By Amrit Muttukumaru –
Whatever the background of those in the current parliament, they are aware that accepting a person such as Ranil Wickremesinghe who was rejected outright by the electorate and hence lacking legitimacy as President is a political ‘kiss of death’. Hence, why did the overwhelming majority in parliament vote for him to be ‘back-door’ President knowing the circumstances under which the beleaguered then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed him Prime Minister? Is not the answer self-evident? Let me spell it out.
Only a fraction of the 225 MPs elected in August 2020 will dare go to their electorates knowing full well the hostile reception they will receive for being COMPLICIT in the untold suffering the people are undergoing due to the gross mismanagement of the economy under the stewardship of then President Gotabaya. This applies in particular to the 145 members in the Rajapaksa controlled governing coalition in which the SLPP is predominant.
The vast majority of the 134 votes obtained by Wickremesinghe to be President came from the 145 member governing coalition which continues to prop him up in the knowledge that the last thing they both want are elections!
Wickremesinghe being so confident that the Rajapaksa coalition will support him, does not behave as a person whose party has only one seat and that too on the ‘National list’. Imagining that the UNP is in power, he is back to his old game of appointing cronies and hangers-on to key positions in state institutions.
The ‘Aragalaya’ protesters are spot-on when they condemn all 225 members of the current parliament. Of course there are exceptions. The only members who have REFUSED to be part of an All-Party Government (APG) under Wickremesinghe are Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka of the SJB – ‘Harsha contradicts Sarath Fonseka on All-Party Govt.’ (2:19), three JVP MPs under the leadership of Anura Kumara Dissanayake and two MPs of the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) under the leadership of Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam. Sarath Fonseka did himself no favours by reportedly being part of the ‘bus ride’ with some SJB MPs to the Presidential Secretariat for discussions with Wickremesinghe – ‘Moves to form all-party Government’ (‘The Sunday Times’ 7 August 2022). The JVP which earlier reportedly was to meet Wickremesinghe – ‘JVP to take part at discussion with President: Handunnetti’ (‘Daily Mirror’ 8 August 2022) now seem to have changed their mind.
Irrespective of the nature of the discussions, keeping away from Wickremesinghe would ENHANCE the CREDIBILITY of both Sarath Fonseka and the JVP.
How could anyone seriously committed to the welfare and interest of this country and its people for whatever reason meet with a President who lacks legitimacy?
President without Legitimacy?
How Ranil Wickremesinghe became the country’s Executive President is a case study of the socio-political and economic rot in this country.
Here is a person who led the UNP to electoral oblivion at the August 2020 parliamentary election and failing to win his own seat in the Colombo District which for long has been a UNP bastion being ensconced in the position of Executive President. Although the votes obtained by Wickremesinghe was not released in the public domain, it is widely perceived to be less than a measly 20,000 votes! The irony is that he is replacing a man forced to resign for good reason who less than three years ago obtained a whopping 6.9 Million votes. Is this not PERVERSE?
He ultimately got into parliament only because of the single ‘National List’ entitlement of the UNP. Even this has been questioned. Wickremesinghe is savvy enough to know in his heart of hearts that his ‘National List’ parliamentary membership is UNCONSTITUTIONAL since it is inimical to Article 99A. This is due to the alleged failure of the UNP General Secretary to submit his name to the Election Commission as its nominee on the ‘National List’ within the specified 7 days after then Chairman of the Election Commission – Mahinda Deshapriya had requested the General Secretary to do so.
The watershed island-wide ‘Aragalaya’ protest movement famously began its journey on 9 April from the vicinity of the presidential secretariat at Galle Face. The catalyst for the ‘Aragalaya’ was the 31 March mass protest close to the private residence of then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Mirihana. The clarion call for ‘system change’ commenced with the catchy slogan ‘Gota Go Home’ demanding the immediate resignation of Gotabaya, dismantling of Rajapaksa dynastic politics and the return of the allegedly stolen Billions. After the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister and Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President, hardly anyone in the country let alone the ‘Aragalaya’ would have bargained for a two in one NIGHTMARE resulting in the effective retention of the Rajapaksa clan together with the electorally discarded and wily Ranil Wickremesinghe as President.
Before even the ink had dried after Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Executive President on 21 July, the brute force of balaclava concealed armed security forces was unleashed under his watch in the dead of night on hapless unarmed ‘Aragalaya’ protesters. This was despite the earlier assurance given by protesters they will vacate the area a few hours after daybreak. It is the supreme irony that the reputation of then President Gotabaya for intolerance of dissent and use of violent methods has been SURPASSED by Wickremesinghe reputed to be a pacifist in relation to the response to the Aragalaya. Even when the protesters were storming the President’s House in the Fort on 9 July, Gotabaya surprisingly did not give the order to security forces to use violent methods. Wickremesinghe did so within 24 hours of being ‘elected’! This by no means should be interpreted as going ‘soft’ on the terrible violence prone ‘administration’ of the Rajapaksas.
There is something about the PRINTED word that makes it more credible and hence more influential to condition the HUMAN PSYCHE in a manner that the social and visual media cannot match.
Almost everything about Wickremesinghe’s political life relating to his purported democratic credentials, management skills and ability to obtain FDIs is for the most part a MYTH planted by businessmen owned media led by the country’s dominant newspaper company Wijeya Newspapers Limited (WNL) with its stable of Sinhala and English newspapers. This myth smartly propagated by spin doctors in western funded NGOs has been picked up by gullible sections of the country’s middle class and influential sections of the western political dispensation. The International Democrat Union (IDU) of which Wickremesinghe is Chairman of its Asia-Pacific branch is an example. Other than being ‘MILKED’ by Wickremesinghe to enhance his image among gullible sections of the population, this western link has not materially benefitted the country in terms of economic assistance and FDIs. This is plain to anyone today with the country struggling to get foreign exchange.
WNL is owned by his maternal uncle (mother’s brother) Ranjit Wijewardene the feared CZAR of the print media in this country.
The next in line Upali Newspapers Limited (UNL) founded by Wijewardene’s late cousin Upali Wijewardene is now controlled by Upali’s widow Lakmani who is the daughter of Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s late brother Dr. Seevali Ratwatte. Both WNL Chairman Ranjit and UNL founder Upali are cousins of J. R. Jayewardene who brought his nephew Wickremesinghe into politics.
The media HYPE includes Wickremesinghe’s accumulated vast political experience as a six-time Prime Minister with access to global funding and investments. What the media fail to mention is (i) only in ONE instance was he able to complete even 3 years in a 5 year term for a PM (ii) during his six-time tenure as PM, his United National Party NEVER had a majority in Parliament (iii) his record in getting FDIs is DISMAL. Does anyone recall the DUBIOUS “$ 3.85 billion oil refinery in Hambantota” and the 2017 Volkswagen vehicle assembly plant in Kuliyapitiya which turned out to be a HOAX? There was even a “ground breaking ceremony” for the Volkswagen plant! Was not Harsha de Silva involved in this?
The country has paid a HEAVY PRICE by not taking cognizance of the mischief wrought by the businessmen controlled media. This is particularly so of WNL which publishes the country’s ‘go to’ newspapers: ‘Lankadeepa’/ ’Sunday Lankadeepa’ (Sinhala) and ‘Daily Mirror’/ ‘Sunday Times’ (English)
It is apparent that the real MOTIVE of WNL to go out of its way to promote Wickremesinghe’s dismal political track record is to carve out a political future for Wijewardene’s laid-back son Ruwan who was given out of turn appointment as UNP Deputy Leader by first cousin Wickremesinghe. This is all part of DYNASTIC politics.
On the dynastic project look no further than the WNL owned ‘Daily Mirror’ (7 September 2020) Op-Ed article in vivid COLOUR “Back To Senanaiksm And Save The Party” DIRECTLY promoting Ruwan whose mother Ranjani is a grand-daughter of the co-founder of the UNP and the country’s first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake.
Wickremesinghe’s FAIRY TALE entry into the world of politics at the age of 28 was after his uncle J. R. Jayewardene led the UNP to a landslide victory at the General Election held in 1977 where the UNP obtained an unprecedented five- sixth majority in parliament. In this landslide victory, Wickremesinghe effortlessly won his Biyagama electorate under the then ‘first-past-the-post’ system. Jayewardene lost no time in appointing his nephew as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and later as the youngest Cabinet rank minister.
Does not Wickremesinghe who rarely misses an opportunity to tout his purported commitment to democracy where he often refers to ‘Latimer House Principles’ which relate to transparent and responsible governance have any SHAME? Also shameful is that he is DEPENDING on Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s SLPP to fill the balance period of Gotabaya’s tenure.
Despite almost the entire country knowing that Ranil Wickremesinghe is in effect a CLONE of the Rajapaksas or at the least a PROXY to do their bidding, WNL had the nerve to have the ‘Editorial’ ‘The ”house” Rajapaksas built comes tumbling down’ (‘Daily Mirror’ of 21 July) after he won the parliamentary vote for President with the overwhelming support of the Rajapaksa controlled SLPP.
Is it not the height of HYPOCRISY for WNL after beating the COMMUNAL drum on the EVE of the parliamentary voting for the country’s executive president with the front page “Dullas, Sajith agree to fulfill TNA demands in return for support” (‘Daily Mirror’ of 19 July) to opine AFTER Wickremesinghe won “Let there be no place in our country and in our political culture any more for scheming politicians who fan the flames of communal, ethnic and religious divisions like it has repeatedly happened in the past.” (‘Daily Mirror’ Editorial of 21 July)?
Fear of WNL
The fear of WNL is such that the appointment of Ruwan as Minister of Mass Media by cousin Ranil (then PM) did not draw even a whimper of protest from either the state or private media although he had ACCESS to information from COMPETING media institutions.
Although Ruwan was State Minister of Defence during the ENTIRE PERIOD of the Yahapalana government, no one – not even the now unusually quiet Cardinal has demanded accountability from Ruwan for his share of responsibility for the Easter Sunday carnage. Even if he was kept away from some meetings of the National Security Council, are we expected to believe that Ruwan did not have knowledge of the attack even to the extent of Harin Fernando’s hospitalized father?
Apart from this, would not have investigative journalists from his father’s media empire have tipped him off?
Ruwan reportedly stating “there was no information to suggest that Zahran was engaged in terrorist activities” (‘Daily Mirror’ 19 Aug 2020) is CONTRADICTED by SI Srimal Sanjeewa of the CID informing the Presidential Commission probing the Easter Sunday attacks that
‘Zahran had been conducting a training camp’ in the Puttalam area “from 2015 to 2019” on “the use of Type-56 firearms and hand grenades”. (‘Daily Mirror’ 1 September 2020).
Why does no one CALL OUT Ruwan for his share of responsibility for the Easter Sunday carnage? Is it the fear of WNL?
The country has paid a HEAVY PRICE for IGNORING the PROPPING up of the profile of Wickremesinghe by influential sections of the businessmen owned media. While this is so even in the case of the Rajapaksas and Sajith Premadasa, they come nowhere near the promotion of Wickremesinghe by the DOMINANT print media ‘house’ WNL. This must be viewed in the context of the PRINTED word being more credible and hence more influential to condition the HUMAN PSYCHE in a manner that the social and visual media CANNOT match.
Inadvertently WNL in the midst of its ‘doctored’ news to prop up its owner’s nephew has let the cat out of the bag by revealing the UNCONSTITUTIONALITY of Wickremesinghe’s appointment as Prime Minister which automatically DISQUALIFIES him to be Executive President – Ref. ‘Backstage moves in Ranil’s election as President’ (‘The Sunday Times’ 24 July 2022) – “If ex-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had named him Prime Minister and later made him acting President, the journey there onwards to the highest office in the land has been through a path defined by the Constitution.” (emphasis mine)
How could anyone seriously committed to the welfare and interest of this country and its people for whatever reason even meet with such a President?
Why are we not hearing anymore about corruption and related issues such as Sri Lankan names in the ‘Panama Papers’/ ‘Pandora Papers’, accountability for the egregious Bond Scam / Easter Sunday carnage and the PARDON for Ranjan Ramanayake mooted by Wickremesinghe on the eve of the parliamentary election for President?
Would not Ranjan Ramanayake be an ideal person to move ‘Aragalaya’ further forward by EXPOSING the DUPLICITY of politicians now jockeying for power/influence?
I urge the ‘Aragalaya’ movement and others to CONSIDER encouraging a NEW political entity under the leadership of Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Dr. Charitha Herath and some others. There is no use demanding a ‘SYSTEM CHANGE’ in a VACUUM.