Harry Truman, the first American president after the Second World War, is attributed with the quote: “If you can’t convince them, confuse them’. Whether he said this in relation to the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because he could not convince the Japanese to surrender, we are unable to establish. But causing [...]

Sunday Times 2

R-paksa strategy for resurrection: Divided we stand, united we fell


Harry Truman, the first American president after the Second World War, is attributed with the quote: “If you can’t convince them, confuse them’. Whether he said this in relation to the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because he could not convince the Japanese to surrender, we are unable to establish. But causing confusion in times of political chaos is a strategy employed — in the past and present — by dictators of fascist regimes, Third World countries in bankruptcy, and even highly ranked democracies.

The present political confusion in Sri Lanka will be hard to beat by any contemporary regime.

We will first consider the chaotic contribution of President Ranil Wickremesinghe since taking office last year.

This president of Sri Lanka was not elected by the people but by a discredited government that was forced to resign and a former president, who fled the country, following mass protests.

Contributions of President Wickremesinghe towards the spiralling chaos have been in the main: Suppression of dissent in public places using the police and military; increasing the price of essential commodities by 100 to 300 percent to secure IMF assistance to recover from the financial crisis; introducing a taxation policy which even highly paid professionals are unable to withstand; locking horns with trade unions over the proposed sale of state-owned enterprises; protests by farming communities over the fertiliser supply and the all-round demand to hold elections to local councils.

Even the staunchest Wickremesinghe supporters will not be able to predict with certainty the direction in which Sri Lanka is heading.

More intriguing, however, is the Rajapaksa party’s strategy to resurrect itself. It was on the Galle Face Green that the beginning of its end was witnessed with ‘Gota-Go-Home protests’ and it is on the same Green that it hopes to resurrect itself on May Day.

It appears that plans are afoot to transport busloads of cheering supporters from villages and dump them on the Green, as they had done in earlier years. The thinking appears to be that in the villages, political polarisation that had set in decades ago – the UNP Vs the SLFP (and after that the UNP Vs Pohottuwa) — remains frozen because pro-Pohottuwa families cannot overcome their antagonism, fears and hatred of the UNP and the JVP to cross over to these parties. Whether starvation, unemployment and agriculture policy blunders that have ruined Rajapaksa supporters would not prevail over their loyalty to the Rajapaksas is the big question.

The Rajapaksas’ strategy for a comeback, it is said, is to hold Gota responsible for the total disaster. He should not have made Mahinda give up his premiership and made the cabinet resign nor made Basil resign his Finance portfolio. All this led to the collapse of their government. Resurrection will be attempted under Mahinda and Namal, the Rajapaksa family’s crown prince. The new strategy of the Rajapaksa family for a political comeback appears to present a facade of division among the brotherhood, to repel the charges of nepotism and family rule.

Are the Rajapaksas attempting to project the converse in traditional politics: Divided we stood, united we fell?

Is this facade real? The strength of their party was the unity of the brotherhood over two decades. Is this facade meant to bamboozle their followers?

Excuses for the Rajapaksa regime that caused the disaster are now being trotted out. They ask: “We did not rob the country’s wealth’ as being alleged; the Opposition cannot prove the allegations that are being made. If true why don’t they prosecute us?”

The answer to that is that some of their star performers were taken to court by their present leader Wickremesinghe himself while being the de facto leader of the Yahapalana government. Some were even found guilty. Other prosecutions are still in court. Some were even sentenced to prison but pardoned by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In the Panama papers, there are revelations about international deals by the Rajapaksa brothers’ first cousin Nirupama Rajapaksa and her millionaire husband Thirukumar Nadesan. In 2016 when Basil Rajapaksa was accused of using public funds to build a luxury villa on 16 acres in Malwana, Nadesan was accused of embezzlement in connection with the incident. Both denied any wrongdoing.

To top it all, a well-known Buddhist monk alleges that the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government was thrown out by an ‘evangelical conspiracy’ carried out with the assistance of a powerful embassy in Colombo to bring about a regime change. He made this allegation in a late-night talk show. Surprisingly, the media has ignored this serious charge.

Are the minds of the hoi polloi confused enough to conclude: I don’t know what’s happening. I will vote for my old party.

Who will be the new leaders of the Pohottuwa party? It appears that on May Day the star performers on stage will be Mahinda Rajapaksa, Namal Rajapaksa, the crown prince in waiting as the successor to his aging father, (probably brothers Yoshita and Rohita) and the innumerable cousins, an aging uncle or two and a few known hangers. Can they pull Lanka out of the current imbroglio? It will be the same unseasoned arrack in the same bottle but the label will have Mahinda’s picture instead of brother Gota, as it was at the last hustings.

The May Day will not have their usual star performers Vasudeva Nananyakkara and Wimal Weerawansa. Instead, they are likely to direct their verbal fireworks at their former Rajapaksa buddies at another May Day rally.

While addressing a meeting at Hambantota last week, Weerwansa fired the first salvo, calling Namal Rajapaksa as ‘an uncooked broiler Chicken’ with no administrative experience.

The two main Opposition political parties, the Sajith Premadasa-led Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), a splinter group from the Grand Old Party, the UNP, and the Anura Kumara Dissanayaka-led JVP are tipped to be the front runners if any election is held.

The electorate has been contorted in such a weird manner that the JVP flame thrower and fire eater Dissanayake addresses mass rallies like a statesman, in a calm sedate and rational manner while Premadasa has been bellowing aggressively like a revolutionary swearing that he will ensure justice to the many victims of the Rajapaksas as well as the rogues that had bled the country dry.

Probably Dissanayake is assured that the revolutionaries are with him and he wants to win the votes of the sedate middle class. Premadasa, on the other hand, thinks he is assured that the old middle-class voters will stick with this branch of the former Grand Old Party and wants to attract the young Aragalaya revolutionaries and the younger voters.

The cardinal mistake of both opposition leaders appears to be that they are going for each other’s jugulars and splitting the anti-UNP and anti-Rajapaksa votes.

It is apparent that to ensure a certain defeat of the Ranil-Rajapaksa combine, at any election, at least an unofficial no-contest pact is essential.

(The writer is a former editor of The Sunday Island, The Island and consultant editor of the Sunday Leader. He can be contacted at gamma.


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