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Vasudeva’s ultimate surrender: Once a revolutionary, now a roadblock

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by Rajan Philips

“It is not defeat that is a disgrace, it is surrender,” roared Vasudeva Nanayakkara at the now forgotten Nugegoda rally on February 18, 2015. That was the “Mahinda Sulanga” rally that purportedly led to the return of the Rajapaksas in November 2019, but with a major difference – Gotabaya Rajapaksa elevated to bat for the family as Sri Lanka’s President, and Mahinda Rajapaksa relegating himself to play second fiddle as his brother’s Prime Minister. At Nugegoda, in 2015, Mr. Nanayakkara’s denunciation of surrender was hailed as setting the ‘moral’ tone for the rally. There is no need now to unpack the dubious moral claim that is based on interpreting electoral results in terms of disgrace and surrender.

What is pertinent today is the fall of Vasudeva Nanayakkara from rejecting surrender then, to his ultimate surrender now. From his defiance on behalf of Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015, to his abject surrender today to Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Then he was in defiance of the people’s verdict in the 2015 presidential election that led to Maithripala Sirisena becoming President by the only virtue of being a common candidate. Now, Vasudeva is in cahoots with Sirisena to enable Gotabaya Rajapaksa stay in office in spite of public protests demanding the President’s resignation. Then it was an almost fascistic defiance of an electoral defeat. Now, it is a shameless deflection of public protest from its intended target.

In his latest move, reported by the Daily Financial Times, he is a co-signatory along with Maithripala Sirisena of a letter sent on behalf of “the SLPP dissident group in parliament numbering over 51 MPs,” addressed to SJB leader Sajith Premadasa and asking him to choose from one of two options “if they are to support the no-confidence motion against the government.” EITHER “the SJB leader should choose between joining an interim all-party administration,” OR “he should agree to become the Prime Minister and form the government with only SJB MPs in the event of the NCM getting approval of the House.” The 51 MPs are reportedly assuring that “they will sit in opposition if the SJB takes over and extend support to them.”

In either of the two scenarios, Gotabaya Rajapaksa remains President. Heads, we win; tails, you lose. Maithripala Sirisena and Vasudeva Nanayakkara may be playing games with Sajith Premadasa, who has declared himself as the man for no deals. Objectively, however, Sirisena and Vasu are showing their finger to the people.

Vasu as Enabler

To be clear, what matters is not Vasudeva’s subjective intentions, but the objective outcome of his current role in parliament as part of the triumvirate that is shepherding 40+/- MPs as the so called independents. They grow to 51 when they join hands with Sirisena-SLFPers. It is my contention that Vasudeva’s position is central and crucial to enabling Gotabaya Rajapaksa to pretend that he has majority support in parliament. Of the triumvirate, Wimal Weerawansa is a gifted political orator with zero credibility, while Udaya Gammanpila is an accidental MP with zero political endowments or following. They are not the key to holding the ostensible independents onside with Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Vasudeva is the key that can unlock the independents. If he were to call for the resignation of the President and declare his support for a No Confidence Motion in parliament against the President, the dynamic in parliament will consequentially change. I am not suggesting Vasudeva can trigger a flood of crossovers in parliament. Never mind crossovers in Kotte have no meaning as Sri Lanka’s MPs are constantly crossing over something or other. Just that there will be sufficient movement of MPs to demonstrate that a good majority of MPs in parliament have no confidence in the President.

As some of us have been saying all along, an NCM is not going to remove the President. But it is a necessary action by parliament to demonstrate solidarity with the people protesting for the President’s resignation. The people’s protest must mean something to Vasudeva Nanayakkara. Or else, he would not have made a show of being a co-leader of 40+/- MPs, taking them out of government and turning them into ‘independents.’ But he is only half-heartedly acknowledging the protest, otherwise he would not have led himself and his forty thieves (politically they all are, and as Lenin would have called them) back into Gota’s fold. Why is Vasudeva Nanayakkara refusing to whole-heartedly support the protest?

Obviously, Vasudeva is not questioning the sincerity and the spontaneity of the protesters. Otherwise, he would have called them out for that without hesitation. He cannot be unaware how the protests that began in Colombo have relentlessly resonated not only across the length and breadth of the country, but also up and down the layers and strata of Sri Lankan society. Most of all, he cannot be unaware of the broken economic ‘base’ that is both provoking and sustaining the protests, which in turn are shaking the ‘superstructures’ of the state. Isn’t it curious that a person like Vasudeva Nanyakkara with his radical genealogy, should be running away from the streets that are revolting to support the presidential scaffolding that is collapsing?

In fact, it is more than curious that Vasudeva, who as a hot-headed young comrade walked away from the likes of NM Perera, Colvin R de Silva and Leslie Goonewardene in search of revolutionary purity, could now stand by someone like Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose idea of left and right is limited to military marches, and who has accomplished so pathetic a record, in so short a time, as the country’s President? In the past, Vasudeva never hesitated to leave a political party as a matter of principle, as he understood it, however misplaced it may have been. But never for personal gain or with selfish motives.

Vasudeva’s association with the Rajapaksas is a different story. It has been remarkably long, perhaps his longest stay in a political alliance. There would have been the satisfying of some vanities, as Vasu Aiya has been the elder statesman from Galle to the Medamulana brothers when they went to Colombo to play politics. But the cost to Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s reputation as a principled firebrand politician has been irreparable and deadly. Vasudeva took President Chandrika Kumaratunga to task and to courts for her abuse of her office and her powers in allowing her friends to make money at the expense of state assets. How would he square the anti-corruption alacrity that he showed against Chandrika Kumaratunga with his silent acceptance of all the corruption allegations that have been perpetually levelled against his Medamulana underlings? These allegations have come into sharp relief in the current protests, and by protecting the President from the protests, Vasudeva Nanayakkara is betraying everything he had stood for before 2005 when he began his power-association with Rajapaksas.

Stalemate in Parliament

Vasudeva Nanayakkara is not the only key to breaking the current stalemate in parliament. But he could be one of the effective ones. By stalemate, I mean, neither the government nor the opposition is able to show majority support in parliament. The re-election of Ranjith Siyambalapitiya as Deputy Speaker exposed how farcical the business of parliament has become and where the division of its members stands. Farcical, because Mr. Siyambalapitiya first resigned from office and then allowed himself to be nominated, on behalf of the ‘Opposition,’ including the SJB. SLFP MP Nimal Siripala De Silva proposed Mr. Siyambalapitiya’s name, just as Basil Rajapaksa has said that the SLPP will propose Mahinda Rajapaksa to be Prime Minister after he resigns from office.

GL Pieris announced that the government (SLPP) MPs will support Siambalapitiya. Resigning and getting reappointment is nothing to Pieris. Then the SJB got into a huff, smelling a deal between the government and its dissidents, and nominated its MP Bakeer Markar as the authentic opposition candidate and called for a secret ballot. What was the SJB expecting? 148 MPs vote for Siyambalapitiya and 65 for Bakeer Markar. (Three MPs spoilt their votes and another eight were absent). Nothing changed? Mr. Clever, Ranil Wickremesinghe, allegedly campaigned for Siyambalapitiya, as the Opposition Candidate. Whom did he canvas, the TNA?

The SJB must be left wondering that if it cannot muster even a 100 votes in a secret ballot for its Deputy Speaker candidate, where is it going to get 113 votes for a No Confidence Motion against anybody. While the vote shows that the SJB has got a lot of homework to do, the vote does not change anything for the government or the President. All the usual suspects, the SLPP, the SLFP and the independents voted together, only secretly this time. And the SLPP-government MPs may even vote for an NCM against the government, just for kicks. They know nothing will change so long as Gotabaya Rajapaksa remains President.

These are the games that are being played in the nation’s parliament when the people are struggling from day to day for food, for fuel, for medicine, and when they are protesting for serious and sincere responses from their representatives. And when food prices in April increased by nearly 50% from last year, non-food inflation by over 20%, and the overall Consumer Price index went up by 30%.

This is what is at the crux of Vasudeva’s position that the country can make a turnround by enabling President Rajapaksa to continue in office to form a ‘new government’, after making Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Ministers resign. He is now extending support to the SJB’s No Confidence Motion against the government (i.e., against Mahinda Rajapaksa) if Sajith Premadasa would agree to become the new Prime Minister under Gotabaya Rajapaksa, knowing full well that the SJB has categorically rejected being part of a government under the current President.

Even otherwise well meaning citizens and opinion leaders have fallen for the same ploy, as a matter of prioritizing action on the economic front instead of expending energies on the political front to make the President resign, have an interim government, and go for elections. The apparent argument is that it is prudent to let the current President continue with a ‘new government’ until economic normalcy is restored and then call for parliamentary election. This approach has three flaws.

First, it forgets the fact that there is nothing about the current President and any government under him that can give confidence to anyone that they are capable of turning the economic ship around from sinking to sailing. The President and his Ministers have given no indication over the last month and more that they are capable of acting not only responsibly, but also intelligently. All that the President has been doing for nearly 40 days now, is making statements that he is ready to form an all-party cabinet, when only the same government-party MPs are answering his calls.

It is true that the Central Bank and the Finance Ministry are finally in adult professional hands, but while all the focus is on the IMF and Washington, there is nothing heard about what anyone in the government is doing about ensuring steady essential supplies and looking after the production sector to prevent it from total collapse. The President is yet to address the nation and persuade its people, why he should be allowed to continue. And how he will be different. In sum, there is no point in salvaging this government for the purpose of saving the country.

The second flaw is that the prospect of the current President continuing in office would be anathema to the protesters, who will not relent until the President and the Prime Minister resign. The trade unions have threatened that they will resort to permanent strike action until the two brothers resign. After their very successful strike action on April 28, many of the trade unions were supporting the island-wide hartal launched on Friday. The media is calling it the largest hartal after the Great Hartal of 1953. Political watchers are scratching their heads to taxonomize the seemingly leaderless current protest wave. Its classification can come later, what is urgent now is to respond constructively to the protests and their underlying economic reasons.

Therein is the third flaw in allowing the current President to continue until the country overcomes its economic crisis. The better way out and the most constructive pivot for the country will be for the President to resign, not necessarily tomorrow, but after arrangements are in place for an interim President and an interim government to step in for a period of six to twelve months before calling a general election. Much can be accomplished in this interim period both on the economic front and by way of constitutional changes. For starters, the current National List MPs can give up their seats so that outside professionals can be admitted to parliament as MPs and assume specific portfolios as cabinet ministers. You don’t need a constitutional amendment to do this. The JVP and the NPP have already indicated their support for such measures. The real sacrifice should come from the National List MPs of the SLPP and the SJB. Many of them might be inspired to do so if only the President will lead the way. As for Vasudeva Nanayakkara, he should be showing the President his graceful way out, and not finding disgraceful ways to keep him in office.



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Solidarity and Aragalaya: A few thoughts from an educationist’s perspective

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by Harshana Rambukwella

Very little in Sri Lanka at the moment inspires hope. We are facing an existential crisis that was inconceivable just six months ago. Sri Lanka is also, ironically, just a year away from marking the 75th year of its independence. As we reflect on these seven decades of postcolonial nation building, and as we confront a future of extreme precarity, our scorecard as a country is not a proud one. Much blood has been spilt in the name of postcolonial nation building and the ethno-nationalist conflict that shaped almost three decades of that history and two youth rebellions against the state speak to a history of division and enmity. While our current predicament cannot be entirely attributed to this conflictual history alone, it surely played more than a small role in shaping our present misery. It is within this context that I want to offer this brief set of reflections on what I feel is an unprecedented form of solidarity that has emerged in Sri Lanka as the aragalaya took shape. While I do not want to romanticize this solidarity because it is a highly contingent phenomenon and is shaped by the extreme nature of the current political and economic conditions, it offers us as a society, but more specifically as educators, something to reflect on as we try to imagine our role in a society that faces a painful process of rebuilding and recovery (though my hope is that such rebuilding and recovery does not mean the repetition of the tired old neo-liberal script we have followed for decades).

Before I explore what I mean by solidarity within the aragalaya, let me briefly reflect on solidarity as a concept. Solidarity is a term sometimes deployed in geopolitics. Particularly in this time of global turmoil where not just Sri Lanka, but many other countries are experiencing serious economic challenges, we see nations expressing solidarity with or towards other nations. However, such solidarity is almost always shaped by instrumental motives. This is what we might call a form of ‘vertical’ solidarity where more powerful and wealthy nations extend a ‘helping hand’ to their more unfortunate counterparts. Therefore, when India says ‘neighbourhood first’ and expresses solidarity with Sri Lanka in this time of trouble one can easily discern this as a hierarchical gesture shaped by instrumental motives. It is in reality, India’s strategic geopolitical interests that largely dominate this narrative of solidarity though one cannot disregard the critical importance of the assistance extended by India and other such ‘powerful’ nations in this time of national distress.

Another form in which solidarity manifests is through what some scholars have termed ‘enchanted’ solidarities. This is literally and metaphorically a distant form of solidarity where intellectuals, activists and others extend solidarity towards a struggle they perceive as deserving their support but without truly understanding the context in which they are intervening. This has often happened with ‘first world’ academics and intellectuals expressing solidarity towards ‘third world’ struggles which they felt were ideologically aligned with their beliefs. One example is how many liberal and leftist intellectuals supported the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, believing it to be an anti-imperial liberation movement, only to become disillusioned with the movement as they began to see the full horror of the repression and violence unleashed by the Khmer regime. I think if we reflect on Sri Lanka’s postcolonial history, we can also find many such moments where enchanted solidarities were expressed towards various movements from people in the ‘metropolitan’ center with little understanding of the nuances of the politics on the ground.

Premised against both vertical and enchanted solidarities, scholars have also proposed what is called ‘disenchanted solidarity’. By this they mean a situation where diverse groups, sometimes with very different political and ideological agendas, come together to fight for a common cause. They are often critically conscious of their differences but face a common precarity that pushes them together to struggle and align in ways that were not possible before. Often such moments are also underwritten by anger, though the sources of anger or the objects towards which the anger is directed could be different. I would like to read the aragalaya through this lens of disenchanted solidarity. Particularly at the height of the Galle Face ‘Gota go gama’ protests – before the brutish May 9th attack symbolically ‘killed’ something of the ‘innocence’ of the struggle – there was a sense in which the different groups represented in that space were expressing solidarity towards a singular goal – getting rid of the Rajapakasas and a political system they saw as deeply corrupt – there was anger and a gathering of disenchanted solidarities. For many middle-class people, the aragalaya was a way in which to express their frustration at the lack of the basic necessities of life – be it gas, electricity and fuel – and how a corrupt political class had robbed them of their future. For those with longer histories of political activism such as the IUSF (the Inter University Students Federation) or youth activists from the Frontline Socialist Party or the JVPs youth wing or the many trade unions that supported the aragalaya, this moment in some ways represented the culmination, and perhaps even a vindication, of their longstanding struggles against a political, social and economic order that they consider fundamentally unfair and exploitative. Of course, within this larger narrative, there were and continue to be pragmatic political calculations, particularly from groups affiliated with political parties. At the same time, we also witnessed ethnic and religious minorities, often historically marginalized in Sri Lanka’s social and political mainstream finding a rare space to express their anger at the ways in which they have been discriminated against. However, the argalaya gave them a rare space to do so by channeling their anger as a form of solidarity towards the common goal of getting rid of the Rajapaksa dynasty and the corrupt political system as a whole.

But at the same time, we also saw the tenuous nature of these disenchanted solidarities in the aftermath of the 9th May attack on ‘Gota go gama’. Initially we saw another spectacular display of organic and spontaneous solidarity when health workers and office workers abandoned their workstations and rushed to ‘Gota go gama’ when news of the attack broke. But by the evening of that day the story had turned more insidious with a wave of attacks against the properties of politicians and others thought to have been involved in the attack against the peaceful aragayala participants. While we may understand and even empathize with this backlash, its violent nature and what appeared to be other instrumental motives driving it, such as the looting and revenge attacks, made it difficult to associate it with the moral principles that had animated the aragalaya thus far.

Thereafter, at the current moment I am writing, the aragalaya also appears to have lost some of its vital energy as the political configuration has shifted and the tragi-comedy of Sri Lanka’s realpolitik with its underhand deals and political mechanizations seems to have regained the upper hand.

However, what does this mean? Does it mean post May 9th the aragalaya has lost its meaning and purpose or can we push our analysis a little deeper. At this point I would like to introduce one final way in which scholars have discussed solidarity which I feel is appropriate to understand the aragalaya and the spirit that underwrote it and continues to underwrite it. This is what some scholars have called ‘deep solidarity’ – a situation where in today’s neo-liberal context where the vast majority of the population come to a realization of their common social and economic predicament and realize their common enemy is the symbolic ‘one percent’ or an insidious nexus between crony capital and political power that disempowers them. This is of course an idealistic conception but one which I feel holds true at least partially to this moment in Sri Lanka. People from widely varying social and economic strata, from different religious persuasions and people with wildly different ideological and political beliefs have been suddenly pushed together. They are all standing in the never-ending petrol and diesel queues, they are desperately hunting for the next cylinder of gas and increasingly many of them are going hungry. The privileges and the divisions that once defined them, no longer seem to be so ‘real’ and the one stark reality confronting them is a form of existential annihilation. I believe within the aragalaya we can glimpse traces of this deep solidarity and as an educationist I think it is our vital task to think of creative ways in which we might sustain this solidarity, grow it and nurture it, so that we can at least ‘imagine’ a better future. These are idealistic sentiments, but at least for me, such hope, is a political and pedagogical necessity of the current moment.

Harshana Rambukwella is attached to the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University of Sri Lanka

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies

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No solutions to nation’s problems from draft constitutional amendment

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by jehan perera

The three-wheel taxi driver did not need much encouragement to talk about the hardships in his life, starting with spending two days in the petrol queue to get his quota. He said that he had a practice of giving his three children a small packet of biscuits and a small carton of milk every morning. But now with the cost tripling, he could only buy one packet of biscuits and his three children had to share it. This is because their beloved country is facing one debacle after another for no fault of those kids or the larger nation. The latest is the failure of the government to make headway in accessing either IMF funding or other funding on any significant scale. Several countries have made donations, but these are in the millions whereas Sri Lanka requires billions if it is to come out of its vicious cycle of a dollar shortage.

There was much anticipation that the appointment of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would bring in the billions that are desperately needed by the country if it is to obtain the fuel, food and medicines to keep the people healthy and the economy moving. But things have not worked out in this manner. The pickings have been slim and sparse. The IMF has given the reasons after the ten day visit by its staff to Sri Lanka. They have specifically referred to “reducing corruption vulnerabilities” in their concluding statement at the end of their visit. The international community in the form of multilateral donors and Western governments have prioritized political stability and a corruption-free administration prior to providing Sri Lanka with the financial assistance it requires.

The pressing need in the country is for the government to show there is political stability and zero tolerance for corruption in dealing with the prevailing crisis. It is not enough for government leaders to give verbal assurances on these matters. There needs to be political arrangements that convince the international community, and the people of Sri Lanka, that the government is committed to this cause. Several foreign governments have said that they will consider larger scale assistance to Sri Lanka, once the IMF agreement is operational. So far the government has not been successful in convincing the international community that its own accountability systems are reliable. This is the main reason why the country is only obtaining millions in aid and not billions.

INDEPENDENT COMMISSIONS

The draft 22nd Amendment that is now before the parliament (which will become the 21st Amendment should it be passed) would be a good place for the government to show its commitment. The cabinet has approved the draft which has three main sections, impacting upon the establishment of the constitutional council, the powers of the president and dual citizenship. However, the cabinet-approved draft is a far cry from what is proposed by the opposition political parties and civil society groups. It is watered down to the point of being ineffective. Indeed, it appears to be designed to fail as it is unlikely to gain the support of different political parties and factions within those parties whose support is necessary if the 2/3 majority is to be obtained.

In the first place, the draft constitutional amendment does not reduce the president’s power in any significant manner. The amendment is drafted in a way that the reduction of presidential powers will only occur with the next president. The president now in office, who has publicly admitted failure on his part, continues to be empowered to appoint and sack the prime minister and cabinet ministers at his arbitrary discretion. He is also empowered to appoint and dismiss the secretaries to ministries, who are the highest-ranking public service officials. In short, the executive arms of the government are obliged to do the president’s bidding or risk their jobs. This indicates the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose party has only a single seat in parliament, has no independent strength, but is there at the will and pleasure of the president.

In the second instance, the draft amendment was expected to set up a system of checks and balances for accountability and anti-corruption purposes. The pioneering effort in this regard was the 17th Amendment of 2001 that made provisions for a constitutional council and independent commissions. According to it, the members of all state bodies tasked with accountability and anti-corruption functions, such as the Bribery and Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Police Commission, the Public Service Commission and the appointees to the higher judiciary were to be appointed through the constitutional council. The 17th Amendment made provision for seven of the ten members of the constitutional council to be from civil society.

DEATH BLOW

Unfortunately, in a manner designed to deal a death blow to the concept of checks and balances, the draft amendment sets up a constitutional council with the proportions in reverse to that of the 17th Amendment. It reveals a mindset in the political leadership that fears de-politicisation of decision making. Seven of the ten members will be appointed by the political parties and the president in a way in which the majority of members will be government appointees. Only three will be from civil society. This ensures a majority representation in the Council for government politicians, and the ensures government dominance over the political members. The composition of the constitutional council proposed in the Bill undermines the independence of the institutions to which appointments are made through the Council who will be unable to stem the wildly growing tide of corruption in the country.

It is no wonder that the furious people in the endless queues for petrol and diesel should believe that there is corruption at play in the continuing shortage of basic commodities. The government promised that ships would come in laden with fuel a week ago. Then, inexplicably, the information was disseminated that no ships were on the horizon. In any other country, except in a country like no other, the concerned leaders would have resigned. Due to the lack of fuel, perishable farm produce rots in rural farmhouses and markets in urban centres are empty and prices are rocketing up. In the meantime, the media has exposed rackets where the privileged, politically powerful and super rich, are given special access to fuel. It is patently clear that the government has failed to deliver on the results that were expected. The situation is getting worse in terms of corrupt practices.

To the credit of the Sri Lankan people, they are being patient. The bonds of social solidarity still prevail. But the anger at the self-seeking and incompetent political leaders is reaching the boiling point, as it did on 09 May. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged to set up an interim government in consultation with party leaders in parliament. However, he did not do so but appointed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and thereby ended efforts of other parliamentarians to form a national unity government. The president’s pledge, made in the aftermath of the cataclysmic and unexpected violence that took place that day, was to reduce his presidential powers, transfer those powers to parliament and to appoint an all-party and interim government of no more than 15 ministers. These pledges remain unfulfilled and need to be implemented to be followed by elections as soon as the situation stabilises.

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Kehelgamuwa’s football skills and President Premadasa’s political sagacity

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By Hema Arachi

T.B. Kehelgamuwa, the cricketer who needs no plaudits from anyone, is well known. He represented then Ceylon and, later, Sri Lanka as a fearsome fast bowler during the pre-Test era. His contemporaries still talk about Kehel with great respect. Once S Skanda Kumar, the well-known cricketer, cricket commentator and former High Commissioner for Sri Lanka to Australia, proudly told me about his playing cricket with Kehelgamuwa. Bandu Samarasinghe, a Sri Lanka film star, on a TV programme vividly demonstrated how he faced Kehelgamuwa in a Sara Trophy game. That was the top-level tournament in the country.

This note is to share my watching Kehelgamuwa playing soccer when he was not so young. Then, though his grey hair was visible, he ran fast and played hard like a teenager. This was during President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s tenure. Returning from The Netherlands, after my postgraduate studies, I lived in Pelawatta, near the Sri Lanka Parliament and my workplace – International Irrigation Management Institute headquarters. I used to enjoy walking on Parliament grounds. That day was unique because the game between the President’s soccer team, comprising parliamentarians, and the Sri Lanka Police team, was played there.

President Premadasa was well known for his political sagacity, especially in manipulating any situation in his favour. For instance, the day Anura Bandaranayake became the Opposition Leader, Premadasa, praised Anura stating, “Anura is the best Opposition Leader we have.” He further requested that Anura join the ruling party and become a minister and also marry a girl from a prominent ruling party family. But within weeks, he was critical of Anura. One day an Opposition member asked him, “You said Anura was our best Opposition leader a few weeks ago but now criticise.” His reply was this: “Yes, I said so because Anura is the best Opposition leader for us, the ruling party, not for the Opposition. For the Opposition, the best leader is Sarath Muththetuwegama!”

A few weeks before the scheduled encounter between the Parliamentarians and the Police football team, there was a game between the Parliamentarians and the Colombo Municipality team. Premadasa captained the Parliamentarians and kicked the winning goal. I remember a cartoon in a newspaper where the Municipality team goalkeeper withdrew so that Premadasa could score the goal at his will.

During the game against the Police, Premadasa did not play but visibly played the role of the coach of the Parliamentarian team. Unlike the Municipality players, the Police played the game seriously. Kehelgamuwa represented the Police team that scored five goals by halftime, and the Parliamentarian team was nil. At halftime, Premadasa replaced the Parliamentarian goalkeeper with Jayawickerama Perera. Yet, the Police team recorded a sound victory.

I thought Premadasa was upset due to this defeat for his team. But no. Premadasa claimed victory: “I am happy that my team won the game by beating the Parliamentarians today! Being the Executive President, I do not belong to the Parliament. However, as the Commander-in-Chief, the Police come under my purview, so my team won today!”

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