Sri Lanka: Rajapaksa targets parliamentary poll to stage political comeback!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Sri Lanka is going to general polls in August this year to form a government to be headed by a PM, as the incumbent President Sirisena pushes through inclusive governance and seeks a friendly PM to work with in order to fulfill electoral promises. Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, having lost presidency and prestige, is now set to participate in the poll to become the elected premier of the island nation in South Asia in order to be able to stage a firm political comeback.
President Sirisena made the former ruler Rajapaksa with alleged criminal records irrelevant in Sri Lankan politics by defeating him in the Presidential election on 08 January 2015.
Conflicting reports are emerging regarding the sudden announcement of giving nomination to Mahinda Rajapaksa as UPFA candidate. Rural Economic Affairs Minister S.B. Dissanayake said that the danger of splitting the party had been resolved by giving nomination to the former President on the UPFA ticket.
Latest reports revealed that President Maithripala Srisena who is the President of the ruling SLFP as well as UPFA has not approved the party nomination to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. President Maithripala Srisena wrested control of the SLFP and UPFA after the Presidential election in January 2015. Sirisena had only agreed to grant nomination to the former President and rejected the other proposals including the PM candidature, the UPFA election committee chief and the Nomination Board. Minister Arjuna Ranatunga said that President Maithripala Sirisena has refused to sign the original copy of the statement regarding granting nomination to Mahinda Rajapaksa. Ranatunga claimed that Susil Premajayantha made this announcement since he was blackmailed by certain parties by threatening to reveal documents related to a fraudulent transaction during the Rajapaksa regime.
It is learnt that a number leading SLFP parliamentarians too are considering to leave the Party as they oppose and hate Mahinda Rajapaksa. Many argue that by giving nomination to Mahinda Rajapaksa Maithripala Srisena has failed to keep up the honor and prestige bestowed upon him by 6.2 million voters who just only on 8th January supported him to throw out the former President. Also political analysts were skeptical of the President’s decision to dissolve the parliament; instead they are of the opinion that he could have prorogued the parliament to overcome issues he was confronted with.
A UN report on the last days of the war is due for release in September but an aide to President Maithripala Sirisena said diplomatic sources had warned it may be made available by late August.
Foreign diplomatic sources said some Western countries also worried the UN report could help Rajapaksa and urged Sirisena not to delay elections. Dissolving parliament for August elections has also saved Wickremesinghe from a scheduled no-confidence motion over alleged mismanagement of the economy.
Apparently, according to government sources, Sri Lanka’s August elections have been timed to stop a comeback by war-time president Rajapaksa, who think his popularity which is very low now could rise in coming months if criticised for war crimes in a UN report. However, Rajapaksa had advanced the presidency poll and campaigned by claiming victory against Tamils and saving the nation and its prestige as well as of Singhalese. But Sri Lankan public rejected all his claims and replaced him with Sirisena.
Rajapaksa’s crushing of a 26-year Tamil Tiger insurgency in 2009 won him support among the country’s Sinhalese majority and he still has a strong following. Thousands rallied to hear him announce his comeback campaign on a Buddhist holiday in his Hambantota district on July 1. However, his war victory claims did not cut much ice even among the Sinhalese.
The possibility of an early release prompted Sirisena to call elections for August 17 to give his ally Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe an edge and hopefully deny Rajapaksa any chance of a political resurgence, said sources close to Sirisena. “Even if is not said openly, the U.N. report was considered when deciding the date,” Champika Ranawaka, power and energy minister and one of Sirisena’s close allies, told Reuters.
Rajapaksha is eager to reactivate smooth ties with China and keep India at bay. Rajapaksa built close ties with China, helping Beijing establish a strategic foothold in the Indian Ocean to the chagrin of traditional ally India. The outcome of the elections will also determine whether Sri Lanka under Sirisena continues to repair relations with India, or opts for greater ties with China under Rajapaksa. China built ports, airports, highways, and power plants under Rajapaksa with more than $5 billion in loans, and sent a submarine and warship to visit Colombo, irking India.
Rajapaksa had taken the support of Lankans for granted and his decade-long rule was marred by allegations of corruption and rights violations. Rajapaksa, some former ministers and family members now face multiple investigations. They have just denied any wrongdoing and are trying to use party to save themselves from punitive measures of the government. President. Sirisena, committing himself to inclusive governance, has been trying to reverse some of the steps Rajapaksa took to consolidate power, by depoliticizing state institutions such as the police, judiciary and public services.
Sirisena has re-established ties with India, making India his first foreign visit, and questioned deals with China, including a $1.4 billion luxury property and port project. Top government officials say China has been trying to strengthen its relationship with the new government and has made inroads. Dullas Alahapperuma, a minister under Rajapaksa, said if the former president Rajapaksa forms the next government he would resume all projects stopped by Sirisena, leading to mutual conflicts between presidency and PM.
The rivalry between Sirisena and Rajapaksa at the upcoming elections may further splinter the SLFP, which has seen around 75 members join the opposition since January.
President Sirisena is a former minister in Rajapaksa’s administration who defected last year to become president, promising fresh elections in 2015. But since taking office he has failed to pass electoral reforms due to opposition from his main ruling coalition partner, the United National Party, and members of his own Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), who remain loyal to Rajapaksa.
Political analysts say the SLFP divisions may splinter the vote and result in a hung parliament and further instability. Last week, however, Rajapaksa expected some 80 SLFP legislators to show up in support when he announced plans for his comeback, according to senior party leader Alahapperuma. Only about 30 showed up. Rajapksha is disappointed and not happy about that as it signals his weak position within the ruling party.
President Sirisena has said he will not support Rajapaksa as the SLFP prime ministerial candidate, but he is under pressure due to Rajapaksa’s popularity among Singhalese majority to allow him to contest the elections under an SLFP-led opposition coalition. People may not have the confidence that if Mahinda Rajapaksa comes to power, he would initiate revenge actions against Tamils and other minorities who voted against him for presidency as he would talk about “national security” without content in the present setting, leading to political uncertainty and unnecessary power struggle.
Hence President Sirisena is seen dissuading Rajapaksha from contesting the parliamentary poll in August. Rajapaksha is in no mood to listen to President’s counsel either.