Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa regime tried to extend rule with military force: Rajitha

COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – A last ditch attempt by Sri Lanka’s ousted Rajapaksa regime to extend its rule with military force after and electoral defeat was thwarted as military and law officers resisted, Rajitha Senaratne, a senior figure in the island’s newly elected coalition said.

The attempt was made in the early hours of Friday when election results showed President Mahinda Rajapaksa was heading for defeat but the army commander had resisted the orders, Senaratne told a news conference.

The poll was won by Maithripala Sirisena, a former health minister under Rajapaksa, who defected with Senaratne to join the opposition after Rajapaksa called a snap poll two years ahead of schedule.

Rajapaksa’s younger brother, Gotabhaya, a former army officer, served as secretary to the defence ministry which controlled the armed forces, and was considered one of the most powerful men in the country.

Senaratne told a news conference he was thankful to the military commander and the inspector general of police for standing firm.

Law officials had also refused to carry out illegal orders, he said in an apparent reference to the Attorney General of Sri Lanka.

"They tried to attempt to continue . . . by force," Senaratne said, without giving details when asked if Rajapaksa had tried a coup.

"It was a request turned down by the (security) forces."

Asked who gave the order, Senaratne did not name anyone, but said all be revealed in due course.

Senaratne said the opposition who won the poll was "very grateful" to the Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya for resisting pressure to rig the poll.

"We have not seen a state official working like this, fearlessly," Senaratne said. "Also our IGP (Inspector General of Police). He got various order. He was under various pressures including from the ministry secretary.

"Like a gentlemen he (IGP) acted. He had done whatever he could to ensure a free and fair election.

"Also the army commander. He had various requests to call the military to the field. To various places. We talked to the army commander and told him not to do it, let the police do it. He also did it, not calling the troops and confining them to the barracks," Senaratne said.

"I am grateful for him in the last hour for not bowing down to any of these orders. This is a free country. There were various fears that after this election there would be a military government," Senaratne said.

"But I said this was not a Pakistan, or Thailand but a country that was fed on free elections."

Sri Lanka’s military has remained apolitical throughout the island’s turbulent past four decades in sharp contrast to other developing countries in Asia, Africa and South America where coups have been common.

Since the early 1970s the island’s security forces have put down two leftwing youth insurrections based in the south and the 30-year Tamil Tiger separatist revolt in the north and east.

Despite occasions during these conflicts where government power looked shaky and the military was called on to support civil authority, the armed forces never got involved in politics.

Senaratne gave no further details but his remarks appeared to confirm widely-held fears among the opposition and voters that Rajapaksa would try to rig the poll or remain in power using military force if he lost.

The opposition and civil society groups have accused the Rajapaksas of tinkering with the constitution to destroy the independence of public institutions like the police, judiciary and civil service.

But alleged attempts to politicise the military do not seem to have worked.

Analysts said military leaders, conscious of the need to maintain pride in the service, would not have wanted to buck popular will as demonstrated in Thursday’s poll that ousted Rajapaksa.

Senaratne also said the presidential election was not as free and fair as it seemed with Rajapaksa abusing state resources including the media, in violation of election laws, to try to woo voters.

"This was not a fair election. State media has never been used in this low way. I am very thankful for the elections commissioner. Despite heavy pressure he was committed to do a fair election.

Update II