Friday 15th September, 2023
Nobody dared trifle with Gotabaya Rajapaksa when he was the Defence Secretary. It was jokingly said then that he exercised 50% of President Mahinda Rjapaksa’s executive powers! Many a true word is said to be spoken in jest. Even senior Cabinet ministers used to bow and scrape before him. Never did any of them utter a word against him even behind his back. In 2019, everyone in the SLPP hitched his or her wagon to him, and came in from the cold to savour power again.
Today, the hero has become a villain, and the SLPP has sought to disown Gotabaya; everyone is heard badmouthing him. In fact, having laid all its sins on him, the SLPP is trying to banish him politically like the proverbial scapegoat in the hope that it will be able to hoodwink the public again, and make a comeback.
Former Minister S. M. Chandrasena, who used to touch his forelock to Gotabaya, has ridiculed the latter at a media briefing. In answer to a question from a journalist about media reports that the ousted President is planning to re-enter politics through a newly-formed political party, Chandrasena has said nothing will be more ludicrous than Gotabaya’s return to politics, given his pathetic failure as a President. The subtext of his claim is of interest.
The SLPP seems to think it can dupe the public into believing that only Gotabaya failed. But the general consensus is that the entire SLPP government was a failure. Hence the people’s call for the resignation of the SLPP administration, during last year’s popular uprising, which led to the ouster of Gotabaya. Neither the diehard Rajapaksa loyalists in the SLPP parliamentary group nor the SLPP dissidents can absolve themselves of the blame for the country’s multi-faceted crisis.
The SLPP finds itself in a dilemma. Unless it fields its own candidate at the next presidential election, it will end up being a mere ‘nameboard party’, and the Rajapaksas will lose their hold on it. Speculation is rife in political circles that the SLPP will be left with no alternative but to back incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe in the 2024 presidential race. But an influential faction of the SLPP wants a member of the Rajapaksa family to run for President, and is undermining President Wickremesinghe’s position in the government.
The SLPP has become a metaphor for corruption, and all its parliamentary group members, save a few, stand accused of various corrupt deals and abuse of power. Above all, all of them failed to carry out their legislative duties and functions properly. If they had kept a watchful eye on the economy and called for remedial action at the first signs of the current crisis, the country would not have faced bankruptcy.
Instead, they disregarded the early warnings of the impending economic crisis and expert advice, and waited until the depletion of the country’s foreign exchange reserves to voice their protest. They are now claiming that nobody informed them that the economy was nosediving! They also backed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ill-conceived policies and programmes. Chandrasena, as the Minister of Land, defended Gotabaya’s disastrous organic farming experiment. None of them dared protest against the corrupt deals in almost all sectors.
The entire SLPP benefited from the slush funds of the racketeers responsible for the sugar tax scam, which caused huge losses amounting to billions of rupees to the state coffers. One of these racketeers bankrolled the events held by Viyathmaga, an organisation of self-proclaimed intellectuals, who promoted Gotabaya as a national leader and received various government positions after the 2019 regime change. Besides, almost all the crooks who brought about the collapse of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government in 2015 are currently in the SLPP.
It is only wishful thinking that the SLPP will be able to dupe the public again and recover lost ground by throwing Gotabaya to the wolves, as it were.