SPECIAL REPORT : Part 290October 1, 2019, 7:57 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa received UNP nomination as its 2019 presidential candidate at the expense of a civil society grouping that had campaigned against him. Premadasa simply ignored the civil society project meant to bring in Speaker Karu Jayasuriya as the national candidate. The move divided the civil society to a certain extent, due to some backing Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe as the presidential candidate.
The National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) and the Purawesi Balaya (PB) preferred Karu Jayasuriya. They, of the civil society pursued a controversial strategy that promoted Jayasuriya, at the expense of Wickremesinghe. In line with their overall strategy, a survey conducted by Senior Fulbright Fellow and former faculty member of the Department of Sociology of the Peradeniya University, Dr. Sisira Pinnawala questioned the very basis of Premadasa’s candidature. Dr. Pinnawala, released the outcome of his survey at the NMSJ’s Rajagiriya office.
NMSJ survey goes awry
Dr. Pinnawala’s research contained a sample size of 1,675 voters, with the entire vote base divided into 10 geographical sub-groups.
The NMSJ survey conveniently left out UNP leader Wickremesinghe. Premier Wickremesinghe hasn’t been among the four candidates examined by Dr. Pinnawala. The academic based his report on voters’ reaction to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Sajith Premadasa and Karu Jayasuriya. The study, according to the report, was meant to test the popularity of the four candidates. Prof. Pinnawela briefed the media, on Sept 10, at the NMSJ’s Rajagiriya office, though it was available to the writer on August 19.
Jayasuriya led in seven out of the 10 sub-groups, polled in Dr. Pinnawala’s research. Premadasa polled well in four out of 10 sub-groups.
The survey was conducted, using telephone interviews, with voters in Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, and Christian majority areas.
The survey was based on key assumptions: (a) that the SLFP will not field a candidate (b) that the UNP will not be divided over its candidate and back a single candidate, and (c) that the minority parties, and especially the Tamil National Alliance, will not field a candidate.
The survey, according to Dr. Pinnawela, proved that Sajith Premadasa cannot defeat Gotabaya Rajapaksa, under any circumstances, whereas Karu Jayasuriya can certainly defeat the wartime Defence Secretary. In a contest between Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Karu Jayasuriya, in 10 sub group areas, Karu Jayasuriya leads in seven sectors. In a contest between Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sajith Premadasa, the latter leads in four areas, though the percentage of voters, the UNP Deputy Leader is likely to receive, is definitely much lower than Karu Jayasuriya. Dr. Pinnawela asserted that Sajith Premadasa is likely to lose to Gotabaya Rajapaksa as he didn’t get the attention received by Gotabaya Rajapaksa from professionals.
Dr. Pinnawela also declared that Karu Jayasuriya could attract the Sinhala Buddhist vote, thereby enabling him to challenge strongly Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s perceived superiority among the Sinhala Buddhist vote bank. Many an eyebrow was raised over Dr. Pinnawela’s assertion that Karu Jayasuriya enjoyed, what he called, Sinhala Buddhist image, than Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.
The survey suggested that JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake can cause similar damage to the UNP and SLPP candidates, even if the SLFP joined the SLPP, as all its voters are not likely to exercise their franchise in support of the latter and finally Premadasa’s nomination can benefit the JVP leader.
Sajith receives benefit of civil society initiative
Obviously, the civil society project has failed to achieve its desired objective. Instead, Sajith Premadasa, with the support of the majority of the parliamentary group, overwhelmed those who campaigned against him. The civil society suffered a huge setback. Having declared that he wouldn’t under, any circumstances, give into various demands put forwarded by interested parties, Sajith Premadasa is unlikely to reach a consensus on civil society proposals to secure its support. However, the civil society has no option but to campaign against SLPP candidate, wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who remains their primary target.
The civil society played a significant role in the UNP-led campaign that thwarted war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s bid to secure a third term. The civil society grouping courageously fought President Maithripala Sirisena’s constitutional coup, in late Oct 2018. Having worked closely with Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, during the constitutional crisis, the civil society threw its weight behind the Speaker though its project to secure presidential candidacy for the Gampaha district MP failed.
The civil society, until the very last moment, believed Karu Jayasuriya could implement four key promises - (a) abolition of the executive presidency (b) devolution of power to solve the national problem (c) revival of the constitution making process and (d) electoral reforms made by the UNP-led political grouping in the run-up to the last presidential poll.
In spite of failing to secure presidential nomination for Karu Jayasuriya, the civil society is going ahead with its campaign targeting Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The civil society has now challenged Gotabaya Rajapaksa over him receiving Sri Lanka citizenship, in 2005, after having obtained US citizenship, as well as issuance of a National Identity Card (NIC) and Sri Lanka passport to him this year.
Purawesi Balaya activist Gamini Viyangoda and Prof. Chandragupta Thenuwara recently moved the Court of Appeal against Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the wake of the SLPP paying the required deposit on behalf of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam paid the deposit on behalf of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Responding to The Island query, Viyangoda explained as to why he along with Prof. Thenuwara objected Gotabaya Rajapaksa contesting Nov 16, 2019 presidential election after having secured dual citizenship in 2005 and a NIC and a Sri Lankan passport, in 2019, through fraudulent means, he alleged. Viyangoda pointed out that both the Immigration and Emigration Department and the Defence Ministry denied having records pertaining to Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s dual citizenship. Referring to the ongoing proceedings before the Colombo Chief Magistrate court in this regard, Viyangoda said they also petitioned the Court of Appeal. The case will be heard by a three-member bench today (Oct 02).
Viyangoda’s contention is that Gotabaya Rajapaksa remained a US citizen as the procedures followed in issuing dual citizenship, in 2005, and NIC and Sri Lanka passport, in 2019, were contrary to the laid down processes. The civil society leaders, in their writ petition, expressed grave concern over a non-citizen contesting the presidential election. They claim Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be prevented from contesting the presidency as he remains a US citizen. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution prevents dual citizens from contesting both presidential and parliamentary polls.
In spite of failing to bring in Karu Jayasuriya as the presidential candidate at the expense of Sajith Premadasa, the civil society is taking on Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Whatever the differences between the civil society and Sajith Premadasa, the latter is the direct beneficiary of the legal action initiation by Viyangoda and Prof. Thenuwara. Interestingly, Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, over the weekend, publicly alleged the role played by Public Administration Minister Vajira Abeywardena in facilitating the issuance of NIC and Sri Lanka passport. Dr. Senaratne, having blamed colleague Abeywardena for cooperating with Gotabaya Rajapaksa expressed confidence they could take advantage of the situation.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s camp, recently, brought in former Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva to counter the civil society move. President’s Counsel Silva, who had vigorously campaigned against Mahinda Rajapaksa, at both the 2010 and 2015 presidential polls, flayed the civil society for seeking to derail Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s bid. Sarath Nanda Silva was joined by former Principal of the Law College, Dr. W.D. Rodrigo and attorneys-at-law, Kalyananda Thiranagama and Raja Gooneratne, in countering what they called a despicable civil society move.
Viyangoda is of the view that Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be disqualified from contesting the Nov 16, 2019 presidential poll.
PC Sarath Nanda Silva led team asserted that various moves to undermine Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s candidature should be examined against the backdrop of no less a person than now interdicted Solicitor General Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe’s admission that the government interfered in high profile investigations, including the Avant Garde Maritime Services (AGMS) case. Wickramasinghe is now on record as having said that the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) pursued Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the behest of the current dispensation.
Second Army Chief to seek President’s Office
Retired General Mahesh Senanayake became the second retired Army Commander to seek President’s Office at the Nov 16, 2019 poll. War-winning Army Chief Sarath Fonseka was the first to seek the highest office. Backed by a UNP-led coalition, comprising the TNA, JVP and SLMC, Fonseka contested on the New Democratic Front (NDF) with ‘swan’ as its symbol. The National People’s Movement (NPM) and allied civil organizations declared their intention to field Mahesh Senanayake as its candidate though the registered political party through which one-time Special Forces officer would contest, remains confidential. One-time Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe and Dr. Ajith Colonne, a renowned professional, who had served as a Deputy Director of the Internal Intelligence (now known as State Intelligence Service) during the Rajapaksa administration, spearheaded meticulous project to field a candidate. Colonne had been the Advisor on Military Intelligence Analysis at the Defence Ministry. Mahesh Senanayake received the approval after the NPM examined the eligibility of several prospective candidates. The high profile role played by Mahesh Senanayake, in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Sunday carnage, certainly gave him an advantage over those who expected NPM backing. Both the SLPP and the UNP were quite surprised by the NPM move. The NPM made its move after having consulted those opposed to the candidates fielded by the SLPP and the UNP-led coalition. JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and now suspended attorney-at-law Nagananda Kodituwakku had been among those consulted by the NPM. The JVP received the backing of the National People’s Power (MPP) to field its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake. Mahesh Senanayake’s bid highlighted the rapid deterioration in the parliamentary system of governance. Senanayake declared that he was not surrounded by thieves and swindlers. Had Mahesh Senanayake bothered to receive a comprehensive briefing from much respected former public servant Gamini Wijesinghe, he wouldn’t want any of those lawmakers in the current parliament in his campaign. Former Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s declaration that the parliament is the most corrupt institution in the country reflects the actual situation. Once Gamini Wijesinghe, in conversation with the writer, compared the public funds in Sri Lanka with a purse full of money dropped on the road. Anyone could pick the purse, Wijesinghe declared. This was in the immediate aftermath of Derana naming Wijesinghe as the Sri Lankan of the Year in Sept. 2017.
Special Forces officer Senanayake received the appointment as the Commander of the Army, in July 2017. Senanayake succeeded Crishanthe de Silva of the Engineers Regiment.
Senanayake fled the country soon after Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s failed bid to dislodge Mahinda Rajapaksa. Fonseka lost by 1.8 mn votes. On the day, Senanayake received the command, he declared that he sought refuge overseas for his protection. The writer was present at the first briefing given by Senanayake.
Emphasizing that his decision had been influenced by threats to his security, the Army Chief said that he was not involved in politics therefore: "I was never a political victim." A smiling Senanayake described himself as a victim of circumstances.
Having fled the country, Senanayake returned soon after Maithripala Sirisena ousted twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January 2015 presidential poll. On his return, Senanayake received an appointment as the Military Secretary before being named Jaffna Security Forces Commander, in 2016. Senanayake received appointment as the Chief of Staff in March 2017. In July 2017, Senanayake received the command. Senanayake retired on Sept. 20, 2020.
Senanayake received the command in spite of being out of the service for five years. Travis Sinniah, too, received the same opportunity after having quit the Navy during the previous administration.
During Senanayake’s tenure as the Commander of the Army, the outspoken officer publicly clashed with Field Marshal Fonseka on several occasions over contentious matters. The former didn’t succumb to Fonseka.
After the Easter Sunday suicide bombing spree, Senanayake received heavy media coverage for frankly speaking on the lapses on the part of the security establishment. Senanayake caused quite a bit of a crisis in the UNP by revealing that Commerce and Industries Minister Rishad Bathiudeen had intervened on behalf of a suspect taken in by the Army over his alleged involvement with the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks.
Senanayake was among those officers who appeared before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) inquiring into the Easter attacks. Senanayake also gave evidence before the PSC in camera.
The upcoming Nov 16, 2019 presidential poll will be the third since the successful conclusion of the war against the LTTE in May 2009. The January 2010 first poll after the war resulted in Mahinda Rajapaksa securing a second term at the expense of war-winning Army Chief Sarath Fonseka. The Rajapaksas comfortably won the 2010 parliamentary poll. The second presidential poll, after the war, resulted in wartime SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena thwarting Mahinda Rajapaksa securing an unprecedented third term. The Rajapaksas amended the Constitution to clear the way for Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest for a third term. There hadn’t been any serious third candidate at the 2010 and 2015 presidential poll though 2019 there are so far two serious contenders - Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Mahesh Senanayake. Among the candidates are two senior former military officers, Senanayake and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fought in Eelam War I and II and widely respected for his role as the Commanding Officer of the celebrated I GR (First battalion of the Gajaba Regiment). Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the second person to seek the highest office after having survived an LTTE suicide attack. The LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate the then Defence Secretary on Dec 01, 2006, at the onset of Eelam War IV. The then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka was the first to seek presidency after having survived an LTTE suicide attack. The LTTE made an attempt on Fonseka’s life on April 25, 2006. The bottom line is if the LTTE succeeded in killing them or at least one of them, the LTTE still would have been the primary factor in deciding a presidential poll outcome. That is the bitter truth. Unfortunately, the truth is beyond the understanding of our leaders, lawmakers.