What went wrong for the ‘rainbow coalition’
Posted on July 10th, 2015

Rajiva Wijesinha Courtesy Island

Rajiva Wijesinha was one of the main figures in the yahapalana coalition that overthrew President Mahinda Rajapaksa in January this year. Before former chief justice Sarath N.Silva began to speak up against the yahapalana government, Rajiva was the most prominent yahapalana intellectual to openly express his discontent at what the new government was doing. He was also one of the first to cross the floor of parliament. In this interview, he speaks to C. A. Chandraprema about what went wrong for the so called ‘rainbow coalition’.

Q. You were one of the key figures in the coalition that promoted the common opposition candidate against Mahinda Rajapaksa. Much water has flown under the bridge since the 8th January. Now six months later, the whole yahapalana project appears to be in tatters.

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A. Yes, I think that’s correct. While I believe it was a good initiative, and the president was very sincere in wanting reforms, the whole process was hijacked by the prime minister and he completely ignored the president’s manifesto and only concentrated on one pledge. That was the 19th Amendment through which he wanted all power transferred to the prime minister. (Fortunately that did not happen.) Once the 19th Amendment was passed he thought it necessary to dissolve parliament and have an election. But there are seven other reform pledges in the manifesto which have not even been looked at. These include electoral reform, the strengthening of standing orders, the Right to Information Act, the National Audit Act and so on. So I think the yahapalana project is indeed in tatters because good governance is about setting systems in place not replacing one individual with another.

Q. The one factor that united all forces behind the common candidate is the pledge to abolish the executive presidency. So wasn’t Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe right in giving priority to that?

A. The common candidate’s manifesto did pledge to abolish the authoritarian executive presidency. But as the Liberal Party, we were also against an authoritarian executive prime minister. The primeministership of the 1970s was authoritarian. We wanted a systemic change. Some said that the 17th Amendment should be brought back but the weakness in the 17th Amendment was that appointments to high positions were to be made by a largely appointed constitutional council and the elected leaders have to rubber stamp the decision so made. This is not the accepted practice anywhere in the world. The provisions in the 19th amendment in relation to this, are certainly better than the 17th Amendment. One of the shortcomings of the 19th Amendment is that it continues the practice of ministry secretaries losing their positions with a change of government and of them being appointed solely by the president. Permanent secretaries should be appointed by the Public Services Commission and when the government changes they should continue in office. You need continuity.

Q. There is no question about the fact that the independent commissions introduced through the 19th Amendment are far better than the provisions of the 17th amendment because the independent commissions are now responsible to parliament. Then there are more people’s representatives sitting on the Constitutional Council than earlier.

A. Absolutely. One of the points I made is that when you give authority to an individual, he must have a status which is not simply that of being appointed. The checks and balances put in place to exercise supervision over the powers of an elected leader should be exercised by those who are accountable to the people. The weak point in the 17th Amendment was that decisions were being made by authorities who were not accountable. In any event, the constitutional council should not be recommending people to be appointed by the president it should be the other way about with the president making the appointment to be approved or otherwise by a parliamentary body.

Q. With the change of government on January 8, the country descended into a situation of mob rule with self appointed good governance activists rampaging through the streets, entering premises thought to have evidence of corruption of the previous regime and the police could do nothing. The chief justice was ousted through mob action. Another mob was threatening to surround the UGC if the Chairperson of the UGC was not sacked. You were a victim of that mob action yourself in a way because one of the reasons for your resignation was the pressure that was brought on you to sack the chairperson of the UGC.

A. While Kabir Hashim said there was pressure being brought on the government to sack the UGC chairperson, Ranil said quite clearly that this has nothing to do with pressure, and that they just wanted everyone to resign.

What went wrong

His theory was that once everyone resigns, you are free to reappoint the same people but they have to get their appointments from this government not the last government. Kabir told me very early on that there are some vacancies to which some UNP Dons should be appointed. I told Kabir that I don’t want UNP dons or SLFP dons, I just want dons who will do a good job. One minister said at the government parliamentary group meeting that his people are all waiting for appointments. Because the UNP was so obsessed with elections, they wanted their people in positions of authority so that they can command vehicles and staff. At least as far as the removal of the UGC chairperson is concerned, it was more due to UNP politics than JVP mob action.

Q. What was obvious at the last presidential election was that the common candidate failed to win the Sinhala heartland. Of the 16 districts outside the north and east, Mahinda won no less than ten. Of the six districts that he did not win, the Gampaha, Puttalam and Badulla districts will be won by Mahinda simply by removing the JVP component of the yahapalana vote. In the Nuwara Eliya district, the CWC and Mahinda’s votes together should be able to win the district. So the UNP appears to be very much on the back foot at this election.

A. I told the government at the very outset that they should treat the former president with respect. While there were reasons why a change was necessary, ridding the country of terrorism was a fantastic achievement. Even the anti-corruption drive should have been done not as a witch hunt but as way to recover misappropriated money. People’s assets and liabilities lists should have been published and they should have been given a chance to admit that they had more money than five years ago and afforded an amnesty to return that money. But people started attacking their personal enemies under the guise of the anti- corruption drive.

Q. You obviously see Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe as the villain of the piece – the man who undermined the whole ‘yahapalana’ project. What is the responsibility that president Sirisena bears in all this?

A. The president entrusted a lot of work to people he thought were capable. One of them was Chandrika Kumaratunga and the other was the prime minister. SLFP members who would have been disappointed with what had been going on in the party did not join him in sufficient numbers at the outset. So what he expected to be a genuine coalition government ended up being dominated by the UNP. Someone once told me that Ranil is like an elephant who never forgets, he wants his revenge. Take for instance his attack on Nivard Cabraal. You can criticise Nivards’s policies and Mr W. A. Wijewardene the former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank often did. But, accusations of corruption are another thing. Much attention has been paid to people like Mahinda Rajapaksa, Nivard Cabraal, Tissa Attanayake and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. All that was extremely silly! It created the impression that this is not about investigating corruption but about political vendettas. ‘Yahapalanaya’ went out of the door and revenge took precedence.

 

8 Responses to “What went wrong for the ‘rainbow coalition’”

  1. LANKAPUTHRA Says:

    Rajiva, please say no to Parliamentary government. Let the people elect the leader of the country and not the parliament. OBAMA does not want original constitution because it gives power to the people. If there is a parliamentary government then they can change the Prime Minister in a willy-nilly way and stop the country going forward in any development. Take a look at countries that has Parliamentary governments, UK, Turkey, Tunisia and Algeria. How General De Galle put France back on its feet was with a strong presidency! Tamils for Obama doesn’t want this. Obama will never allow Sri Lanka to prosper. Rajiva, I like your comments please. One markkalaya wrote an article in Island news paper few months ago and called JRJ a Traitor referring to VADAMARCHCHI. Why because this was one of the most successful operations by Late JRJ and Late Lalith Athulathmudali. The Markkala author is Izeth Husssain.

  2. Independent Says:

    Lankaputra,
    “Island news paper few months ago and called JRJ a Traitor referring to VADAMARCHCHI. Why because this was one of the most successful operations by Late JRJ and Late Lalith Athulathmudali.”

    – JR did not have China backing ( China was very weak those days anyway). Premadasa was the real traitor who destroyed the whole country. He was sabotaging him and did not like him getting closer to Lalith and Gamini.

    Anyway where is the term “Maru Sira” now ? Mahinda has ordered Lankaweb not to allow this term anymore ?
    As Douglas said Maru Sira has become Sira who is “Maru”.
    If someone wins he will have to spend 5 years “Maruva Samaga Vase”.

  3. Ananda-USA Says:

    The so-called “Civil Society Leaders” shedding tears are those who engineered the anti-national coup-de-etat on January 8, 2015 with the aid of two failed politicians and a back-stabber.

    They defamed the heroic President who rescued our motherland from terrorists and handed the nation to puppets of foreign governments plying their NeoColonialist agenda. Since then, they have been undermining and dismantling the defenses of our motherland built at great cost in blood and treasure.

    In the coming election, the vast majority of patriotic citizens of Sri Lanka will back ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa to recover the sovereignty of our nation now being sold to its enemies. Their ANGER and OPPOSITION to this Yamapalanaya government is palpable.

    I can’t wait until this Yamapalanaaya Govt is consigned to the dustbin of history, and the nation RESUMES its march to becoming the New Wonder of Asia interrupted by skulduggery orchestrated by foreign powers!

  4. Ananda-USA Says:

    Oh my God, Here is Rajiva, another Yamapalanaya Activist, crying “Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima culpa” now singing the opposite tune! Didn’t he get a lucrative a reward for his support from the Yamapalanaya Govt; is that why he is now switching sides?

    Why should we LISTEN to Rajiva, an erring FOOL, who helped undermine and OUST our patriotic government that was developing Sri Lanka at a breakneck pace?

    Forget his doctorate and call him what he is on the basis of his PAST PERFORMANCE: An ERRING FOOL at BEST, OR a TREASONOUS CONNIVER at WORST!

  5. Independent Says:

    Looks like my friend Ananda has already won the elections. This time he has more chances than last time though.

  6. Kosala777 Says:

    But for Rajiva’s defection at that time (leader of the Liberal Party), Hon Maithripala Sirisena may not have become the President of Sri Lanka. I believe HE the President has a moral obligation to give Rajiva a National List position-unarguable the most qualified person in the Sri Lankan parliament today; one of its finest English orators. The parliament should be comprised of people like Rajiva, not the likes of drug peddlers, ethanol dealers and sexual perverts.

  7. Mahinda Wickramarathne Says:

    I please ask Professor Wijesinha to explain why he wants to become a MP of the next Parliament under the National List. I am sure if he puts his case properly to the public, they will sanction his application

  8. Lorenzo Says:

    Don’t give nominations to this political what not.

    Let him contest the election and lose.

    He deserted MR at the MOST CRUCIAL time. My3 should know that he is a backstabber.

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