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Midweek Review

Power and its corruptions



BY Charles Ponnuthurai Sarvan

Epigraph. The Buddha urged that we take power – not over others but over ourselves: greater than conquering others is the conquest of oneself; the controlling of one’s wishes and desires, thoughts and conduct.

Power is simply defined as the ability to get another or others, an animal or thing to do what would otherwise not have been done. Of the five aspects of power – authority, persuasion, manipulation, coercion and force – the last three seem to occur most often. Lord Acton (1834-1902) famously observed that power tends to corrupt, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely, that is, totally. History furnishes us with many examples of political leaders who may have started out with the ideal of working for the common good but ended with insatiable, selfish, greed for wealth and power – and with the lack of conscience and compassion necessary for the satisfying of such greed. Lodz was the second largest ghetto in Poland and its leader was Jewish Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, a man with delusions of grandeur who rode around in a carriage, and had his own police force and thugs. Ruthless to fellow Jews, he was abject vis-a-vis the Nazis and actively helped in the deportation of his people to their extermination. He is also accused of sexually abusing young women under his control. He infamously made a speech (4 September 1942) during which he urged: “Fathers and mothers, give me your children” – so that they could be transported to the gas chambers. Contrary to some religious teaching, power and the suffering it can impose far more often degrade rather than ennoble. (Rumkowski was put on one of the last trains to leave for the extermination camp of Auschwitz where, before he could be gassed, Jewish inmates beat him to death.)

By the phrase “Power corrupts” is usually meant that those who possess and wield power invariably get corrupted: President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Nelson Mandela are two exceptions who come to mind. In contemporary times, although Angela Merkel of Germany has been criticised by some for her policy and actions, to my knowledge she has been neither accused of self-aggrandizement nor of “cronyism”.

But power also corrupts the powerless, those affected by the exercise of power by another person, group or ‘race’, the extreme example of which is collaboration with those riding roughshod over one’s own people. The word “quisling” means a traitor, be it to a people, cause or sports team: Quisling was a Norwegian who collaborated with the Nazis and, at war’s end, was executed. To boycott someone is not to have any dealings with that person. The word comes from (Irish) Captain Boycott who worked with imperial and colonising Britain against his people. A much older name (now an epithet and not a proper-noun) is “Judas”: he was once a disciple but later betrayed Jesus to the Romans.

The entire family of Wladyslaw Szpilman (1911-2000; a leading Polish pianist) was killed by the Nazis but he himself was helped to escape. How he survived in hiding till the end of the War is related by him in his memoir translated into English as The Pianist; later made into an acclaimed film by Roman Polanski. We are disinclined to deal with complexity; to reach a nuanced, balanced, judgement. We much prefer the mental and moral ease of clear categories: the totally evil versus the totally virtuous; the entirely innocent “we” as against the thoroughly guilty “other”. Similarly, the racist assertion that all Aryans are superior to all non-Aryans – “Aryans” here as used by right-wing extremists in the West meaning those who are white. Szpilman writes that the ambition of Jewish policemen was to be as close to the Gestapo as possible, and to display competence in the language of their masters. Often, they were far worse than the Germans towards their fellow Jews. But the Pianist was initially helped to escape, literally at the last few minutes, by a fellow Jewish policeman. And his final saviour was a German military officer, Wilm Hosenfeld, who discovered the Pianist, emaciated and unkempt, in his hiding place and secretly brought him food. An exceptional man, Hosenfeld helped many to escape, irrespective of their nationality, including at least one anti-Nazi German. Rather than expecting the conquered Poles to know the language of the “master race”, Hosenfeld made attempts to learn Polish. He attended mass at a Polish church, though this was forbidden to Germans, kneeling before a “racially inferior” Polish priest to receive communion. As I used to suggest to students, if there is Justice, it’s not in this (human) world: Hosenfeld died in a Soviet prison camp, having been severely tortured and suffering several cerebral strokes. Totally broken, his mind lost, Wilm Hosenfeld died like a little child who acutely feels the pain but doesn’t understand why he is being beaten. He who had saved was not saved.

But there are other aspects to the corruption power visits on the less powerful or on the powerless. It is said that when a fish goes bad, the rot starts from the head, and then spreads outwards and downwards. Chaucer (1343-1400; the so-called “father of English literature”) rhetorically asks: If even gold rusts, what shall iron do? Using this image, if the elite of a county cream off millions to gratify their greed for excess and luxury, why shouldn’t those below help themselves to a few hundred, often to satisfy the basic needs of their families? Soon, corruption becomes culture, the normal way of life. In Achebe’s novel, ‘No Longer at Ease’, Obi Okonkwo, newly returned to Nigeria after study in England and holding a government post, rejects a bribe and leaves the other puzzled: Why does he reject my money? What has he against me? In other words, corruption has become the normal way of life, and not to accept a bribe an abnormality. Soon, Obi succumbs. Holocaust survivor, Primo Levi (1919-1987; author of powerful works such as ‘If this is a Man’ and ‘The Drowned and the Saved’) wrote that power can create “a frightful power of corruption against which it is difficult to guard oneself”. To resist the corruption spread by power “requires a truly solid moral armature” (Levi). Power wielded under military rule (particularly under foreign military rule) apart from the loss of freedom, self-respect and dignity, breeds corruption in various forms. It infects men and women, and can spread even to adolescents and children. “Compromises” are resorted to, not infrequently on a daily basis.

Sarah Churchwell wrote (‘New Statesman’, 21-27 September 2015) that the consolatory promise of individualism is that a nation can be redeemed collectively by isolated instances of benign action. History and a people cannot be “redeemed collectively” by the “benign action” of a few individuals. Such individual action redeems only the individual – not the people as a whole. But, on a positive note, such individuals are lux in tenebrae, and so I close with words by Szpilman about one Janus Korczak, an adoptive father to Jewish orphans, “the poorest and most abandoned” who, though he could have saved himself, voluntarily came into the ghetto with “his” children:

“The evacuation of the Jewish orphanage run by Janusz Korczak had been ordered for that morning. The children were to have been taken away alone. He had the chance to save himself, and it was only with difficulty that he persuaded the Germans to take him too. He had spent long years of his life with children, and now, on this last journey, he would not leave them alone. He wanted to ease things for them. He told the orphans they were going out into the country, so they ought to be cheerful. At last they would be able to exchange the horrible, suffocating city walls for meadows of flowers, streams where they could bathe, woods full of berries and mushrooms. He told them to wear their best clothes, and so they came out into the yard, two by two, nicely dressed and in a happy mood.

The little column was led by an SS man who loved children, as Germans do, even those he was about to see on their way into the next world. He took a special liking to a boy of twelve, a violinist who had his instrument under his arm. The SS man told him to go to the head of the procession of children and play – and so they set off.

When I met them in Gesia Street the smiling children were singing in chorus, the little violinist was playing for them and Korczak was carrying two of the smallest infants, who were beaming too, and telling them some amusing story. I am sure that even in the gas chamber, as the Cyclon B gas was stifling childish throats and striking terror instead of hope into the orphans’ hearts, the Old Doctor must have whispered with one last effort, ‘It’s all right, children, it will be all right,’ so that at least he could spare his little charges the fear of passing from life to death.”

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Midweek Review

President’s agenda on track



President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the inauguration of the Cephalosporin Injectable Plant and the unveiling of the "Meldol" Reliable Relief Manufacturing Facility at Ekala, Ja-Ela, on June 06. During his address, Wickremesinghe declared his intention to introduce the Economic Transformation Bill which he called the first step in economic revitalization (pic courtesy PMD)

In the wake of the SLPP reiterating its commitment to President Wickremesinghe, two groups of MPs – New Alliance and the SLFP among the ruling party – announced their partnership at a meeting held at Ambalantota on Saturday (08). Among the lawmakers present were Leader of the House Susil Premjayantha, Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, Trade Minister Nalin Fernando, SLFP leader (Chairman) and Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and Nimal Lanza, who spearheaded the move, along with Anura Priyadarshana Yapa. Their common agenda is obviously for the Wickreemsinghe’s benefit and at the expense of the SLPP, the Opposition, as well as the Maithripala Sirisena camp, now more or less a spent force due to his own doings, especially when it came to betrayals.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The outcome of the recent vote on the Sri Lanka Electricity (Amendment) Bill proved that President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s agenda cannot be reversed as long as the Sri Lanka Podujuna Peramuna (SLPP) continued to back him for whatever reasons.

Of the 225 MPs in Parliament, 103 voted for the Bill on June 06. Only one UNPer (Wajira Abeywardena) was among them. The government was deprived of one vote by Kandy District MP Mahindananda Aluthgamage who sent fellow Kandy district lawmaker Gunatilleke Rajapaksa to the Military Hospital on the evening of June 03. The alleged assault on Gunatilleke Rajapaksa received front-page attention of all print media, while the electronic media, particularly the social media, thrived on the incident.

On the following day, the Public Debt Management Bill was passed without a division. Posting on ‘X’ (formerly Twitter), State Finance Minister Shehan Semasinghe declared that the Bill will provide for Public Debt Management, including the authorization to borrow, issue and to service the public debt. It would also enable issuing guarantees, on-lending, enter into suppliers’ credit and financial lease agreements for the establishment of the Public Debt Management Office and for matters connected therewith.

In spite of having just one MP, President Wickremesinghe ensured the enactment of new laws with the SLPP’s support. If National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa’s recent declaration that under Wickremesinghe’s watch 75 new laws had been enacted is true, the Sri Lanka Electricity (Amendment) Bill is the 76th law pushed through by the Wickremesinghe-led regime.

However, the one-day debate and the vote on the Sri Lanka Electricity (Amendment) Bill – the first division shown after SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa’s declaration on May 12 against rushing through with new legislation on the eve of a major national election and despite grave shortcomings pointed out by the Supreme Court determination – demonstrated that the SLPP would stand by President Wickremesinghe.

No less than twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa voted for the controversial Bill that the SC determined is inconsistent with the Constitution as a whole. Against the backdrop of the Rajapaksa-led move on June 06 in Parliament, his May 12 two-page declaration against ‘The sale of national assets and state-owned enterprises’ is irrelevant. In other words, the SLPP has discarded its own declaration.

What really compelled the Rajapaksas to vote for the Bill, in spite of allegations that the new law is intended to facilitate the Adani Group, led by billionaire Gautam Adani, whose Adani Green Energy, the renewable energy unit secured approval in February 2023 to invest $442 million and develop the 484 megawatt wind power plants in Mannar and Pooneryn.

Jathika Jana Balawegaya MP Vijitha Herath during the June 6 debate alleged that the new law was introduced to facilitate Adani operations here.

Former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa and his son Shashendra Rajapaksa voted for the Bill whereas SLPP’s National Organizer Namal Rajapaksa quite conveniently skipped the vote. The lawmaker, aspiring to be party leader and their presidential candidate, owed the discerning public an explanation why he missed that vote. Having skipped the June 06 vote, Namal Rajapaksa appeared on stage at an SLPP meeting held in Rattota on Saturday (08) where he vowed to pursue the SLPP strategy. The National Organizer was surrounded by SLPP MPs who voted for Wickreemsinghe’s Bill a few days before. In the run-up to the June 06 vote, MP Namal Rajapaksa declared that Wickremesinghe was appointed as the President only up to the time for the next national election.

Regardless of the SC finding fault with the Bill, President’s Counsels – Foreign Minister Ali Sabry and Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse and several other lawyers in the SLPP group voted for that Bill.

Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa should be seriously concerned over his failure to ensure all his MPs, excluding Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara, voted against that Bill. If not for the SLPP dissidents and the three-member JJB group, the Opposition would have been embarrassed by an extremely poor show. The SJB won 54 seats, including seven National List slots at the last General Election. But over one fourth of them were missing at the time of the vote.

The Opposition should realize that President Wickremesinghe needed that Bill enacted at any cost, regardless of the consequences, as his political agenda depends on it. That is the truth. Let me name those MPs who voted against President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Bill. The list prepared by the Chief Opposition Whip’s Office has been divided into three sections namely dissident SLPP MPs, JJB MPs and SJB MPs.

The list of SLPP dissidents: Prof. G. L. Peiris, Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Jayantha Samaraweera, Wasantha Yapa Bandara, Chandima Weerakkody, Shan Wijeyalal de Silva, Dallas Alahapperuma, Weerasumana Weerasinghe, Dr. Upul Galappaththy, Thilak Rajapaksha, Gunapala Ratnasekera, Jayaratna Herath, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Prof. Channa Jayasumana, Sarath Kumara Siri, Dilan Perera, Gevindu Kumaratunga and Prof. Charitha Herath (altogether 20)

The list of JJB members: Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Vijitha Herath and Dr. Harini Amarasuriya (20+3)

The list of SJB members: Sajith Premadasa, Dr. Harsha de Silva, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Mano Ganeshan, S.M. Marikkar, Ajith Mannapperuma, Kavinda Jayawardena, Harshana Rajakaruna, Lakshman Kiriella, Abdul Haleem, Velu Kumar, Rohini Kaviratne, Palani Digambaram, V. Radhakrishnan, M. Udayakumar, Gayantha Karunatilleke, Buddhika Pathirana, Dilip Wedaarachchi, Imran Maharoof, M.S. Thawfeek, Asoka Abeysinghe, Thushara Indunil Amarasena, Nalin Bandara, Niroshan Perera, Hector Appuhamy, Kings Kumar Nelson, Varuna Priyantha Liyanage, Thalatha Atukorale, Hesha Vithanage, Kabir Hashim, Sujith Sanjaya Perera, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Eran Wickremaratne, Mayantha Dissanayake and Mujibur Rahuman (23+3+36=59).

The entire 10-member Tamil National Alliance (TNA), in spite of being divided over various political and personal issues, backed Wickremesinghe’s Bill by skipping the vote. That group included another President’s Counsel. Mathiaparanan Abraham Sumanthiran is his name. The TNA, too, owed an explanation regarding its decision to be absent. Did India, in any way, advise the one-time LTTE’s partner to keep away from the crucial vote?

SLPP National List MP and business tycoon Dhammika Perera, widely believed to be interested in contesting the Presidential Polls, didn’t vote along with SLPP MP Maithripala Sirisena and SJB Chairman Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka.

Prez tightens his grip on SLPP

Wily President Wickremesinghe, like his late uncle and mentor JRJ, dubbed the 20th Century Fox, cannot be faulted for exploiting the SLPP to the hilt. Wickremesinghe’s strategy is certainly not rocket science. Having offered Wickremesinghe the premiership (in April 2022), Finance portfolio (May 2022) and Presidency (July 2022), the SLPP created an environment in which it simply has no option but to cohabit with the UNP leader.

How could the SLPP take a different stand on any bill presented on Wickremesinghe’s directives after having accepted him as the leader of its parliamentary group, head of the Cabinet and their saviour in the face of the murderous onslaught launched by Aragalaya. So is it the fear of another instigated Aragalaya, where they would be defenceless with the police and security forces turning the other way, that is holding them back, as happened on May 09, 2022?

In fact, opposing Wickremesinghe’s agenda is ridiculous against the backdrop of the party having accepted Cabinet portfolios, with MEP leader and PM Dinesh Gunawardena being the leader of the severely compromised SLPP parliamentary group. Two Finance State Ministers, namely Shehan Semasinghe and Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, are part of the Wickremesinghe team. Both obviously voted for the Sri Lanka Electricity (Amendment) Bill.

Last week’s high profile vote proved beyond doubt that at least for the time being Wickremesinghe and the SLPP are inseparable. MP Namal Rajapaksa, being the SLPP’s National Organizer, under no circumstances can absolve himself of the responsibility for the passage of the Bill. In a way, in the case of the Sri Lanka Electricity (Amendment) Bill, avoiding such an important Bill is, perhaps, far worse than voting for it. Why do MPs fail to turn up for important Bills that are of national significance? At the time of last week’s vote, 61 MPs hadn’t been present in Parliament, whereas SLPP MP Udayakantha Gunatilleke’s vote (Kegalle district) though being present was not marked.

The overall deterioration of the country can be gauged by the conduct of political parties represented in Parliament. The systematic decline over the past couple of decades has eroded public confidence in the House to such an extent, unless immediate remedial measures are taken, collectively, those now wielding power can expect an Aragalaya-type uprising. Dissident SLPP MP Gevindu Cumaratunga gave such a warning during the debate on the Sri Lanka Electricity (Amendment) Bill.

The SLPP vote, on June 06 ,can be confidently declared as an outright rejection of the massive mandates that had been received at the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls. The SLPP’s candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa handsomely won the contest by polling a staggering 6,924,255 (52.25%) whereas at the parliamentary election the party secured an overwhelming 145 seats. Regardless of their much touted assurance to reverse the Yahapalana economic policies, against the backdrop of Aragalaya, the SLPP has teamed-up with Wickremesinghe.

The SLPP’s bid to empower Wickremesinghe as a stopgap measure has backfired and now is threatening the very basis of the party. The June 06 vote has tied-up the SLPP with Wickremesinghe who seemed to have taken hold of the party, regardless of tough talk by some lawmakers over the past several months. The SLPP has suddenly realized that the entire political environment changed with Wickremesinghe vigorously pursuing an agenda at the SLPP’s expense. But, the top SLPP leadership (the Rajapaksas) fearing that a large chunk of their parliamentary group would switch allegiance to Wickremesinghe and voted for a controversial Bill to avert a damaging split.

Daunting challenge

The Opposition seems to be in disarray. The leader of the main Opposition party should muster all his MPs or be prepared to face the consequences. Wickremesinghe’s triumph in Parliament, on June 06, proved yet again that highly critical SC determinations in respect of controversial Bills that had been presented to Parliament cannot be efficiently exploited by the Opposition, primarily due to the SLPP-Wickremesinghe tie-up. That is the reality.

The SLPP’s stand on Wickremesinghe’s controversial Economic Transformation Bill (ETB) is clear. There is no ambiguity in the ruling party’s position on ETB though dissident SLFPers have been vigorously campaigning against it.

State Finance Minister Semasinghe’s recent declarations, in and outside Parliament, underscored the SLPP’s support for that Bill. While the Parliament voted for the Sri Lanka (Electricity) Amendment Bill on June 6 late afternoon, Wickremesinghe had been at Ekala, Ja-Ela, at the opening of a medicine producing facility where he emphasized the importance of ETB. SJB heavyweight Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, contemplating his next move in a dicey political environment, was with Wickremesinghe. Another SJB dissident, Harin Fernando, now a Cabinet Minister, participated at the event. Both Dr. Senaratne and Harin Fernando were among those who missed the vote.

Wickremesinghe and the SLPP have stayed together though many speculated of a break-up of the alliance over the President’s refusal to accommodate a list of MPs in the cabinet – a request made in July 2022, immediately after he was sworn in as the President to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s term. Relations further deteriorated in the wake of Wickremesinghe turning down the SLPP’s plea to advance the General Election ahead of the Presidential Poll. But, the fear of the Opposition exploiting a break-up has compelled the SLPP to remain committed to Wickremesinghe. As the Chief Government Whip Prasanna Ranatuga declared on many occasions, the SLPP should throw its weight behind Wickremesinghe at the Presidential Poll.

Against the backdrop of the SLPP’s June 06 vote, there cannot be any other reason whatsoever not to officially declare support for Wickremesinghe.

With the Presidential Poll now inevitable, though Wickremesinghe’s Camp sought to influence speculation on a referendum on holding of the poll, political parties, and even MPs, seem busy in seeking arrangements with the powers that be. SJB MP A.H.M. Fowzie’s stand on Sri Lanka Electricity (Amendment) Bill is a case in point.

Among the 103 MPs who voted for Wckremesinghe’s Bill were several elected on other party tickets. Colombo District lawmaker Fowzie, who entered Parliament early last year to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Mujibur Rahuman, voted with the SLPP parliamentary group.

In spite of Nazeer Ahmed of SLMC losing his Batticaloa district seat in Oct last year, on SC judgment, MPs still continue the despicable practice. SC faulted Ahamed for voting for the SLPP Budget 2021, regardless of an SLMC decision to vote against. Wickremesinghe rewarded him with comfortable office-Governor of the North Western Province.

President Wickremesinghe is on record as having said that the ETB intends to ensure the political parties do not deviate on economic policy that had been forced on the incumbent government due to economic fallout. Then there must be a consensus on members switching sides at will for their convenience, at the expense of those who voted for them and the parties they represented.

MP Cumaratunga’s June 06 speech in Parliament highlighted the pathetic state in the House. The first time entrant to Parliament pointed out the failure on the part of Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to provide an opportunity for MPs to express their views on this piece of legislation. Cumaratunga fiercely attacked the Speaker for not extending the debate by another day. The Yuthukama leader questioned the chair whether he, Cumaratunga, was allocated five minutes to silence him.

However, the dissident MP must be told that even if the debate on that particular Bill had been extended by another day, the outcome wouldn’t have been any different. The SLPP has been compelled to go along with Wickremesinghe, at least for the time being. No one should be surprised if the SLPP declared its support for Wickremesinghe soon after the Election Commission announces the Presidential Election in a few weeks.

The inordinate delay in the SLPP’s announcement indicated that the party remained unsure of its strategy and may go along with Wickremesinghe, as repeatedly suggested by Minister Prasanna Ranatunga.

It would be pertinent to mention that among those who voted for Wickremesinghe’s Bill were another group of dissident MPs seeking to reach an agreement with the President in respect of both presidential and parliamentary polls. That group includes Nimal Lanza, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and Education Minister Susil Premjayantha who is also the Leader of the House and Trade Minister Nalin Bandara.

The SLPP initially backed Wickremesinghe without hesitation. Some even went to the extent of finding fault with Gotabaya Rajapaksa for being inexperienced. The party felt confident of Wickremesinghe’s leadership as he was expected to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s five-year term and leave. Obviously, the SLPP didn’t expect a political threat from Wickremesinghe. In fact, some even asserted that Wickremesinghe would be grateful to the SLPP for choosing him. Ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his memoirs declared Wickremesinghe as the best person to restore law and order.

But a slew of new laws enacted over the past two years has strengthened Wickremesinghe’s hands and tied the SLPP to the UNP leader. The passage of the Online Safety Bill, the Domestic Debt Optimisation (DDO) Bill and the Inland Revenue (Amendment) Act No. 14 of 2023 were among the laws that couldn’t have been approved without the SLPP’s backing.

Regardless of challenges, Wickremesinghe has succeeded in maintaining tight control over his partnership with the SLPP. That is a situation some cannot stomach but they cannot do anything about it, for the moment.

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Midweek Review

Sellasamy’s Sorrow



By Lynn Ockersz

Sellasamy is broken with grief,

These long, weary decades,

Over his son’s Disappearance,

In the isle’s Longsuffering,

But there’s no hatred in him,

Towards any living being,

Except that he’d like to know,

The Truth behind his great loss,

So that his agonized heart,

Could finally be at peace,

But what he’s being promised,

By smug Sires at center Stage,

Is a little bit of scrub jungle,

In the badly mistaken notion,

That Reconciliation is tradable,

For a Mess of Pottage.

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Midweek Review

Ranil reveals bid to get rid of him while GR was fleeing to Trinco on board SLNS Gajabahu



President Wickremesinghe participates in the “What’s New” dialogue on legal reforms with young legal professionals at a workshop held at the Presidential Secretariat (pic courtesy PMD)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attempts had been made to compel UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to give up the premiership immediately after the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had left Janadhipathi Mandiraya in the early afternoon of July 09, 2022.

That had been the devious Aragalaya strategy meant to pave the way for Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to assume executive powers as a mere figurehead and with them easily controlling him with the threat of further upheaval. Obviously Aragalaya strategists wanted to force Wickremesinghe out of office before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa quit the presidency.

However, they may not have expected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee President’s House immediately after protestors breached its main gates.

As we recall the law enforcers simply did nothing to halt the advance of the mob right into the President’s House, as people like US Ambassador Julie Chung openly prevailed on law enforcers not to act against what she repeatedly termed “peaceful protesters”, even after they, in a preplanned operation, meticulously burnt down more than hundred properties of government politicos and loyalists, across the country, on May 09/10, 2022. So they were on the whole the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing working with the Western regime change project here as was previously done in places like Libya and Iraq.

President Wickremesinghe discussed the challenge faced by him at the time of the Aragalaya, when he addressed a group of young legal professionals at the Presidential Secretariat on May 28.

Among those who had been at the head table was Colombo District SLPP lawmaker Premanath C. Dolawatte, an Attorney-at-Law and now widely believed to be one of those pursuing the UNP leader’s agenda.

Stressing the importance of the executive presidency in restoring stability, President Wickremesinghe recalled the situation as Aragalaya forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa out of Janadhipathi Mandiraya. The President said that some persons had asked him to resign as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was on board a ship and on his way to Trincomalee.

The President’s Media Division (PMD) quoted him as having told the young professionals how he declined to resign unless an MP, who commanded the confidence of the majority in Parliament, emerged against the backdrop of chaos. The President said that even if he wrote a letter of resignation, he couldn’t have handed it over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa when he was on his way to Trincomalee in a ship or flying to the Maldives to escape mob justice.

The President said that if he resigned, due to pressure brought on him by a particular person, or due to the destruction of his residence, at the top of 05th Lane, in Colombo 07, near Royal Primary, also on July 09, 2022, someone would have secured power outside the democratic process.

The President’s comments on Aragalaya didn’t attract sufficient media attention. In fact, the coverage of the Presidential Secretariat event had been influenced by the PMD media release. Both print and electronic media focused on the President pointing out that none of those contesting the forthcoming Presidential poll had assured so far that executive powers would be done away with.

Actually, at the 2019 Presidential election, SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa never referred to the abolition of the Executive Presidency or further dilution of executive powers. The wartime Defence Secretary aspired to be an all-powerful Executive President and, in fact, further enhanced the presidency with the enactment of the 20th Amendment, enacted in late October 2020. The move to introduce a new Constitution was also meant to further enhance the Executive Presidency. That report, prepared at a tremendous cost to the taxpayer, is gathering dust, probably at the Presidential Secretariat. Perhaps Gotabaya Rajapaksa should inquire from his successor Ranil Wickremesinghe what he intended to do with it. The former President has every right to seek an explanation, not only from the President, but the Cabinet-of-Ministers as well.

Let us get back to President Wickremesinghe’s disclosure of the bid to force him out of office soon after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa boarded SLNS Gajabahu (formerly Sherman of the US Coast Guard), at the Colombo harbor, to escape the pursuing mob.

Now that President Wickremesinghe again made reference to Aragalaya’s bid to get rid of him, who could have asked Premier Wickremesinghe to resign on July 09, 2022? Had there been similar demands/requests in the run-up to Wickremesinghe receiving the appointment as President on July 14?

Perhaps, President Wickremesinghe would never reveal the identities of those who demanded his resignation, obviously on more than one occasion during July 09-14 period.

Political party system in a bind

Post-Aragalaya political leadership conveniently refrained from inquiring into the overthrowing of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Nearly two years after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ouster, there hadn’t been an effort, at any level, to conduct a thorough investigation into Aragalaya.

No holds barred investigation into Aragalaya shouldn’t be mixed up with individual cases, such as the killing of SLPP lawmaker Amatakeerthi Atukorale and his police bodyguard, at Nittambuwa, on the afternoon of May 09, 2022, or the killing of a protester at Rambukkana on April 19, 2022. A proper probe into Aragalaya should focus on the circumstances leading to the eruption of violent protest campaign, outside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence at Pangiriwatte, Mirihana, on the night of March 31, 2022, and the period till President Wickremesinghe deployed the military and the police, including the Special Task Force (STF), on July 22, 2022, to clear the Presidential Secretariat of protesters. And all those who were threatening to die for the “system change,” they were ostensibly clamouring for, simply vanished into thin air. How convenient! And how conveniently Julie Chung’s trap, too, shut on behalf of Aragalaya?

Had Wickremesinghe lacked the courage to do so, regardless of “international “condemnation”, the Aragalaya could have been still in control of the President’s House, Presidential Secretariat, etc. Wickremesinghe acted swiftly and decisively as he realized the danger in failing to bring back the situation under control, within a short period of time. Or was that all a show to hoodwink the country? May be he knew too much about JVP shenanigans, especially with the West for them being the principal mover of the demand for system change, too, to go silent, like obedient kittens, with Ranil at the helm.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, in April 2023, named outgoing US Ambassador Julie Chung as one of the key Aragalaya conspirators. The former JVP heavyweight went to the extent of alleging that Ambassador Chung personally met Speaker Abeywardena at the latter’s official residence in the wake of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fleeing Janadhipathi Mandiraya.

Speaker Abeywardena never denied Weerawansa’s claim, though Ambassador Chung dismissed the allegation. However, President Wickremesinghe latest disclosure should be examined, taking into Speaker’s declaration in March this year that those who spearheaded Aragalaya even threatened him unless he cooperated with them. Speaker Abeywardena declared that Aragalaya wanted him to accept the presidency, though the Constitution stipulated that the Premier should succeed the President.

Then, obviously, those who demanded Wickremesinghe to resign, and Speaker Abeywardena to accept the Presidency in July 2020, must be the same. There cannot be any dispute whatsoever regarding the Aragalaya strategy. Obviously, ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his widely read book ‘The Conspiracy to Oust Me from Presidency’ failed to properly deal with external intervention, particularly the interventions made by Ambassador Chung.

The US, through Ambassador Chung’s interventions, ensured protection for Aragalaya throughout the high profile project as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s control rapidly eroded. The then government never really comprehended the grave implications of the April 19, 2022 Rambukkana incident. The senior police officer in charge of Kegalle, Senior Superintendent of Police K.B. Keerthiratne, had to undergo the humiliation of being arrested and remanded over a police shooting that claimed the life of a protester. Had Keerthiratne failed to order that shooting, the protesters would have set ablaze a fully loaded bowser, carrying petrol, strategically placed across the rail tracks there to create chaos and disrupt rail transport By the time the SSP and three other policemen received bail, in August, Wickremesinghe was the President.

The former President should have dealt with the Rambukkana issue in his memoirs. There cannot be any doubt, or dispute, that the utterly irresponsible government response to police firing at Rambukkana discouraged the military from taking tangible measures to thwart the overrunning of Janadhipathi Mandiraya.

The Aragalaya opened Janadhipathi Mandiraya and Presidential Secretariat for the public and they remained in their hands until President Wickremesinghe regained control on July 22, 2022.

Prez draws sharp criticism

Sri Lanka couldn’t have continued with chaos caused in the wake of the political-economic-social crisis that threatened the ruination of the war-winning country that also successfully undertook so many development projects, like building expressways in the country for the first time, badly needed new international airport and even an international harbour, that became the envy of even our giant neighbour. Speaker Abeywardena, whatever his shortcomings and failures, should receive the respect and gratitude of all for saving the country from a horrible fate. Sri Lanka’s unitary status had been at stake and the country faced the risk of disintegrating.

Having been elected as the 8th Executive President on July 20, 2022 by the SLPP parliamentarians, who had the majority in the House, the UNP leader moved swiftly to regain control. Since then, Wickremesinghe, in spite of being reduced to just one National List MP in Parliament, never looked back as he advanced his agenda.

The President’s decision to do away with the Galle Face protest site earned the wrath of those who hoped for a different outcome. They expected Speaker Abeywardena, as Head of State, at least for a brief period, pending post-Gaddafi-style Libyan administration.

The following are some of the statements issued by the “usual suspects” who blindly tow the US line, in the wake of President Wickremesinghe’s directive:

UN Human Rights Commission:

“We are alarmed by the unnecessary use of force by security forces to break up a protest camp near presidential offices in Colombo. We condemn reports of beatings of protesters, journalists and lawyers and urge authorities to halt the use of force.”

The UNHRC Sri Lanka Core Group (consisting of Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, North Macedonia, the USA and the UK):

“peaceful protest is fundamental to any democracy and dismayed at the violence which took place at Galle Face on Friday.” The grouping called for full respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Amnesty International South Asia:

“…the attack on ‘GotaGoGama,’ the peaceful protest site in Colombo by the police and the military is unacceptable and authorities must stand down immediately. The right to protest must be protected. Sri Lankan authorities must immediately cease these acts of violence and release those arrested unlawfully in this manner. Authorities must also protect the freedom of the press. Journalists must not be barred from ‘GotaGoGama’. Blocking journalists from doing their jobs directly violates freedom of the press.”

Human Rights Watch South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly said:

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe has been telling donors and friends that he is committed to resolving the economic crisis, and yet among his first acts was to deploy a midnight security forces raid to disperse the peaceful protesters. The international community needs to act now, send a strong message that the global efforts are directed to support the people of Sri Lanka, and not to prop up abusive political leaders who undermine fundamental freedoms.”

UN Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer-Hamdy said she was gravely concerned by the use of force to disperse protesters.

“Journalists and human rights defenders have a right to monitor demonstrations and their functions should not be impeded. Actions that stifle protests and right to peaceful assembly can worsen economic and political stability in Sri Lanka. Peaceful solutions in accordance with broad public consultations is the only way forward.”

The European Union:

“Freedom of expression proved essential to Sri Lanka’s current transition. Hard to see how severely restricting it can help in finding solutions to the current political and economic crises.”

UK High Commissioner Sarah Hulton expressed concern over the attack and said:

“We have made clear the importance of the right to peaceful protest.”

US Ambassador Julie Chung:

“Deeply concerned about actions taken against protestors at Galle Face in the middle of the night. We urge restraint by authorities and immediate access to medical attention for those injured.”

Canadian High Commissioner David McKinnon:

“It is crucial the authorities act with restraint and avoid violence.”

The Presidential Secretariat remained in the hands of protesters till midnight July 22, 2022, out of the three State properties they took control of on July 09. Protesters evacuated from the other two – the President’s House and Temple Trees ahead of any confrontation with the military tasked to remove them!

In the absence of proper investigations…

Chief Government Whip Prasanna Ranatunga is one of the few lawmakers to question the failure on the part of relevant authorities to investigate organized attacks on government MPs. When the writer raised this issue with Minister Ranatunga a few moons ago, the Gampaha District SLPP strongman expressed serious disappointment over the status of the investigations.

Declaring that his properties at Udugampola, Gampaha, had been set ablaze in the presence of law enforcement officers, Urban Development and Housing Minister Ranatunga said that he was still awaiting the conclusion of the investigation undertaken by the Human Rights Commission. None of those who had been identified as responsible for systematic destruction of houses and other properties belonging to government members and in some cases supporters hadn’t been dealt with.

President Wickremesinghe’s recent disclosure of efforts to force him out of the Premier’s Office revealed that there hadn’t been a proper investigation into the Aragalaya at all. What is the mysterious evil hand preventing justice being done to victims of mob justice by Aragalaya? But the evil West leaves no stone unturned in seeking “justice” on behalf of the LTTE and its sympathisers, who tried to break up this country through sheer raw terror.

It would be interesting to know the status of the investigation promised by the Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, into the May 9/10 attacks on politicians’ properties. A case filed by a group of politicians, demanding an investigation into these incidents, had been withdrawn in late May, 2023 on an assurance given by the Attorney General.

The State Counsel appearing on behalf of the Attorney General assured Court that the AG had received an assurance from the Public Security Ministry that there would be a formal investigation into the incidents and secondly, the Secretary to the President promised that the Wasantha Karannagoda Committee report on the May 2022 incidents would be brought to the attention of the President.

What is the status of the promised investigation? President Wickremesinghe cannot absolve himself of the responsibility for ensuring a comprehensive investigation into violence perpetrated during 2022.

In spite of allegations that the JVP instigated an attack on Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa at the Galle Face protest site on the afternoon of May 09, 2022, the main Opposition party never pushed hard for an investigation.

Recently MP Premadasa confirmed the alleged JVP plot when the writer sought his response to SLPP MP Johnston Fernando’s declaration that Premadasa would have been lynched if his driver failed to reverse the vehicle at high-speed after the JVP mob surrounded Premadasa. Sunil Handunetti declared that both Johnston and Sajith should have their heads examined. But JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake was virtually received with open arms by the same Aragalaya activists on the same day at the same venue

Another matter for serious concern is that all suspects arrested in connection with the killing of MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale were granted bail without the AG being consulted. The accusation has been made by the AG in respect of the decision taken by the Trial-at-Bar of the Gampaha High Court. We would refrain from commenting on the issue at hand as the matter is pending before the court.

The Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government has completely ignored ex-President’s allegations that the military deliberately failed to thwart the public protest campaign that was launched on March 31, 2022. Gotabaya Rajapaksa went to the extent of alleging that Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General (retd.) Shavendra Silva and Defence Secretary General (retd.) Kamal Gunaratne may have failed to take tangible measures as they were under pressure due to war crimes accusations directed at them by the US. However, it must be pointed out that General Silva hadn’t been at the helm of the Army at the time Aragalaya overran Janadhipathi Mandiraya with ease.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa replaced General Silva on June 1, 2022, following the May 09 incidents which shook his government with Vikum Liyanage, also of the Gajaba Regiment as the Commander of the Army, though various interested parties found fault with Silva, who headed the celebrated 58 Division that in way spearheaded the war victory, for not protecting Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government.

The UNP also provided muscle to Aragalaya. Former MP and current presidential advisor Ashu Marasinghe and SJB MP and Minister Harin Fernando had declared the UNP’s direct role in Aragalaya whereas the JVP and its breakaway faction the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP/Peratugami Pakshaya) played a significant role. However, the vast majority of those who provided the real strength to the protest campaign were not members of any political party but angry Sri Lankans influenced by the collapsing of the economy. They also engaged in looting in some instances but there were organized groups which caused massive destruction, systematically at the behest of Aragalaya masterminds operating from behind the scene.

President Wickremesinghe should name those who had asked him to give up the premiership. Speaker Abeywardena, too, should reveal who threatened to harm him unless he fully cooperated with the Aragalaya.

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