Forerunner of purge?
Posted on January 7th, 2022

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Thursday 6th January, 2022

The sacking of State Minister Susil Premjayantha is indicative of the government’s desperation to suppress dissent, which shows signs of getting out of hand. It could be considered the beginning of a purge of sorts in the SLPP. Premjayantha got President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s goat, as it were, when he publicly declared, last Saturday, that the government’s organic fertiliser project had become a disaster, and led to a food shortage. He did not blame the President directly; he only inveighed against Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, but one could see from his innuendos that his reference was to the President. However, what he said pales into insignificance in comparison to the scathing attacks some other SLPP MPs including several ministers have been carrying out on the government.

SLPP MP and former President Maithripala Sirisena has rightly pointed out that State Minister Nimal Lanza has said far worse things about the government, but nobody dares sack him. Lanza, according to Sirisena, knows too much. One cannot but agree with him. Other dissidents who are speaking their minds represent the constituents of the SLPP coalition, and therefore have some leeway to express their views. Unlike them, Susil is not a force to be reckoned with; he is at the mercy of the SLPP leadership for his political survival. One may recall that he struggled to get re-elected in 2020. He has thus become a soft target. It is only natural that he has been politically hanged, drawn and quartered as a warning to other SLPP rebels.

It will be interesting to see the vociferous dissident ministers’ reaction to what has befallen Susil. Curiously, they have chosen to remain silent on his ouster. Maybe, they are treading cautiously lest the Rajapaksas should get their heads, too, in the crosshairs. Let these worthies be told that first they came for ministry secretaries; then they came for a state minister, and the day may not be far off when they come for the dissident Cabinet ministers.

The SLPP rebel group raised hell when the government signed a secret agreement with the US-based New Fortress Company on the Yugadanavi power plant and the country’s LNG supply, but they are not protesting against the government’s questionable Trinco oil tank farm deal with India. Instead, some of them are flaunting the agreement with India as an achievement! It is popularly said in this country that a water monitor (kabaragoya) becomes a land monitor (thalagoya) when one feels like eating it.

SLPP rebels are taking on the government for different reasons. Some of them are doing so in good faith; they are seeking to pressure the government to make a course correction. Others are settling political scores with the SLPP leadership. Several former ministers who have failed to secure Cabinet portfolios in the present administration berate the current ministers in a bid to have the public believe that they would have done a better job if they had been appointed to the Cabinet. But they are no mavens; we witnessed their bungling and pathetic performance when they were Cabinet ministers in the Mahinda Rajapaksa government; their inefficiency, ineptitude and corruption made a huge contribution to the downfall of that regime. Even if all Cabinet ministers are replaced with a new lot, the government’s performance will not improve significantly.

Susil may not have acted out of principle when he criticised the government; he may have given vent to his frustration at being ‘benched’. Nevertheless, what he said about the agricultural sector, the cost of living and the poor performance of the government is true; and his remarks must have gone down well with the people who are struggling for survival. The fact that he can visit a fair without being hooted at shows that the people are not hostile towards the SLPP dissidents who have taken up the cudgels on their behalf. So, the government ought to take the dissidents’ criticism to heart and act accordingly instead of politically scalping them.

The government may be able to suppress dissent by resorting to coercion, but it will not be able to change public opinion, which has manifestly turned against it; the only way it could win back the irate public is to listen to them, improve its performance, and make good on its promises. A purge of dissidents will only make matters worse.

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