Last Updated : 2019-07-17 02:44:00

Mahinda’s Hurried Backdoor Power Grab and the Gotabhaya Factor

8 December 2018 01:08 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Consistency not necessarily a virtue in politics

19A delivered three blows to Rajapaksa family

Basil cautioned his elder brother about wisdom of being sworn in as PM without a viable majority

Gota and Namal not well-disposed towards each other

Political patronage, nepotism and family bandyism widely prevalent

 

 

By
D.B.S. Jeyaraj 

Former President and current Kurunegala district MP Mahinda Rajapaksa was interviewed regarding the present political situation by Kelum Bandara of “Daily Mirror” last week. One of the questions posed to Mahinda in the interview was – “There is perception among some that you took over the government entering through the backdoor despite your ability to win elections in the future. What is your view?” Mahinda’s somewhat defensive response was as follows; 


“There is no such thing called capturing power through the backdoor. A political party is not meant to be in the opposition forever. It should try to become the ruling party on the very first occasion made available to it. We vowed to topple the government after two Vesak Poyas. One Vesak Poya is over. We toppled the government before the next Vesak Poya. Our duty is to topple the government if it is possible. It is actually in the greater interests of the country. The previous government alienated the national assets. If it continued, there would be nothing left in the country for posterity. We reversed the move to introduce a separatist Constitution. Otherwise, it would also have been declared as adopted by voice vote in Parliament (Ekath aye uye gala sammatha karai.)” 


“In that context, we have taken a correct decision in the interests of the country. We also faced a similar problem with regards to the Free Trade Agreements at that time. The previous government did not think of the country. They acted in their personal interest and the interests of foreign countries”. 


The question posed by  about the perceived backdoor entry by Mahinda Rajapaksa to the prime ministerial seat is a perplexing point that has been the subject of many a political discussion. After the remarkable electoral performance of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) at the local authorities’ elections in February 2018, it was clear that the writing was on the wall for the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government. The situation was such where the confident Mahinda Rajapaksa camp was demanding elections to the Provincial Councils where polls were due. The government had no convincing answer. It was simply trotting out lame excuses for delaying elections thereby strengthening the impression in the country that a return of the Rajapaksas to power through elections was inevitable. 


In a further twist, President Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa who were supposedly at loggerheads with each other seemingly buried the hatchet in a political move aimed at undermining Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The political grapevine buzzed with the news that the Sirisena and the Rajapaksa camps had realigned politically. There were also unconfirmed reports of clandestine canvassing of members from many shades of opinion within Parliament. A substantial number of MPs from the SLFP as well as sections of the UNF were tipped to switch loyalties. There was a strong possibility of the UPFA-SLFP faction within the government “officially” pulling out. Speculation was rife that the political reconfiguration process would result in a defeat for the government during the budget vote. If and when this happened President Sirisena was expected to appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister who would then be seen as commanding the confidence of the House in a drastically-reconfigured Parliament. This belief began gathering momentum and it seemed that the return of the Rajapaksas was inevitable. Many even began preparing for such an eventuality. 

 


PURPORTED PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTERS 
Against this backdrop, where Mahinda Rajapaksa was expected to march in triumphantly towards his rightful position of Prime minister through the proverbial front door, recent events have belied all such speculation. Instead of the anticipated front door entrance, Mahinda made an unexpected backdoor entry. On October 26 President Sirisena removed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister. The newly-appointed Premier did not have a majority. In order to facilitate the cobbling together of a majority of MPs through various “incentives,” Parliament itself was prorogued until November 16. Although some MPs did jump from horse to horse through suspected horse deals and were rewarded with posts and perks, there were no large-scale crossovers. As a result of which a viable majority eluded Mahinda Rajapaksa. This very obvious truth was demonstrated on more than one occasion with a majority of Parliamentarians voting adversely against the purported Prime Minister Rajapaksa and his purported ministers. 


President Sirisena then dissolved Parliament and scheduled fresh elections in another controversial move. Several Fundamental rights petitions were filed against the presidential decree and a Three -Judge Bench of the Supreme Court issued a stay order after preliminary hearings. In a related development, 122 MPs sought a writ of Quo Warranto from the court of appeal against purported Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and 48 others functioning as purported cabinet ministers, state ministers and deputy ministers respectively. The Appeal  Court too issued an interim order temporarily restraining Mahinda Rajapaksa and others functioning as Prime minister and as ministers pending final determination of the case. Likewise a seven judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Nalin Perera commenced hearing the FR petition cases against dissolution of Parliament and scheduling of elections. 

 

In what appears to be an indecent haste to capture power, Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to have miscalculated badly in getting himself appointed as a “Prime Minister without a majority” to Replace a “Prime Minister with a majority”

 

The cumulative result of all these happenings has resulted in the diminution of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political stature and reputation.

Notwithstanding the current political crisis, there is no doubt that Mahinda Rajapaksa is the single-most popular mass-figure in the seven Sinhala majority provinces of Sri  Lanka. In spite of this mass support, Mahinda Rajapaksa has been unable to utilize it appropriately and mount the Prime Ministerial seat gloriously. His hasty, ill-advised attempt to grab power through Machiavellian stratagems has resulted in Mahinda cutting a pathetically forlorn figure. The man described as the “Medamulana Machiavelli” has been denied the spoils of prime ministerial office. Furthermore his larger than life image has been considerably dented. Mahinda is depicted by his detractors as a selfish, power hungry politician without principles or scruples who would resort to diabolical measures to seize power. While Maithripala Sirisena goes on ranting and raving against Ranil Wickremesinghe, the downsized Mahinda is not very vocal nowadays. The once mighty roar of the “Lion of Ruhunu” is mostly inaudible and whenever audible, sounds like a howl of a Hyena deprived of its (not so rightful) prey. 

 


BRANDED WITH STAMP OF ILLEGITIMACY 
It is in this context that friend and foe alike keep wondering as to why Mahinda Rajapaksa has placed himself in this predicament. In what appears to be an indecent haste to capture power, Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to have miscalculated badly in getting himself appointed as a “Prime Minister without a majority” to Replace a “Prime Minister with a majority.” His short- lived, highly-contested stint as Prime Minister is now branded with the stamp of illegitimacy. This makes many ponder as to why Mahinda was in such an undue hurry to grab power through questionable methods when power may have been handed over to him on a platter had he been patient. The Kurunegala district MP himself is aware of such opinion and has tried to offer explanations whenever possible. His response in the “Daily Mirror” interview is one clear example. 


There have been other such instances too. Some days before the “” interview, Mahinda Rajapaksa addressed a gathering at his office on Nov 25th.The text of a speech delivered by the Ex-president was issued as a media release. In that speech Mahinda made reference to this burning question and stated as follows – “Some people ask me why I accepted office when there was less than 18 months to go for the next elections. I have heard members of the UNP saying that if I had been patient for another 18 months, I could have won the ensuing election with a two thirds majority. We did not form a government to continually administer the country but to hold a general election. 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 were 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.” 

 

Since Mahinda was debarred from contesting the presidency, some of Mahinda’s political minions began exploring the possibility of making Mahinda Prime Minister with executive powers

 

This then is the essence of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s explanation of why he chose to grab power so hastily through an unorthodox procedure instead of waiting a little longer to gain power via appropriate channels. According to Mahinda he has done so for the sake of the country and the people. He says he was motivated not by the lure of political power but by a supreme sense of duty and because he was conscious of his responsibilities. President Sirisena was in a difficult situation and turned to him (Mahinda) for help and that was why he took on the responsibility says the ex-president. “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 were at stake.” Noble sentiments indeed! 

 


POWER, POSITION, PRIVILEGES AND PERKS 
Although political leaders often claim that they are in politics to serve the people, the reality is something different. One thing we have learnt from past experience is that in Sri Lanka almost all politicians claim to have altruistic motives for doing politics. None of them admits or acknowledges that he is in politics for the pursuit of power, position, privileges and perks of office. Consistency is not necessarily a virtue in politics. Many of them switch sides smoothly whenever it suits them. Avowed policies are altered easily. Their family members and cronies prosper within a short time of a politician getting appointed to an influential post. Political patronage, nepotism and family bandyism are widely prevalent. Political dynasties proliferate. Yet the politicians will continue to repeat ad nauseam that they have dedicated their lives to the people and are making huge sacrifices to uplift the masses. Therefore when politicians say they are accepting office due to patriotic motives , such utterances need to be taken not merely with the proverbial pinch of salt but with a hefty fistful of it. 


So when a veteran politician like Mahinda Rajapaksa says he resorted to a premature power grab for the country and people alone that cannot be accepted immediately at face value. His claims need to be scrutinized more intensely and intricately. Any political analysis of the underlying motives behind Mahinda Rajapaksa’s illegitimate power grab has to delve deeply into recent happenings of a political nature within the Rajapaksa family circle. The turbulent intra-family political currents within the Ruhunu Rajapaksa family and the deterioration of inter-personal relations between President Sirisena and his Prime minister Wickremesinghe need to be examined in detail to comprehend the prevailing political situation and understand - not necessarily accept or condone – the reasons behind Mahinda Rajapaksa’s impatient power seizure exercise. 

 

A basic undeniable fact of contemporary life in Sri Lanka is the political importance if not supremacy of the Rajapaksas. In that context the succession stakes issue within the Ruhunu Rajapaksa clan plays a pivotal role in the on going political drama

 

A basic undeniable fact of contemporary life in Sri  Lanka is the political importance if not supremacy of the Rajapaksas. In that context the succession stakes issue within the Ruhunu Rajapaksa clan plays a pivotal role in the on going political drama. The ‘Medamulana Dynasty’ in the Ruhunu Rajapaksa clan comprises the family members of former State Councillor and Parliamentarian Don Alvin (DA) Rajapaksa namely Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers Chamal, Basil and Gotabaya along with Mahinda’s son Namal and Chamal’s son Shasheendra. Although the ‘Ruhunu Rajapaksa’ family has been in politics for several decades, its ascendancy to the pinnacle of power came only after Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa, known to his country and the world at large as Mahinda Rajapaksa, became Sri  Lanka’s fifth Executive President on November 18, 2005. 

 


FIRST FAMILY IN SRI LANKAN POLITICS 
Thereafter, the Rajapaksas established themselves rapidly as the ‘numero uno’ family in Sri Lankan politics. Apart from Mahinda Rajapaksa as President, family members and extended family members monopolised plum positions. Various posts in different spheres -- from Defence Secretary to diplomatic representative -- were held by the clan. During the days of the Rajapaksa regime it was an open secret that no major enterprise or project could be undertaken in the island without the blessings of at least one Rajapaksa. Nepotism and Family bandyism was a way of life under the Rajapaksa dispensation. The Ruhunu Rajapaksas perceived as the first family in Sri Lankan politics began ruling the roost in an authoritarian mode. With the 18th Constitutional Amendment being passed, the two-term limit for contesting Presidential elections was removed. It appeared that the politically-invincible Mahinda Rajapaksa was set to rule Sri Lanka for life as President. 


When presidential elections were called ahead of time, party secretary and senior Cabinet minister Maithripala Sirisena defected and became the common opposition candidate. The January 2015 Presidential poll resulted in Maithripala Sirisena (51.28%) defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa (47.58%). A UNP-led coalition government was formed with Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and Maithripala Sirisena as President. The 19th Constitutional Amendment re-imposing the two-term limit for the Presidency was passed. With Mahinda Rajapaksa being Constitutionally-debarred from contesting the presidency again, it appeared that the political fortunes of Ruhunu Rajapaksas were on the wane. A number of inquiries probing the alleged corruption and abuse of power by various Rajapaksa family members were initiated. Cases were filed in court and a few Rajapaksas like Basil and Namal were even imprisoned for short periods. Gotabaya Rajapaksa continues to wage many legal battles to ward off arrest and possible detention. 

 

Whatever the state of relations between Gotabaya and Namal, Mahinda is too seasoned a politician to let that cloud his judgment or turn hostile to his brother. Mahinda’s primary concern was to recapture power as quickly as possible

 

The 19th Constitutional amendment delivered three blows to the Rajapaksa family. It reversed the 18th constitutional amendment by restricting the Presidential terms of office to two. Since Mahinda Rajapaksa had served two terms as President he was disqualified from contesting the Presidential elections again. This was the first blow. The 19th Amendment also debarred dual citizens from contesting Presidential and parliamentary polls. This rendered Mahinda’s brothers Basil and Gotabaya ineligible to contest as they were US citizens also. This was the second blow. 19A also raised the age limit to be President. Earlier it was 30 but now it was 35. Mahinda’s eldest son Namal Rajapaksa was born in 1986. As such he would only be 33 next year and therefore can’t seek the presidency even if he wanted to. This was the third blow. 

 


SLPP BECAME AN ESTABLISHED POLITICAL ENTITY 
In such a situation, many political observers felt that the writing was on the wall politically for the Ruhunu Rajapaksas. But that did not happen. Despite the adverse setbacks, the political stock of Ruhunu Rajapaksas continued to remain on par with ‘Medamulana Mahinda’ continuing to retain his position as the single-most popular political leader in the seven provinces outside the North and the East. Moreover, the newly-formed Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) which revolves around Mahinda Rajapaksa got the better of both the UNP and SLFP and emerged as the leading victor at the local authorities’ elections. The SLPP with its symbol of lotus bud became an established political entity known popularly as “Pohottuwa.” In such a situation the Mahinda-led opposition seemed confident that the days of the Sirisena -Wickremesinghe government were numbered and that the political resurgence and return to power of the Ruhunu Rajapaksas was inevitable. 


Since Mahinda was debarred from contesting the presidency, some of Mahinda’s political minions began exploring the possibility of making Mahinda Prime Minister with executive powers. 


With the newly formed SLPP winning splendidly at the local authority polls it appeared that any candidate with Mahinda’s backing could romp home the winner in the presidential stakes. Thereafter Mahinda would be made prime minister with maximum powers possible. The Rajapaksa camp began asserting boldly that either Mahinda or a suitable person nominated by him would be at the helm of Sri Lankan affairs soon. Although no candidate was openly named, there were organized efforts to prop up Mahinda’s brother and former Defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the presidential candidate. It was said that Gota would relinquish his US citizenship at the appropriate time and become an eligible candidate. Gota himself began promoting himself indirectly through organizations such as “Viyathmaga” and “Eliya.” While the prospect of Gota being Presidential candidate was welcomed by many in the Rajapaksa camp there were some dissidents too particularly within the family circle. 


In an unexpected turn of events, the rising tide of optimism within the Rajapaksa camp started ebbing with distressing news of simmering tensions within the Rajapaksa extended family. Much of this was due to the 19 A ill- effect it was felt. In the absence of Mahinda who among the Rajapaksas could contest the presidential elections? Was the multi-crore question. Though Gota was the front -runner, there was opposition to him too. It was rumoured that Mrs. Shiranthi Rajapaksa and eldest son Namal along with Basil Rajapaksa were not enthusiastic about Gota.

Speculation was rife and the rumour mills began working overtime. The political grapevine began humming with sensational dollops of news about dissension and divisions within the Rajapaksa clan. It was as if the Rajapaksa family was tearing itself apart over the P residential candidacy stakes. 


It was against this gloomy backdrop that the “Pater Familias” of the DA Rajapaksa family initiated a proactive move to resolve differences and forge unity. Though Mahinda is the most powerful and influential member of the family he is not the head of the family according to socio-cultural norms. In the absence of parents that honour goes to the eldest son in the family. Chamal Jayantha Rajapaksa born on October  30, 1942 is the eldest of Don Alvin and Dona Dandina Rajapaksa’s nine children comprising six boys and three girls. Mahinda is the third child and second son. 

 


MEETING OF RAJAPAKSA SIBLINGS 
Chamal Rajapaksa arranged for a meeting of the Rajapaksa siblings in March this year. The meeting was held at the residence of one of DA Rajapaksa’s daughters. The Rajapaksa brothers and sisters converged at the venue without their spouses or offspring being present. The objective of the family conclave was to unanimously select an alternative to Mahinda to contest the Presidential elections. The selected candidate would contest polls and hopefully win the elections. Thereafter he would take steps to transfer power back to Mahinda Rajapaksa. The methodology for this would be devised at the appropriate juncture depending upon the prevailing political circumstances and environment. Until such a transfer of power is effected the chosen candidate would abide by Mahinda and be guided by him. 


Chamal Rajapaksa declined to be the chosen candidate. Basil also opted out. This left Gotabaya who was willing. Gota said that he would renounce his US citizenship in due course and that the entire process would not take more than two to three months at the most. Basil also extended his support to Gota and said that he would help him run the government if elected. It was agreed that Mahinda would remain head of the party while Gotabaya would be the presidential candidate. Mahinda also said that it would be premature to announce the candidacy now and said he would do so when the time was conducive. This was agreed upon. 


Thereafter the Rajapaksa family demonstrated through their actions that they were closing ranks. Mahinda and Basil visited Gotabaya’s “Viyathmaga” office publicly. Gota reciprocated by visiting the SLPP party headquarters officially. The Rajapaksa siblings also re-iterated in media interviews that there was no dissension among them. Everything seemed hunky-dory and it seemed to be only a matter of time before Mahinda would officially announce Gotabaya’s presidential candidacy. 


But then something seemed to have gone wrong with the Rajapaksa family plans and there was soon hidden discord. The family consensus on a presidential candidate did not seem to be valid any more. It appeared that Gotabaya was being opposed within family circles again. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s interview to “The Hindu” newspaper during his trip to New Delhi in September strengthened this impression further. When Mahinda was asked about the possibility of his brother being a contender at the presidential poll, he did not endorse Gota or anyone else for that matter and instead laid down what could be termed as conditions. He said, “My brother is certainly a contender, but the party and the coalition will have to decide who the people want”. In replying to a related earlier question Mahinda said, another option is to “announce a candidate acceptable to all.” 

 


PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY OF GOTABAYA RAJAPAKSA 
What this meant was that the prospective candidate should be acceptable to a broad constituency and that the decision on a candidate should be endorsed by the Pohottuwa party and the joint opposition coalition. It was well-known that Mahinda had steadfastly refrained from publicly naming his ex-defence secretary sibling as the presidential candidate despite strenuous efforts by the pro-Gota lobby. In the “Hindu” interview, the conditions stipulated by Mahinda were double-edged as far as Gotabaya Rajapaksa was concerned. Would Gota be endorsed by all shades of opinion in the SLPP and joint opposition? Gota may be acceptable to a large number of Sinhala Buddhists but would he be acceptable to substantial segments of the religious and ethnic minority communities in the Island? If the answers are positive then the presidential candidacy of Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be a certainty. If the answers are negative then there could be no firm decision on Gota being the chosen candidate. This demonstrated reluctance on the part of Mahinda to name Gotabaya as the presidential candidate spoke volumes about intra-family splits and prolonged the prevailing state of uncertainty. 


According to informed sources familiar with inner -currents within the Rajapaksa clan say the family consensus on nominating Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the Presidential candidate did not last long despite the initial euphoria. The main reason according to these sources was that the “decision” had been taken by the Rajapaksa siblings without the concurrence of their spouses or off- spring. The main obstacle to Gotabaya’s candidacy was Mahinda’s wife Shiranthi and eldest son Namal. They were worried that once the mantle of leadership in the form of the presidency was donned by Gotabaya, the chances of it ever falling upon Namal were remote. 


It was no secret that Uncle Gota and Namal were not well-disposed towards each other. Gotabaya feels that one of the chief reasons for Mahinda losing the presidential poll in 2015 was due to the conduct of his sons notably Namal. Gota in fact had even lost his cool and pitched into Namal in the aftermath of the defeat. Though Namal had kept silent, there are reasons to believe that the nephew had thereafter fought a “guerilla war” through media circles against Gota’s potential candidacy. It is well -known among journalist circles that many of the “inspired leaks” in the media that are hostile to Gotabaya can be sourced to the pro-Namal establishment. A controversial incident in this regard was the purported negative remarks made by outgoing US ambassador Atul Keshap to Mahinda Rajapaksa at a one to one meeting about Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidential candidacy. It is strongly suspected by concerned parties that circles close to Namal were instrumental in a Northern newspaper scooping the news story. 

 


ELDEST SON NAMAL RAJAPAKSA’S POLITICAL FUTURE 
Whatever the state of relations between Gotabaya and Namal, Mahinda is too seasoned a politician to let that cloud his judgment or turn hostile to his brother. Mahinda’s primary concern was to recapture power as quickly as possible. If Gotabaya was the best possible candidate to spearhead a Rajapaksa renaissance in politics, he was quite prepared to back his brother notwithstanding resentment evinced by Shiranthi or Namal.

Nevertheless as a father, he was very much interested in Eldest son Namal Rajapaksa’s political future. According to unconfirmed reports Mahinda is believed to have asked Gota privately that after becoming president Gotabaya should ensure and guarantee a smooth political passage for Namal Rajapaksa as Gotabaya’s successor if possible. Gota known for his blunt, direct manner of speaking had supposedly refused point blank. The ex-defence secretary had said that no one could guarantee anyone anything in politics. Gota had said it was up to Namal to forge his political future to the best of his ability and that he (Gota) would help him as much as possible but could not and would not provide a fool -proof guarantee. Mahinda apparently was disappointed by this. 


Even if there was cause for Mahinda to be miffed with Gota over the Namal factor it was not that issue which made the ex-president review the family decision to go ahead with Gota as presidential candidate option. Subsequent course of events compelled Mahinda to do a re-think about it. Firstly there was opposition within the Mahinda camp towards Gotabaya’s candidacy. Though Gota had sizable support within the broad folds of UPFA – SLFP- SLPP combine, there was opposition too. The outspoken comments of Kumar Welgama and Vasudeva Nanayakkara opposing Gota’s candidacy being indicators. 


Furthermore there was Basil Rajapaksa. Although Basil was prepared to abide by the family consensus on Gota many in the SLPP were not prepared to do so. They made this known to Basil effectively and the master political planner who was responsible for the Pohottuwa’s victory at local polls began having second thoughts. There were two concerns. Basil was trying to re-invent the SLPP into an inclusive political party with the aim of wooing the minority communities as it was felt reliance on a sole Sinhala constituency alone was counter-productive politically. There were valid doubts whether Gota could appeal to the non – Sinhala Buddhist constituency. 


The second concern was about the alternative political apparatus being built up by Gotabaya to mobilise support for him. The vast array of professionals, captains of commerce, former defence service personnel and Buddhist leaders from clergy and laity being engaged in the pro-Gota campaign was impressive. But how was this newly formed alternate power bloc going to fit in with political party formations in the traditional mould like the SLFP, SLPP and UPFA? Was Gota planning to run a presidential administration outside the parliamentary cabinet of ministers? 

 


“HITLER-GOTA” REMARKS BY ASGIRIYA ANUNAYAKE THERA 
More importantly the political conduct of some prominent persons supporting Gotabaya and their public utterances were chauvinistically hawkish. Their pronouncements and viewpoints may have titillated ethno-populists and ethno-supremacists within the majority community but aroused fear and loathing among moderates of the majority and minority ethnicities. Gota himself seemed to be unwilling or unable to control these extremist elements. An example being the remarks about “Hitler - Gota” made by the Asgiriya Anunayake Thera. Under these circumstances there were doubts firstly about Gota winning at the presidential hustings even if he were eligible to contest. Secondly there were misgivings about the forces unleashed by Gota running amok if and when victory was registered. 


Given this conflicting situation Mahinda Rajapaksa seemed to be mulling over the decision to announce Gota’s candidacy publicly. For one thing the presidential poll was due only in 2019 and there was no hurry. But the real reason seemed to be that Mahinda himself was reluctant to make a formal announcement about Gota being the presidential candidate. In spite of many direct and indirect entreaties made by Gotabaya and by others on Gota’s behalf that an announcement should be made “Mahinda Aiya” was not ready to do so. It was not that Mahinda was opposed to Gota’s candidacy but the ex-president seemed unwilling to do so at this juncture. It was as if he was waiting for the correct time to commit himself or as if he was procrastinating in the hope that a better option may turn up. Gotabaya himself sensed this and was unsure of being nominated as the presidential candidate. Hence, his reluctance to relinquish his US citizenship at this point of time. If he were sure then Gota would have given up his US citizenship promptly. So Gota engaged in the waiting game while promoting his campaign through regular meetings held by organizations and groups affiliated to him. 


Meanwhile events began to overtake. The pace and course of political currents necessitated a drastic alteration of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s plans and objectives. It became importantly imperative for Mahinda Rajapaksa to capture power directly as early as possible. Mahinda could not afford to wait patiently for the 2019 presidential poll. He decided to dispense with the Gotabaya as candidate plan temporarily and instead decided to jump into the fray himself. Mahinda was even prepared to patch up differences with Maithripala Sirisena and form a tactical alliance with the president for this purpose. Earlier Mahinda wanted to split the Sirisena-led SLFP from the so called “Yahapalanaya” Government and harness enough MPs from all sides to defeat the residual UNF Budget in a Parliamentary vote. Thereafter Maithripala would appoint Mahinda as premier in reconfigured Parliament. However when Maithripala Sirisena for reasons of his own wanted to expedite matters by removing Ranil Wickremesinghe and immediately replacing him with Mahinda Rajapaksa as PM, the ex-president did not want to miss that opportunity. 

 


LULLED INTO A FALSE SENSE OF COMPLACENCY 
Even though he did not have a majority of MPs supporting him in Parliament, Mahinda was prepared to be appointed as premier. Mahinda however was supremely confident that he would be able to get many more than the numbers required within a very short time. For one thing Maithripala had already assured him that the numbers were there pending finalization. Besides flatterers like SB Dissanayake lulled him into a false sense of complacency by telling Mahinda that there would be a landslide of defections from all parties when it became known Mahinda Rajapaksa was the new Prime Minister. 


It is reliably learnt that Basil Rajapaksa cautioned his elder brother about the wisdom of being sworn in as Prime Minister without a viable majority in hand and had suggested that Mahinda wait until the Ranil regime was defeated in the Budget vote and capture power in a more credible and effective manner. But Mahinda would not hear of it. He told his younger brother in Sinhala that power would not come in the way we want or at the time we want and that when an opportunity to seize power loomed large on the political horizon, it should be grasped immediately without delay. It was this line of thinking which resulted in Mahinda Rajapaksa making a power grab through the backdoor. The best laid plans of Mahinda and Maithripala turned awry due to their failure to garner a majority among Parliamentarians. The end result has been a colossal political crisis that has paralysed the nation and made Sri  Lanka an object of scorn internationally. 


Why then did Mahinda Rajapaksa with his years of vast political experience embark upon this risky political venture? What are the reasons and motives that compelled him to opt for a backdoor entry to the seat of power in such a hurry? And where does the current situation leave Gotabaya Rajapaksa? Some of the answers to these burning questions have been touched upon briefly in this article. The issues would be discussed in greater detail in a forthcoming article.  


D.B.S. Jeyaraj can be reached at dbsjeyaraj@yahoo.com 

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