Former President Maithripala Sirisena Seems to have reached the end of the line mow and has also brought his recently-formed party down with him.



Hardly had the ink on the coalition pledge signed by the new Nidahas alliance chiefs dried on the expensive parchment paper supplied by Thilanga Sumathipala, its new General Secretary, when a ballistic missile hit their symbol – the helicopter.

A unanimous verdict of a seven-member bench of the Supreme Court – the highest in the land – held that star Nidahas member Maithripala Sirisena of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) had neglected his duties as President of Sri Lanka apropos the terrorist attack on Catholic churches and five-star hotels on Easter Sunday on his watch.

Sirisena’s statement that he was unaware of any prior warning received through a foreign intelligence agency did not absolve him of his responsibilities as Minister of Defence, opined the learned judges. The former President had earlier gone on record that he had learnt of many decisions about his administration through the daily newspapers.

No Catholic votes

The Supreme Court verdict was hailed by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith no less and it put paid to the possibility of the helicopter party gaining Catholic votes in the forthcoming Local Government Election. This was followed by a tussle about seat allocations, which was inevitable considering the number of applicants from the different constituent parties, big and small, who had been nursing the same electorate.

The aggrieved SLFP then decided to go it alone in some districts while supporting the Nidahas alliance where a different accommodation was possible. For instance, they are not likely to get many takers from the Catholic belt.

A recent poll for a cooperative society management in the Catholic area of which Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna’s (SLPP’s) Deputy Minister Sanath Nishantha was the representative showed the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) leading easily, with a consolation second for the SLPP and nothing for the other parties.

The early years

Maithripala Sirisena has been a leftist from his school days. Polonnaruwa was a hotbed of supporters of China wing communists from the days of Shanmugathasan, Ratna Deshapriya, and Rohana Wijeweera.

The Trade Union of the Land Development Department had its biggest strength in Polonnaruwa. It was the first powerful union to embrace Wijeweera’s Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Though his father was a supporter of the United National Party (UNP) and a soldier in the land army who was from Veyangoda, an electorate in Gampaha, he was resettled with his family in Polonnaruwa with substantial paddy and highlands by D.S. Senanayake. Maithri’s younger brother Dudley was named after Dudley Senanayake, perhaps as a token of gratitude.

The Sirisena children attended Polonnaruwa Royal College, which was established by C.P. de Silva as one of the best central schools in the island. But the influence of the JVP was strong even in that college and young Maithripala was arrested as a JVPer on a false complaint made by a college teacher. He was imprisoned for months in Batticaloa jail, which he remembers as a difficult and unfair episode in his life.

He says that he has never been a member of the JVP. Instead he became a Bandaranaike loyalist, having gained Mrs. Bandaranaike’s confidence. Through all the turbulence in the leadership struggles of the SLFP in the late ’70s, he remained faithful to Mrs. B and Anura Bandaranaike and was given a position in the party’s Youth League.

Political rise

A brilliant speaker and a very amiable personality, Maithripala won the confidence of all levels of the party leadership. But he was still not involved in electoral politics, being only a supporter of the SLFP MP of the time, Leelaratna, as a Grama Sevaka. The Government Agents of Polonnaruwa at that time, Gunawardene and Fernando, spoke of him as an excellent official and were unhappy that he gave up Government service for the uncertainties of politics. But he won the parliamentary seat with ease and has continued to win it regularly since 1989.

As a Bandaranaike acolyte, he was promoted by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK) after the expulsion of S.B. Dissanayake (SB) and was made the General Secretary of the SLFP. CBK later made a public apology saying that she had erred in promoting SB against Maithripala in a contest to be the secretary of the party.

As Secretary of the SLFP, he became one of the top leaders of the party and a favourite of the CBK administration. Accordingly, he was made Minister of Mahaweli and later Minister of Health. He therefore had ambitions of eventually becoming prime minister. Basil Rajapaksa opposed this vision and earned the enmity of Sirisena, which had long-term consequences for the Rajapaksas.

Splitting the SLFP

When the fragmented Opposition led by Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera was seeking a challenger to Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) for the 2015 Presidential Election, CBK singlehandedly promoted Maithripala, because if the incumbent Mahinda was to be defeated, the then SLFP had to be split. Who better than the Secretary himself?

But Maithripala, usually a retiring figure, was not known to other leaders of the Opposition. CBK put her own credibility on the line when she guaranteed the acceptability of Maithri as a strong opponent of the incumbent President. She lives to regret this guarantee as it destroyed her politically as a poor judge of men and matters.

RW-MS relationship

The Wickremesinghe-Sirisena relationship was not an ideologically comfortable one and it saw the dismissal of Wickremesinghe as PM and his replacement with their political bête noire Mahinda Rajapaksa due to Sirisena succumbing to pressure from the likes of S.B. Dissanayake. He was pulled up short by the Supreme Court and Wickremesinghe made an uneasy comeback.

Due to Sirisena’s blunders, the SLFP was decimated and the SLPP rose as its natural successor. The long reign of the Bandaranaike family was replaced by the reign of the much more venal Rajapaksa family.

The end of the line

This was the background to the chaotic state of affairs, which led to the unbelievable inefficiency of the security establishment, whose leaders have now been identified and judged culpable by the Judiciary.

Nearly all those held against may have been inefficient but not wealthy enough to settle the exemplary fines that they have been ordered to pay. It has sent shockwaves across the Executive, which has up to now been used to arbitrary decisions, or the lack of them, with no accountability.

It looks very much as though the former President has now reached the end of the line and has also brought his recently-formed party down with him.

Courtesy:Sunday Morning