Tuesday, 4 August 2015

General Election 2015: Switching allegiance easy...




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Asanga, son of slain UNP loyalist, Ossie Abeygoonasekera, had been the executive director of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS) during the previous administration.

Asanga Abeygoonasekera held several other state sector appointments, during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure as the president (2005-2014).

Rajapaksa’s defeat, at the January 8, 2015 presidential election, deprived Asanga of his LKIIRSS appointment. Had the then president secured a third term, Asanga wouldn’t have had to switch allegiance to the UNP-led caretaker government. A member of the Insurance Board of Sri Lanka, Asanga received the UNP ticket to contest the August 17 parliamentary polls. He is now in the fray in the Gampaha District to secure a place among 18 successful candidates.

Having contested the 1988 presidential election under the Mahajana Party ticket, Ossie, joined the UNP. Abeygoonasekera campaigned for UNP presidential candidate, Gamini Dissanayake, at the 1994 poll. An LTTE suicide attack, on a UNP propaganda rally, at Thotalanga, Kotahena, on the night of October 24, 1994, claimed the lives of over 50 persons. Ossie was among the dead.

The UNP candidate’s assassination facilitated the then PA candidate Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s sweeping victory over Dissanayake’s widow, Srima.

During the tail end of the Rajapaksa’s presidency, Asanga earned the wrath of the External Affairs Ministry for expressing opinion which the ministry considered contrary to the then state policy.

With the electorate, largely being divided into two groups, led by war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa (Kurunegala District UPFA candidate) and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (Colombo District UNP candidate) the outcome of the August 17 parliamentary polls will decide the fate of the much touted ‘January 8 revolution.’

Maithripala Sirisena has thrown his ‘presidential weight’ behind the UNP by urging the electorate to choose those who are sure to support the ‘January 8 revolution’, whereas the Rajapaksa Camp was vowing a counter revolution. Twice-President Rajapaksa has declared, in no uncertain terms, that he would recommence the development drive suspended by the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration.

Asanga Abeygoonasekera has chosen the UNP to make his first bid to enter parliament, thereby pledging support to the ‘January 8’ revolution.

UPFA’s declaration that Mahinda Rajapaksa is its prime ministerial candidate, regardless of President Maithripala Sirisena’s strong opposition, has facilitated Premier Wickremesinghe’s efforts to form a broad coalition meant to rally around those who contributed to Maithripala Sirisena’s victory.

In spite of UNPers expressing confidence of a comfortable victory, at the forthcoming polls, in the wake of civil society organizations pledging their support to Premier Wickremesinghe, the UPFA is confident of retaining a staggering 5.8 mn votes received by Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January 8 presidential poll.

With the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the JVP as well as Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka’s Democratic Party (DP) going it alone, at the August 17 general election, after having contributed significantly to Maithripala Sirisena’s 6.2 mn votes, the UNP will need a post-August 17 understanding with them to protect the ‘January 8 revolution.’ The JHU is contesting on the UNP ticket, whereas the SLMC is fielding candidates, also on UNP nomination lists. However, the SLMC is going it alone, in the Vanni and Batticaloa electoral districts. The SLMC and the JHU fielded 10 and 8 candidates, on the UNP ticket, respectively.

Whatever the circumstances, the Rajapaksa Camp is supremely confident of securing 14 electoral districts and more parliamentary seats than the UNP.

The much divided JVP is likely to emerge as the third force though the TNA will definitely obtain more seats than the Marxist party.

At the last parliamentary polls, in April 2010, the JVP contested on the Democratic National Alliance (DNA-symbol trophy) ticket. The DNA was in the fray, in the wake of General Sarath Fonseka’s heavy defeat at the January 2010 presidential poll. Under Fonseka’s leadership, the DNA managed to win just seven seats. The parliamentary group comprised Sarath Fonseka, Arjuna Ranatunga, businessman Tiran Alles and four JVPers, namely Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Vijitha Herath, Sunil Handunetti and Ajith Kumara. The previous government deprived Fonseka of his seat, in early Oct 2010, consequent to him being found guilty by a Court Martial, while Ranatunga and Alles quit over differences with Fonseka. Ajith Kumara deserted the JVP to join the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), one of the many factions of the JVP.

Jayantha Ketagoda, who filled Fonseka’s vacancy in the last parliament, as he contested the April 2010 general election on the DNA ticket, is in the fray, in Colombo, courtesy the UPFA. Ketagoda deprived Fonseka of an opportunity to re-enter parliament before its dissolution by refusing to give up his seat. Had he resigned, Fonseka could have returned to parliament soon after the presidential election in January.

Having accepted the SLFP Attanagalle organizer’s post, recently, on the invitation of twice-president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Ranatunga switched his allegiance to Premier Wickremesinghe, thereby earning a place in the UNP Gampaha District list, alongside Asanga Abeygoonasekera. Ranatunga’s move raised many an eyebrow due to the despicable UNP treatment of the Ranatungas in the 70s.

Tiran Alles, now battling the government, in court, over alleged misappropriation of funds, allocated to the Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA), during the previous government, is on the UPFA National List. Alles patched up with the Rajapaksas after having played a critical role in General Fonseka’s failed January 2010 presidential bid. In January, 2010, Alles’ Nawala residence came under an attack, prompting the businessman to allege he was targeted by the government. The then Opposition alleged that the Rajapaksas ordered the attack following the release of photographs of Namal Rajapaksa with an LTTE operative, identified as Emil Kanthan. Alles resolutely worked for the DNA campaign for the April, 2010 general election. Alles also negotiated, on behalf of Fonseka, ultimately leading to the war-winning Army Chief’s release, from Welikada.

Former DNA MP, Ajith Kumara, is in the fray, with the FSP headed by one-time JVP heavyweight, Premkumar Gunaratnam, a fugitive Australian passport holder. The writer exposed how Gunaratnam had secretly arrived, in Sri Lanka, in September, 2011, after having obtained an Australian passport (N 1016123) bearing the name, Noel Mudalige. Gunaratnam is on the National List of the FSP at the August 17 election.

The FSP fielded Duminda Nagamuwa at the last presidential election. The FSPer couldn’t even obtain 10,000 votes.

The main JVP breakaway faction, the National Freedom Front, is contesting on the UPFA ticket, while discarded JVPer, Anuruddha Polgampola, of the Alternative Group of the JVP, is working overtime for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign. After being in the wildness, for several years, Polgampola campaigned for Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January presidential poll. The JVP expelled him from the party, in September, 2008, on a charge of human smuggling. It was the only instance, a political party here sacked a member of parliament on disciplinary grounds. The SLFP and the UNP lacked the will to take punitive action against wrongdoers, though many were found to have violated laws, much more serious than human smuggling.

During the Norwegian-arranged Ceasefire Agreement (2002-2004), the UNP leadership forced Ali Zahir Moulana to quit his National List seat for facilitating then top LTTE commander, Karuna Amman, to flee Batticaloa. Moulana risked his life to save Karuna’s. The UPFA unceremoniously dropped Karuna, from its National List for the 2015 general election, after he ruled out joining the fray in the eastern Batticaloa district, once his stronghold. The Karuna affair caused irreparable damage to Moulana’s political career. However, the SLMC has accommodated Moulana as its chief candidate in the Batticaloa electoral district. Having first contested parliamentary election, on the SLFP ticket, way back in late 80s, Moulana contested the next poll, on the UNP ticket, and stayed with the party until kicked out in 2004. At the last presidential election, Moulana worked for Mahinda Rajapaksa, along with Batticaloa-based Arun Tambimuttu. The UPFA deprived Tambimuttu of an opportunity to contest the forthcoming election much, to the shock and anger of the community.

Former JVP leader, Somawansa Amarasinghe, leaving the party recently, is unlikely to affect Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s strategy. Amarasinghe’s pro-Maithripala Sirisena stance has isolated him with the JVP, dismissing him as a nuisance. One-time JVP presidential candidate, Mestiyage Don Nandana Gunatilleke, too, has ended up in the Kalutara District UNP list.

In spite of Wimal Weerawansa (National Freedom Front), Nandana Gunatilleke (UNP), Premkumar Gunaratnam/Noel Mudalige (Front line Socialist Party), Somawansa Amarasinghe (Janatha Seveka Party) and Anuruddha Polgampola (Alternative Group of the JVP) either going it alone, or backing some other party, the JVP has consolidated its position. The JVP has cleverly exploited the mega Central Bank bond scam to win over the electorate at the expense of the UNP. The UNP’s shocking reaction to the bond scam caused severe damage to its strategy, meant to portray former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as a corrupt leader. If not for the bond scam, the UNP would have been in a much better position. The UPFA is responsible for a spate of controversial transactions, ranging from the hedging deal to investments in loss - making Greek Government bonds. The UPFA demanding accountability on the part of the UNP seems ridiculous in the backdrop of its irresponsible approach towards transparency and accountability.

Although the JVP is certain to improve its tally, compared with the April, 2010, general election (just four seats on the DNA ticket), the party lacked the wherewithal to even come close to its superlative performance, in April 2004. The JVP secured 36 seats plus three National List slots, though it could have demanded five nominated slots in accordance with an agreement with the then SLFP leader, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. The JVP willingly gave up two slots to pave the way for SLFPers. The JVP will never be able to match its April 2004 feat.

Although Rishard Bathiudeen’s All Ceylon Muslim Congress (ACMC) hadn’t received much coverage in the Colombo media, he has fielded a strong team, on the UNP ticket. The ACMC has fielded six in the Vanni, four in Batticaloa, one each in Trincomalee, Puttalam, Kurunegala and Anuradhapura. The ACMC is going it alone in the Digamadulla electoral district.

Both the SLMC and the ACMC deserted Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the run-up to the last presidential election. They justified their action on the President’s failure to protest their interests, especially in the wake of the Aluthgama mayhem, caused by Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), in June 2014. The former President simply refused to rein in the BBS thus creating a platform for the Muslim community.

But in politics, there are no permanent friends, or enemies, but permanent interests. J. Sri Ranga securing a place among the 29-member UPFA National List is a case in point. General Secretary of the Citizens Front, Ranga contested the last parliamentary election, in April, 2010, on the UNP ticket. Having gained entry into parliament, the politician worked closely with the UPFA, much to the anger of the top UNP leadership. In the run-up to the January, 2015 presidential poll, ACMC leader Rishard Bathiudeen pounced on Ranga, in parliament, in a midnight fracas that brought out sordid operations going on in Temple Trees. While Ranga fielded an all-women team, in Nuwara Eliya, he himself secured a place in the UPFA list.

Among those who had been deprived of a UPFA National List slot was retired Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, undoubtedly Sri Lanka’s most successful navy chief. During the then Vice Admiral Karannagoda’s command, the navy achieved the unbeatable feat of sinking a record eight LTTE floating warehouses on the high seas. The US provided much needed vital intelligence, leading to the destruction of four vessels, including the largest of the eight operated by the LTTE, at that time. The navy shortened the war by depriving the LTTE of its long standing supply route which ensured continuous movement of arms, ammunition and equipment to northern Sri Lanka. In fact, Karannagoda is suitable to be accommodated in the National List of any major political party or fielded in any district. It’s a pity, such a retired officer whose distinguished post-war service in Tokyo did much to enhance relations between the two countries, cannot find a place in the UPFA National List. Perhaps, Karannagoda, having survived the LTTE, is lucky not to enter the ‘den of corruption.’

Former Chief Justice, Sarath Nanda Silva, Sri Lanka’s former envoy in Geneva, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke, as well as former UPFA National List MP Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, who caused heavy damage to the Rajapaksas in the run-up to the presidential election, are spearheading Mahinda Rajapaksa’s re-election bid as the Prime Minister. They caused immense damage to former President’s image, thereby undermining his presidential campaign. However, their return to the Rajapaksa’s Camp had greatly strengthened the project to bring-back-Mahinda, as Premier, for a second time. During the tail end of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term, former Chief Justice Sarath Nanda asked why the writer backed the Rajapaksas murderous war effort. Sarath Nanda Silva was reacting when he met the writer at a supermarket in Negombo.

With the next parliamentary election, less than two weeks away, political parties, as well as various individuals, must be readying for the next round of cross overs and post-election alignment. With no constitutional bar in place, to thwart crossovers, the electorate should be ready to witness some sordid happenings, both in and outside the next parliament.

Sri Lankans have perfected the art of switching allegiance for personal benefits. They’ll justify such appalling conduct, claiming they only wanted to strengthen the incumbent leader.