The unraveling of Chinthana alliances

By Dr.Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

The electoral alliances Mahinda Rajapakse forged to win the presidency are unraveling faster than expected. The relationship with the JHU and the commitment to the unitary state apart, the key personalities associated with the Rajapakse presidential campaign — Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi — having been sacked from their ministerial positions are now reportedly to join the throng of complainants to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) on account of inadequate security.

Deja vu

There are those who have an overpowering sense of deja vu with regard to all of this — reminiscing about the Premadasa era and the creation of the DUNF.

History repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce. The President’s over-arching consideration of regime consolidation seems to be threatened not so much on the battlefields of the north and east or by the claymore mines and ‘traitors’ in society in general, but rather by erstwhile allies in his cabinet, in his own backyard.

Nothing can be taken for granted and it is likely that the more he tries to stamp his authority with decisive action like the sacking of ministers, the more he will fuel the threats to the consolidation of his regime. Whilst he cannot ignore challenges to his authority, impulsive action may be his undoing.

It gives the impression of one who though so preoccupied by the goal of regime consolidation is nevertheless undermined in the attainment of it because of political immaturity and the ghosts of the past. Mahinda Rajapakse is Mahinda Rajapakse as he has said on more than one occasion — he is not S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Sirima Bandaranaike or Chandrika Kumaratunga.

This is a point he feels he needs to make and make unequivocally — that the old order has passed even though it shows little willingness of yielding place to the new. This is the message he wants to communicate loud and clear. The way he does this however, may lead to him having to reassure, as much or more clearly and loudly, that he is no Ranasinghe Premadasa either.

Threat to the Rajapakse regime

Mangala Samaraweera of course is the threat to Rajapakse regime consolidation personified. He gets on with the JVP and how, ex-President Kumaratunga and how. He is a good political organiser and operator as the President knows only too well and has the reputation of being one of the very few PA ministers who could and did get a job done.

And in the socio-political milieu of Sri Lanka he can slip very easily into the Athulathmudali/Dissanayake role as the counterpoint to the aesthetic and other distaste for the current dispensation.

Samaraweera traverses the spectrum of political and social constituencies from Matara to Colombo. And given his Shastri lecture, he is making a stab at projecting himself as a ‘thinking’ politician, ready, willing and eager to galvanise the ‘liberal’ forces in the Sri Lankan polity along the route of the ‘third way’ a la Giddens. As to what his JVP sahodharayas think about him positioning himself as a local Blair or Clinton would be interesting.

Mahinda Rajapakse has to slip up badly for Mangala Samaraweera to inherit. And it looks like the former will do his best to ensure that the latter is history, before this could happen. President Rajapakse does not seem like the forgiving type; quite the contrary.


Forgiveness may be possible if it is preceded by humiliation and humility. Samaraweera may not oblige on either score; victimisation and martyrdom have done wonders for less promising political careers. Already, with the stroke of a pen, Rajapakse has plummeted Samaraweera to the position of the leader of dissent and potentially, of the future.

The personalities and the balance of power and probabilities between them aside, there is that little matter of what they stand for and what they could deliver. President Rajapakse has yet to prove Velupillai Pirapaharan and quite a few others wrong, as far as his understanding of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka is concerned.

It is no surprise that the JHU is by his side — this is not a matter of mere political survival but also a demonstration of ideological affinity. Samaraweera on the other hand, his current ‘third way’ pretensions notwithstanding, has run with the hare and hunted with the hounds in the past.

As President Kumaratunga’s chief lieutenant he declared that the Sinhala Commission report be consigned to the dustbin of history and spearheaded the Sudu Nelum Movement; as she changed, he changed with her chameleon-like and delivered his salmon-eating busy bodies barb against the long suffering Norwegians.

As presidential candidate Rajapakse’s key campaign organiser he presented himself as the JVP style true ‘patriot’ and son of the soil — deshapremi to his finger tips.

‘Third way’ Samaraweera

‘Third way’ Samaraweera may not now have the luxury of thinking of the challenges he may have to face if and when he ascends to the presidency. However, he must surely be aware that whilst he may need his JVP pals to get him there, once in office they will make his job of governing, difficult if not impossible, with regard to constitutional reform, peace and the economy.

Mangala Innocence may believe that they would have themselves reformed by then, through constant association with him or through some other route of Pauline conversion. Highly unlikely.

Strategic interest

In this respect, there is as always a perverse congruence of strategic interest between President Rajapakse and Samaraweera — that of cutting the JVP to size. The former can do it whilst the other bemoans the manner and method by which it is done, silently thankful for a great service done. Is it too fanciful to project into the future a situation in which Samaraweera will be hot-footing it to Geneva with files on human rights violations in the south? He is a founder of the Mothers Front and has already augmented his claim to be a human rights defender at present with the letter he wrote to President Rajapakse about disappearances every five hours.

The tragedy though, in respect of what has happened is that the key challenge of a political settlement to the ethnic conflict is untouched by all of this. Neither the UNP cross-overs or the sacked ministers have anything positive to contribute on this score and in the case of Samaraweera, political expedience and survival combine at the moment, to prevent an open departure from the JVP position and that championed by him in his incarnation as Rajapakse’s chief campaigner within the SLFP fold.

Power struggle

The power struggle in the southern polity has come to the fore yet again to push the key issue of peace into the background.

The President is not anywhere near as secure as he would like to be and the LTTE, we are told, is on the way out. Will Ranil Wickremesinghe now act and act boldly to lay out the agenda for a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka or is it the case that he is waiting for things to deteriorate further?

How much further? []

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Print this page