x-President Mahinda Rajapaksa has recently developed a habit of visiting all kinds of suspects in remand prisons, many of them implicated in offences allegedly committed during the MR reign. Last week, he visited Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera, who was arrested over allegedly keeping an unlicensed elephant calf at his temple, which is an offence under the Fauna and Flora Act, though the prelate claimed that the calf was found abandoned in his temple yard (He was later released on bail.
Earlier, MR visited the imprisoned Galabodaatte Gnanasara Thera, who was indicted for contempt of court and for threatening Sandya Ekneligoda, the wife of the missing journalist, Pradeep. Also, the ex-President himself visited military personnel implicated in the alleged abduction of Pradeep Ekkneligoda. He also visited several of his acolytes who were arrested over alleged financial crimes, and of course, his son, Lt. Yoshitha (who is also accused of money laundering).
"MR is also losing the battle to wrest control of the SLFP. Maithripala Sirisena has finally succeeded in bringing both the SLFP and the UPFA under his grip. MR’s plans for a political comeback have also been put in the back burner, partly due to lukewarm public reception "
On the surface, MR’s prison visits are perfectly legitimate. He projects himself as a leader who cares about his followers and loyalists in their (and of course, his) good and bad times. Prison inmates are entitled to visits and he, as a Member of Parliament can exercise his privileges to visit the prison any time he wishes. And he prefers to do so in front of cameras. MR should be showing empathy with the predicament of his loyalists, now being investigated by judicial organs, for he himself and his siblings are now making regular appearances before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption and Abuse of Power (PRECIFAC).
However, his visits are more than a gesture of solidarity with the suspects. They are meant to de-legitimize the judicial process. Many of his remarks and those by his acolytes in the Joint Opposition are aimed at discrediting the judicial process under which their past actions are currently being investigated. They paint the ongoing investigations as a political witch-hunt, and one of his loyalists, Wimal Weerawansa tried desperately to infuse an anti-Sinhalese Buddhist tilt into it. He alleged that the court was discriminating against monks. Those are dangerous but effective tactics. MR enjoys loyalty of some of the champions of rabble-rousing.
He has a personal interest in de-legitimizing the on-going investigations in particular and the judiciary in general. He is being investigated for allegations of unpaid payments due to the state television for election adverts. His wife Shiranthi is being probed for irregularities of the Siriliya Account. Basil was remanded and later released on bail over the alleged misuse of the DiviNeguma funds. Gotabaya is making regular appearances before the PRECIFAC over the allegations of corruption related to the Avant Guard floating armoury. Second son, Yoshitha is in remand custody over the charges of alleged money laundering related to funds invested in the Carlton TV network. The Financial Crime Investigation Division (FCID) has now filed ‘a B report’ in Colombo Magistrate’s Court informing that it was investigating the eldest of Rajapaksa’s sons, Parliamentarian Namal on alleged money laundering related to the Gower’s Corporate Services (Pvt) Ltd, a firm owned by the presidential scion. Also, earlier, the court, based on CID findings, ruled the suspicious death of rugby player Wasim Thajudeen as a murder. Unsubstantiated sources for a long have implicated the Rajapaksa scions with the death of Thajudeen.
To make matters worse for MR, some former erstwhile loyalists, earlier implicated in corruption and misuse of public funds, are now reportedly considering of becoming State witnesses.
MR is also losing the battle to wrest control of the SLFP. Maithripala Sirisena has finally succeeded bringing both the SLFP and the UPFA under his grip. MR’s plans for a political comeback have also been put in the back burner, partly due to lukewarm public reception. His political clout has recently taken a beating within his own party and outside, as fresh allegations against the former first family keep emerging. Surely, he still commands a sizeable following, but the numbers are dwindling.
The incumbent government itself is faced with a dilemma. If would have rather preferred to let the ex-president and his siblings off the hook in exchange of their silence. But, it could not do so without risking its credibility, which would in the medium run help MR himself. The government itself is under pressure from civil society groups (as well as the JVP) over the lack of results in investigations into corruption and abuses of power blamed on the heavyweights of the former regime.
"Many of his remarks and those by his acolytes in the Joint Opposition are aimed at discrediting the judicial process under which their past actions are currently being investigated"
Politicians in this country have adopted an uncanny strategy to defend themselves from scrutiny; that is to discredit investigations and investigating organs. MR and his siblings are following this familiar suit. By doing so, not only do they try to de-legitimize the PRECIFAC or the FCID, but also to discredit the judiciary itself, which was, in fact, in tatters during his presidency. Most Sri Lankans who witnessed that their courts were merely mouthing rulings sanctioned by the President’s house during the reign of the ex-President still cannot get rid of that mental image of the subservient court. That in fact helps those who cry foul about judiciary investigations currently being conducted into their previous records.
However, the courts have regained their lost clout since MR left office. That would mean even if the government wishes to give him a way out, the courts would not comply. That is bad news for himt and many others in his inner circle. So the best means of defence, he and his cohort believe, is to discredit the judicial process.
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