MIDWEEK REVIEW

How an explosive mix of domestic and int’l factors caused GR’s downfall

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Sena Thoradeniya handing over a copy of ‘Galle Face Protest: Systems Change or Anarchy? Politics, Religion and Culture in a Time of Terror in Sri Lanka’ to Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera. Dr. Ven. Madagoda Abetissa looks on. International Affairs and political commentator Mohan Samaranayake is seated extreme left.

Through the eyes of Sena Thoradeniya:

Sena Thoradeniya discussed successful US operations here taking into similar interventions in the past and present. The examination of the Egyptian and Iranian scenarios is surely useful. Those genuinely concerned about what went wrong for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who didn’t really receive the backing of any section of the international community. The way China responded to the organic fertiliser fiasco and corruption accusations, related to both fertiliser imports from China and then India, underscored the overwhelming challenges faced by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who could have fared much better if those around him served the country honestly. Thoradeniya also made reference to the President’s failure to deal with those responsible for the Areoflot fiasco that undermined Sri Lanka’s relations with Moscow and also exposed the Bar Association. Gotabaya Rajapaksa certainly was a star crossed politician during his tenure as the President.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Literary Awards Winner Sena Thoradeniya’s ‘Galle Face Protest: Systems Change or Anarchy?

Politics, Religion and Culture in a Time of Terror in Sri Lanka’ meticulously dealt a toxic combination of external and domestic factors in the overthrowing of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July last year.

The political analyst launched the 286-page book with the patronage of Federation of National Organizations (FNO) and Global Sri Lanka Forum (GSLF), at the National Library and Documentation Services Board, Independence Squarem on 05 July. The event marked a few days short of the first anniversary of President Rajapaksa’s ouster, without doubt a watershed moment.

Unfortunately, the occasion didn’t receive the media attention it deserved. The author in his 40-minute thought-provoking address humbly acknowledged the absence of the anticipated crowd.

Thoradeniya who had visited Pangiriwatte, Mirihana, at the onset of the high-profile campaign against the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on 31 March, 2022, addressed the entire gamut of issues, with the focus on the US role and the significant complicity of India in the whole plot.

This was despite New Delhi knowing how Washington plotted to break it up since its independence, especially by using Pakistan as a proxy. The obvious change of heart came with the collapse of the Soviet Union and Washington’s illegitimate child, Israel, living in a sea of enemies, needing some solid anchor, like India with a population to more than match its hostile Arabs. London that created the chaotic problem without solving the Palestine issue when it set up the state of Israel from the lands the Palestinians had lived on from time immemorial, by fiat, naturally cheers on whatever the US does to protect its creation.

We must never forget the fact that London is also responsible for the divisive situation here because of its divide and rule principle with which it governed during the colonial era which has been thoroughly recorded by many writers of repute.

Perhaps PM Modi’s crony capitalists swung that country to toe the Washington line on Sri Lanka hook line and sinker.

Their interventions here should be scrutinized, taking into consideration the overall Quad strategy meant to counter China and the special and longstanding relationship the People’s Republic had with the Rajapaksas.

One-time Foreign Secretary and ex-National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon in his much appreciated ‘Choices: Inside the Making of Indian Foreign Policy,’ launched in late 2016, explained how Sri Lanka-China relations influenced New Delhi.

Those who have already read National Freedom Front (NFF) leader and parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa’s ‘09: Sangawunu Kathawa’ would find Thoradeniya’s narrative quite engrossing.

Weerawansa released his 135-page book at a much bigger event held at the Sri Lanka Foundation in late April. The 25 April event attracted a much bigger crowd. However, Thoradeniya’s work would help the discerning readers to comprehend no holds barred foreign funded political project that mercilessly exploited an utterly inept (when it came to wily politics), innocent and decent President.

The declaration of bankruptcy by the country on 13 April, 2022, during Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidency, underscored the responsibility on the part of all administrations, beginning 2005. Surprisingly, Ranil Wickremesinghe who couldn’t absolve himself of culpability as his administration borrowed over USD 12.5 bn in ISBs (International Sovereign Bonds) at high interest rates during the 2015-2019 period, without having shown what he did with that money, and the USD 1.2 billion received from China for the Hambantota Port lease, clearly precipitating the Gotabaya administration going bankrupt, ended up as the President.

Therefore, it would be a grave mistake to blame it all on Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who invited Wickremesinghe to receive the premiership on 11 May, 2022, regardless of his direct involvement in the protest campaign. The SLPP went a step further. The ruling party elected Wickremesinghe as the President on 20 July, 2022. Thoradeniya discussed Wickremesinghe’s role and the overall UNP strategy, leading to the ouster of an elected President. Perhaps those who haven’t read ‘09: Sangawuna Kathawa’ so far should do so.

Thoradeniya dealt with Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s murky citizenship issue. The author speculated about Gotabaya Rajapaksa being allowed to renounce US citizenship, regardless of a pending court case. As Thoradeniya asserted, did the US pave the way for Gotabaya Rajapaksa to enter the presidential fray, believing that a partnership beneficial to both parties could be worked out in case he won the Nov. 2019 contest? The author has erroneously said that two civil society activists moved the Supreme Court over Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s citizenship case, whereas it was the Court of Appeal. An appeal filed in the Supreme Court on Nov. 13, 2019 against the Court of Appeal judgment was dismissed.

However, Thoradeniya’s effort shouldn’t be compared, under any circumstances, with that of Weerawansa, who served the Cabinet-of-Ministers and, therefore, couldn’t absolve himself of the utterly irresponsible way the Rajapaksas handled the economy. Those who exercised executive power as members of the Cabinet should be held accountable for the ruination of the national economy, regardless of their current position. There shouldn’t be any exceptions. Thoradeniya, in his own way, explained how a costly US project exploited Sri Lanka, at every level, while inept political leadership looked the other way.

How GR facilitated Opp. strategy

Sena Thoradeniya

Thoradeniya discussed how, at the very beginning of his five-year term Western powers made a despicable bid to undermine his government. Switzerland warned Sri Lanka that its reputation, as a constitutional state, was at stake after police arrested local employee Garnier Bannister Francis (former Siriyalatha Perera) for falsely claiming that she was abducted and sexually harassed by government agents on 25 Nov, 2019, the day after the Swiss mission in Colombo facilitated CID investigator Inspector Nishantha Silva’s departure, under controversial circumstances. The officer’s wife and children, too, secured protection in Switzerland.

Thoradeniya found fault with the President for failing to address that issue properly. In spite of the police investigation uncovering that the Embassy worker lied, the government never made an attempt to bring the inquiry to a successful conclusion. Thoradeniya questioned why Swiss Ambassador Hanspeter Mock in Colombo at that time was not declared persona non grata. The failure on the part of the government to respond appropriately to Ambassador Mock facilitating a police officer’s departure clandestinely, in addition to staging the abduction drama.

However, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa averted a further escalation of the situation by thwarting Mock’s plan to evacuate the local employee in a special air ambulance along with her family. The attempt was made while Gotabaya Rajapaksa was away in New Delhi, his first overseas visit after swearing in as the President two weeks before. Had the President given into Foreign Ministry mandarins, the Swiss Embassy worker could have reiterated false accusations under Swiss protection with liberal backing of the Western media.

Thoradeniya questioned the failure on the part of the government to demand the extradition of the CID officer Nishantha Silva. Did President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fail to recognize the threat posed by Western block?

The author also briefly discussed how the government totally mismanaged the Geneva challenge after having publicly denounced the controversial resolution, titled ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka (adopted by the Human Rights Council on 01 October 2015). Thoradeniya raised the contentious issue as to why the government did nothing after declaring in February/March 2020 that it withdrew from the process. Three years after that meaningless declaration, the Geneva witch hunt is on track. The recent declaration made at the ongoing Geneva sessions that Sri Lanka would be subjected to extraterritorial jurisdiction underscored the gravity of the situation.

The operation that forced the President to flee the country in an SLAF Avro after having gone into hiding for a few days should be investigated against the backdrop of a failed Swiss operation.

Unfortunately, the SLPP that fielded Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in spite of still being the ruling party, seems not interested in ascertaining the truth. Sri Lanka needs to examine continuing external interventions at every level and take precautions or prepare to face the consequences. There is irrefutable evidence that the US brazenly intervened in elections here. The US played a significant role at two presidential elections, in January 2010 and January 2015.

Perhaps Thoradeniya should have examined those interventions against the backdrop of the issues at hand. Having categorized the then General Sarath Fonseka as a war criminal along with the Rajapaksa brothers (Wikileaks revelation), the US had no qualms in forcing the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK)-led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to back the war-winning Army Commander’s presidential candidature. Regardless of unsubstantiated war crimes allegations directed at the Sinha Regiment veteran, Fonseka received the backing of the UNP-led coalition that included the TNA and JVP to handsomely win all the predominantly Tamil speaking Northern and Eastern electoral districts. But the US plan went awry as Fonseka lost badly in the rest of the country.

Five years later, the US succeeded. No less a person than the then US Secretary of State John Kerry made the revelation in a 2016 State Department report that a staggering USD 585 mn was spent to ‘restore’ democracy in Nigeria, Burma and Sri Lanka in 2014/2015. Of that staggering amount, how much did the State Department allocate for the Sri Lanka electoral coup? The writer raised this issue with the US Embassy in Colombo years ago though the mission refrained from responding to The Island queries.

Warnings from Parliament ignored

Obviously President Gotabaya Rajapaksa lacked understanding of the parliamentary committee system. Had the President bothered to at least go through the proceedings of three parliamentary watchdog committees, the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE), Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) and the Committee on Public Finance (COPF), as well as exposure of corruption, he could have intervened.

Unfortunately, those who surrounded the President appeared to have deprived him of an opportunity to know what was going on. Obviously he was surrounded by economic hitmen planted by his own family, some of whom were obviously jealous or feared losing their influence in the government if Gotabaya became a runaway success, especially with his simple living and clear decency.

Thoradeniya quite rightly pointed out how President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s failure to act on shocking revelations made before the House watchdog committees contributed to the overall deterioration of the economy. The Cabinet-of-Ministers, which the President headed, never addressed the real issues. Thoradeniya reminded of the infamous Finance Ministry decision to slash the Rs 50 tax on a kilo of imported sugar to 25 cents on Oct. 13, 2020. The then COPA Chief Anura Priyadarshana Yapa condemned the Finance Ministry decision. The committee agreed that the particular decision didn’t, in any way, provide relief to the consumers.

The author also pointed out how the Sri Lanka Insurance owned Litro gas hired two President’s Counsels to block Auditor General W.P.C. Wickremaratne from examining the accounts of the national gas supplier.

Thoradenya refrained from naming the PCs. However, the writer, on the basis of COPE proceedings, during Charitha Herath’s tenure as COPE Chairman, disclosed that the PCs hired by the then Litro Chairman Anil Koswatte, who left under a cloud, were Romesh de Silva and Sanjiva Jayawardena, the latter a member of the five-member Monetary Board. Jayawardena continues in the Monetary Board. It would be pertinent to mention that de Silva headed the nine-member committee, tasked by the President to formulate a draft Constitution.

Thoradeniya also discussed the fires and explosions related to LPG cylinders, a highly contentious matter that exposed the utterly corrupt system in place for the procurement of gas supplies. Investigations later revealed that the change of composition of gas resulted in unprecedented increase in pressure within the cylinder. The government conveniently turned a blind eye to scandalous revelations made by Litro Chairman Theshara Jayasinghe as to how interested parties manipulated the entire procurement process to their advantage.

The President never had an opportunity to take stock of things. The President was in a mighty hurry or influenced by various interested parties. Thoradeniya pointed out how the signing of the controversial agreement on Yugadanavi power station at midnight on Sept. 17, 2021 caused a debilitating setback to this already troubled government. Unfortunately, only three Ministers, namely Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila, had the strength of their convictions to take a stand, regardless of the consequences.

They moved the Supreme Court against the decision. The President’s Media Division (PMD), under the leadership of Kingsley Ratnayake, formerly of Sirasa, launched a counter attack. The PMD’s effort was to back the Yugadanavi deal. The President responded by sacking Ministers Weerawansa and Gammanpila whereas Nanayakkara was left untouched.

Thoradeniya found fault with other SLPP parliamentary group members for failing to stand by Nanayakkara, Weerawansa and Gammanpila. Had they taken a courageous stand over the treacherous Yugadanavi deal, perhaps the President could have been compelled to review his strategies.

Thoradeniya should have referred to former CEB Chairman M.M.C. Ferdinando’s declaration about the then President’s direct involvement in renewable energy deal with India’s Adani Group without following a proper tender process. The scandalous revelation in June 2011 exposed the pathetic way foreign investment projects were handled.

Ferdinando’s subsequent contradiction that the President didn’t pressure him to hand over Mannar and Pooneryn wind power projects to Adani didn’t make the situation better. Against the backdrop of Indian Premier Narendra Modi’s close relationship with the Adani Group over the years, Ferdinando’s declaration that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was asked by the Indian leader to grant special status to the Adani Group received public attention.

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi was quoted by Indian media as having said that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s cronyism has crossed the Palk Strait.

Contentious role of the Rajapaksa family

Thoradeniya also commented on the impact the Rajapaksa family had on Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s downfall.

Let me reproduce verbatim what the respected author’s comment on the Rajapaksa family. “Was he (Gotabaya Rajapaksa) a captive of his family as many allege? Bringing Basil Rajapaksa, a dual citizen dubbed as ‘Aladin’ with his proverbial magic lamp and giving him the finance portfolio hastened the downfall.”

In recent interviews with the writer, both Communist Party Chairman DEW Gunasekera and Derana media mogul Dilith Jayaweera, roundly condemned the Rajapaksa family for creating an environment that throttled Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Acknowledging the shortcomings on the part of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, both Gunasekera and Jayaweera asserted that harmful foreign interventions were supplemented by the family.

Thoradeniya, too, seems to be of the same opinion.

‘Galle Face Protest: Systems Change or Anarchy? Politics, Religion and Culture in a Time of Terror in Sri Lanka’

is a must read for those genuinely interested in contemporary history. Thoradeniya’s invaluable work shouldn’t be exploited, in any way to promote those who had ruined this country. Thoradeniya, in fact, has indicted both the Rajapaksas and the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa grouping as he examined essentially post-war developments.

The only issue that the writer finds difficult to agree with Thoradeniya is his comments on His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith pertaining to the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage and the role the Catholic Church played in the protest campaign. Acknowledging Thoradeniya’s right to be critical of the Catholic Church, the writer would like to point out that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa certainly didn’t address the issue properly. Knowing very well, some people really believed that he (as SLPP presidential candidate) directly benefited from the Easter Sunday massacre, he appointed a six-member committee to study the Presidential Commission of Inquiry recommendations in this regard. (That committee can be definitely compared with the recently appointed Parliamentary Committee to investigate events/circumstances leading to bankruptcy) The President’s move made a mockery of the whole justice process. It should be emphasized that the Catholic Church openly backed Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s campaign as it quite justifiably believed he would ensure an impartial investigation and bring those responsible before the law. President Rajapaksa offered to make changes to the composition of the committee if the Church wanted. But the Church assured it was satisfied with the commission.

The Rajapaksa government simply ignored the Presidential Commission findings as it didn’t want to upset political relationships. The writer’s comment shouldn’t be construed as the response of a Catholic. The failure to bring those responsible to justice would remain a permanent black mark on all political parties currently represented in Parliament as well as past and present Presidents. Let me remind them again. Nearly 280 men, women and children perished in churches and hotels. Nearly 500 others suffered injuries and some of them were maimed for life. Interestingly, in the Easter Sunday case, not only some interest parties here, even the Geneva Human Rights Commission, in a way, took a considerate view of Hejaaz Hisbullah arrested in connection with his alleged involvement with those involved in the Easter Sunday killings. The worst single post-war carnage must be investigated and any effort to downplay it condemned.

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