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Enter Gotabhaya?

| by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“If the President tells me at some point, ‘You must do politics; the country needs your services,’ I will have to do politics
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (Deshaya - 1.6.2014)

( June 5, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Rajapaksa colossus has a colossal weak-point, which, under certain circumstances, can bring down the entire edifice.

The Prime Minister is not a Rajapaksa.

According to Lankan constitution, if the President dies or becomes incapacitated, the Prime Minister becomes the acting president. Within a month, “Parliament shall elect as the President one of its members who is qualified” via a secret ballot.

That was how a smooth transfer of power was assured when the Tigers assassinated President Premadasa.

Death is the great unpredictable. Mahinda Rajapaksa, like anyone of us, may live for decades or die the next second. And if he dies/becomes incapacitated while in office his presidential-shoes will be filled by the prime minister.

Therefore the post of PM is crucial for the success of the Rajapaksa project. The Constitution can ensure a smooth and peaceful transition of power. But only a Rajapaksa prime minister can ensure a smooth and peaceful transition of power, en famille.

Appointing a sibling as the Speaker closed the door to an impeachment against the President (and facilitated the illegal impeachment of the Chief Justice). Appointing a sibling as the PM will ensure that power stays within the family, when Mahinda Rajapaksa dies, someday.

The Rajapaksas would know that no one can be more disloyal than a loyalist or more disobedient than an acolyte, when conditions change. Only the family can be trusted.

The SLFP is still not a Rajapaksa party. These discontents are unlikely to remain dormant so long as Mahinda Rajapaksa is president. But if he dies/becomes incapacitated while in office, it does not need oracular powers to predict that the SLFP will move swiftly to ensure that the new president is not a Rajapaksa.

Unless the prime minister is a Rajapaksa.

There is an age limit to be the President. Consequently Namal Rajapaksa will not be qualified to fill his father’s shoes for another seven years. In any case primogeniture was never a hard-and-fast rule in ancient Lanka, as it was in Europe.

The only real question therefore is, which brother?

The planned entry of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa into electoral politics would be a key component of the strategy to perpetuate all power in familial hands.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s comment to the new paper, Deshaya, is manifestly an attempt to break the news ‘gently’ to the SLFP and the country.

Soon the next episode of the ‘Rajapaksa Dynasty’ will be staged. Mahinda Rajapaksa will ask Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to contest. And Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, like the obedient younger brother he is, will agree.

Over the last several years, there were many rumours of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa entering electoral-politics. Every time the rumour was unequivocally denied by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Now, with national elections in the offing, the time to play coy is over.

Mr. Rajapaksa says he will be contesting from Colombo.

His illogical ‘beautification-drive’ makes excellent politico-electoral sense in this context. Never mind that today Colombo is far more prone to flooding than it was before Mr. Rajapaksa began his beautification-drive. Last Sunday, the ‘Garden City’ became ‘The City of many Lakes’. Tiled pavements and walkways sans proper drainage cannot prevent flooding. Residents of Colombo and the immediate suburbs are beginning to see the light, as demonstrated by the marked drop in the UPFA’s vote. But by evicting Colombo’s low-income families under cover of beautification, Mr. Rajapaksa has removed a critical chunk of the anti-Rajapaksa vote base.

Once elections are over, with Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in parliament, the task of appointing a Rajapaksa as the PM will become easier. Once that final hole is sealed, the continuation of Rajapaksa power will be assured.

It will be, ‘President Rajapaksa is dead! Long live President Rajapaksa!’

The Final Chance

The Rajapaksas have forewarned. The opposition should be forearmed.

The planned entry of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa into electoral politics changes everything. What was once speculation is now a certitude. The Rajapaksas plan to rule, ad infinitum.

Given the state of the economy and Indian/regional/international conditions, Sri Lanka cannot afford continuous Rajapaksa rule. And the last chance to prevent that calamity will come and go with the next round of national elections.

The ideal outcome will be the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa at the presidential election. For that, a common oppositional candidate is a necessary condition. That possibility seems almost impossible currently. Sans a common candidate, even the next best outcome is likely to be impossible – preventing Mahinda Rajapaksa from obtaining 50% +1 vote.

If the presidential election is lost, the only other avenue of escape is to prevent the Rajapaksas from gaining a parliamentary majority. A hung-parliament will place some obstacles on the Rajapaksa path. But a hung-parliament will not be, without a united and strong opposition. If Mahinda Rajapaksa wins an outright victory at the presidential election, the opposition will go into crisis. The disastrous leadership tussle will re-emerge in the UNP. The fragmented opposition will be too busy wrangling with each other for oppositional votes to mount a serious challenge to the Rajapaksas at the parliamentary election.

Once they have secured the premiership, the Rajapaksas will move fast to neutralise other disloyal/dissenting spaces, starting with the SLFP. SLFP seniors and ambitious juniors will have to resign themselves to a lifetime of servitude and humiliation.

The Rajapaksa project was never a personal project; it was always a familial project. The greatest strength of the Rajapaksas is the family – the fact that they act like a single unit. This is especially so with the brothers. There may be differences among them, but these differences cannot be exploited because they are not political or electoral factors.

This is the time to reread two illuminating analyses of the Rajapaksas and their modus operandi. Lasantha Wickremetung warned of their ‘good-cop/bad-cop’ routine: “The Defence Secretary will personally call an editor and threaten arrest or even assassination. The President will then follow up by saying not to worry; he will look into the matter.” 

American Ambassador Robert O Blake’s analysis is even more perceptive: “The President is often reluctant to make decisions….particularly on important issues. Sometimes he avoids decision making altogether by delegating many responsibilities to Gothabaya or Basil, allowing him to avoid blame for unpopular decisions….. The relationship between the President and his brothers, obviously, is a family one as well as a political one…. one of their biggest roles is to provide political cover to the President. The President often has Gothabaya and Basil take credit for decisions so he can appear less involved in actions that earn the GSL criticism at home and abroad.”

The larger Lankan crisis did not start with the Rajapaksas. Therefore it cannot be ended by ousting the Rajapaksas. But ending Rajapaksa rule is the essential and first pre-condition for ending the Lankan crisis.

If we fail, the Rajapaksas will ruin the economy and isolate Sri Lanka by diminishing her into a Chinese pawn. To render their Leviathan necessary, they will promote ethno-religious conflicts and make society ‘nasty, brutish’ and insecure. “A world of terror and a world of triumph” will be their weapon-cum-shield and our fate.

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