Sri Lanka gets a "Hawk" as President and an "Eagle"
as Prime Minister
by Feroze Jainudeen
Sri Lanka got a Sinhala hawk as president when Southern hardliner Mahinda
Rajapakse was elected as its fifth exeucutive President.
Now with the appointment of another Sinhala hardliner Ratnasiri Wickremanayake
as Premier by Rajapakse the Country has a chauvinist Eagle as Prime Minister.
With a hawk as President and eagle as prime minister political analysts are
worried that the Country is surely sliding towards war with the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam organization.
In what seemed surely a surprise move President Mahinda Rajapakse appointed
the veteran Ratnasiri Wickremanayake as the Prime Minister on Nov 21st at the
auspicious time of 11. 34 am.
The 73-year-old Mr. Wickremanayake who earlier also served as Prime Minister
took his oaths at Temple Trees.
Premier Wickremanayake said the new administration should work hard to fulfil
the promises made to the people.
Mr. Wickremanayake during the past 11 years has held key portfolios and is
widely regarded as a hardliner on the ethnic conflict.
He has been making several hard statements on the ethnic conflict and
resumption of war with the tigers.
Wickremanayake served as Prime minister twice under Chandrika Kumaratunga
from 1999 to 2000 and from 2000 to 2001. He also served as stopgap premier for
a few months in 2004 till Mahinda Rajapakse was appointed last year.
Wickremanayake who was a target of a tiger suicide bomber in 2000 is well known
for his bombastic pronouncements on the ethnic problem. He has not favoured a
political solution and always argued for war to end the terrorist problem. He
denies there is a political problem in the Country.
Wickremanayake is notorious for his public appeal to the Sinhala people to spurn
family planning and give birth abundantly to young lions and lionesses to fight the
Hailing from a landowner family in Horana in the Kalutara district of the Western
Province Wickremanayake studied to be a barrister in London witout completing
his studies. He also enrolled at Colombo law College but did not become a lawyer.
He contested on the Sinhala nationalist Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) in
March 1960 and won the Horana seat. He left the MEP and contested as an
Independent backed by the SLFP in July 1960 and won the Horana seat again.
In 1962 he joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party formally in 1962.
Wickremanayake won Horana in 1965 and 1970 on the SLFP ticket. He was
deputy minister of justice in 1970 - 77.
After losing in 1977 he became SLFP Gen Secretary. In 1984 he left the pary with
Chandrika Kumaratunga and Vijaya Kumaratunga and formed the Sri Lanka
Mahajana Party. n 1989 he returned to the SLFP with Chandrikas blessings, He
was a devout loyalist of Chandrika and carried out every command slavishly.
He was rewarded with Premiership and deputy defence minister posts because of
When Kumaratunga and Rajapakse quarrelled over Mahindas pacts with the JVP
and JHU Wickremanayake took her side and did not campaign efectively for
Mr. Wickremanayake's appointment yesterday as a surprise with most reports
speculating the job might go to veteran Minister and PA general secretary D.M.
Mr. Jayaratne was not present at yesterday's swearing-in which was attended
among others by Anura Bandaranaike who did not get the job though the SLFP
central committe had nominated him for it.
Among others present at the ceremony were JVP leaders Tilvin Silva and Wimal
Weerawansa, EPDP leader Douglas Devananda, and NUA leader Ferial Ashraff.
Minister Mangala Samaraweera, the brains behind the Rajapakse campaign had
been responsible in large part for the UPFA's success at the election, having
obtained the JVP's unconditional support and also introduced Alles to the
negotiation process with the LTTE. Naturally, given Foreign Minister Anura
Bandaranaike's conduct during the presidential campaign, he has been
systematically edged out of the battle for the premiership and it has been none
other than Samaraweera who staked his claim for the title soon after Rajapakse
But the Chief Campaign Coordinator was much distressed at the answer he
received. "You are not mature enough in politics to be prime minister, Mangala. At
this time we need a very experienced premier in parliament," replied the
President. It was after this that the name of senior SLFP member D.M. Jayaratne
was suggested for the premiership, because of his experience and of course the
fact that he was from Kandy. Knowing full well that the Central Province rejected
him at Thursday's poll, President Rajapakse was keen to make amends by
appointing an Upcountry member his deputy.
But he encountered strange opposition from the Kandy Mahanayakes to this
move. When President Rajapakse visited the two prelates after taking oaths on
Saturday, Head of the Malwatte Chapter, Ven. Tibbutuwawe Sri Siddhartha
Sumangala Thero decreed that there was no point appointing Jayaratne premier,
as there was nothing he had done for the Kandy District, being a Kandyan
himself. Trying to play peacemaker, the Malwatte Mahanayake even suggested
that the new President forgive Mr. Bandaranaike for his behaviour during the
campaign and appoint him as stipulated by the SLFP central committee. But
Rajapakse was not to be thus moved.
Instead on Sunday (20) night, he summoned together all the hopefuls for the
premiership, UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayanth, SLFP General
Secretary Maithripala Sirisena, Minister Samaraweera, Minister Jayaratne and
Minister Rathnasiri Wickremanayake. At the meeting, it was unanimously decided
that Wickremanayake would be appointed Prime Minister based on seniority.
Soon afterwards, Mr. Wickremanayake made his way to President's House, where
President Kumaratunga was briefed about the outcome of the battle for the
premiership. The outgoing Head of State claimed that she had no problem with
Rajapakse's choice even though it snubbed her brother, but informed
Wickremenayake that the decent thing to do would be to put the proposal to the
SLFP central committee once more and obtain its sanction. This,
Wickremanayake failed to do until a few moments before he was sworn in.
President Rajapakse had initially decided on a cabinet of 25 ministers, but given
the tussle for portfolios within the alliance, it was decided not to limit the number.
Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle staked his claim for the Finance portfolio and the
President finally decided that he would keep the ministry himself. And so the
appointment of the new cabinet continues and the country waits to see what
surprises the new Rajapakse budget will have to offer.
Chandrika and Mahinda also quarrelled vehemently over the future of Anura
Bandaranaike. Accepting that Anura could not be given Premiership the elder
sister wanted foreign ministership. But Mahinda refused saying Anura will only use
it to abuse him abroad. He said he will ground him as Public Administration
minister. But Chandrika pressed for at least Tourism minister
It remains to be seen how the cabinet and other ministerial portfolios will finally be
assigned by President Rajapakse and the resentments that could arise from
disgruntled and disappointed persons.
Even more important is the future of Sri Lanka under a hawk and eagle