Running in the family | Daily News


Running in the family

It appears that SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera’s worse fears are about to be realized. That is assuming Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was anointed the Pohottuwa (SLPP) Presidential candidate by elder brother Mahinda, on Sunday becomes President. Some weeks ago Jayasekera opined at a media briefing that they of the SLFP would not look with favour on the Rajapaksa family sharing all the plum portfolios if an arrangement is worked out for the Blues to form an alliance with the Pohottuwa. Jayasekera said there cannot be a situation where Gotabaya becomes the President and Mahinda the Prime Minister, Namal a Minister, Chamal the Speaker and his son Shasheendra also a minister.

Now, hardly had the Candidacy of Gota been announced brother Mahinda books himself as the Prime Ministerial candidate. Speaking to the Tamil language publication Veerakesari, Rajapaksa unabashedly says that since the 19th Amendment has made the Prime Minister strong, with more powers, he would be the Prime Ministerial candidate (from the Pohottuwa) at the next General Election.

Isn’t this an indication of the shape things are going to take if the Rajapaksas return to the saddle of power? Will it not be Rajapaksa incorporated (Rajapaksa Samagama) all over again? Speaking at an event in Kurunegala, while the candidacy of Gota was being announced, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the leaders of the former regime will not change their old ways even if they come in a new name and a new colour. Giving it a pithy Sinhalese expression the Premier said; “Kiren beddath kobeiya, thelen beddath kobeiya kobeiya mai, kobeiya rajaliyek wenne ney” (Dove will not become a hawk no matter how it tries to change its ways).

Echoing the views of MP Jayasekera, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera reacting to the announcement said: “Mahinda Rajapaksa’s message to the people is that one of his brothers should be President, he himself should be Prime Minister, another brother should be Speaker, a fourth brother put in charge of the economy and his son put in place as his chosen successor.”

It has been the regular practice of the UNP backbenchers to heckle Joint Opposition members as being slaves of the Rajapaksas whenever the latter come to the defence of the Rajapaksas during debates in Parliament. It is only the likes of Kumara Welgama who has broken the mould and dared speak his mind out on the dangers of having an individual like Gotabaya at the helm of affairs.

The UNP, in its earlier days, was accused of nepotism, with the redoubtable Prof. Carlo Fonseka christening it as the (U)nge (N)edeyange (P)akshaya (the relatives party), obviously in reference to the premiership passing on from D.S. to Dudley. However, the party was not kept as a family heirloom, with the leadership eventually passing on to outsiders, the most notable being Ranasinghe Premadasa who was not from the elite class that dominated the party.

The SLFP too was tarred with the brush of nepotism with the leadership firmly in the hands of the Bandaranaike family with a leaflet depicting the family tree figuring prominently in the 1977 UNP General Election campaign. However, that too changed when the baton passed to Mahinda Rajapaksa.

But the Rajapaksas have turned family dominance in political leadership into a fine art and the trend may stretch into the future, given the string of Rajapaksa family members in the waiting list. Mahinda Rajapaksa, asked by a group of Tamil politicians from the North, on his stand on devolution of power has told them that he was willing to grant them 13 A Plus. However, he appeared vague on this when he spoke to Veerakesari. He said there were different strands of opinion on this with some wanting federalism, some a new Constitution and others a solution based on 13A. In the end he says whatever it is, it should not divide the country. “Look at what has happened to Kashmir. We need to take steps keeping these in mind.”

It is this same Machiavellian attitude on devolution that Rajapaksa has adopted all along. One recalls at a special session of Parliament following the war victory Rajapaksa telling that devolution, if at all, will be on the terms of the Rajapaksas and not those supplanted here by third parties. Hence, these Tamil politicians will only be kidding themselves if they think Rajapaksa really meant what he said - going beyond 13A.

They also have other examples to indicate Rajapaksa’s thinking on this score. As President, he banned the singing of the National Anthem in Tamil in the North out of pique for being denied the opportunity to deliver his lecture at the Oxford Union due to a protest by the Tamil Diaspora in London.

He also still sees the people in the North as Tigers, if one is to go by the reasons he give for his defeat to his supporters at his Carlton residence in Tangalle, when he told them he was done in by the Kotiyas (Tigers). These certainly cannot be the sentiments of someone who is serious about granting devolution to the Tamils. 

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