MIDWEEK REVIEW

Ranil reveals bid to get rid of him while GR was fleeing to Trinco on board SLNS Gajabahu

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President Wickremesinghe participates in the “What’s New” dialogue on legal reforms with young legal professionals at a workshop held at the Presidential Secretariat (pic courtesy PMD)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attempts had been made to compel UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to give up the premiership immediately after the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had left Janadhipathi Mandiraya in the early afternoon of July 09, 2022.

That had been the devious Aragalaya strategy meant to pave the way for Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to assume executive powers as a mere figurehead and with them easily controlling him with the threat of further upheaval. Obviously Aragalaya strategists wanted to force Wickremesinghe out of office before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa quit the presidency.

However, they may not have expected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee President’s House immediately after protestors breached its main gates.

As we recall the law enforcers simply did nothing to halt the advance of the mob right into the President’s House, as people like US Ambassador Julie Chung openly prevailed on law enforcers not to act against what she repeatedly termed “peaceful protesters”, even after they, in a preplanned operation, meticulously burnt down more than hundred properties of government politicos and loyalists, across the country, on May 09/10, 2022. So they were on the whole the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing working with the Western regime change project here as was previously done in places like Libya and Iraq.

President Wickremesinghe discussed the challenge faced by him at the time of the Aragalaya, when he addressed a group of young legal professionals at the Presidential Secretariat on May 28.

Among those who had been at the head table was Colombo District SLPP lawmaker Premanath C. Dolawatte, an Attorney-at-Law and now widely believed to be one of those pursuing the UNP leader’s agenda.

Stressing the importance of the executive presidency in restoring stability, President Wickremesinghe recalled the situation as Aragalaya forced Gotabaya Rajapaksa out of Janadhipathi Mandiraya. The President said that some persons had asked him to resign as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was on board a ship and on his way to Trincomalee.

The President’s Media Division (PMD) quoted him as having told the young professionals how he declined to resign unless an MP, who commanded the confidence of the majority in Parliament, emerged against the backdrop of chaos. The President said that even if he wrote a letter of resignation, he couldn’t have handed it over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa when he was on his way to Trincomalee in a ship or flying to the Maldives to escape mob justice.

The President said that if he resigned, due to pressure brought on him by a particular person, or due to the destruction of his residence, at the top of 05th Lane, in Colombo 07, near Royal Primary, also on July 09, 2022, someone would have secured power outside the democratic process.

The President’s comments on Aragalaya didn’t attract sufficient media attention. In fact, the coverage of the Presidential Secretariat event had been influenced by the PMD media release. Both print and electronic media focused on the President pointing out that none of those contesting the forthcoming Presidential poll had assured so far that executive powers would be done away with.

Actually, at the 2019 Presidential election, SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa never referred to the abolition of the Executive Presidency or further dilution of executive powers. The wartime Defence Secretary aspired to be an all-powerful Executive President and, in fact, further enhanced the presidency with the enactment of the 20th Amendment, enacted in late October 2020. The move to introduce a new Constitution was also meant to further enhance the Executive Presidency. That report, prepared at a tremendous cost to the taxpayer, is gathering dust, probably at the Presidential Secretariat. Perhaps Gotabaya Rajapaksa should inquire from his successor Ranil Wickremesinghe what he intended to do with it. The former President has every right to seek an explanation, not only from the President, but the Cabinet-of-Ministers as well.

Let us get back to President Wickremesinghe’s disclosure of the bid to force him out of office soon after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa boarded SLNS Gajabahu (formerly Sherman of the US Coast Guard), at the Colombo harbor, to escape the pursuing mob.

Now that President Wickremesinghe again made reference to Aragalaya’s bid to get rid of him, who could have asked Premier Wickremesinghe to resign on July 09, 2022? Had there been similar demands/requests in the run-up to Wickremesinghe receiving the appointment as President on July 14?

Perhaps, President Wickremesinghe would never reveal the identities of those who demanded his resignation, obviously on more than one occasion during July 09-14 period.

Political party system in a bind

Post-Aragalaya political leadership conveniently refrained from inquiring into the overthrowing of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Nearly two years after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ouster, there hadn’t been an effort, at any level, to conduct a thorough investigation into Aragalaya.

No holds barred investigation into Aragalaya shouldn’t be mixed up with individual cases, such as the killing of SLPP lawmaker Amatakeerthi Atukorale and his police bodyguard, at Nittambuwa, on the afternoon of May 09, 2022, or the killing of a protester at Rambukkana on April 19, 2022. A proper probe into Aragalaya should focus on the circumstances leading to the eruption of violent protest campaign, outside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence at Pangiriwatte, Mirihana, on the night of March 31, 2022, and the period till President Wickremesinghe deployed the military and the police, including the Special Task Force (STF), on July 22, 2022, to clear the Presidential Secretariat of protesters. And all those who were threatening to die for the “system change,” they were ostensibly clamouring for, simply vanished into thin air. How convenient! And how conveniently Julie Chung’s trap, too, shut on behalf of Aragalaya?

Had Wickremesinghe lacked the courage to do so, regardless of “international “condemnation”, the Aragalaya could have been still in control of the President’s House, Presidential Secretariat, etc. Wickremesinghe acted swiftly and decisively as he realized the danger in failing to bring back the situation under control, within a short period of time. Or was that all a show to hoodwink the country? May be he knew too much about JVP shenanigans, especially with the West for them being the principal mover of the demand for system change, too, to go silent, like obedient kittens, with Ranil at the helm.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, in April 2023, named outgoing US Ambassador Julie Chung as one of the key Aragalaya conspirators. The former JVP heavyweight went to the extent of alleging that Ambassador Chung personally met Speaker Abeywardena at the latter’s official residence in the wake of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fleeing Janadhipathi Mandiraya.

Speaker Abeywardena never denied Weerawansa’s claim, though Ambassador Chung dismissed the allegation. However, President Wickremesinghe latest disclosure should be examined, taking into Speaker’s declaration in March this year that those who spearheaded Aragalaya even threatened him unless he cooperated with them. Speaker Abeywardena declared that Aragalaya wanted him to accept the presidency, though the Constitution stipulated that the Premier should succeed the President.

Then, obviously, those who demanded Wickremesinghe to resign, and Speaker Abeywardena to accept the Presidency in July 2020, must be the same. There cannot be any dispute whatsoever regarding the Aragalaya strategy. Obviously, ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his widely read book ‘The Conspiracy to Oust Me from Presidency’ failed to properly deal with external intervention, particularly the interventions made by Ambassador Chung.

The US, through Ambassador Chung’s interventions, ensured protection for Aragalaya throughout the high profile project as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s control rapidly eroded. The then government never really comprehended the grave implications of the April 19, 2022 Rambukkana incident. The senior police officer in charge of Kegalle, Senior Superintendent of Police K.B. Keerthiratne, had to undergo the humiliation of being arrested and remanded over a police shooting that claimed the life of a protester. Had Keerthiratne failed to order that shooting, the protesters would have set ablaze a fully loaded bowser, carrying petrol, strategically placed across the rail tracks there to create chaos and disrupt rail transport By the time the SSP and three other policemen received bail, in August, Wickremesinghe was the President.

The former President should have dealt with the Rambukkana issue in his memoirs. There cannot be any doubt, or dispute, that the utterly irresponsible government response to police firing at Rambukkana discouraged the military from taking tangible measures to thwart the overrunning of Janadhipathi Mandiraya.

The Aragalaya opened Janadhipathi Mandiraya and Presidential Secretariat for the public and they remained in their hands until President Wickremesinghe regained control on July 22, 2022.

Prez draws sharp criticism

Sri Lanka couldn’t have continued with chaos caused in the wake of the political-economic-social crisis that threatened the ruination of the war-winning country that also successfully undertook so many development projects, like building expressways in the country for the first time, badly needed new international airport and even an international harbour, that became the envy of even our giant neighbour. Speaker Abeywardena, whatever his shortcomings and failures, should receive the respect and gratitude of all for saving the country from a horrible fate. Sri Lanka’s unitary status had been at stake and the country faced the risk of disintegrating.

Having been elected as the 8th Executive President on July 20, 2022 by the SLPP parliamentarians, who had the majority in the House, the UNP leader moved swiftly to regain control. Since then, Wickremesinghe, in spite of being reduced to just one National List MP in Parliament, never looked back as he advanced his agenda.

The President’s decision to do away with the Galle Face protest site earned the wrath of those who hoped for a different outcome. They expected Speaker Abeywardena, as Head of State, at least for a brief period, pending post-Gaddafi-style Libyan administration.

The following are some of the statements issued by the “usual suspects” who blindly tow the US line, in the wake of President Wickremesinghe’s directive:

UN Human Rights Commission:

“We are alarmed by the unnecessary use of force by security forces to break up a protest camp near presidential offices in Colombo. We condemn reports of beatings of protesters, journalists and lawyers and urge authorities to halt the use of force.”

The UNHRC Sri Lanka Core Group (consisting of Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, North Macedonia, the USA and the UK):

“peaceful protest is fundamental to any democracy and dismayed at the violence which took place at Galle Face on Friday.” The grouping called for full respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Amnesty International South Asia:

“…the attack on ‘GotaGoGama,’ the peaceful protest site in Colombo by the police and the military is unacceptable and authorities must stand down immediately. The right to protest must be protected. Sri Lankan authorities must immediately cease these acts of violence and release those arrested unlawfully in this manner. Authorities must also protect the freedom of the press. Journalists must not be barred from ‘GotaGoGama’. Blocking journalists from doing their jobs directly violates freedom of the press.”

Human Rights Watch South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly said:

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe has been telling donors and friends that he is committed to resolving the economic crisis, and yet among his first acts was to deploy a midnight security forces raid to disperse the peaceful protesters. The international community needs to act now, send a strong message that the global efforts are directed to support the people of Sri Lanka, and not to prop up abusive political leaders who undermine fundamental freedoms.”

UN Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer-Hamdy said she was gravely concerned by the use of force to disperse protesters.

“Journalists and human rights defenders have a right to monitor demonstrations and their functions should not be impeded. Actions that stifle protests and right to peaceful assembly can worsen economic and political stability in Sri Lanka. Peaceful solutions in accordance with broad public consultations is the only way forward.”

The European Union:

“Freedom of expression proved essential to Sri Lanka’s current transition. Hard to see how severely restricting it can help in finding solutions to the current political and economic crises.”

UK High Commissioner Sarah Hulton expressed concern over the attack and said:

“We have made clear the importance of the right to peaceful protest.”

US Ambassador Julie Chung:

“Deeply concerned about actions taken against protestors at Galle Face in the middle of the night. We urge restraint by authorities and immediate access to medical attention for those injured.”

Canadian High Commissioner David McKinnon:

“It is crucial the authorities act with restraint and avoid violence.”

The Presidential Secretariat remained in the hands of protesters till midnight July 22, 2022, out of the three State properties they took control of on July 09. Protesters evacuated from the other two – the President’s House and Temple Trees ahead of any confrontation with the military tasked to remove them!

In the absence of proper investigations…

Chief Government Whip Prasanna Ranatunga is one of the few lawmakers to question the failure on the part of relevant authorities to investigate organized attacks on government MPs. When the writer raised this issue with Minister Ranatunga a few moons ago, the Gampaha District SLPP strongman expressed serious disappointment over the status of the investigations.

Declaring that his properties at Udugampola, Gampaha, had been set ablaze in the presence of law enforcement officers, Urban Development and Housing Minister Ranatunga said that he was still awaiting the conclusion of the investigation undertaken by the Human Rights Commission. None of those who had been identified as responsible for systematic destruction of houses and other properties belonging to government members and in some cases supporters hadn’t been dealt with.

President Wickremesinghe’s recent disclosure of efforts to force him out of the Premier’s Office revealed that there hadn’t been a proper investigation into the Aragalaya at all. What is the mysterious evil hand preventing justice being done to victims of mob justice by Aragalaya? But the evil West leaves no stone unturned in seeking “justice” on behalf of the LTTE and its sympathisers, who tried to break up this country through sheer raw terror.

It would be interesting to know the status of the investigation promised by the Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, into the May 9/10 attacks on politicians’ properties. A case filed by a group of politicians, demanding an investigation into these incidents, had been withdrawn in late May, 2023 on an assurance given by the Attorney General.

The State Counsel appearing on behalf of the Attorney General assured Court that the AG had received an assurance from the Public Security Ministry that there would be a formal investigation into the incidents and secondly, the Secretary to the President promised that the Wasantha Karannagoda Committee report on the May 2022 incidents would be brought to the attention of the President.

What is the status of the promised investigation? President Wickremesinghe cannot absolve himself of the responsibility for ensuring a comprehensive investigation into violence perpetrated during 2022.

In spite of allegations that the JVP instigated an attack on Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa at the Galle Face protest site on the afternoon of May 09, 2022, the main Opposition party never pushed hard for an investigation.

Recently MP Premadasa confirmed the alleged JVP plot when the writer sought his response to SLPP MP Johnston Fernando’s declaration that Premadasa would have been lynched if his driver failed to reverse the vehicle at high-speed after the JVP mob surrounded Premadasa. Sunil Handunetti declared that both Johnston and Sajith should have their heads examined. But JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake was virtually received with open arms by the same Aragalaya activists on the same day at the same venue

Another matter for serious concern is that all suspects arrested in connection with the killing of MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale were granted bail without the AG being consulted. The accusation has been made by the AG in respect of the decision taken by the Trial-at-Bar of the Gampaha High Court. We would refrain from commenting on the issue at hand as the matter is pending before the court.

The Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government has completely ignored ex-President’s allegations that the military deliberately failed to thwart the public protest campaign that was launched on March 31, 2022. Gotabaya Rajapaksa went to the extent of alleging that Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General (retd.) Shavendra Silva and Defence Secretary General (retd.) Kamal Gunaratne may have failed to take tangible measures as they were under pressure due to war crimes accusations directed at them by the US. However, it must be pointed out that General Silva hadn’t been at the helm of the Army at the time Aragalaya overran Janadhipathi Mandiraya with ease.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa replaced General Silva on June 1, 2022, following the May 09 incidents which shook his government with Vikum Liyanage, also of the Gajaba Regiment as the Commander of the Army, though various interested parties found fault with Silva, who headed the celebrated 58 Division that in way spearheaded the war victory, for not protecting Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government.

The UNP also provided muscle to Aragalaya. Former MP and current presidential advisor Ashu Marasinghe and SJB MP and Minister Harin Fernando had declared the UNP’s direct role in Aragalaya whereas the JVP and its breakaway faction the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP/Peratugami Pakshaya) played a significant role. However, the vast majority of those who provided the real strength to the protest campaign were not members of any political party but angry Sri Lankans influenced by the collapsing of the economy. They also engaged in looting in some instances but there were organized groups which caused massive destruction, systematically at the behest of Aragalaya masterminds operating from behind the scene.

President Wickremesinghe should name those who had asked him to give up the premiership. Speaker Abeywardena, too, should reveal who threatened to harm him unless he fully cooperated with the Aragalaya.


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