Sri Lanka was again plunged into political turmoil and tension yesterday with the re-emergence of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who declared from his home base of Medamulana that he would be a candidate at the general elections on August 17. Mr. Rajapaksa made the announcement to a huge crowd including a large number of former ministers or MPs of the SLFP and the UPFA -- but he did not specifically say from which party or alliance he would contest.
What many analysts saw was a reverse-gear operation six months after the January 8 presidential election where more than 6.2 million people sent Mr. Rajapaksa home and elected President Maithripala Sirisena to usher in a new political culture with good governance, democracy and social justice.
The new Yahapalanaya government headed by President Sirisena and caretaker Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe carried out the election pledges to a large extent, with the most significant event being the 19th Amendment whereby the President willingly and voluntarily gave up about 60 per cent of his executive powers.
Another important promise made by the Yahapalanaya government was that it would investigate allegations that the former regime’s VIPs had indulged in the criminal plunder of the people’s wealth and resources amounting to billions of dollars. Some politicians and others were arrested and remanded after substantial evidence was found against them by the Financial Crime Investigation Division (FCID) and the Criminal Investigation Department. But less progress has been made on the investigations into allegations of bigger frauds including the stacking up of billions of dollars in secret bank accounts in at least three countries.
With the dissolution of Parliament at midnight on June 26, President Sirisena -- struggling to emerge as a statesman working above party lines and for the common good of the country -- has run into a crisis, not so much in his role as Executive President but in his role as Chairman of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, with half or more members supporting him while the others have pledged support to the former President. They claimed they were doing so because Mr. Rajapaksa had better leadership qualities and had liberated the country from terrorism. But some analysts are questioning whether their motives are based on virtue or vices because the old regime would be able to protect them from corruption, fraud and criminal activities.
The response of President Sirisena was not clear yesterday but his office in a statement on Wednesday said the President had not agreed and would not give the Prime Minister’s post to the former president as demanded by Mr. Rajapaksa’s supporters. Minister Rajitha Senaratne and others who crossed over with Mr. Sirisena on November 21 last year and SLFP ministers or former MPs loyal to him have also warned that nominations should not be given to what they described as the “Mahindaramaya clique”. Caretaker Premier Wickremesinghe and the United National Party, maintaining a close working relationship with the President, have also warned him not to allow what they describe as counter-revolutionary forces to reemerge and grab power. Last month President Sirisena is reported to have said that if he agreed to give the premiership post to Mr. Rajapaksa it might turn out to be a case of being only one bullet away from the presidency.
President Sirisena’s other allies including the Jathika Hela Urumaya, the Tamil National Alliance the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and more than 40 civic action movements who supported him have warned against going back to monstrosities. The Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayaka Thera who played a major role in forming the common front which brought Mr. Sirisena to power has also expressed grave concern over the move to bring back Mr. Rajapaksa. So has former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who is widely known to have paved the way for Mr. Sirisena to cross over on November 21 last year. She said on Wednesday that if Mr. Rajapaksa was allowed to come back she also would seek nomination.
On January 8 a new political culture and era were ushered in to build a new Sri Lanka through multi-ethnic and multi-religious unity in diversity. To continue the journey towards this vision and goals, it is vital for all leaders to act in the highest interests of the country instead of giving priority to personal gain or party glory.
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