Paving the Way for Rajapaksa Renaissance

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Paving the way for Rajapaksa renaissancelogoThursday, 11 June 2015Every distraction, legislative or otherwise, that delays a Parliamentary poll invariably plays into Mahinda Rajapaksas hands. A polling date set after the UN investigation report is made public likely in mid-August could prove the final trump the Rajapaksas need to make a comeback

A-ratanapuraFormer President Mahinda Rajapaksa at a recent rally

Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, arguably the previous regimes most powerful man, may be under fire from a plethora of investigations into procurements and dealings during his tenure as chief accounting officer for the Ministry of Defence. But nearly six months after his brothers stunning election defeat rendered him jobless and without immunity, some of the bravado appears to be returning. The former Presidents favourite younger brother is stepping out of the shadows again, as the former ruling familys political machinery kicks back into gear for another crucial election battle.
Colombos ranking by the MasterCard Global Destinations Index 2015 as the worlds fastest growing city for tourism led to a series of postings on the ex-officials official Facebook page. Over the next few weeks, I look forward to sharing some thoughts on this site about the urban development work carried out by the previous Government between the end of the conflict and January 2015, the former Defence Secretary said in his Facebook posting.
A few days ago, looking casual in a t-shirt at his Nugegoda residence, with a large portrait of President Rajapaksa and a bronze sculpture of Avalokatheshwara at his side, Gotabaya Rajapaksa spoke to a private television station that was highlighting the achievement. During the interview, he warned against squandering the development successes in Colombo by the failure to maintain his parks, jogging tracks and shopping precincts that best serve the capitals upper middle classes.
The Rajapaksa brothers, who held Sri Lanka in authoritarian thrall for nine long years, fancy themselves great statesmen. Gotabaya Rajapaksa speaks with rehearsed eloquence about the defeat of terrorism and his efforts to transform Colombo into a modern and liveable city. The reality is much darker. Like all Rajapaksa regime good works, the development of the capital, under the former Defence Secretarys watchful eye, had an ugly underbelly.
Thousands of Colombo residents were forcibly evicted, their homes razed and livelihoods destroyed when the former Defence Secretary began his beautification drive in the city. Backhoes demolished low-income housing settlements while military personnel threateningly observed the process. When residents kicked up a fuss and argued with the authorities, leading members of that community were abducted by white van. A suppliant Supreme Court had removed all hope of redress for the victims of an urban beautification drive.
sdasasWhen Gotabaya Rajapaksa complains about the awful state of his beloved urban parks and jogging tracks, its easy to forget that he used thousands of armed forces personnel to sweep and maintain his special projects. Under Secretary Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka became one of the only countries since the end of World War II to swell the ranks of its military rather than demobilise after the end of a conflict. No longer fighting LTTE separatists in the north and east, 300,000 military personnel had to be gainfully employed. From celebrated war heroes and humane patriots, they became road-sweepers, waiters and janitors, almost invisible and constantly confronted by the opulence of the middle classes, revelling in the pleasures of post-war Colombo.
Ironically, while the Rajapaksa regime was intent on building a powerful military state, these frustrations in the military rank and file contributed to their defeat earlier this year. President Rajapaksa lost the island-wide postal vote on 8 January, the early ballots cast by public servants and military personnel serving outside their home electorates. As far as the ordinary soldier is concerned, the decision appears to have paid off.
Long and painfulroad to democratisation
President Maithripala Sirisena delivered on his election promise to restore dignity to the armed forces and ensure they do not remain slaves to the wealthy classes. Today city clean-up has been entrusted again to the municipal worker, prone to strikes and lethargy. Yet the Sirisena administration appears to have decided that the odd stray leaf on a jogging track or a less than perfectly manicured lawn is worth all that has been reclaimed since 8 January. Extricating the military shadow from every area of civilian life and rebuilding institutions has been a work in progress over the past six months, but it remains a cornerstone of the re-democratisation process undertaken since the defeat of the Rajapaksa regime.
Obviously this irks the former Defence Secretary and other top members of the ex-regime, who view the process to restore independence to State institutions and confine the military to barracks as an attempt to dismantle the powerful military state that was under construction. Yet even they know that strong institutions cannot be rebuilt in six months, after they have been under assault for the better part of nine years. Half-a-year after the election, with their policy to refrain from purging institutions of officials loyal to the Rajapaksa ruling cabal, the new Government is only just scratching the surface of what will be a long and painful process. The Rajapaksas realise therefore that reassembling their preferred version of the State is only one crucial election away.
So the former ruling family is refusing to go down without a fight. Corruption investigations may keep the ex-regimes misdeeds alive and well in public memory, but the Rajapaksa camp are hoping to be restored to power by appealing to the peoples more tribal instincts. For four months after the election, President Rajapaksa licked his wounds in private, allowing the movement calling for his return to power to gather quiet momentum. He contented himself with playing puppeteer and watching members of his former ruling alliance wreak havoc in Parliament to scuttle the new Governments reform agenda. In this the UPFA rebels from the Mahinda camp found great allies in the old guard SLFP, which held a gun to the head of the minority UNP Government and forced dilution of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which aimed to reduce presidential powers and restore independence to key State institutions.
Untitled-1A similar hostage-taking situation is already building around the 20th Amendment, which is set to be gazetted tomorrow (12) after the Cabinet this week approved Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghes formula for electoral reform. UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayanth, whose allegiances have recently been in question, has already indicated that the Opposition disagrees with the reform proposal in its current form and will insist upon amendments. It remains to be seen if President Sirisena will permit the UPFA and his own SLFP to strong-arm his administration once more, imposing its will by force through its huge majority when the amendment comes up for debate in Parliament.
Dissolution delays
The UPFA strong-arm tactics, buttressed by SLFP support and President Sirisenas desire to conduct the business of governance through consensus, has significantly strengthened the Rajapaksa hand. The mandate for President Sirisenas 100-day programme of work ended on 23 April, nearly two months ago. The 19th Amendment was passed one week behind that deadline, but not even the fulfilment of that crucial election promise led to the dissolution of Parliament and the end of the UNP-led minority Government. In fact, during the battle for the passage of 19A, President Sirisena brokered a compromise with the SLFP to secure their crucial votes to enact the amendment, by pledging to pass the 20th Amendment on electoral reform before the tenure of the current Parliament came to an end.
Nearly two months later, President Sirisenas minority Government faces another battle royale over 20A, this time poised for a fight with not only the SLFP and the Mahinda faction of the UPFA, but also minor parties that view the draft amendment as inimical to their political interests. To compound matters, the UPFA has flexed its muscles once more with a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Wickremesinghe submitted to the Speaker, already holding the signatures of 112 MPs, only one short of a simple majority.
While this drama unfolds between the Sirisena administration and the official Opposition, and with the UNP heavily preoccupied with matters of governance and kick-starting its own election machinery, the former President has been quietly stepping into the light. The distractions of Parliamentary battles and President Sirisenas decision to delay calling elections to placate his own party have created the space necessary for the Rajapaksa faction to mobilise and convince their star candidate to step into the fray. Today, the former President has media spokesmen and a well-oiled propaganda machinery all set to get back to work. Offices and staff are being set up to conduct strategic planning for the Rajapaksa rebirth.
Untitled-2Renaissance man
Where once he was a no-show at rallies calling for his return or he sent notes to be read out to his supporters, today President Rajapaksa rarely misses an opportunity to take centre-stage. Daily visits to temples have become media feeding frenzies. And this week, in the guise of commemorating former SLFP Minister C.V. Gooneratne who was killed by the LTTE in 2001, President Rajapaksa held a large meeting in Dehiwala where he raged against the present Government for squandering the war victory.
The meeting was widely publicised, with large hoardings and poster