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sleepy 2Continued from Enemies of the President’s Promse: Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs – Sleepy 1

GL’s appointment as Minister of External Affairs in 2010 was generally welcomed. Bogollagama had lost the election, which made the President’s task easier since, given his complaisant approach to those who supported him, he would have found it awkward to replace Bogollagama. The only other serious candidate was Mahinda Samarasinghe, who had peformed well as Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights. The Sri Lankan Ambassador in Geneva, Dayan Jayatilleka, who had done a fantastic job in staving off moves against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council, had refused to deal with Bogollagama and instead insisted on the Minister of Human Rights being the main Ministerial presence at sessions of the Council.

Bogollagama however got his revenge soon after Jayatilleka’s greatest triumph, at a Special Session of the Council summoned on a largely British initiative to discuss Sri Lanka. This initiative, generally used only for emergencies, had succeeded only after the Tigers had been defeated. This was fortunate, since clearly the game plan had been to insist on a Cease Fire. Jayatilleka, who had extremely good relations with Sri Lanka’s natural allies, the Indians and the Pakistanis, Egypt as head of the Organization of Islamic States and Cuba as the head of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Chinese and the Russians, and the Brazilians and the South Africans, put forward his own resolution before the Europeans had got theirs ready, and this was carried with a resounding majority.

The ease of the victory, and the widespread perception in Sri Lanka that he was its architect, was his downfall. Samarasinghe was irritated in that his role was played down. Also upset was the Attorney General, Mohan Pieris, despite the fact that Jayatilleka had been instrumental in persuading the President to have him appointed. Pieris had come prepared to speak at the Session but, after Jayatileka made the opening statement, he got me to deliver the closing remarks, given that we had worked together on the Council very successfully, and knew which factors to emphasize. But this did not please the duo and they did nothing to defend Jayatilleka when the knives came out. Indeed they failed even to contact him when he returned to Sri Lanka.

Typically, the President was the first to get in touch, and try to use Jayatilleka’s services again: when the latter mentioned how disappointed he had been that no one had contacted him after he got back to Sri Lanka, the President said that was no surprise, after the manner in which he had been treated. The fact that the President himself had acquiesced in the dismissal was thus sublimely passed over.

It was less than two months after the resolution that Jayatilleka was summarily removed. The President may have been persuaded by the ease of the victory to the belief that any idiot could handle international relations, for that certainly is the view he and the government embodied over the next few years. It was also alleged however that the Israelis had moved heaven and earth to get rid of Jayatilleka, since his intellectual abilities had put him in the forefront of moves to bring the Palestinian issue to the attention of international fora. Unfortunately the Israelis had the ear of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and also of Lalith Weeratunge, both of whom actively promoted Jayatilleka’s dismissal.

He was replaced in Geneva by Kshenuka Seneviratne, who was perhaps the last official in the Ministry to represent the mindset of the eighties when, under Jayewardene and his Foreign Minister Hameed, it was assumed that Sri Lanka had to be firmly allied to the West. This also involved hostility to India, and Kshenuka certainly embodied this, and was found later to have actively tried to set the President against the Indians, after the 2012 March Geneva debacle when a resolution against Sri Lanka was carried at the Human Rights Council.

Kshenuka had been High Commissioner in London in the days when Britain was bitterly opposed to Sri Lanka but she had done little to counter this. She claimed on the strength of her time there to be an expert on the country, and when her successor, a retired judge, proved ineffective, she took charge of the President’s approach to Britain. Thus, late in 2010, she encouraged him to travel to Britain just to address the Oxford Union, something he had already done. The High Commissioner in London advised against this, as did his experienced Deputy from the Ministry, Pakeer Amza, but Kshenuka’s will prevailed.

She was strongly supported by Sajin Vas Gunawardena, whom the President chose as what was termed Monitoring Member of Parliament for the Ministry of External Affairs, on the grounds that administration there was a mess and someone was needed to sort things out. Sajin was a good friend of Namal’s, and GL naturally acquiesced in the appointment.  Sajin and Kshenuka got on extremely well, and they in effect ran foreign policy over the next few years. Read the rest of this entry »

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Perhaps the saddest influence on President Rajapaksa was his Foreign Minister, G L Peiris. There were two main reasons for this influence. One, commonly known, was the hold he had on the President’s eldest son, Namal, who had been elected to Parliament in 2010 and who saw himself as his father’s successor – a prospect made possible when, soon after that Parliament was elected, after a few crossovers from the opposition made a two thirds majority possible, the Constitution was changed to remove term limits with regard to the Presidency.

In principle this made sense, since otherwise the lame duck syndrome would have set in almost immediately. There would then have been internecine warfare between Basil, who had previously assumed he would succeed, and the old guard of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. This was inevitable given Basil’s political history, even though they had a healthy regard for Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had remained faithful to the party during the dark days when President Jayawardene was using all the powers of government to split and destroy it, and also when he was treated with disfavor, despite his seniority, by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

The latter had left the SLFP because of disagreements with her mother over the succession. When she felt sidelined in favour of her more right wing brother Anura, she set up her own left wing group together with her husband. Basil however, in the darkest days for the SLFP, had actually joined Jayewardene’s UNP. His elder brother indeed did not entirely trust him, but found him a hard worker and a capable strategist, and hardly ever spoke ill of him to others.

With Namal the situation was very different. The intensity of his dislike and perhaps nervousness with regard to Basil became clear when he attempted to get a group of young Members of Parliament to send a petition to the President requesting that GL be appointed Prime Minister. That post was held by a senior and very old member of the SLFP, D M Jayaratne, who seemed at death’s door a year or two after he was appointed. This led to the memorable quip by the President that he was the only senior member of the government who was praying for the man to live, whereas his colleagues were all dashing coconuts (a formula to invoke both blessings and curses) for his death. Members of the opposition indeed claimed, when the Prime Minister was in the United States for treatment it was doubted would be successful, that there had been seven aspirants for his post.

The most junior of these, but also closest to the President, were Basil and GL. Though the application of the latter seemed preposterous, Namal’s effort to dragoon support for him made it clear that his ambitions were not without hope of success.

His influence with Namal lay in the fact that he had coached him for his Bar Exams. The boy had been sent to university in England, but had dropped out. Though incapacity was alleged, it was more likely that he had been unable to resist returning to Sri Lanka when his father was elected President, and working towards a political career. His father, who had been mentored in his youth – having been elected to Parliament at the tender age of 24 in 1970 – by the then Secretary General of Parliament, one of the few from his home District of Hambantota to have received a good education in the days before the Second World War, had been encouraged to enter Law College and qualify as a barrister. He pushed his son into the same course, and the boy passed out before the 2010 General Election, albeit to claims that special arrangements had been made for him to take the examination. Read the rest of this entry »

 By D.B.S.JEYARAJ

Q:Although you say you do not perceive yourself as a “rebel” MP I am sure you must be aware of reports describing you as one. There have also been reports that you were to be moved out of Parliament on account of you being a “rebel”and that your  National list MP slot would be given to Mr. Rohitha Bogollagama. It was also said that Mr. Bogollagama would be appointed External Affairs minister thereafter. Is this a likely scenario?

I don’t think this is on the agenda of the government and, though I have been told by two senior members of government that Mr Bogollagama was behind the stories, I do not believe this for a moment. Though I do not know him intimately, we got on well when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs, and he was always prepared to listen on the few occasions on which I spoke to him on important issues. I should add that he called up out of the blue some months back to express his support for me when I had been attacked in a communiqué from the Foreign Ministry.

I would say then that these reports about Mr.Bogollagama replacing me  are another examples of the technique  of hitting out in all directions and hoping that new animosities can be created. I should add in fairness to Mr. Bogollagama that he was a very successful Foreign Minister and, though I thought that his replacement would do a better job, I was completely wrong.

DINESH
Q:   Given your stated disappointment with the current External Affairs Ministry I want to ask you about another related reference in this sphere. It was    reported  that you had requested an opportunity  to speak on the votes of the External Affairs  Ministry and  also informed  the  Chief Whip that you would be critical  of the Ministry. Thereafter the Chief whip Dinesh  Gunawardena  had reportedly  checked with the powers that be  and stopped you from speaking . Was this what happened?

That again is complete nonsense. I was told that speeches in the Third Reading would be given in terms of Committees of which one was a member, so the idea of speaking on External Affairs never occurred to me. I thought I would be speaking on Education, and I had also asked for the Child Development and Women’s Affairs, a Ministry with which I have been working a lot because of the requirements of the Human Rights Action Plan and because its Secretary was one of the most thoughtful and efficient persons I had come across in the Public Service.

But when I got back from the Conference on Indo-Sri Lankan Relations that I had attended during the last stages of the Second Reading of the Budget, I was told that I had been allocated Resettlement and External Affairs. I told the office of the Chief Government Whip that I would be happy to speak on the former, but I might be critical of the latter Ministry and he might like to reconsider. Since he told me that he had made the decision himself initially, because he thought I would be suitable for this, I had no doubt the decision would be changed, but a week passed before I was told the position, so I prepared speeches over the weekend – as I had done while in India for Education.

” I was also the only Parliamentarian to contribute to the journal that Parliament decided to publish, though perhaps for that reason, there has not been a second volume as yet. I believe the essays I have written on reforming Parliament, though they do not seem to have had an impact on my colleagues, will be useful when we finally all realize the need for constitutional reform “

Sure enough, on the day of the Resettlement debate, one day before the External Affairs debate, I was told that I would not be required to speak, but was also told that this was because there were already too many speakers. This was not at all surprising, and I should note that the Chief Whip was not involved in communicating anything to me.

Q: So there is no misunderstanding with  Dinesh Gunawardena as alleged?

No!  In fact this is again an example of the animosity creating technique, since Dinesh Gunawardena is someone I like and respect very much, ever since the days when we were instrumental in setting up the Democratic People’s Alliance under which Mrs Bandaranaike contested the 1988 Presidential Election. Significantly, I think, he went out of his way to congratulate me on my speech in the Resettlement debate, and this is typical of a very warm-hearted man. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2019
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