Following the intervention from the Sri Lankan judiciary, the political crisis that had started in late October 2018, with the action of President to sack an elected Prime Minister, has come to an end. Or has it?
Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of the United National Party (UNP) has been reinstated as the Prime Minster, by the President Sirisena, following the Court order. Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was appointed by the President as the new Prime Minister on 26 October, had to finally resign.
So what next for Sri Lanka? Will the President Sirisena and the re-appointed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe be able to worktogether? Is the latter likely to pursue a vendetta against the former, and indulge in an impeachment process? What will be the action plan for Rajapaksa, who was shamelessly brought into power by Sirisena, and ignominiously thrown out by the Court order?
Amidst the above political crisis, what will be happen the national reconciliation process with the minorities? Will Ranil be able address the divided Parliament, and also work towards healing a wounded nation?
Or, will Sri Lanka end up neither with a stable Parliament, nor with a stable national polity? Will this become a new normal in Sri Lanka?
Own it Sirisena
It all started with Sirisena. While one could understand his strained equations with Ranil Wickremesinghe, and even creating problems for the UNP in the Parliament, what he did on 26 October was unacceptable. He not only dismissed a legally elected Prime Minister (Ranil Wickremesinghe), but also appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister.
Even if Sirisena believed that Ranil had lost the majority within the Parliament (which was not the case in October 2018), he could have asked the latter to prove his majority on the floor. When Ranil proved his majority in the Parliament, even after Sirisena sacking him, the latter should have realised his folly. He didn’t.
Perhaps Sirisena was totally blinded by his dislike towards Wickremesinghe; he let all the Parliamentary norms to go to dust. In an absolute abuse of his power, he shamelessly appointed Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister. Itwas clear that Sirisena has been conspiring with Rajapaksa to over throw Ranil for sometime. The alleged RAW plot to assassinate him and related complaints of Sirisena against Ranil was more of a mask to cover his original intentions.
Today, Sirisena should regret for what he had done. Two photos now available in the public domain should underline his position today. The first photo was of 26 October, while he was appointing Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister, after ousting Wickremesinghe. Sirisena was all smiles, with Rajapaksa equally thrilled.
The second photo was taken during this week, when he reappointed Ranil Wickremesinghe, following the Court verdict. While Ranil was beaming with confidence, and his supporters all smiles behind their leader, one could see a tiny Sirisena.
While he was seen as a courageous saviour in 2015, when he broke away from Rajapaksa and starting a new political path along with Wickremesinghe, today the international community see him as a traitor to that process. Worse should be his national standing within Sri Lanka after the verdict by the court.
The decent thing to do for Sirisena would be to resign. But, he would not do it. Perhaps, he will look for another opportunity to bring Wickremesinghe down.
If Sirisena has burnt his bridge with Ranil and the UNP, what about Rajapaksa and his Sri Lanka PodujanaPeramuna (SLPP)? The Rajapaksa brothers are unlikely to touch Sirisena again. It should not have been easy decision for the Rajapaksa brothers to work with Sirisena, after what the latter did in 2015. Perhaps Mahinda should have prevailed over his other brothers, especially Gotabaya, who would have been strongly against working with Sirisena.
It appears, that Sirisena has dug his own political grave.
Why this hara-kiri Rajapaksa?
While one could understand Sirisena’s impatience vis-à-vis Wickremesinghe, it is difficult to read what went behind Rajapaksa’s calculations.
Consider the following. The local elections in February 2018 were a huge success for Rajapaksa. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) that owes its allegiance to Rajapaksa has become a power to reckon with after the above elections. For the ruling UNP-SLFP combine, the elections were a big setback - the electoral defeat, and more importantly the performance of a newly formed SLPP.
At the national level, by mid 2018, there was a general sentiment that the return of Rajapaksa was inevitable. All he had to do was to wait for one more year, and see how the Wickremesinghe led UNP decline further down in its popularity.
When Rajapaksa decided to strike a deal with Sirisena and was ready to become the Prime Minister, Ranil’s popularity as the PM was perhaps at its lowest. He was seen as an ineffective Prime Minister, who was not able to turn the tide for Sri Lanka, and improve country’s governance process, especially its economy. Ranil was also seen as a Prime Minister, who was yielding to external pressure, especially from the West and from India.
Certainly in October 2018, Ranil’s government did not have many supporters at the national level. Even his own party – the UNP was not roaring, though it would change after Sirisena’s blunder.
All Rajapaksa had to do was to wait for things to take its own natural course. Even when Sirisena approached him, and made his willingness to rock the boat with the UNP, Rajapaksa should have waited to defeat the UNP within the Parliament, witness Wickremesinghe to resign, and then should have staked his claim. Some would even claim, he should have waited until the next elections.
But Rajapaksa could not wait. Why?
In his own words, “The President explained in his address to the nation that he appointed me as the Prime Minister only after things reached a stage where he had absolutely no other option. When the government is entrusted to me in such circumstances, I cannot in all fairness, shun the responsibility. This was not a question of political power. The fate of our country and the futures of our younger generation was at stake.Furthermore if after everything was said and done, it was still we who would have to assume that responsibility anyway, there was much to be said for assuming office before further damage was inflicted upon the country.” (Daily Mirror)
So, the stated position of Rajapaksa was – he was forced to become the Prime Minister to save Sri Lanka. All those dictators and politicians who wrecked democratic processes elsewhere in the region and in rest of the world have made a similar justification – that they destroyed the democratic process, so that they could save it!
A section tries to explain Mahinda’s hara-kiri through the family politics – between the Rajapaksa brothers and the next generation Rajapaksas, especially Mahinda’s sons. The Rajapaksa brothers – Chamal, Mahinda, Basil and Gotabaya – have been the primary pillars of the Rajapaksa political empire. The rise of Rajapaksa brothers – especially Mahinda and Gotabaya were substantial. While Chamal and Basil continued to exert influence, it was Mahinda as the President and Gotabaya as the Defence minister, who wielded real power. The extended Rajapaksa family stood behind the brothers.
Now, there are murmurs of a divide within the Rajapaksa empire. Especially between Mahinda Rajapaksa and his sons, vis-à-vis Gotabaya Rajapaksa.Namal Rajapaksa (Mahinda’s son), according to local inputs from Sri Lanka does not get along with his uncle – Gotabaya.
The issue for the Rajapaksa family now is – in case of the SLPP returns to power, who will become the Prime Minister and the President? Recent amendments to the Sri Lankan constitution prevents Mahinda from becoming the next Presidents, as the position cannot be held by a person for more than two terms. This would mean, he will have to contend being the Prime Minister, if his party win the next elections.
So, who would become the President? While Namal Rajapaksa would very much love to be considered for the position, he is ineligible, for he would not be 35 by then. That leaves Mahinda’s brothers. It is believed that there was a near unanimity amongst the brothers for a short period in promoting the case of Gotabaya. The latter would be more than willing to become the President, with Mahinda becoming the Prime Minister. But then, according to local inputs, this plan within the Rajapaksa family has gone awry; today even Mahinda is reluctant to push Gotabaya’s case as the President.
Why would Mahinda be apprehensive of his own brother – Gotabaya?
Gotabayahas a strong personality; while Mahinda took the credit for dismantling the LTTE network, it was Gotabaya, who rallied his defence ministry to walk (and bomb) the last mile in brining down the LTTE and crushing Prabakaran. Gotabaya was ruthless – both politically and militarily. Does Mahinda fear his own brother – that if Gotabayais appointed as the President, the latter would strengthen his own position, instead of making the position of the Prime Minister stronger?
Or, does Namal Rajapaksa cloud Mahinda’s judgement, pushing the son, instead of a brother? The regional history has numerous examples in the past – of the dilemma that Mahinda is facing!
The next few months should be a tough walk for Mahinda Rajapaksa – both politically and within his family. His hara-kiri with Sirisena has only dented his public image.
Wake up Wickremesinghe
The biggest benefactor of the entire Sirisena-Rajapaksa-Wickremesingheepisode undoubtedly is Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Someone who was considered as ineffective and lazy by the beginning of October 2018, has suddenly become the defender of Sri Lanka’s Parliament and the rule of law. Both within the Parliament and outside it, his political fortunes have revived.
Will Wickremesinghe make use of it, and lead his party into the elections with a strong position? Or, will he let go of another opportunity? What he has lost in February 2018 elections, he has gained in December, ironically through his illegal ouster by Sirisena.
In Cricket, big batsmen make use of the lives they get. Will Wickremesinghe do the same? It is in the interest of Sri Lanka, that the UNP make use of the court verdict, consolidate its position, create a national consensus and address the societal faultlines.