Will Channel Four play a pivotal role and be a deciding factor in the next elections? BY KASSAPA

The damage to the SLPP has already been done. It has been proven that the SLPP is a corrupt cabal, a government of the Rajapaksas, by the Rajapaksas, for the Rajapaksas

After all the hype, the much-awaited Channel 4 documentary has seen the light of day and raised a storm of protest in Sri Lanka, but what, if any, are its implications on the country’s volatile political landscape?

In a nutshell, the documentary alleges that the Rajapaksas, through high-ranking Army officer Suresh Sally, conceived the 2019 Easter terror attacks in the country, so that it would create a climate of fear that would then propel Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the Presidency. This was done through the mediation of Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, better known as Pillayan, a former member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, now turned politician and state minister, it is alleged.

The fallout from the documentary has been predictable. Rajapaksa, Sallay and Chandrakanthan have all vehemently denied the claims that have been made and so has the Ministry of Defence, in an official statement. On the other hand, the collective opposition has gone to town, lambasting the Rajapaksas and calling for an international investigation, a call supported by the Catholic Church.

In response, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has done what he always does: appoint a committee. This time, he will be appointing two: one, an inquiry by a former judge of the Supreme Court and the second, yet another Parliamentary Select Committee.

The public will view the appointment of these committees with a pinch of salt. The Easter bombings have already seen the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry and a Presidential Commission of Inquiry by then President Maithripala Sirisena, a Parliamentary Select Committee of Inquiry and a Supreme Court verdict in response to fundamental rights applications filed by aggrieved citizens.

While all these inquiries have shed some light into the blatant negligence that contributed to the attacks, we are no closer to the truth as to who masterminded the attacks. What benefit another two inquiries will add to the already completed four probes is a reasonable question, especially when one of them will be a Parliamentary Select Committee dominated presumably by members of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) which is led by the Rajapaksas, the virtual accused in this instance.

The more pertinent question would be the public’s response to the Channel 4 documentary. In much the same way that the 2019 Easter attacks propelled the SLPP to power at the 2019 presidential election, will the latest revelations plunge the ‘pohottuwa’ party out of public favour because of the monstrous allegations that are being made? Or, paradoxically, will this again work in the SLPP’s favour because the Rajapaksa can claim (again!) that they are being persecuted by western interests for trying to save the Sinhala race and the nation?

While the jury is still out on whether the Rajapaksas in fact orchestrated the Easter attacks as alleged in the documentary, it is a fact that they certainly capitalised on it. On the Friday after that deadly Easter Sunday Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced that, having saved the country once from Tamil extremists, he was ready to do so again to save it from Muslim extremists and was therefore running for President.

What followed was a seven-month long campaign based on anti-Muslim sentiment raising fears of annihilation of the Sinhala race and Muslim extremism taking hold in the country. There were concerted efforts to compel Sinhalese to boycott Muslim establishments. There was talk of a Muslim doctor sterilising Sinhalese mothers by manipulating their organs, a feat that is medically impossible.

A majority of the voting public fell for this strategy, hook, line and sinker, giving Gotabaya Rajapaksa an unprecedented mandate. Contributing to that mandate significantly were Catholic voters, angry as they were after the Easter attacks. The so-called ‘Catholic belt’ North of Colombo, traditionally a stronghold of the United National Party (UNP), opted to endorse Rajapaksa.

Now, the shoe is on the other foot. Voters are being told that the Easter attacks were a drama staged, at the cost of over 250 lives, merely to bring the Rajapaksas to power again. The Catholic Church and its head, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith who endorsed Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2019, leads the calls for an international investigation and lambasts the Rajapaksas whenever he is able to.

Besides, the SLPP is not what it was in 2019, when it was a virgin political party albeit under the banner of the ageing Rajapaksas. Whatever the Rajapaksas were thought to be guilty of in 2015 that deserved them to be banished into the political wilderness was forgiven in the face of this perceived threat of Muslim extremism.

Today it is not so. The SLPP stands accused and virtually convicted of spiralling the country into an economic abyss of no return. Its hero who was supposed to save the country from Islamic terrorism, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, couldn’t save himself from mobs at his front gates and had to flee through the backdoor of President’s House.

The damage to the SLPP has already been done. It has been proven that the SLPP is a corrupt cabal, a government of the Rajapaksas, by the Rajapaksas for the Rajapaksas. That is why, Ranil Wickremesinghe has been careful not to include any Rajapaksa in his Cabinet.

In such a context, the allegations made about the Easter attacks in the Channel 4 documentary will resonate with most voters. Just as much as they did not need evidence that a ‘snake king’ indeed emerged from the Kelani river to herald the arrival of a new King, they will not need evidence to condemn and convict the Rajapaksas for the Easter atrocities in the court of public opinion.

Therefore, the Channel 4 documentary will form an important part of the next presidential election campaign. This is an issue that Wickremesinghe, who is banking on the support of the SLPP to deliver him the next Presidency in a playing field where the opposition id divided, needs to be wary of. By aligning himself with the Rajapaksas, he too may be found guilty by association.

The Channel 4 documentary will not be a turning point in the next national election- but it will be a stark reminder that those who use fake nationalism for their political advantage can equally become victims of their own actions.