Michael Patrick O’Leary, in Private Eye, where the title is “A Letter from Colombo: Blood Bath in Sri Lanka- not Many Dead”
There is much talk of the second coming of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. It seems that he may have come prematurely, without the potency he had presumed. He says he is prime minister of Sri Lanka. Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of the UNP (United National Party), says he is prime minister. There have been ugly scenes in parliament as ugly politicians punch each other and throw things about, including a bible (or possibly Erskine May).
On October 26 2018, the president of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, announced that Mahinda Rajapaksa was now his prime minister. Later a letter was sent to Ranil Wickremesinghe, informing him that he was sacked.
I wrote in these pages in 2015 of the optimism enjoyed in Sri Lanka when a cunning plan hatched by Sirisena (MS) health minister and general secretary of the then ruling SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) and Wickremesinghe (RW) of the then opposition UNP, toppled Rajapaksa (MR) before he could achieve his third term as president. There were rumours of foreign involvement in this regime change.
A coalition of the SLFP and the UNP promised Yahapalana – Good Governance. Soon, things were turning sour for the strange bedfellows. Nepotism continued with different faces (the UNP is known as the Uncle Nephew Party). New Yahapalana corruption was initiated and the old Rajapaksa corruption was not punished (with the complicity of MS, some allege). RW appointed his crony Arjuna Mahendran as governor of the Central Bank against the explicit advice of MS. RW did not resign when Mahendran was shown to be crook. RW prorogued parliament in order to suppress a parliamentary report on a bond scam.
Westerners tend to like RW because he pushes neo-con-type policies. Opponents accuse him of surrendering state assets to foreigners. He wears a western suit and is comfortable addressing the Oxford Union. MR wears sandals and national costume and speaks bluntly to the rural masses. When the west criticised the way he waged war against the Tamil Tigers, he said “Why should we listen to people who don’t wash their bottoms!”
The US Embassy has accused MS of endangering democracy by acting unconstitutionally and – er- calling a general election. RW has perverted the constitution by delaying elections. The US did not make any statements about the repeated postponement of elections during the past few years. Six of the nine provincial councils established by the 13th amendment to the constitution are now dormant because elections are overdue.
The UNP were soundly beaten in the long-delayed local council elections held in February 2018. MR’s party, the SLPP, achieved a landslide. The UNP, that had just celebrated its 70th anniversary, was beaten into a poor second place by a party that was just a few months old.
MR must have felt slighted when MS announced that he had been third choice as PM. Recognizing that the UNP was the party with the largest number of seats, MS first approached the Speaker of the house, Karu Jayasuriya, who had been generally respected by all sides until this episode. Jayasuriya refused out of loyalty to RW. MS then offered the premiership to Sajith Premadasa, a long-term somewhat tepid challenger for the UNP leadership. Sajith also demurred, putting his ambitions on the long finger.
Parliament met on November 16 and despite violent and noisy scenes the Speaker felt able to announce that a vote of no confidence against MR had been carried by a voice vote. At a party leaders’ meeting held on November 18, MS said that it was not appropriate and transparent to take a voice vote on a serious motion aimed at unseating a government. He said parliament should go for a division by name or electronic voting, procedures acceptable to the general public and the international community.
Parliament re-convened on November 19 and MPs managed to behave themselves for ten minutes before adjournment until November 23. God knows what will happen next. The good news is that MS has not tried to suppress opposition to his actions. Public protests are taking place and there is still no sense of menace, with one death so far. The army has refused to intervene. The Supreme Court has postponed a decision until December 7. Watch this space!