Sirisena’s grip tightens on the Presidency

WINSTON DE VALLIERE

Considering the tremendous rapport she has with President Maithripala Sirisena and her ingrained comparatively ‘patrician’ revulsion she’s often harboured for the less than plebeian Rajapaksa clan, Chandika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga will exert considerable influence, needed or not, with President Sirisena, in matters pertaining to the relentless purge of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. She was magnanimous and ‘big’ enough to let bygones be bygones and agree to accommodate S.B. Dissanayake’s subtle entry into the Sirisena camp and into a Cabinet portfolio as men of the ilk of Nimal Siripala also did, along with several other major-domos in the Rajapaksa Cabinet.

At best then, President Sirisena holds a bitter cup in his hand and is tested to the limits to keep his wits about him as he tries to steer a course that he and CBK hope will sometime in the medium term bring about a metamorphosis in the SLFP. Playing the numbers game in this exercise has imposed on him and CBK the indispensable need to let the weeds grow with the wheat until harvest time. To pull all the weeds out right now, especially within the government itself, can play havoc with the objective of maintaining a majority vote in the House to pass through some very radical reform Constitutional Bills and push through some very sensitive reconciliation issues in the overall selfless pursuit of securing the objectives of national communal reconciliation and subtly forge a national Sri Lankan identity.

This is an immensely daunting task and one that no former leaders in this country from any political party, have had the gumption to even consider let alone attempt to bring about. That’s an immense commitment, and I dare say, fraught with such tremendous dangers that can place at grave risk the lives of this duo. This is really what is back of the so-called slow progress in reconciliation efforts that the UNHRC Commissioner Zeid so naively criticized because of his lack of understanding the explosive social dimensions which can blow up in their faces as they tackle this seemingly impossible task.

With a rare psychological insight into the contemporary sometimes extremist Sinhala-Buddhist psyche, former President Chandrika said at a media briefing last Wednesday that if you do not work on this national policy of reconciliation to bring about religious and ethnic harmony, there can only be a continued isolation between the communities, triggering another war scenario, adding that only reconciliation can preempt such divisions, but some people do not understand this”.

With no intention to disagree, the fact is not a question of some people not understanding this but that they are rabidly against it for the simple reason that the supremacist status quo would be lost, submerged, in an egalitarian ethos.

The SLFP purge

Viewed in this context one then appreciates the more, longer-term objectives in President Sirisena inexorably pursuing the SLFP purge. It’s because these Rajapsaksa loyalists have one thing in common: THEY WILL BAULK AT AND VOTE AGAINST ANY ATTEMTP AT COSTITUTIONAL REFORM AND RECONCILIATION EFFORTS AND CONTINUE TO MAKE GOVERNANCE AT THE CENTRE AND PERIPHERY IMOSSIBLE. Wednesday’s sacking of

K.H. Nadasena from the Heath and Indigenous Medicine portfolio in the NCP Provincial Council is a case in point. Vitally important Bills presented in Parliament need a prior sanction by the Provincial Councils and Rajapaksa loyalists must hence be sent away, not only from Parliament and the PCs but also from the Party.

Early last year the purge began with 26 SLFP electorate and district organizers being sacked and new ones appointed in their place, by President Maithripala Sirisena.

Kolonnawa, Kotikawatte, Mulleriyawa, Minuwangoda, Maharagama were a few places from which MR loyalist were shown the door, with SLFP Treasurer, S.B. Dissanayake, made Chief Organizer of Hewaheta. Dehiwala followed. Peculiarly he has effected these changes not at meetings at Party headquarters but at the President’s official residence.

Much more are to follow because the Rajapaksa faction continues staging endless campaigns against the Sirisena government including the now exposed GMOA’s role as a political cat pulling MR’s chestnuts out of the fire.
Sirisena has often accused the Rajapaksa clan of trying to ‘divide’ and weaken the SLFP in a manner aimed at isolating Sirisena from its greater support base. But Rajapaksa’s former Health Minister who took him on at the polls in 2015 and beat him comfortably seems more than capable of thwarting every MR move.

Hence, the purge continues and the latest sacking in the North Central Province, where LG elections are expected by some in September this year, is significant. My bet is that LG elections all around will not be held until quite a few more MR loyalists have been kicked out of points considered key at provincial and central government level to Rajapaksa. The recent speculation about a Cabinet reshuffle was not so much supposedly because current UNP ministers are incompetent (though some are) but because the President is desperately looking for portfolios for more senior SLFPers who have been faithfully backing him. Premier Wickremesignhe has apparently thrown a damper on that plan going on record as having said that he’s not on the same page on that plan.

Breathing down the necks

The European Union is now breathing down the necks of the government pressing for constitutional reform and a host of other commitments as a trade off for restoring to Sri Lanka the GSP+ exports facility to EU markets. A cursory look at Sirisena’s team in Parliament will show that he’s got the same failed MPs who were Rajapaksa’s rubber stamps in Parliament and in the Cabinet most of whom functioned in default as it were because none of them had a say in governance in the former rubber stamp regime. The President and Wickremesinghe need each other for the next four years and have no option but to grin and bear their differences. But that the President has begun showing signs of impatience with the Premier (signs which were not there two months ago) might suggest that he wants a direct controlling role to play in economic affairs which he has hitherto largely left in the PM’s hands. But he now wants to have the final say on Hambantota as well as Trincomalee, and I presume in any future major economic plans. He is, therefore, not likely to go any further…not one single step further…in diluting the powers of the Executive Presidency because he now realizes that such powers do have their advantages. One is wont to presume, therefore, that he will the next time around be nominated as the SLFP’s own Presidential candidate…and that could suggest that party heavyweights now in his Cabinet can use that as a lever to make bigger demands of him as a trade-off in return for their continued support. He needs them more than they need him. This means he and the Premier will soon be getting together for a chat about a reshuffle in a manner that won’t ruffle feathers in the UNP or in Sirisena’s SLFP camp.

According to insiders, there are moles not only in Sirisena’s camp but in Wickremesinghe’s too.

This emerged when Justice Minister Wijeyedasa Rajapakshe apparently threatened to quit if Sarath Fonseka was given a prominent role in the UNP as well as in the Government. The grapevine has it that Wijeyedasa’s position in the Avant Garde affair threw up questions as to who was standing for what was right and who was trying to protect those who were wrong. So then, despite efforts being made to make it appear that the idea mooted that Fonseka be appointed to a position of high authority was all a mix up between Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne and his Cabinet colleagues, had there been no hard substance to it, the idea could have hardly been sufficient to rouse Wijeyedasa to such extremes. What prodded him to announce such a drastic decision?

That’s the current million dollar question…or perhaps more like a 10 million dollar question?


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