Wijeyadasa looking to the future?
Posted on August 26th, 2017

Editorial Courtesy The Island

The Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe affaire is now done and dusted with the former Justice and Buddha Sasana Minister ejected from the cabinet. He did not agree to resign, as demanded by the UNP, and has been removed by the president. A section of the Buddhist clergy backed Rajapakshe strongly but efforts on his behalf proved futile. Some senior monks had wanted President Maithripala Sirisena to assume the Buddha Sasana Ministry but the president has wisely refrained from doing so, appointing veteran politician Gamini Jayawickrema Perera to take on this position. Rajapakshe was appointed to the ministries he held by the UNP and that party had nominated his successors – Ms. Thalatha Atukorale for justice and Minister Jayawickrema Perera to the other vacant ministry. Presumably Ms. Atukorale would continue to handle her previous responsibility for foreign employment, nothing to the contrary being announced.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, despite severe provocation, had given the former minister every opportunity to mend fences and remain in the government. But Rajapakshe was defiantly taking the line that he too was, in effect, a victim of the bond scam. The UNP leadership, afraid that he would not apply the brakes on the Attorney General taking the necessary follow-up action when the Presidential Commission now investigating the scam reaches its conclusions, wanted him out of the justice ministry, he claimed. He has also alleged that the AG was summoned to ‘Temple Trees’ and given a dressing down on the slow progress of prosecuting high profile figures of the previous regime where investigations have been concluded but no indictments served. The AG however has clearly denied this allegation saying that nothing of the sort happened. In fact he himself sought a meeting with the prime minister and not the other way round, he has said. Undoubtedly many members of the government, with Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne being the most vocal, are unhappy that Rajapaksa loyalists are not being brought before the courts. But unless there is sufficient evidence, justice demands that nobody is hauled before the courts to serve anybody’s political agenda.

There is no doubt a strong public perception that corruption was rampant during the previous regime. That was one of the main reasons why the then president was voted out of office in January 2015 and the UNP won the parliamentary election that followed in August, though without a simple majority of its own. There is a similar perception about corruption in the present government. Not holding local government elections which are overdue and attempting to delay the forthcoming provincial council elections are widely attributed to a reluctance to face the electorate. This is unsurprising given the government’s various failures quite apart from suspicion of involvement in various corrupt deals, the bond scam being the foremost among them. It now appears that the local polls will be held by the end of this year with Parliament last week adopting legislation to clear various hurdles to run these elections through a combination of proportional representation and first-past-the-post. The Joint Opposition which has been stridently demanding these elections for several months did not oppose the new laws but chose to abstain from voting on it saying the amendments were not given to them in time. The picture that emerged indicates broad agreement on the changes that have been made although there is unhappiness among some that certain so-called ‘field officials’ will not be permitted to run for election while in service.

Whether the government will be able to obtain the necessary two thirds majority for the constitutional amendment to run all the provincial elections on a single day remains to be seen. This is undoubtedly a sensible measure which would save a great deal of unnecessary public expenditure; but if this was the thinking, the necessary laws should have been enacted long ago without allowing the terms of some Provincial Councils to nearly end before the legislation is even presented to Parliament. No wonder most people take the cynical view that politicians of all hues are opportunistic about whatever they do. Their various actions suit their own personal and political interests while that of the nation are subordinated.

Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, 58, unlike Ravi Karunanayake, is no dyed-in-the-wool UNPer. He belonged to the SLFP, first entering Parliament via the National List of the blue party in 2004. A lawyer with a wide practice, he says he was once offered the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs by President Chandrika Kumaratunga but he declined that offer. Hailing from Walasmulla in the Hambantota district (he was called a gamey minihek by President Mahinda Rajapaksa) who in 2005 appointed the former bank employee who later took to law as Minister of State Banking Development. But Rajapakshe quit this position after holding it for only a few months, perhaps weighing the advantages of a lucrative law practice against a relatively unimportant cabinet appointment. He voted against the budget in 2007 without seriously harming himself politically, shooting into national prominence as Chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprise (COPE) where various strictures against some state enterprises were made. He also weathered the Avant Garde issue, not resigning like his colleague Tilak Marapona, though not coming out of it smelling of roses.

Voting at elections of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka is usually on political lines. Rajapakshe was backed for president of the BASL in 2012 by the UNP and in that powerful position led the Bar against the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. Few people would remember that Rajapakshe, now a firm favourite of a section of the Buddhist clergy, particularly the Asgiriya Chapter of the Siam Nikaya, moved a Private Member’s Bill to keep the religious clergy out of Parliament at a time when the JHU had several Buddhist-monk MPs. We do not know whether those bhikkus who today support Rajapakshe share these views. It is unclear whether the former justice minister who was able to become COPE chairman after voting against a budget believed wrongly that he could sail close to the wind and score personal brownie points in this instance too. But he did not seize a fence-mending opportunity that was available and remained defiant. We should know in coming weeks whether this ambitious personality will remain in the UNP (if it will have him) or seek new alignments prior to the next election.

2 Responses to “Wijeyadasa looking to the future?”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    Wijeyadasa has his good and bad. We appreciate his good and weary of his bad side.

    He is very ambitious and will support the most beneficial (to him) camp in 2019.

  2. Senerath Says:

    To me he is a opportunistic man who does not beleive a life after death despite alocated Buddha Sasana minitry by the monster Ranil. “Sri lanka is not a Sinhala (Buddhist) country” came to him instantly and naturally. If you watch that video you will notice it.

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