Mahinda Rajapaksa

Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa, center, who resigned on May 9, seen with his younger brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who three days before in a Cabinet meeting, pressed for the resignation, so as to buy an elusive peace. Colombo has been a witness to terrorist bombings and assassinations, but not to the scenes of  mass violence, that unfolded on May 9 which hastened the resignation. (AP/File photo)

This is part-1 of a review of incidents in Sri Lanka, looking beyond the Big Media.

The crisis in Sri Lanka has many dimensions,not only internal but also external, not only economic but also geopolitical. We shall review some of the issues involved.  Before we go into that, a brief update on latest developments: 

The Sri Lankan President in a late night TV address on May 11 announced a new PM would be appointed soon, one who commands majority in the parliament, with an opportunity for a young cabinet to work out a new program, and without any Rajapaksas. It would be within a week, he said, adding the new House would have more powers, enabled by a new constitutional amendment (PTI report).

Other agencies said he promised to take steps to abolish the presidential system, once normalcy returns.

It is notable that the Big media that headlined Sri lanka for several days underplayed this significant address by the President; many pushed it to inside pages with a one-column heading.       

The defence secretary Kamal Gunaratne, himself a retired General, said he “ assures with responsibility that there would never be a military rule” in the country.

The reluctant resignation of Mahinda Rajapakse as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka on May 9 came three days after his brother president Gotabaya Rajapaksa reportedly asked him, at a cabinet meeting, to step down and pave the way for an interim government with the participation of opposition parties. The resignation was readily accepted, and thus the entire Cabinet was disbanded.

But the crisis appears to be unabated, the Gota Go Gama protest goes on: There is the demand that the President Gotabaya himself must go. The President warned against anarchy, even as the curfew was lifted May 12.

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Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal: Regime changes in South Asia

April 2022 heralded political crisis in Pakistan, leading to replacement of  an elected Prime minister Imran Khan,who named Biden admin as the brazen conspirator.

Crisis aggravated in Sri Lanka in the same month, and the PM Mahinda is likewise removed by extra-parliamentary means, even while no-confidence motions were pending. Both regimes were seen by US as pro-China, and dared to be neutral on Ukraine war, despite threats by US.

Nepal too was neutral on Ukraine; it had earlier avoided the US embrace, and spurned US moves that openly and unilaterally asserted Nepal is part of its Indo-Pacific strategy. But the US job was already done last July, when a pro-China premier KP Sharma Oli of UML, who dared to raise the border dispute with India, was replaced by Sher Bahadur Deuba.

The new PM Deuba of Nepal visited Delhi and met PM Modi early April, and held talks on ‘multi-faceted partnership.’  He too raised the border dispute but was advised by India, which agreed to discuss it, but not to politicise the same.

Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal – all the three had a key geo-strategic place in US scheme of things in its ‘Asia pivot’. 

Even India was under pressure on Ukraine, but being a key member of anti-China QUAD and a big market, it is ‘understandable’, said a reconciled Biden admin.

The crisis in Sri Lanka no doubt is deep and unprecedented, but what are the external factors complicating the turmoil? China’s debt burden has been shown to be the major factor, especially by the Indian media that is fed by that of the West, and by experts in western imperialist camp.How objective is that?

If family rule, corruption and economy were reasons for the crisis, how many Indian states and politicians would fit the bill?

Is  crisis exclusive to Sri Lanka?  We know many countries, not excluding more developed ones, were reeling under crises, people recalling 1930s’ worst depression. Covid aggravated the crisis everywhere, leading to worsening poverty levels and worst unemployment (also in India, as indicated by the latest CMIE report). Even socialist Cuba and oil-rich Venezuela have been in deep crisis, not to speak of many African states and Afghanistan. Small states like Sri lanka have it very bad, given their poor reserves. The media projection of countries is related more to the interests and stakes the imperialists have as part of their geo-strategic policies.

Sri Lanka, which is strategically located across Indian Ocean sea lanes, is a critical element of the Pentagon’s plans against China, as well as those of QUAD allies. India, a US ally in QUAD, has been seeking an Asia-Pacific NATO, in the context of NATO offensive on Ukraine. Modi’s India, disappointed in its hegemonic ambitions in South Asia,  dumped SAARC, and blames those countries are all wooed by China, and went in for a SAGAR ( Security and Growth for All in the Region) doctrine.      

The President on May 11 urged and appealed all Sri lankans to “reject subversive attempts to push people towards racial and religious disharmony... join hands to overcome the economic, social and political challenges,” he said in a twitter message. He pleaded against acts of revenge.

It may be noted that the new US Ambassador, Ms. Julie Chung, a senior and expert on Asia-Pacific affairs, took charge in Colombo in February, and visited religious shrines of all four major religions of Sri Lanka. She “condemned” the latest violence, and demanded steps including investigating the events.

Sri Lanka’s neutral stance and vote on Ukraine was not taken well by USA.  The  Ukraine war, fueled by US and Nato, turned Sri Lankan economy “into a calamity”, commented Washington Post, recently.

5000 visitors from Ukraine and 15000 from Russia, all in the first month of Ukraine conflict, were in Sri Lanka, Reuters reported April 6, and they added to the burdens of  strained Srilankan supplies: Consumption by European visitors is normally a boon to backward countries’ economy, but not when they are in a crisis. It is like a guest in famine time.

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 “ We have to avoid an Arab Spring ending in Sri Lanka”

It was a regime change forced on Sri Lanka, amid violent incidents, even while the President offered a new ‘interim, united national’ government, with the opposition leader as the new PM. 

It was like Arab spring or a color revolution: Trade unions staged a nationwide strike demanding his resignation over the crisis. Over 2,000 trade unions participated in the nationwide hartal and strike against the President, Prime Minister, and the government, Colombo Page reported. All Ceylon Transport Workers Union, Sri Lanka Railway Station Masters’ Union (SLRSMU), the University students, and many other unions are protesting against the Rajapaksa family. Farm workers, fishermen, and other rural poor also joined the protests. It was a spontaneous upsurge sought to be used by political forces, native and foreign.

Nine people died in the violent incidents that also saw over 250 injured, notably half of the casualties being of the ruling group. An  MP of the  ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) and one other person with him died, allegedly committed suicide, after firing into the air to scare away a protesters’ mob.

Former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe summed up the way forward in one line: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa must resign or explain to the people why he won’t.

“He (Gotabaya) has been elected by the people. Even the Parliament can’t force him to resign. So it’s up to him to decide. And he has told me he’s not resigning,” said   Wickremesinghe, who was PM of Sri Lanka from 2015 to 2019.

“Even the Parliament can’t force him to resign,” he said but knows the mobs can try to force that as part of attempts at regime change. We saw in US, ‘the mother of democracy’,  how Trump, even after his electoral defeat, threatened and tried through mob actions to destabilize the new elected President Biden. That is how ‘democracy’ is at work.

Reporting the present crisis in Sri Lanka, the indianexpress.com  corespondent, senior editor, Nirupama Subramanian, who traveled ‘along the island country’s uneasy fault lines, from Colombo in the south to Jaffna in the north’, reported from Colombo, April 12, 2022:

“Either he (Gotabaya Rajapaksa) has to step down or win back the confidence of the people,” former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said, describing the protests as Sri Lanka’s “Arab Spring” moment, with the country’s youth becoming the symbol of discontent among a cross-section of people from farmers in rural areas to the elite in Colombo.

Responding to the fact that the Arab Spring did not end well in many of the countries that were swept by it, he said: “I do not think the military will come out here against the people, because they are affected by the same issues as the people. But we have to avoid an Arab Spring ending.”

“For Wickremesinghe, this is second time unlucky…he was dismissed in 2004 as Prime Minister by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.”

The constitutional autocracy of Presidential powers is nothing exclusive to Rajapksas; it was there since 1978 Jayawardane regime with minor adjustments.

Sample another comment we don’t see in the Big Media:

“ It’s Mob Rule in Sri Lanka. For its supporters it is a color revolution a la Ukraine Maidan in 2014.  There are calls to hang and quarter President Gotabya Rajapakse,  who was democratically elected by an overwhelming majority. These are not sentiments of rural folk. It’s the call from Western leaning, educated urban affluent folk, plus those comfortably living in western countries. These are the types whose platitudes are about rule of law, democracy, guilty until proven and other trope.”

“ But then the  fruit does not fall from the tree does it. The tree has been that beacon of democracy, the US.  Just a few weeks ago there were calls for regime change, including assassination of a world leader,  not just by some nonentity but by the leader of the “free” world and one of his senior member in the government.”

(The reference is to Putin and Russia,  and the call was from USA.)

“ In Sri Lanka this is a class struggle, which the west oriented urban elite hope to regain power by other means  That is not by democratic vote.   The small vocal is extremely against the current regime.  Not just against, a visceral hatred of the rural types, (godayas or bumpkins), much like visceral hatred of Russia or the rural Evangelicals and deplorables who support Trump.”

(brownpundits.com)

We saw such crowds elsewhere, in Venezuela against Chavez,  a few years ago. Robert Mugambe in Zimbabwe.. Cuba was there earlier and now too. North Korea is shown as a mad cap.

We shall see past attempts at regime change, with many similarities,  in the last part of this article.

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BJP leader in Sri Lanka, follows up Jaishankar’s visit

Indian High Commission in Colombo on May 11 “categorically” denied speculative reports in the media about sending her troops to Sri Lanka. The MEA stated on May10 that India is “fully supportive of democracy, stability and economic recovery” in Sri Lanka. (dailymirror.lk)

Times of India May 12 reported of a “ series of denials” by India to scotch “ rumours of any Indian role to help the beleaguered regime.”

Amid the intense political crisis, it is less noticed that Kuppusamy Annamalai,  Tamil Nadu’s  Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Chief was in Sri Lanka, ostensibly by an invitation by Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) to attend its May Day meeting in Nuwara Eliya. After attending the CWC’s May Day celebrations, Annamalai traveled to Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka to meet Tamil National Alliance (TNA) officials.

It may be noted that BJP is the rare organization in the world that opposes and never celebrates May Day, and that Annamalai was an IPS police official who retired so as to jump into politics.  He was among those who reportedly had handled the LTTE and refugee camps in Tamilnadu.

“Annamalai came to Sri Lanka as a representative of the BJP, the party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We invited Annamalai here as an expression of goodwill with them,” CWC Vice President Bharat Arulsamy told the media.

TNA was close to Indian establishment and the RAW. Now replacing the Congress party, Modi-led Delhi and the Sangh parivar have been pushing for an entry into Sri Lanka, along with their Hindutva politics.

Nuwara Eliya and Jaffna are both part of a Ramayana Tour Circuit promoted in Sri Lanka. Tripura’s BJP Chief Minister, it may be recalled, spoke of setting up BJP in many neighbouring countries, and forming governments.  Akhand Bharat slogans are occasionally floated by the parivar, which appeared far-fetched. However, fears of Sikkimization always haunted India’s small neighbors.

Foreign Minister Jaishankar  was in Sri Lanka  for a three day  visit, late in March 2022, even as the crisis was brewing. His mission was to attend a BIMSTEC summit meeting, but he conferred with President Gotabaya, and several cabinet members on other issues as well.

BIMSTEC, as is well-known, is a grouping of Bay of Bengal regional countries Modi-led India preferred even as it avoided meetings and summits of the older SAARC grouping that was founded by India in an earlier international context. India is the only Saarc country apart from Bhutan that did not join BRI, got isolated, and anti-China politics is at the root of this policy, that gels with US’ Asia Pacific strategy.

The Foreig Minister was touring Maldives for two days, got an assurance there of India First Policy and then three days in Sri Lanka, until March 30.

Jaishankar in Sri Lanka to secure Indian ocean neighbourhood, counter china, is the title of a report by theprint.in (March 28, 2022)  that summed up the purpose. It reflects India’s role  as US imperialism’s proxy against China, seeking an Asia-Pacific NATO, at a time the Nato is fueling the continued war in Ukraine.

But  equally significantly Jaishankar  joined in a meeting  Gotabaya had with Tamil party, TNA. The Indian High Commission in a statement issued then said that the President,  Foreign Minister GL Peiris and a TNA delegation, led by R. Sampanthan, briefed Jaishankar on the talks, and positive developments  that followed.

BJP leaders’ meet, led by a former IPS official, with Tamil National Alliance (TNA) officials was a political follow up of Jaishankar’s mission.

Ajit Doval, former RAW chief, now PM Modi’s  NSA chief, Security Advisor, was earlier in Sri Lanka in November 2020, and paved the way for the recent developments.

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US, EU and UNHRC in the scene

It is not the customary and diplomatic word “deplore”, but “condemn” is the word everyone used with regard to Sri Lanka, a small country of the global South.

State Department spokesperson  Ned Price said on May 10, that US “ is deeply concerned” by the deployment of the army, and escalation of violence. “We condemn violence against peaceful protesters, and are “closely monitoring the deployment of  troops, as also the political developments after the PM’s resignation.”

“ We urge the government and leaders…to identify and implement solutions to achieve long-term economic and political stability”; the govt must address people’s discontent, including power food and medicine shortages..and their concerns about political future of their country, ”  the US spokesman added.

The newly posted US envoy, Ms. Julie Chung, who assumed office in Colombo only last February, is a senior diplomat and expert on Asia Pacific. She “condemned” May 9 violence, asked for investigations and punitive steps. She had visited the shrines of all four religions in Sri Lanka and cultivated relations.

No wonder the President warned of “subversive” activities, and “racial and religious” animosities being fanned.

The European Union (EU with 27 member states) in a statement issued also “condemned”  the vicious attack against “peaceful protesters” in Colombo.  Like US, it also called for investigations, and actions against those who “instigated or perpetrated”  violence.

US and NATO with more than 30 member countries, joined hands to make supplies to Ukraine – not only millions of dollars, medicines, foods, but more than all weapons – there are now more weapons than men- but little to Sri Lanka.

In London’s parliament square, a mini Gota GO Gama campaign was launched urging all Rajapakses must go. That began May 3 and is scheduled to go on until May 13, around 1500 Sri Lankans joining from various places. There were voices asking for sanctions, the notorious US weapon, until the President also quits.

UNHRC Chief Michelle Bachelet , says a report from Geneva, on May 10 “condemned”  attacks on peaceful protesters on May 9, and also “attacks on those of the ruling party”, urged restraint, and asked for investigations and steps to hold the culprits to account. It went beyond the brief and asked “to address the broader political and systemic root causes” that undermined human rights.

Noises were made about human rights violations in Sri Lanka, as if they are fine in USA. Would they address the “root causes” of US violations at home and abroad?

We have seen India’s role above.

There has been not only fishing in troubled waters…but  also troubling the waters to fish…

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Peaceful protests?

Media is full of reports about peaceful protests and peaceful protesters. But there have been  reports of violent incidents and arson, of official residences and properties being attacked, of course redoubled after May 9 offensive by a mob in support of the PM, who hours later resigned. There was one ruling party MP, who was mobbed, who fired into the air, only to (reportedly) commit suicide.

There were in all around 8 or 9 deaths, including of two police officers and a ruling party MP, and over 250 injured, bad and painful enough. To those tracking the decades-old violence in India, particularly in Kashmir, it appears routine. Half of those casualties belong to the official camp, if one cares to look closer. Not more than two died in police violence in more than one year, but we saw reports of Hong Kong’s suppression hogging headlines for weeks and months.

The Sri lanka government on May 6 Friday declared a state of emergency, for the second time in five weeks. The first state of emergency was declared on April 1, 2022.  There were curfews clamped, but defied.  One can infer the peaceful nature of the protests.

Residences, properties, vehicles, and statues of ruling group politicians were under attack for several days, not only after May 9 violence by the PM’s goons.

The attacks by protesters were across the island, not confined to Colombo.

mirror

Courtesy: dailymirror.lk

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Business masters, Political moves  and IMF program

The business masters meanwhile joined hands and pressed for political moves. Democracy is after all a handmaid of big business, domestic and foreign.

Sri Lanka’s Joint Chambers, ie., those of several organizations of business and commerce, called on the President to ‘immediately appoint a competent person, acceptable to all parties, as interim PM along with a small cabinet, and THEN himself resign. In a statement they said this was essential to conclude the “agreement with IMF in a timely manner as planned.” While awaiting “the IMF program,” it is critical to “secure bridge financing” to get through the next six months. Gotabaya administration, with a new Finance Minister, had approached the IMF a few days ago, it may be mentioned.

The Chambers called on all parties to “set aside their differences and political agendas”…but itself went into political specifics by stressing the need to repeal the 20th Amendment, abolish executive presidency within a reasonable time frame, through a consensual approach.

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abewardhane decided to convene a “special party leaders’ meeting at 3pm, March11, to discuss “future course of action.”

Sajith Premadasa, SJB leader, is willing to take over as the premier if the President also resigns, said Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella.

The President, instead, reportedly sounded SJB leader Sarath Fonseka to offer interim premiership.

The  National People’s Power (NPP with only three MPs) is ready to take responsibility by forming an interim government for a period of six months, followed by general elections, if the other parties are willing to support the neutral regime, said NPP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake. Their primary condition is the same: the President must resign immediately; and the Speaker should be an acting President. If not acceptable, they would support others from outside, dailymirror.lk reported.

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The President commands a majority in the parliament

The media,  as in Pakistan,  had spread speculative reports that the government lost majority following defections and splits. But it was only a few days ago that the elected President of Sri Lanka appeared to command a majority in the parliament.

“Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa-led govt emerged stronger after defeat of Opposition candidate in Deputy Speaker election”, reported PTI,  May 06, 2022, from Colombo:

“ In a major victory for Sri Lanka’s embattled Rajapaksa clan, their nominee on May 5 emphatically won a key vote for the a position of Deputy Speaker in Parliament, demonstrating the government’s ability to prove their parliamentary majority despite raging public protests..”

MP Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who was backed by the ruling coalition led by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, was re-elected as the Deputy Speaker with 148 out of 225 MPs voting in favour of him while Imithiaz Bakeer Markar, who was nominated by the main opposition the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) received only 65 votes. Three votes were rejected, and six MPs including dissident government member Wimal Weerawansa were absent during the vote.

The vote works out to be just two-thirds majority that gives the President added powers, according to some political analysts.  

But it means little as pressures by unseen hands are felt: 

He resigns from the post once more, the very next day reported ANI  May 7, 2022 . He informed the President of Sri Lanka, that he has decided to resign from his post of the Deputy Speaker, as soon as possible, reported the Colombo Page; his  resignation letter will be handed over to Sri Lanka’s President, with his reasons. Earlier, Ranjith had resigned from the post of Deputy Speaker of Sri Lanka on April 5, giving the opportunity to the Parliament for the election of a new Deputy Speaker. Upon the President’s request, he remained in the post of Deputy Speaker until April 30th.

Unseen hands could be felt in all this, and other matters too:

Even with Finance Minister it happened: Basil Rajapakse was the first to go, and was replaced on April 4 by Ali Sabry, a former law Minister, who was expected to carry on negotiations with IMF for rescue financing.  He resigned the very next day, for unknown reasons. Later, he relented and resumed office. Sri lanka’s trade deficit had doubled to $ 1.1 billion in last December, though it had forex reserves of 2.3 billion. Post-Covid, it was no new big news for small countries, but it was aggravated by effects of Ukraine war.

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Regime-change in Sri Lanka, a replay of past attempts

Regime-changes, Arab spring and color revolutions in global South,  pushed by US and the West from behind are no secret: in some cases as in Assad’s Syria, it was a brazen, declared attempt that failed.

Sri Lanka, given its strategic location in the sea lanes, has been a happy hunting ground for imperialists;  this is not the first time.  Its ethnic fault-lines, fragile economy and security were always sought to be manipulated by the West, often with a role for India, its big brother, which regards it as part of its sphere of influence.

The present crisis in Sri Lanka has all the ingredients of the previous attempts, of 2015 and 2018. Rajapaksas gained by it in the past, and are now in trouble.  

Electoral democracy in many third world countries is only a handmaid in imperialists’ games that go in the name of democracy.

Sudden regime change in Sri Lanka: Mahinda Rajapakse is back, now as PM

That is the title of report in indianexpress.com, October 27, 2018,  written by Nirupama Subramanian, a senior member of its Editorial staff, and foreign affairs expert,  who travelled widely in Srilanka. Parties and leaders, all familiar in current episode, were orchestrated, with splits and defections, as can be seen. It reads:

… former President Mahinda Rajapakse made a stunning return to power as the country’s new Prime Minister. He was sworn in by President Maithripala Sirisena who fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. But Wickremesinghe called the move “illegal and unconstitutional” and said he was still the Prime Minister and would prove his majority.

The dramatic developments in Colombo followed a breakdown in ties between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, especially on policy issues related to economy and security. Sirisena’s United  People’s Freedom Alliance announced it was leaving the National Unity Government with Wickremesinghe’s United National Party…The government had been tottering ever since Rajapakse’s party emerged victorious in local elections earlier this year. .. It also sets the stage for the 2019 presidential election.

Wickremesinghe was quoted by Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror website saying “I am still the Prime Minister of this country”, while his Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera tweeted that what had taken place was “illegal”, “unconstitutional” and an “anti-democratic coup”.

(Maithripala Sirisena was supposed to be a democrat who replaced ‘autocratic’ Rajapaksa; but now he resorted to the same ways in replacing Wickremesinghe!)

“US urges parties to abide by Constitution, refrain from violence” was a related report, that reveals the US hand in the regime change. Under the 19th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution, brought in by the National Unity government in 2015, the President lost the power to dismiss the Prime Minister.

Constitution and laws are always flexible,as in India, and violence and mass protests are handy tools in color revolutions. Courts also come in handy as in Pakistan, recently again.

India had a role again in this game of 2018, played with US and its anti-China strategy, as seen in the report:

“India, whose relations with Rajapakse had snapped almost entirely before the 2014 presidential election, mainly for his open and almost deliberately provocative embrace of China through his second term as President, watched the drift with worry, but was unable to bring about a patch-up. ..

“New Delhi is said to have backed Sirisena’s candidature in 2014 and sees Wickremesinghe as the most India-friendly of the political leaders in Sri Lanka. But it has also reached out to Rajapakse. Prime Minister Narendra Modi met him on his visit to Sri Lanka last year, and in August, Rajapakse met Modi during a visit to India…”

Family rule of Rajapaksas is touted as a factor in Sri Lanka, as if it is exceptional with that country and that family. It is the rule rather than exception in India and in South Asia, which is famous for dozens of Political Houses like Business Houses. BJP makes some claims against dynasties, but most of its leaders in various states – even in the Union Ministry- are part of the game. So are charges of corruption.    

Maithripala Sirisena, as many politicians in South Asia,  proved to be no different in nepotism, corruption and authoritarianism: His brother was appointed Telecom Chief, his son-in-law became a key PRO in Defence Ministry, his son and daughter were groomed into political roles, including attending UN sessions, and introduced to foreign  dignitaries like Modi. His key associate was soon caught receiving bribes, and it was linked to an  Indian businessman …

“India can play a positive role,” said Obama and Modi-led India was used, as seen above. Mahinda Rajapaksa who was replaced in 2015 by USA was brought back again in 2018, through a  “Sudden regime change” as seen above.

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Regime-change in Sri Lanka, a replay of 2014-15

So we can see from the past report; detailed extracts (with emphases added) are given below, from a report, in World Socialist Web Site (wsws.org), 16 February 2015, titled More evidence of US involvement in Sri Lankan regime-change, by Sri Lankan analyst, K. Ratnayake:

Sri Lanka’s presidential election on January 8, 2015, resulted in the ousting of Mahinda Rajapakse and the installation of Maithripala Sirisena as president…(it  was claimed to be) the result of an “uprising of the people” against Rajapakse’s autocratic rule, it was in reality a regime-change operation..

Right from the outset, it was clear that Sirisena’s sudden emergence as the “common opposition candidate” was the result of carefully-orchestrated, behind-the-scenes intrigues. On November 20, 2014, one day after Rajapakse announced the election date, Health Minister Sirisena quit the government and declared that he would be standing in the election backed by the opposition United National Party (UNP) and other parties.

The Obama administration was deeply hostile to Rajapakse’s ties with Beijing and determined to ensure that Sri Lanka is fully integrated into the US “pivot to Asia” and military build-up against China.

The US has been putting pressure on Rajapakse to break ties with Beijing since 2009 when the Sri Lankan military defeated the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the island’s long-running communal war. Having fully backed the war, Washington has cynically exploited the military’s war crimes and the threat of charges to try to force Rajapakse to distance his government from China.

Rajapakse sought to balance between Washington and Beijing but the US made clear that was untenable. In March last year, Washington flagged its impatience by pushing a resolution through the UN Human Rights Council calling for an international inquiry into human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. Wickremesinghe’s visit and discussions in the US followed in April.

Washington was acting through former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

“During his one-month stay in the US last April, Wickremesinghe had met and held discussions on Sri Lanka’s political future with the senior officials at the State Department, and White House, and the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives.”

On February 6, the Sri Lankan government’s information department web site published a report on the visit of Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera to Washington. It highlighted “the revival of the cordial relationship between the two countries” and explained that this was the “result of the fruitful discussions the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, as the opposition leader, had with the US State Department officials, including [US Assistant Secretary of State] Biswal and former Ambassador to Colombo Michelle Sison.”

On his return to Sri Lanka, Wickremesinghe met with US ambassador Sison on May 22 at the UNP headquarters. A media report at the time noted that the focus of the discussion “was regarding the current political situation of Sri Lanka.”

When the UNP announced Wickremesinghe’s extended trip to the US last year, it was billed as a study tour at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. Clearly that was just a cover for lengthy discussions with top State Department and White House officials over “Sri Lanka’s political future”—that is, how to advance their common objective of removing Rajapakse from office. US ambassador Sison coordinated the meetings.

The other key figure in the intrigues was former President Kumaratunga, who as a former leader and a senior figure within Rajapakse’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party, was able to broker the deal for Sirisena to defect and run as opposition candidate with the UNP’s support. She also has close connections in Washington and to the White House via her association with the Clinton Foundation. As Obama’s previous Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was the architect of the “pivot to Asia” and was deeply involved in all of its intrigues, including in Sri Lanka.

In a lengthy interview with Sirasa TV on February 3, Kumaratunga acknowledged her role, saying she had been the main architect in bringing Sirisena forward as the common opposition candidate. Kumaratunga said that many people had urged her to intervene against Rajapakse, adding: “Foreign countries strongly brought proposals [to me] on this.” She refused to name the countries or to elaborate, but the US was clearly one of the countries.

The opposition plans for the election were shown to top US and UK diplomats by UNP leaders, Karu Jayasuriya, Mangala Samaraweera and Ravi Karunanayake.

The Sunday Times editorial on February 8 noted: “It is an open secret that the former US Ambassador in Colombo reached out to the Opposition, especially the then Leader of the Opposition [Wickremesinghe]” and moved away from engagement with former President Rajapakse.

In carrying out this regime-change operation, the opposition parties exploited the deep hostility among workers, young people and the poor towards the Rajapakse government over its anti-democratic methods and austerity policies.

Sirisena declared that he was fighting against the “dictatorship and family nepotism of Rajapakse” and promised economic relief for the people.

This pro-US campaign was immensely helped by pseudo-left organizations.. (within USA and in various countries, driving anti-China campaign, with a ‘left’ orientation, as mentioned by Monthly Review authors, Samir Amin, and others..)

Wickremesinghe’s UNP has a long history of attacks on the democratic and social rights of workers and youth.

Having helped install Sirisena, the US is now seeking to rapidly transform its relations with Sri Lanka. During his recent visit to India, Obama said: “In this region, India can play a positive role in helping countries forge a better future, from Burma to Sri Lanka, where today there’s new hope for democracy.”

Similarly, in a speech to Brooklyn Institute on National Security Strategy, Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice declared: “We’ll help countries in transition—like Burma, Tunisia, and Sri Lanka—become more open, more democratic, and more inclusive societies. We’ll support established democracies that are in danger of backsliding.”

Washington’s machinations have nothing to do with fostering democracy in Sri Lanka, or anywhere else in the world. Rather, the US is seeking to ensure its dominance throughout the globe, particularly in Asia over China.

The new Sri Lanka government has wasted no time in showing its readiness to align with US interests. Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Samaraweera is visiting Washington this week to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss closer relations.

US imperialism has brought Europe to the brink of war with its reckless confrontation with Russia over Ukraine (the reference is to developments in 2014, when a coup was organized to install a pro-US regime there.)

Washington’s aggressive policies in Asia against China carry the same dangers.

The unfolding developments would reveal the script work that is for now less known.

***               ***

Part-2 would go into other issues, including the economic crisis, and the alleged ‘debt diplomacy’.

(The author was a mediaperson who contributed to countercurrents,org.)


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One Comment

  1. S. N. Murthy Ch says:

    We could rarely find this kind of presentation of the problem, particularly in telugu mainstream media.