A Most Important Election Indeed!: Double Shuffle Duping
By Shivanthi Ranasinghe
The much awaited General Elections is before us. We have a new set up in the sense that the two traditional main parties have each split up into two factions. The UNP breakaway faction is the Samagi Jana Balawegaya. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party which transformed to the United People’s Front Alliance by combining with a number of satellite parties split up five years ago. Subsequently the UPFA breakaway faction reconciled forming a new party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, under the Pohottuwa symbol.
Yet, it is an uneasy truce. Some members like Prasanna Ranatunga and Roshan Ranasinghe openly ask voters not to caste a preference to those who betrayed the party and country. Their bitterness is clearly visible, both having stood fast against the Yahapalana Government and even risked persecution.
This appeal is not made in the vain attempt to gain preferential votes over each other in the same camp. The resentment is palatable against those who have now meekly crawled over to the Pohottuwa to protect their own political career. It is however up to the voter to decide whether the time is right to put a stop to these opportunistic politicians, who jump from one end to the other for self serving purposes and in the process jeopardise the entire country.
Conning the voter
The UNP split is still fresh and therefore the two factions seem too angry with each other to see eye-to-eye over anything ever again. Udaya Gammanpila however believes that this is simply an act to deceive the voters. The hardcore UNP had been long disillusioned by Ranil Wickremesinghe, especially for his alleged role in the infamous Central Bank bond scams. However, some of the voters may still prefer Wickremesinghe to Sajith Premadasa, who comes across as shockingly immature and very silly. Therefore, according to Gammanpila, this so-called split is simply a gimmick for Premadasa to garner votes that will not come Wickremesinghe’s way and vice verse. Either way, the voter is being entertained by the quarrels between the four factions of the two parties. This only serves to highlight the immature nature of Sri Lankan politics. Rather than articulating their vision, policies and plans of implementation, each of these politicians are attacking their opponents in a bid to discredit them.
However, there is a difference between the infighting within the Pohottuwa and the cat fight between the UNP and the SJB. The likes of Ranatunga and Ranasinghe can afford to denounce the newly joined once erstwhile members for they are standing on the moral high ground of never having strengthened the Yahapalana hand. Therefore, they are innocent of all the transgressions committed by the Yahapalana Government from which the country is still reeling. In fact they played a decisive role to roll back the Yahapalana carpet.
Birds of a feather
On the other hand, neither the UNP nor the SJB have that luxury as both these factions can never absolve themselves from the sins committed during the Yahapalana Government. Wickremesinghe pointed out that those who are standing with Premadasa to the likes of Patali Ranawaka, Rishard Bathuideen, Rauf Hakeem and Mano Ganesan are not from the UNP, how then does Premadasa claim the hardcore UNP are with him, is Wickremesinghe’s rhetoric question. However, it was none other than Wickremesinghe who allowed these politicians to assume the UNP garb. Having allowed them to grow on UNP soil for years, having depended on them for UNP’s survival, it is now difficult to dissociate them from the UNP. The only reason for Wickremesinghe to remember they are not part of the traditional party is because they are not standing with him now, but with his biggest rival.
Sajith Premadasa never lets his audience forget that none of the bank robbers are with his party. However, this hardly exonerates Premadasa or those in the SJB from the crime. The reason being, they never objected to it while they were together. Today, Premadasa’s proud lieutenants are Bathuideen and Hakeem - both accused of assisting the Easter Sunday bombers. Had they not joined SJB, no doubt Premadasa would boast that his clean party is not entertaining any of the terrorists or extremists.
Premadasa especially cannot absolve himself from the bond scam scandals. In October 2018, Maithripala Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe from the premiership. One of the reasons that led to this sacking was apparently this crime, though the scams took place in 2015 and 2016 and no discernible action was taken against it. With the sacking of Wickremesinghe, the Yahapalana Government toppled.
Takes two to Tango
However, proponents of the Yahapalana Government quickly rallied the troops and had Wickremesinghe reinstated. Premadasa was among those who celebrated it the most. During the drama it came to light that Sirisena had offered the premiership to Premadasa a number of times but each time he protected Wickremesinghe’s position. He had not even been diplomatic in his efforts. Sirisena recalled the embarrassment he had to face when Premadasa double crossed him and exposed his intent to Wickremesinghe without giving Sirisena any prior warning.
Therefore, it is not possible for Premadasa to now dissociate himself from the crime. It is interesting how he conveniently ignores this while those who committed the crime might not be with him, those who tried to whitewash it have followed him to form his new party. They are known as the “Footnote Kalliya (gang)”.
Sujeeva Serasinghe even wrote a book to say that no wrong doing was committed. He was only somewhat silenced when it came to light that one of the main culprits, Arjun Aloysius has paid him a number of large payments. Though the revelation submerged almost immediately after surfacing, the fact remains that Serasinghe too benefited from the crime. It was not only Serasinghe who thus benefitted. It is still not clear the reason for the 2016 bond scams to take place. However, the purported motive for the scams in 2015 was allegedly to fund the then upcoming 2015 General Elections.
The UNP then floated the theory that after 20 years in the Opposition the Party was badly placed financially. Therefore to finance the 2015 Presidential Election they had to scrape their coffers and could not afford the impending General Election. It was a simple and plausible explanation. It was an open secret that the UNP headquarters, Sirikotha, was struggling to pay even their utility bills. This served to stop further speculation to the motive behind the scams.
US taxpayers’ USD 300 M
However, this explanation is a tad difficult to accept for two reasons. The first because it does not explain the reason why the 2016 bond scam took place and the second being the regime change engineered in 2015 was very well funded by foreign Governments. According to a slip made by then US State Secretary John Kerry, the US spent at least USD 300 million of the American taxpayers’ money to install the Yahapalana Government.
This then begets the question “why was the Central Bank robbed twice within 13 months?” The answer lies with the results of the bond scams. Unlike in other corruptions where the effect of the fraud is just once, here the effect continues to increase throughout the bond’s lifespan. Thus, the interest rates that originally were in single digits immediately shot to two digits. A country’s interest rate is the indicator for a lender to decide crucial information. A high interest rate means that the country’s repayment capacity might be lower. This means, lenders would insist on shorter repayment durations. Higher interests would also deter investors. Thus the bond scams were an effective way to sabotage Sri Lanka’s national economy.
Whether it was to the fund the General Election or to sabotage the economy the point is that Premadasa never did protest. Instead, he valiantly played his part to protect the Yahapalana Government. The only reason he now attempts to distance himself from the crime is for self preservation. In a sense, this Election is a most challenging one. Sri Lanka is unwittingly caught in the vortex of perhaps the largest geopolitical struggle for regional dominance. The only way to safeguard our sovereignty is to strengthen our economy. Therefore, the voter should not let the petty accusations politicians are hurling against each other distract them from the real threats that are before Sri Lanka. The voter must thus identify who will and will not allow Sri Lanka to be manipulated for the benefit of foreign nations.