For any decent-minded person, the idea of the Easter Sunday attacks being used for political agendas is an inherently abhorrent notion. But in Sri Lanka’s highly politicised environment, this is more than likely.
The latest indication that the Easter Sunday attacks could be used for political fodder emerged when a computer and a photocopy machine which were believed to have been used to prepare defamatory letters against the President were seized from the Public Enterprises Ministry at the World Trade Centre in Colombo on Friday. According to Police Spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekera three suspects were arrested with at least 600 letters containing defamatory remarks against the President at the Central Mail Exchange (CME) in Pettah the day before.
Given the unsavoury state of relations between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe as well as elections looming on the horizon, there is fertile ground for the Easter Sunday attacks to be used for political gain. Former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s interestingly timed statement that he would run in the Presidential elections, which are expected to be called later this year, on a platform of wiping out terrorism has also given additional impetus to his publicity efforts.
There was little doubt that an upcoming election battle would be very intense and very dirty given the number of ambitious people likely to be directly or indirectly in the fray. The politically savvy public are carefully watching for a reaction from the camp of Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa to the former Defence Secretary’s announcement but it has been uncharacteristically or even eerily silent. Earlier widespread speculation that the elder Rajapaksa was not keen on his brother’s candidacy would naturally be reinforced by this reaction. With several months still to go before an election is called the Rajapaksa camp will likely continue to keep their cards very close to their chest.
There is no doubt that President Maithripala Sirisena’s plans to run for a second term has been massively dented, if not completely shattered, by the Easter Sunday attacks. The fact that he holds the Defence portfolio, including police, but failed to at least minimise arguably the worst terror attack in Sri Lanka’s recent history will not be easily forgotten by an angry public. Not only does this scupper Sirisena’s chances but it would also irrevocably stain any political party willing to back him.
There is no doubt that the attacks present the best ammunition against the President, but that does not mean his political rivals should stoop to using it. In fact if they were to descend so low they may find that a fed up public decides to vent their frustrations on them as well. In that aspect the UNP’s leadership refraining from openly criticising Sirisena is a thin silver line in an otherwise bleak time.
Sri Lanka’s private sector led by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce has also appealed for a united front to deal with the aftermath of the attacks. The daily grim reports on the impact on the tourism industry is expected. Given that barely two weeks have passed since the string of suicide bombs, a huge drop in the number of arrivals is only to be expected. However, the tourism industry must also maintain its perspective and have patience. They have had a good run for nearly a decade, and it is hoped that the profits they gained during that time will support them at least partially until normalcy returns.