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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2704

Ouster of Mahinda Rajapaksa; Has Yahapalanaya changed governance in Sri Lanka?

By Raj Gonsalkorale

The common opposition to the regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, particularly its candidacy to oppose President Rajapaksa at the Presidential election was plotted and planned in utmost secrecy and the coup d’état was carried out with precision.

The then SLFP General Secretary and the current President of the SLFP and the country, Mr Maithripala Sirisena, carried out an Oscar winning acting performance which rewarded him with something hugely larger than an Oscar, the Presidency of a country.

Mr Sirisena’ s performance however has set a precedent which could turn out to be a serious blotch on whatever values the country has traditionally boasted to the outside world as being grounded on trust, honour and family values. His election and the unwieldy political formations that have surfaced since then have set more damaging precedents to democracy as Sri Lankans have known it.

Mr Sirisena’ s last minute betrayal of his one-time friend and party President and the country’s President, “for the greater good of the country” would have left most if not all Sri Lankans, even those who supported and still support Mr Sirisena, wondering what has happened to our core values. It would have eroded any remaining regard or respect for politicians.

The issue is not about opposing President Rajapaksa. Anyone and everyone has a right to do that. It is the manner in which Mr Sirisena acted and in doing so, the precedent he has set when nothing that a politician does from now on would surprise anyone, leaving the fading quality of trust and honour, very much a thing of the past.

Mr Sirisena could have done what he did a least the day before he did it, and avoided holding President Rajapaksa as the embodiment of what a good president should be. He did this at the SLFP central Committee meeting the day before he acted as Brutus, the betrayer of trust and honour. He need not have sat and had a last supper hopper meal with President Rajapaksa, once again emulating Brutus.

And, as has been reported, and not hitherto recorded anywhere in the annals of Sri Lankan history, he should not have sworn on a Buddha relic that he would not be the common opposition candidate when asked to do so by a leading Buddhist prelate. If indeed this happened and a Buddhist lied to Buddha represented by his relics, there cannot be a deceit and a betrayal worse than that.

Had Mr Sirisena chosen honour over deceit, he would have been far more respected and regarded as a brave person who dared to oppose a strongman like President Rajapaksa. Knowing full well that he was going to betray President Rajapaksa the very next day, what Mr Sirisena did cannot endear him to those who wanted a change to the governance style and substance of the Rajapakse regime unless they too did not value trust and honour.

It would be a difficult ask for Sri Lankans to have any respect for Mr Sirisena, reiterating that this is not because of the fact that he opposed Mr Rajapaksa, but the way he did it which says so much about his character.

Much skepticism and doubt has grown over the last 100 days of the new regime. Those who wished for a change from what they saw as the increasingly autocratic and corrupt governance style of the Rajapaksa regime are beginning to question whether there is any depth to Yahapalanaya or whether it is similar to J R Jayewardene’s Dharmishta samajaya which came to be known later as the Adharmishta samajaya.

A critique of the Sirisena Yahapalanaya is therefore not a hankering for the past or an endorsement of the past. It is an assessment whether the regime change was based on falsehoods, deceit and dishonorable actions on the part of those who were associated with the ousting of the Rajapaksa regime.

Ordinary citizens of the country generally are not overtly concerned as to who governs them as long as there is peace, communal harmony, upliftment of social and living standards, improvement in education, health and generally, economic development, so that they and their generations to come could have hope for their future.

The Rajapaksa tenure ended a thirty year war and brought peace, although there was never any doubt that more had to be done to sustain the hard won peace. There was no display of communal disharmony although the activities of some individuals including some Buddhist Monks against what they termed as extremist elements amongst Muslims did dampen the generally calm atmosphere amongst different communities. The failure of the Rajapaksa regime to condemn such activities without any reservations added to this disquiet amongst Muslims.

Although many experienced the impact of a high cost of living, there was substantial economic development and restoration of infrastructure in the country, a necessary pre requisite for translating the dividends of economic development to as many citizens as possible.

No doubt many felt the achievements of the Rajapaksa tenure had come at a cost. Some felt that the cost was too high and a regime change was needed to arrest this cost although these very same people did not give adequate consideration to how the new regime would function and address the very reasons as to why they wanted a regime change.

Yahapalanaya was taken at face value, and no serious questions were asked about the capacity, the credibility and the track record of the local architects of the regime change.

Firstly, as it is common knowledge, the key local architects were Ranil Wickremasinghe and Chandrika Kumaratunga, with Mr Sirisena chosen to do their bidding. There is a strong belief amongst many Sri Lankans that the local architects were assisted and funded by a group of nations that included India, the USA, UK and several other Western nations.

Secondly, it is also common knowledge that it is Prime Minister Wickremasinghe who went behind President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s back and signed a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE and its leader Prabakaran in 2002, which ultimately led to the strengthening of the LTTE and then the final war against them in 2009. It is during Mr Wickremasinghe’s watch that the elimination of a cornered Prabakaran was thwarted on the orders of Mr Wickremasinghe. It was under Mr Wickremasinghe’ s watch that the secret operations of Sri Lankan Military intelligence service were exposed and senior military officers killed by the LTTE. Many Sri Lankans see these activities as a betrayal of the country and a capitulation to external minders of the country, and to the LTTE.

It is therefore no surprise that the base vote of the UNP shrunk below 30% under Mr Wickremasinghe and he lost more than 17 elections in the country.

Thirdly, it is President Chandrika Kumaratunga who proposed the most significant change to the political structure of Sri Lanka, from a Unitary State to a Union of Regions, a federal structure. In regard to her credentials as an honest leader, the book authored by Victor Ivan (Chaura Rejini) is not very complementary and portrays her in a very negative stance. It is also a historical fact that she governed the country for 12 years and failed to end terrorism and failed to lift Sri Lanka’s economic, health, education or social standards.

Finally, it is Mr Sirisena who enjoyed the perks of ministerial office for 10 years before deciding that the regime he was part of, was corrupt. He was party to all cabinet decisions during this time, and if ever the cabinet is called upon to account for its decisions, then Mr Sirisena is an integral part of those who must account for those decisions.

Voters are now entitled to ask what has the trio of regime changers done since changing a regime they stated was corrupt, was run by a family, had done “deals” in respect of all major development projects undertaken, and had sold the country to the Chinese.

They have created a new political order in Sri Lanka where accountability will not be possible from those who they accused as being rogues as the very same persons are now accommodated in the government. It is clear therefore that the real target is the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers, and no one else, and the vendetta is political in nature and has nothing to do with curbing corruption or holding corrupt individuals to account.

A President who stated that he will not allow any more corruption in the country and accused the regime he was part of for ten years as being corrupt, has included the very same politicians who he and his regime changers accused of being part of the regime that was corrupt, as ministers, deputy ministers and ministers of state.

Some legal experts argue that constitutionally, this could be considered a bribe, and makes President Sirisena complicit in corruption.

A situation has also been created where there is a President from a political party that is both part of the government and the Opposition as well. How the same political party could legitimately oppose the government of which they are part of and function as the alternative government when they are part of the incumbent government gives a new meaning to oxymoronism.

A President who accused his predecessor as fostering family bandism has reportedly appointed his son, son in law and daughter to high government positions according to news reports. He has appointed his brother to a key government corporate position. It is no secret that the Sirisena siblings, at least some of them, acquired a considerable degree of wealth in the last 10 years and this was facilitated by the political patronage they enjoyed during that time.

The much discussed and debated promise to abolish the Executive Presidency has not happened. Abolition was watered down to curtailing of Executive powers, and this has also not happened. Prime Minister Wickremasinghe’ s real intention and lifelong ambition to hold executive powers was thwarted by the Sri Lankan Supreme Court, which ruled that shifting executive powers from the Presidency to the Prime Ministership required approval by the people at a referendum.

Many Sri Lankans who wanted some changes to the political ethos of the Rajapaksa regime are a disappointed lot as they feel the new regime has not made any real changes and it is even worse than the regime that was ousted considering the dichotomy between its lofty ideals and actual practices. They also feel that the dignity Sri Lankans had of their identity has eroded and the country has lost its independence they felt they regained in 2009 after defeating the LTTE.

Analysts opine that many who voted for the common opposition may not do so at the next general election. Whether they would vote for a return of Mahinda Rajapaksa, should he decide to contest Parliamentary elections, is not yet known, but indications are there that he remains the most popular politician in the country today.

- Asian Tribune -

Ouster of Mahinda Rajapaksa; Has Yahapalanaya changed governance in Sri Lanka?
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