‘From the sidelines’ : Lord, protect me from my friends; I can take care of my enemies | Sunday Observer

‘From the sidelines’ : Lord, protect me from my friends; I can take care of my enemies

For someone who has been in politics for over twenty five years and in Parliament for over fifteen years, Susil Premajayantha speaks in a manner that is difficult to comprehend. The Minister of Science, Technology and Research who is also the de facto marriage broker between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) –or the ‘pohottuwa’ party as it is popularly known- made a strange statement this week.

Minister Premajayantha said, there was a possibility that the SLFP and the SLPP could unite at the local government level after the elections on February 10, so they could obtain a working majority and gain control of the local councils.

“Joining with the SLPP or another political party affiliated to the SLPP coalition or the UPFA is much easier than joining with any other rival party to come to power in a local government body as they are family members of the SLFP though they have had had differences of ideas and policies”, Premajayantha says.

Between the lines:

It doesn’t take a genius- or even a political scientist in the calibre of Dayan Jayatilleka- to decipher what Premajayantha is saying between the lines: “we would rather work with the SLPP than the United National Party (UNP)” is the message he is trying to get through.

We have heard of the saying that politics is the art of the possible and Premajayantha’s statement maybe in keeping with that, but has he even given ear to what his boss, President Maithripala Sirisena has been saying lately?

The President has been telling us that he was keen to avoid a split in the SLFP which is why he negotiated with the SLPP. He also told us that the SLPP, though out of power, was not keen on such an arrangement, largely because it wanted the Rajapaksas enthroned in leadership roles.

President Sirisena also told us in no uncertain terms that, whatever he does, he wouldn’t let corrupt politicians get away, which is a pledge he made when he ran for the highest office in the land. He would wield the ‘sword’ on anyone who is corrupt, even if they were from his family, he said. So, it must go without saying that he would do so on any other family!

Now, just in case Susil Premajayantha has had a spectacular lapse of memory, for the last three years, the Joint Opposition (JO) - which is the parliamentary arm of the SLPP- has been shouting from rooftops, not to mention many a political platform, that it is the ‘real’ opposition in the country.

It even went to the extent of demanding the post of Leader of the Opposition and requested that it be recognized as a separate group in Parliament. Just for the record, it has also been opposing almost everything that the government has done since coming into office.

In the current campaign for the local government election, it has been focussing on a primarily anti-government theme, against a government that is led by an SLFPer and includes a sizeable contingent of SLFP ministers, including Achchige Don Susil Premajayantha himself!

Therefore, to understand what Premajayantha is really saying, it is essential to look at the track record of the learned gentleman who, by the way, is a lawyer and also holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration. So you can be sure this is not another Mervyn Silva type shooting from the lip.

Premajayantha entered the national political arena under rather fortuitous circumstances when Chandrika Kumaratunga abdicated from the role of Chief Minister of the Western Province to become Prime Minister. He made a swift transformation to national politics holding the portfolios of Education, Petroleum Industries and Environment.

However his stock really rose when Mahinda Rajapaksa chose him as the General Secretary of the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA). He was the rubber stamp in that coalition for the all controlling Rajapaksas when they ruled the roost from 2004 to 2014.

In the aftermath of President Sirisena’s unexpected election victory in January 2015, the UNP formed a minority government and the UPFA was unexpectedly thrown into the ranks of the opposition for the first time since it was formed. As its General Secretary, Premajayantha was tasked with handling nominations for the August 2015 general elections.

It is then that his true colours became visible. He tried his best to slot in Rajapaksa loyalists into lists- including Mahinda Rajapaksa himself, trying to create the impression that if the SLFP emerged as the single largest party, Rajapaksa would be Prime Minister. To counter that, President Sirisena had to take the unprecedented step of addressing the nation to inform voters that this would not happen.

Reluctant passenger

Premajayantha’s bias towards the Rajapaksas was obviously taken note of and after the general elections, he was replaced by Mahinda Amaraweera. Since then, Premajayantha has been a reluctant passenger in the vehicle of the government of National Unity, often expressing strong dissenting views- as he did with the private medical school in Malabe.

There is nothing wrong with that of course, but whenever there has been speculation about a rapprochement between the SLFP and the SLPP, Premajayantha has been in the forefront. He reportedly made an eleventh hour plea to Mahinda Rajapaksa to align with the SLFP for the LG polls but it fell on deaf years.

Coalesce

Nevertheless, it reveals where Premajayantha’s loyalties are. Possibly because he feels that his own political future would be more assured if the SLFP and the SLPP coalesce, and he wants this to happen.

If that means ditching the principles upon which President Maithripala Sirisena was elected to office, he couldn’t care less.

So, here are a few questions for our Minister of Science, Technology and Research: if the SLFP and the SLPP unite in local councils, will they also unite in Parliament? If that happens and they together form a government, what will happen to all those investigations against those in the former regime? Alternatively, if that does not happen, will we have a farcical situation where they unite at local councils but oppose each other in Parliament?

We rest our case. All we can say is that with personalities such as Susil Premajayantha in his cabinet we can only commend to President Maithripala Sirisena, the prayer of Voltaire: “Lord, protect me from my friends; I can take care of my enemies”. 

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