By Rajiva Wijesinha –
Enemies of the President’s Guarantee: Dopey two
Another consequence of the electoral system from which we now suffer is that simple name recognition is generally enough to ensure election. Frequently voters, possessing chosen the candidate from their constituency, use their other two preferences on these whose names they know. Naturally posters place up all over the electoral catchment area support in obtaining one’s name identified, but there are other simpler factors as well for some men and women to get votes. So film or sports stars do quite well at elections, as do these who receive publicity for other factors, by way of eccentric behavior, or even by being jailed, as occurred with a fairly unknown character from the opposition in the 2010 Basic Election.
And of course if one’s father or mother or brother or uncle is already an established politician, then 1 is more probably to choose up the loose preferences of a big quantity of the voters. In short, the kids of well identified politicians start with a built in advantage. Contrariwise, in the previous, when candidates had been selected for distinct electorates, they had to establish themselves in that location, as people with some connection with the constituency they wanted to represent. Now however they merely have to command patronage in order to get their names on the electoral lists. So in recent years there have been escalating numbers of children standing for election, and several of them have completed really properly. Whereas Mahinda Rajapaksa had to prove that he was the most capable of his siblings to step into his father’s seat, and whereas he lost elections under the 1st previous the post program and was not in Parliament for several years, Namal had no difficulty in acquiring nomination for the Hambantota District, and in topping the list there on preferences at the election. And he will certainly be in a position to get enough preferences in any future election to keep in Parliament, even if the SLFP becomes much less popular in the District than yet another celebration.
Namal then is here to stay, and with the passing of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution that removed term limits, his father would naturally be capable to keep on as President, or to be precise as the Presidential candidate of his celebration, till Namal have been prepared to take his place. This was of course understood by other members of Parliament, and many saw friendship with Namal as their route to political advancement. Sensibly, Mahinda Rajapaksa did not give Namal a ministerial position, though this as well had adverse consequences, since it meant he did not give any new entrant to parliament executive workplace (the only exception initially being the former LTTE military wing leader, Karuna, whose support had been invaluable in dealing with his intransigent former comrades, right after he left the LTTE when it was clear they have been not interested in a negotiated solution).
So the President had to leave out folks of verified ability since, had he appointed them, the stress from sycophants to promote Namal, which had in any case arisen, would have been irresistible – and Namal too would have had stronger claims to a position. Certainly, when the President 1st gave Deputy Minister positions to new entrants, he gave a couple to those who had carried out ideal in their Districts, which would facilitate Namal’s appointment at the subsequent reshuffle – or rather, at the subsequent accession of Ministers, considering that in Sri Lanka no one is left out when modifications are produced.
But there were other methods to provide Namal with the possibilities for patronage for which ordinary politicians needed executive workplace. He headed a youth movement known as Tharunayata Hetak, a Future for the Young, which engaged in a variety of activities that brought him prestige and publicity. He was invited to preside over ceremonial occasions, and offered credit for what was carried out. And when the government settled folks from the south in some regions in the North, he even had a new village named right after him, Namalgama.
The forces indeed gave him considerably prominence. He had to be present when former LTTE cadres were released soon after rehabilitation. I came across a single specifically sad example of the unnecessary difficulties caused by this rage for recognition – or possibly the rage to bestow recognition, given that Namal probably would not have minded if he had not been invited to all such occasions – with regard to the restoration to their owners of some boutiques in Kilinochchi which the army had occupied. I was asked about these at a Reconciliation meeting, and I suggested the neighborhood organization that raised the question meet the Civil Affairs Office of the military, and find out what was planned. I often noted that the military had a proper to take over lands if important, but they had to make sure that this was indeed important, and that owners were properly compensated.
The officer who came to the meeting promised to look into the matter, but as we went out he mentioned they had already decided to give back the boutiques. When I asked why this had not been carried out, he stated that they had been waiting for Namal to be present to restore the deeds at a formal ceremony. This struck me as ridiculous, since it caused unnecessary suffering to the owners, and in any case it was the army that required to win hearts and minds, not politicians from the south. But the system of sycophancy rather than practicality was also effectively entrenched for my argument to have any effect, even even though the officer concerned understood the point.
Underlying the promotion of Namal by the forces was his association with Gotabaya who, without any obvious ambitions of his personal as it seemed early on, clearly far preferred Namal to Basil as the putative heir apparent. Although he by no means evinced, and most likely did not feel, hostility towards Basil, he produced no bones about his commitment to Namal, and the forces accordingly pushed the latter forward.
What appears to have been Gotabaya’s indulgence of Namal contributed to the erosion of the reputation he had previously enjoyed for honesty. In 2011, when it became clear that the Ministry of External Affairs was dysfunctional, the President took the choice to appoint what he termed Monitoring Members of Parliament to a handful of Ministries, to overlook their perform. This was an outrageous thought, due to the fact it suggested that Members of Parliament must in effect supervise the perform of Ministers, but in fact it was applied to quite handful of Ministries, and in most of them the Monitoring Member did extremely tiny. The exception was External Affairs, where Sajin Vass Gunawardena, confidante of both Namal and the President, constructed an empire for himself, but certainly there were special circumstances there.
Certainly the strategy seemed to have been made only for that Ministry but, possibly since that may have looked inordinately absurd, it was produced slightly much less so by being extended to a few other people. Later the President claimed that he had asked Members of Parliament to apply for these positions, but that was not the case, and the honour, such as it was, had been extended to just half a dozen of the new MPs.
Amongst these, apart from Sajin, the most prominent had been two really close pals of Namal, who were appointed as Monitoring Members for the Ministry of Defence. A single was Uditha Lokubandara, who was almost as young as Namal, and was the son of the former UNP Minister and Speaker, who had in impact supported Mahinda Rajapaksa right after he became President, and had been appointed as Governor of Sabaragamuwa Province right after the 2010 election.
Uditha was an enthusiastic young man, who did not present any problems. Nor maybe did the other Monitoring Member, offered the tight hold Gotabaya had on his Ministry. But this was Duminda Silva, who was alleged to be involved in drug dealing. Regardless of whether or not this was accurate, it did not redound to Gotabaya’s credit, which had previously been unsullied with regard to shady activities.
Matters became worse when Duminda, who had come over to the government from the UNP, was involved in a shootout in the course of a local election with a long standing SLFP politician, Bharatha Premachandra, for the causes of electoral rivalry recorded above. The latter died, and Duminda received a wound to the head which necessary protracted therapy, and seemed to have resulted in some sort of brain harm.
Gotabaya had rushed to hospital when Duminda was taken there, which might just have been standard decency for somebody supposedly involved with his Ministry, but it highlighted the association and led to speculation about the exact nature of the connection. Provided the extent of the fortune the Silva household commanded, which integrated also a media empire, it was naturally assumed that the Rajapaksa regime had benefited from their largesse. But to find it connected closely to the Secretary of Defence was a surprise that for the first time raised doubts about Gotabaya’s commitment to the ideals he professed.
This was especially ironic, given that he had recently launched a forceful campaign against drug dealers, and certainly Mervyn Silva, a maverick member of Parliament who was a single of Basil’s chief supporters in the Gampaha District, was reported to have been amongst these whose activities was below suspicion. Since frequent parlance had it that his associates had been distinct from these of Duminda Silva, the public revelation of Gotabaya’s closeness to the latter was specially worrying.
Namal meanwhile, provided the need for aspiring politicians to have access to huge amounts of funds for the electoral motives detailed above, was actively involved in company. He had set up a media organization known as the Carlton Sports Network, Carlton becoming the name of one particular of the loved ones homes in the south, and this quickly obtained a monopoly on the telecasting of well-liked sports programmes. The income the network could make from marketing were of course colossal.
Namal was also capable to command sponsorship for any activities he undertook. He had a penchant for quickly vehicles, so he set up an annual car race in Colombo for which sandbags had to be set up to permit for daredevil motorists, at least those capable to drive high-priced racing automobiles, to profession around. Early on in his parliamentary career, he arranged a enormous tamasha in this regard for which popular Indian film stars came down.
Initially this gave his profession an impetus, especially when some of the stars participated in programmes for former LTTE cadres getting rehabilitated. But as time passed, these events seemed quite a lot the preserve of privileged youngsters, and served to alienate him from the vast majority of Sri Lankan youngsters. Therefore Sri Lanka seemed to be playing out the tragedy of some a lot of other third planet nations, exactly where the scions of potent and apparently unassailably entrenched political families, such as Gaddafi’s young children, whose amusements were distinctly international in orientation, held unchallenged sway. And regrettably for the President, this was the much more marked since Sri Lanka had not suffered from such excesses ahead of. Dudley Senanayake had been a thorough and quite basic gentleman, so his father’s indulgence had triggered no issues, while he himself was unmarried and had no young children Jayewardene’s son had been fairly old when his father lastly came to power, and each Bandaranaikes as effectively as Premadasa had maintained discipline amongst their youngsters and not provided them political prominence.
As time passed, Namal’s company activities also took on distinct types. When in 2013 a scandal broke about a strategy for the Packer dynasty to set up a casino in Colombo, initially the assumption was that this was yet an additional of Basil’s enterprise offers, in terms of what he saw as priorities for financial improvement. But Basil was vital of the enterprise, and it was then rumoured that it was Namal who had established connections with James Packer. Definitely he felt himself entitled to negotiate about investment possibilities, with both neighborhood and foreign businessmen, and the rumours spread that all offers involved substantial commissions.