Sunday, 23 August 2015

A debilitating post Jan. prez-poll defeat




by Shamindra Ferdinando

The UNP-led United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) emerged victorious at Monday’s general election.

The UNFGG received a tremendous boost through President Maithripala Sirisena’s merciless assault on his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who earned the former SLFP General Secretary’s wrath for seeking premiership in the next government. Both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe called for a continuation of the status quo, whereas the Rajapaksa’s Camp wanted an administration of its own.

Those who had spearheaded Rajapaksa’s campaign wrongly believed that the former President’s return to parliament, as the next Prime Minister, could be guaranteed, primary on the alleged Central Bank bond scam. The UPFA campaign had been largely based on the unprecedented Central Bank scam. The UPFA also propagated the return of the LTTE in case the UNP regained power.

President Maithripala Sirisena caused irreparable damage to Rajapaksa’s campaign by leaking a damaging letter meant to bring the former President into disrepute. The combined propaganda blitz, undertaken by the UNP, President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga undermined the UPFA strategy. Had President Maithripala remained really neutral, the outcome could have been either different or extremely narrow.

However, the UPFA’s defeat will facilitate President Maithripala Sirisena’s strategy to rein in the party.

The UPFA missed an opportunity to regain power, just eight months after losing both the presidential poll and the government due to former President ill-advised decision to call for early presidential poll. None of those who vociferously campaigned to bring him back to parliament, dared to discourage him from taking a foolish decision.

Throughout the parliamentary polls campaign the caretaker government worked overtime to deprive twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa of credit for Sri Lanka’s triumph over LTTE terrorism.

The UNP - led campaign was meant to tarnish UPFA prime ministerial candidate Rajapaksa’s image. The government accused Rajapaksa of dealing secretly with the then LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, over a period of time and securing his support to win the Nov. 17 2005, presidential election.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe alleged that Rajapaksa deprived him of victory at the Nov. 17 2005 presidential poll by bribing the LTTE. The allegation was repeated by Power and Energy Minister, Patali Champika Ranawaka, and Health Minister, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, on several occasions, during the campaign. Ranawaka lambasted Rajapaksa over what he called the Mahinda-Prabhakaran deal. The issue dominated the campaign. The government also targeted Rajapaksa over waste, corruption and irregularities in the public sector, alleged killing of national rugger player and Havelock SC captain, Wasim Thajudeen, as well as foreign policy issues.

The JVP, too, repeated the allegations, much to the delight of the UNP.

It would be pertinent to mention that Ranawaka (JHU), as well as the JVP, had been solidly with Rajapaksa, during the 2005 campaign.

The UNP and the JVP warned that Rajapaksa faced the prospect of losing his civic rights if he was found guilty of bribing the LTTE. The government alleged that Rajapaksa made available funds to the tune of Rs. 800 mn, through Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA), established in the wake of the tsunami. The matter is now under investigation. Among those implicated, in the probe, on the RADA, is UPFA National List nominee, Tiran Alles, formerly National List MP of General Sarath Fonseka’s Democratic National Alliance (DNA). There cannot be any dispute over punitive legal action, in case of transferring funds to the LTTE, or misappropriation of funds.

Addressing the UNP’s final media conference, at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI), late last week, Minister Senaratne declared that Rajapaksa made multiple payments to the LTTE, until a suicide cadre targeted the then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

Those who had been opposed to Rajapaksa’s return to parliament couldn’t convince the electorate of the former President’s treachery. Rajapaksa kept the offensive on track for nearly three years, until war-winning Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka’s troops finished off the LTTE leadership, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, in May 2009. Rajapaksa resisted the combined pressure of Western powers, and India, meant to throw a lifeline to the LTTE.

Rajapaksa’s triumph over the LTTE paved the way for ex-LTTE cadres to field two groups of independent candidates, in the Vanni and Jaffna electoral districts, at the recently concluded polls. They went ahead on their own after the TNA declined an electoral pact with them. The ex-LTTEers declined an invitation from TULF great, V. Anandasangaree, to contest on the TULF ticket. Rajapaksa’s victory obviously freed the fighting cadre of the LTTE, as well as the TNA. Unfortunately, some of those who had been saved from the LTTE were reluctant to acknowledge Rajapaksa’s fearless leadership during the war. Instead of thanking the former President for facilitating the TNA take over of the Northern Provincial Council, at the September, 2011 polls, the four-party alliance wanted Rajapaksa hauled up before an international war crimes tribunal.

The bottom line is that the then US Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Ms. Patricia Butenis, wouldn’t have called the Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda, Gotabhaya and Basil as well as Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka war criminals if Rajapaksa called off the offensive. Thanks to whistle blowing website, Wikileaks, a confidential diplomatic cable, sent from Colombo to Washington, is in the public domain. Had Rajapaksa given in, the Sampanthans would have been still taking orders from Prabhakaran.

Unfortunately, the UPFA pathetically failed to counter the UNP - led project, to tarnish Rajapaksa’s image, on the basis of alleged payments made to the LTTE. Those who had accused Rajapaksa of giving money to the LTTE never alleged Prabhakaran accepted the money. In fact, the writer raised the issue with TNA politician, R. Sampanthan, at a media conference in the run up to the January presidential poll. The veteran politician side-stepped the issue. Sampanthan couldn’t explain Prabhakaran being bribed to give up his struggle. In fact, none of those who had been accusing Rajapaksa of treachery were strangely silent on Prabhakaran accepting money.

* Did Prabhakaran prevent the Tamil - speaking people from exercising their franchise at the Nov. 2005 presidential poll after receiving money from the Rajapaksas?

* Did Prabhakaran inform the TNA of his arrangement with Rajapaksa?

* Why did the TNA, on behalf of the LTTE, order the Tamil - speaking people not to exercise their franchise?

After having consultations with the LTTE, in Kilinochchi, during the second week of November, 2005, the TNA announced the boycott. Veteran politician and Nuwara Eliya District UNP candidate, R. Yogarajan, and CWC leader, Arumugam Thondaman, can shed light on the last minute bid, by the UNP, to persuade the LTTE and the TNA not to deprive Wickremesinghe of a sure victory.

The LTTE/TNA combine was so confident of its strategy, the TNA made a public statement regarding the polls boycott order. The Tamilnet released pictures of TNA leaders meeting with senior LTTE representatives, in Kilinochshi, prior to the controversial statement. Had there been a secret deal between Rajapaksa and Prabhakaran, Prabhakaran would never have made his directive public, through the TNA. Instead, he would have ensured the boycott message reached the entire electorate without him being implicated.

After the conclusion of the war, in May, 2009, the Norwegian government, too, inquired into the LTTE action to engineer Wickremesinghe’s defeat, though Oslo was silent on the TNA’s complicity in the project. No less a person than John Cushnahan, head of the EU polls monitoring mission, following the April, 2004, general election, declared that the TNA had benefited from the violence unleashed by the LTTE. The TNA never responded to the EU’s allegation.

The new government should conduct a thorough investigation to establish whether Prabhakaran had received money from Rajapaksa, as well as the TNA’s complicity in Prabhakaran’s project. Although, allegations against Rajapaksa had never been proved so far, the LTTE receiving arms, ammunition, as well as funds, from the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa, as well as tax concessions, from the UNP-led UNF government was a fact.

One-time EPDP MP, Dr. K. Vigneswaran, in August last year, discussed the LTTE project to facilitate Rajapaksa’s victory at the Nov, 2005 presidential poll.

Dr. K. Vigneswaran alleged that Prabhakaran had facilitated the then Premier, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory as he believed the new president would create a situation conducive for him to speedily achieve Eelam.

One-time Chief Secretary of the Indian - backed EPRLF administration, in the then temporarily merged North-Eastern Province, Dr. Vigneswaran asserted that the LTTE had probably felt it could take advantage of a crisis caused by the new president.

Dr. Vigneswaran was addressing a colloquium on ‘3rd Narrative’ Issues of Truth and Accountability (The Last Stages of the War in Sri Lanka) at the BMICH.

Dr. Vigneswaran opined that it was a major blunder on the part of the LTTE leadership.

Dr. Vigneswaran is the chairman of the Akhila Ilankai Tamil Mahasabha (AITM), formerly the Akhila Ilankai Tamil United Front, which secured recognition by the Election Secretariat, in February, 2006. The Election Secretariat also recognized the revised name on September 13, 2013.

The then UNP Chairman, Malik Samarawickrema, told The Island that the LTTE-TNA move deprived UNP presidential candidate, Ranil Wickremesinghe, of approximately 450,000 votes, hence missing an opportunity to become the president.

The panel included Dr. Godfrey Gunatileke (one of the authors of ‘3rd Narrative), UPFA National List MP, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Dr. K. Vigneswaran, Sri Lanka’s one-time top diplomat in Geneva, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke, Chandra Jayaratne and Dr. Kumar Rupesinghe. Dr. Jayatilleke’s successor in Geneva, Ms. Tamara Kunanayakam, didn’t turn up, though she was scheduled to address the gathering. The other panelists didn’t challenge Dr. Vigneswaran’s assertion.

Dr. Rupesinghe confided in the writer how he, on behalf of Rajapaksa, met a senior LTTE leader in the Vanni, in late 2006, to explore ways and means of securing an agreement with Prabhakaran. The LTTE rejected the offer, claiming that it had the wherewithal to defeat the military. Rupesinghe earned the wrath of his sponsors, particularly the Norwegians, for representing Rajapaksa. Norway swiftly cut him off from the list of privileged recipients of funds. Subsequently, Norway announced Dr. Rupesinghe received $ 6 mn during a three-year period for promoting peace.

Those who had been alleging a secret deal, between Rajapaksa and Prabhakaran, had conveniently forgotten that the LTTE resumed claymore mine attacks, within three weeks after the new President’s swearing in. In January, 2006, the LTTE blew up an SLN Fast Attack Craft (FAC), off Trincomalee.

Had there been a clandestine pact, between the LTTE and Rajapaksa, Prabhakaran would never have launched Eelam war IV, in August, 2006. In fact, the LTTE acted arrogantly believing it had the wherewithal to overwhelm the military. The LTTE delegations looked down on Rajapaksa’s representatives when they met in Geneva, under Norwegian auspices, twice, during 2006. The LTTE never wanted a negotiated settlement. Had Prabhakaran seriously believed in a negotiated settlement, he wouldn’t have quit the negotiating table, in April, 2003, at the expense of the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who went out of his way to secure an agreement. Wickremesinghe, in fact, took a political risk no other Sri Lankan leader was prepared to take. The UNPer finalized the Norwegian arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), in February, 2002, though it was essentially a Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga-Norway project. Prabhakaran had to pay a very heavy price for engineering the downfall of the UNP-led UNP government. TNA constituents remained silent as the LTTE pursued a destructive policy. They remained mum, believing the LTTE was on the right track.

The assassination of the then Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, in August, 2005, and an attempt on the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s life, in April, 2006, reflected the LTTE’s thinking. The TNA silently endorsed the LTTE strategy. The LTTE and its followers believed in removing those who stood in its way.

Interestingly, at the January, 2010, presidential poll, those who had been opposed to Rajapaksa credited the then common candidate Lt. Gen. Fonseka with the war victory. The UNP-led grouping had the backing of the TNA, though it blamed Fonseka’s army of committing mass scale murder during the Vanni offensive. But the UNP and its allies never wanted to discuss Sri Lanka’s triumph at the just concluded parliamentary polls due to Fonseka going it alone. Fonseka’s recently formed Democratic Party experienced a heavy defeat.

In the run-up to the polls, President Maithripala Sirisena caused massive turmoil in the SLFP-led UPFA by strongly condemning Rajapaksa’s candidature, much to the disappointment of a vast majority of supporters. Stripping SLFP General Secretary, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, and UPFA General Secretary, Susil Premjayantha, of powers, sent shock waves through the party. President Maithripala Sirisena’s bid to seize control of the party, in an obvious bid to pave the way for a national government, as envisaged in the 19 Amendment to the Constitution, angered die hard supporters. However, President Maithripala Sirisena’s well written letter, to his predecessor, Rajapaksa, highlighted the latter’s failures as well as weaknesses. Nothing could be further from the truth than Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka Thero’s claim that the particular letter had been prepared at Sirikotha and President Maithripala Sirisena only placed his signature. Had Rajapaksa bothered to read Maithripala Sirisena’s memoirs, launched in early, 2010, he would realize how his failure to appreciate Maihripala Sirisena’s crucial support to him, during Mrs. Kumaratunga’s presidency, led to an unfortunate situation. Maithripala Sirisena thwarted the JVP project to deprive Rajapaksa of the premiership, following the April, 2004, parliamentary polls. Maithripala Sirisena also stood by Rajapaksa when Kumaratunga sought to deny him presidential nominations for the Nov. 2005, presidential polls. Both Mrs Kumaratunga and her brother, Anura, backed Wickremesinghe at that poll. Obviously, they didn’t know of the LTTE strategy to help Rajapaksa win and then deliver a knock out blow on the northern battlefields.

Rajapaksa paid a very heavy price for his lapse.

In fact, Maithripala Sirisena’s controversial letter set the record straight.

The war - winning President could have avoided heartache had he listened to veteran Communist Party leader Dew Gunasekera’s advice, last October. Gunasekera and his colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Tissa Vitharana, made a strong effort to discourage Rajapaksa from calling early presidential polls. Gunasekera went to the extent of going public on this matter.

The rest is history.