, while the former Premier’s home in Kurunegala, too, was destroyed.

Properties belonging to elder brother, Chamal Rajapaksa and his son, Shashendra were also destroyed.

Gangs set fire to Green Ecolodge, situated very close to the Sinharaja rain forest. The hotel, situated close to the UNESCO heritage site, is widely believed to be owned by Yoshitha Rajapaksa, who recently warned JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake of legal action against the accusations made in respect of Green Ecolodge. But the JVP instead of backing their accusations regarding that prized eco-property (torched by the politically-motivated mobs early last week) with facts, issued a veiled threat to expose Yoshitha on some other issues if he dared to go to courts. Comrade Nalinda Jayatissa told the media that they would raise his fake qualifications, how he managed to enter the famed British naval college Dartmouth, etc., if he ventured to challenge them in court.

Well organized mobs also looted and set fire to properties of over 50 MPs, mainly of the government, across the country. They and their families were left with only the clothes on their backs.

Politicos under threat

The government should do everything possible to prosecute those responsible for incidents of violence, regardless of their status. Destruction of lawmakers’ properties should be denounced and punitive action taken against all those responsible. Who would take the responsibility for killing SLPP Polonnaruwa District MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale and his police bodyguard at Nittambuwa? The slain MP was on his way home, after attending the Temple Trees meet earlier in the day. Did Atukorale open fire on those who blocked his path? Did his police bodyguard, too, open fire? The post-mortem revealed the MP had been lynched and contrary to initial reports there were no gunshot injuries. The post mortem also set the record straight that the MP didn’t commit suicide with his own weapon as initially claimed by interested parties over the social and mainstream media. Having allowed SLPP goons to go on the rampage, the police pathetically failed to intervene when the public retaliated. Politically-motivated groups obviously took advantage of the situation. At an early stage of the ongoing protest campaign, German Ambassador in Colombo Holger Seubert tweeted: “I’m impressed with how peaceful the proud people of Sri Lanka are exercising their right to freedom of expression. It reminds me of German unification back in 1989 when we experienced how powerful peaceful protests can be. Wishing all parties involved the strength to remain peaceful.”

During the second JVP inspired-insurgency, the then JRJ government issued firearms to members of Parliament. Some lawmakers formed their own death squads. The government accepted extra-judicial killings as part of the overall defence against the JVP/DJV violence perpetrated against the UNP and those connected with that party.

Members of the SLPP raised security issues at a meeting they had with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the President’s House last Saturday (14). The government shouldn’t expect normalisation of the situation until tangible measures are taken to stabilize the national economy. Lawmakers wouldn’t be safe as long queues for diesel, petrol and cooking gas exist with the vast majority of the electorate struggling to make ends meet. The government should be mindful of interventions made by foreign powers and other external and internal players hell-bent on exploiting the situation to their advantage.

Recent demonstrations near the Parliament compelled the police to close several roads for traffic on May 05 and 06. The police closed the section from Diyatha Uyana junction (Polduwa junction) to Jayanthipura junction and from Jayanthipura junction to the Denzil Kobbekaduwa road to deter mass invasions by well organised demonstrators. The police asserted that closure of the roads were necessary, in spite of the inconvenience caused to the public, to prevent hindrance to lawmakers entering and leaving the parliamentary complex.

The police closed down the same sections of the roads yesterday (17) to facilitate parliamentary proceedings. Trade unions combine and the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) have vowed to lay siege to the Parliament. The warning that had been made several days before the May 09 mayhem should be reviewed. The trade union grouping and the IUSF affiliated to the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), the breakaway JVP faction, should be mindful of the crises the country is experiencing.

A tragedy

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa having to take refuge in the Trincomalee SLN base is a tragedy. Mahinda Rajapaksa gave resolute political leadership to Sri Lanka’s war effort at a time the vast majority of lawmakers felt the LTTE couldn’t be defeated. Therefore, many accepted peace at any cost. They were prepared even to give up Sri Lanka’s unitary status in a bid to reach a consensus with separatist Tamil terrorists mollycoddled by Western powers. Mahinda Rajapaksa had the strength and political acumen to take on the LTTE. The country should never forget how President Rajapaksa, in spite of strong objections from the military, flew into Kebitigollewa on June 15, 2006, in the immediate aftermath of a claymore mine attack on a passenger bus. The blast killed over 60 men, women and children. Having visited the survivors, President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave an assurance that the terrorism would be eradicated. The promise was made two months before the LTTE resumed large-scale offensive action in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful end in May 2009. But, the President, who restored peace, has ended up virtually running for his life and had to seek refuge in a military installation for the time being as post-war policies and strategies take their toll with interested parties taking advantage of the tragedy facing the country.

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