President Maithripala Sirisena had declared that he would not retire from politics in 2020
He said he had to complete his mission to serve the people and the country
He had sought a determination from the Supreme Court this year as to when his term of office would expire
President Maithripala Sirisena had declared that he would not retire from politics in 2020 as he had to complete his mission to serve the people and the country beyond 2020. He was speaking at the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s May Day rally at Chenkaladi which was held on May 7 as the generally accepted May Day, May 1 fell within the Vesak week.
Citing the reason for this statement he said that the media and many others kept asking him whether he would quit politics in 2020. However, we do not remember anybody asking him that question in the recent past. It is he who seems to have wanted to tell the country that he was not going to retire from politics in 2010 as he had vowed during the last Presidential election campaign.
Also it is because of his earlier assertion that he would become President of the country only once that President Sirisena’s May Day declaration gained high significance and almost all Sinhala and English newspapers had it as their lead story on the next day. However, this was not the first time the President gave this message to the country. It must be recalled that he had sought a determination from the Supreme Court in January this year as to when his term of office would expire and this was viewed by many as an indication of his aspiration to stay in power beyond 2020. Again on January 18, while addressing a meeting in Kosgama the President had vowed that he would leave office only after “sending the corrupt politicians to hell.”
With the SLPP unofficially led by former President sweeping the electorate at the February 10 local government elections, the President’s fear of facing the wrath of Rajapaksas would have multiplied
One may argue that President’s declaration that he would not retire in 2020 did not necessarily mean that he would contest the Presidential election in 2020. Yet, when he said that he would not retire because he had to complete his mission to serve the people it clearly meant that he wanted to continue what he does now. There are no alternatives to the presidency for him to “complete his mission to serve the people.”
When he came forward to challenge his former boss, Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2014 there were no reasons for him to declare that he would become the President only once. Nobody wanted him to do so or nobody asked him whether he would contest the Presidential election for a second time. Therefore, he might have really meant it.
But now, not only after shattering Mahinda Rajapaksa’s hopes for a lifelong presidency but also after threatening the entire Rajapaksa family with imprisonment, he seems to feel insecure. He as a former member of the Rajapaksa administration knows very well how Rajapaksas punished their adversaries such as former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka and former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake for challenging them.
Even before Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Namal Rajapaksa, Yoshitha Rajapaksa, Basil Rajapaksa and Shiranthi Rajapaksa were hauled before courts of law, the President had told he would have been six feet under the ground had he been defeated at the last Presidential election. In last November while accusing the UNP at a Cabinet meeting for delaying and stalling legal action against corruption committed by the leaders of the former regime, the President had also expressed his fear of Rajapaksas making a comeback by reportedly saying that in such an eventuality it is not the UNP that is going to face the consequences.
With the government hauling the members of the Rajapaksa family before the courts, the small parties of the UPFA starting the “Rise with Mahinda” campaign, Rajapaksas successfully bounced back for their survival and security
With the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) unofficially led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa sweeping the electorate at the February 10 local government elections, President Sirisena’s fear of facing the wrath of Rajapaksas would have multiplied. Nonetheless, he is deprived of options other than fighting back politically as the former President did or fleeing the country. He seems to have opted to face the situation politically and hence has declared that he would not retire in 2020.
Former President Rajapaksa also chose to fight back under a similar situation. He and his loyalists were also in a quandary and seemed to have been frightened when Maithripala Sirisena assumed office as the Executive President. They seemed to have feared that the new President would use his executive powers against them as Mahinda Rajapaksa did against his adversaries.
Hence, Basil Rajapaksa left the country and stayed in the US for several months. Mahinda Rajapaksa voluntarily offered to hand over the Chairmanship of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to President Sirisena. The 142 United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MPs who backed Rajapaksa did not dare to challenge President Sirisena when he appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe who commanded the confidence of only 47 MPs in the Parliament to the post of Prime Minister on January 9, 2015. They who voted for the 18th Amendment to the Constitution that removed the two term limit for the President and scrapped the independent commissions supported the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which re-introduced that term limit and the independent commissions.
However, with the government hauling the members of the Rajapaksa family one by one before the courts of law and the small parties of the UPFA starting the “Rise with Mahinda” campaign Rajapaksas successfully bounced back for their survival and security. Now they have turned the political trend in favour of themselves which was clearly evident at the recent local government elections.
The President’s desire to “complete his mission to serve the people and the country beyond 2020” would literally be an uphill struggle
Nevertheless, there is a major difference between Rajapaksas and Maithripala Sirisena fighting back. The former had the popular support which is the main ingredient of any political struggle to bounce back. Majority of the SLFP and the UPFA was with them in spite of Mahinda Rajapaksa being defeated at the last Presidential election. On the other hand, despite President Sirisena holding the leadership of the SLFP and the UPFA he does not have such a support base. The 1.5 million voters who voted for the SLFP and the UPFA at the local government elections cannot be deemed to be a permanent vote bank, in the light of the turn of political trend after the recent local polls.
Another handicap with President Sirisena is the hostile attitude held by the government towards him. In spite of certain democratic reforms having been brought in after the regime change in 2015, the President himself accused the UNP of scuttling his anti-corruption drive which he was to use as a cudgel against the leaders of the former regime and he too now seems to toe the same line, for fear of revenge by the same leaders. Neither he nor his government has any plan to economically support the masses and win over their support before 2020. Hence, the President’s desire to “complete his mission to serve the people and the country beyond 2020” would literally be an uphill struggle.