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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

If there was a conspiracy it was by the military: Gota’s “The Conspiracy to Oust Me”- Major Takeaways (02)

By Sunanda Deshapriya.

  1. Former Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (GR) released his first book “The Conspiracy to Oust Me from Presidency- How internationally sponsored regime change made a mockery of Democracy in Sri Lanka” on 07th March 2024.
  2. Although he attributes his failure to ‘Internationally sponsored regime change’ his book provides ample evidence that he had to flee the country because his military set-up failed to protect him.  He describes the peaceful protest movement that challenged his rule as ‘criminal’.
  3. GR explains his reasons for leaving the presidency in his book: “I also knew that determined foreign forces and certain local parties were organizing and financing violent protests and sabotage to remove me from the presidency and they would not stop as long as I was in power. Thus, the country will not return to normal. I had decided long ago that I would not run for another term, so there was no point in fighting to stay in office for the rest of my term, further inconveniencing the people.” The book proves this statement is not true.
  4. He became the president just two and a half years ago with an unprecedented mandate of 6.9 million votes. Still, he argues that he could not stand against forces against him. The question he should have answered is why his 6.9 M mandate became null and void in such a short time. The book does not address that question.
  5. His statement that “there was no point in fighting to stay in office for the rest of my term” contradicts many other statements in the book.
  6. GR says in his book that although he was the president of the country, he didn’t have political power over the party he represented, i.e. Mahinda Rajapaksa led Sri Lanka PoduJana Peramamuna (Sri Lanka People’s Front -SLPP): “The main reasons that affected this situation were that I was not an office bearer of the ruling party, and Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa was not involved in politics like in the past. His health was also not what it used to be. Mahinda Rajapaksa was a factor with over half a century of political experience, which we could have used to our advantage, but we failed in that.”  This situation led to instability within the government, according to GR.
  7. GR blames the 2/3 majority PM Mahinda Rajapaksa had in the parliament as a major weakness for his failure: “It can be said that our political decline started from the time we gained two-thirds power in Parliament in August 2020.”
  8. It is not the so-called conspirators but his section of the government that first requested Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign according to GR. “The first suggestion that Mahinda Rajapaksa should resign as Prime Minister came from within our government. Saboteurs were not only in the country but also within my government.”
  9. In fact, according to the book GR didn’t want to give in to the ‘Aragalaya’ protest movement. He blames his closest military generals for not blocking the protestors entering Colombo on the day his destiny was sealed. That was the 9 July 2023.
  10. First he is critical of his appointee, the head of the State Intelligence Service (SIS) Major General Suresh Sallay for not being able to gather relevant intelligence. “When Salay, who was an army officer, was appointed after a long hiatus to the State Intelligence Service, which was until recently fully owned by the police, he may not have received the support from the State Intelligence Service that he was able to get from the Military Intelligence Division as the Director of Military Intelligence (DMI).” Salay was the head of the DMI earlier.
  11. Then GR turns on to Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratna another appointee of his. “The command and control function of the defence forces would have worked better if the Defence Secretary had been an officer much senior to all the commanders of the three armed forces. Although the Defence Secretary is also an ex-army officer, he is now a civilian after retirement. So he wanted a serving military personal as the Defence Secretary.
  12. Four-star General Savendra Silva was one of GR’s most trusted soldiers. He served as the Commander of the Sri Lanka army from 19 August 2019 to 31 May 2022. GR appointed Shavendra as the Chief of Defence Staff, the head of the Sri Lanka Armed Forces on 01 January 2020. In his book, GR depicts Shavendra as someone with a weak mental state. GR criticises Shavendra for having depression because his daughter, who is a biologist, was not granted a visa to go to a program in the United States.  “When I was the Defence Secretary, he was a Divisional Commander of the Army. He has been a primary target of war crimes charges against us in the West and the sanctions imposed by the United States on him and his family must have put him under severe stress. It’s clear that all this had a psychological effect on him.” GR makes this allegation in the context of the Military not taking action to prevent the burning of houses of ruling party politicians across the country on the night of 09 May.
  13. Further GR blames the Inspector General of Police (IGP) for not taking action on night of the 9 May 2023. “On May 9, 2022, when houses were being set on fire by violent people across the country, when law and order had completely broken down, I telephoned the SSP, Tangalle, and asked him to explain why he could not stop what was happening despite the presence of a large number of policemen. He told me that, firstly, the police officers were reluctant to take responsibility for the injuries or deaths of the protestors to prevent violent incidents, secondly, there had been an order from the Inspector General of Police that firearms should not be used under any circumstances.”
  14. According to GR it is the military that did not take action against the ‘Aragalaya’ protest movement because of the failure of its commanders. “But then (during the war) the top military officers went to the military camps and told the common soldiers that as the army we should not get involved in politics, and as military officers, our responsibility was to protect the country’s constitutional governance and democracy. In 2022, however, such a message did not go from the top of the army to the average military officer. I don’t think the message was communicated even to the higher-ups like divisional commanders.”
  15. All these statements by GR point, in his opinion, to the failure of his Police and Military commanders in allowing ‘Aragalaya’ protest movement to succeed in toppling him. It is a completely different matter of whether any force could have stopped the million-strong spontaneous peaceful people’s movement without a bloodbath.
  16. GR was trying his best to stay put at the presidential palace on 9 July 2023 when the tsunami of protestors descended on Colombo.  “On July 8, 2022, I instructed Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne to move the operations room from the Defence Force Headquarters to the Presidential Palace. I have taken this step to call all the security chiefs to the President’s House because of the bad experience we had in bringing the military personnel to evacuate the former Prime Minister and others at Temple House on the night of May 9, On the morning of July 9, 2022, the Defence Secretary, Army, Navy and Air Force Commanders, the Inspector General of Police and the Director of the State Intelligence Service came to the operation room established in the Presidential Palace. The government planned to block all access roads to prevent the protesters from entering Colombo. But no such roadblocks were established anywhere, and the protesters reached the Presidential Palace without any obstruction.”
  17. According to GR himself, it is not the international and local forces that force him to flee. “At around 10.30 am, [ on 9 July 2023] I was told by the Defence Secretary and Army Chiefs that I should leave the Presidential Palace immediately. At that time, not even an hour had passed since the agitators had surrounded the presidential palace. The previous day, as per the instructions of my security personnel, we had prepared two suitcases with clothes and other items for emergency use. When we came down with the luggage and boarded our vehicles, the agitators broke the front gate and entered the Presidential Palace premises.”
  18. Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to leave the country because his military plan failed. The book gives ample evidence for this scenario. If there was a conspiracy, it was by the military.
  19. The book makes it clear that GR still cannot comprehend the power of the people united. For him protestors are criminals. “If a group of organized criminals were able to come to Colombo without any hindrance and take over the Presidential Palace, the Presidential Secretariat, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Prime Minister’s official residence and burn down the private residence of the incumbent Prime Minister, it is clear that there has been a serious breakdown of law and order there. A question I have often been asked is how such a thing happened when a person like me with an understanding of security and intelligence affairs was in the presidency and the best professional military officers of this country were leading the security. There is no easy answer to that question.” (All quotes are from the Sinhala version of the book)

Sri Lanka Brief Update.15 March 2024

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