27 September, 2020

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Betrayal Already! Ranil’s Last Chance & Ravi’s Perpetual Reward

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

The sweet feelings that arose after the Supreme Court’s two rulings last week turned sour this week with the spectacle of cabinet making. The President kept grabbing headlines with his diatribe after the swearing in, and his own alleged swearing at some point during the event. No one is going to be upset anymore with what the President does or doesn’t do. The real disappointment is Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. There was universal expectation that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe will show something inspiring and different this time in comparison to his previous efforts at cabinet making. No one was expecting to see all new faces in the cabinet given that it is still the same parliament with the same old faces. But quite a few people were expecting that they will not see some of the old faces return to the new cabinet.

Many UNPers and others who protested against the sacking of Wickremesinghe and the dissolution of parliament did not want to see Ravi Karunanayake back in cabinet in any portfolio. Malik Samarawickrama made a gallant show of volunteering to stay out of cabinet and even received complimentary hugs for his gesture, if not sacrifice. As it turns out, both men are in the cabinet as are almost all the old faces. The people rallied, parliament voted and the judiciary intervened to stop the illegitimate return of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister. But there is no power apparently in Sri Lanka that could stop the highhanded return of Ravi Karunanayke (RK) as cabinet minister. Cabinet appointments are left to two individuals, the highest in the land: the President and the Prime Minister, but neither man could stare down RK and show him the door. Chandrika Kumaratunga might have done it, but that is beside the point.

That Mr. Karunanayake was not given the finance portfolio is supposed to be the concession to honesty and good governance. It ought to be, on the contrary, everyone’s consternation that he was even allowed the temerity to make a claim for finance. Mangala Samarweera had to threaten that he will otherwise sit with the opposition in parliament to stop Karunanayake from getting his coveted finance portfolio. Even the lesser reward as Minister for Power and Energy and Business Development is expected to include the state banks as a signing bonus. We are supposed to appreciate the thinking behind bringing the banking and energy sectors together in Karunanayake’s new portfolio – to facilitate lines of credit to what are essentially Sri Lanka’s debt trap corporations. We can only pray that the state banks will all not vanish in a penthouse smoke.

Cabinet size and content

Most of us were not born when Sri Lanka began its odyssey with parliamentary democracy and cabinet form of government in 1947 – with a cabinet that had only 18 ministers. Some of us read later from Jennings that DS Senanayake actually wanted the cabinet size to be reduced and wanted it written in the (Soulbury) constitution. He was advised against it by colonial authorities that it would be impractical to reduce the size of cabinet given the multiple responsibilities of a modern government. The size of cabinet increased gradually but not unreasonably over the next thirty years from 1947 to 1977. Even today, neighbouring India and Pakistan have only 27 and 21 ministers, respectively, at the national level, even though they are much larger countries and more complex polities. The not so distant comparator Malaysia manages with 28 ministers, and the Prime Minister’s ideal state Singapore has only 19 Ministers.

The explosion of cabinet size in Sri Lanka is a direct result of the 1978 Constitution and JR Jayewardene’s experientially disastrous attempt to marry his idiosyncratic presidential system and the island’s pre-existing parliamentary system. In his new constitution, President Jayewardene gave himself and his successors plenty of powers to buy votes in parliament by rewarding MPs with an assortment of cabinet and non-cabinet ministerial positions and perks. The purpose is to maintain a parliamentary majority for the President by bribing MPs across party lines with half or full cabinet positions. Every President has used these powers successfully with the exception of Maithripala Sirisena. He too tried but without success, and then wailed publicly that the asking price for crossovers has become too much.

The number of ministers swelled to 70 under Mahinda Rajapaksa, and with the addition of deputy and state ministers almost half the parliament became an assembly of half and full ministers. The 19thAmendment limited the cabinet size to 30, but a way around it was soon found through the contraption of a national government. After the end of that fiction in October the 30-minister limit is back, but god knows for how long. While there is a constitutional limit on the size of the cabinet, there is no constitutional provision or guidance regarding not only the qualifications but also the disqualifications to be a minister. And invariably, the quantitative explosion in cabinet size has brought forth a qualitative implosion.

Last chance or lost opportunity

Ravi Karunanayake disqualified himself to be a minister when he became the central political figure in the Central Bank bond scandal. He was forced to leave cabinet, and what has requalified him since to be allowed back in cabinet? It is widely surmised that Mr. Karunanayke has a huge IOU to cash with the UNP for organizing financial support (from whatever shady sources) for the party over several years, and that he has built up a strong electoral base in Colombo North apparently due to cardinal blessings by the Catholic Church. Such blessings, if true, seem to extend further north to Negombo, where the ageless and the spiritually peerless John Amaratunga constantly gets to keep his position in cabinet. One would have thought that such considerations will not be given the same weight as in the past, in the aftermath of the democratic surge over the last seven weeks and more.

Further, if Ravi Karunanayake and others like him are loyal supporters of Ranil Wickremesinghe, why wouldn’t they make it easy for their leader by staying out of cabinet contention when they know that by their presence in the cabinet they become a national liability to the party and its leader? They may have their established vote base, but in the heightened public mood of today they run the risk of turning away larger numbers of neutral voters who may at best decide not to vote at all, or at worst hold their nose and vote for the Rajapaksas. The bigger question is why doesn’t Ranil Wickremesinghe assert himself in making cabinet selections and make the best possible selection for the government and the country? And why does he have to plead with his party members to voluntarily forego cabinet positions and then create positions even for those who volunteered to give up their cabinet positions?

From DS Senanayake to Mahinda Rajapaksa, no previous Prime Minister or President has been held hostage by anyone while making cabinet selections the way Ranil Wickremesinghe appears to be in dealing with Ravi Karunanayake’s cabinet claims. President Jayewardene kept Cyril Mathew in his cabinet disregarding universal appeals to expel him, but more as a hired gun than due to any insistence by Mr. Mathew. There were fears that if Mathew was fired there would riots on the streets. But when Cyril Mathew was finally let go from the cabinet, “there was not a bloody hum on the road”, remarked Dr. Colvin R de Silva. Sir John Kotelawela and Mrs Bandaranaike took on formidable personas like GG Ponnambalam and NM Perera and fired them from their cabinets, even though the dismissals on both occasions turned out to be huge political miscalculations. In 2003, Chandrika Kumaratunga dismissed three of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ministers without a hum, and the following year dismissed Mr. Wickremesinghe himself as Prime Minister.

In the light of all this, it is reasonable to ask what hold does Ravi Karunanayake have on Ranil Wickremesinghe when it comes to cabinet making? And why did not President Sirisena refuse to swear in Ravi Karunanayake the same way he refused to admit Sarath Fonseka to the cabinet?

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is a “lucky bugger”, as Kumar David professorially ranked him (last Sunday), to get his last chance to prove himself a successful Prime Minister and the last opportunity to win a national election as his party’s leader. The question is whether Mr. Wickremesinghe will turn his last chance into a positive opportunity for the first time in his political career, or if he will let it turn into another lost opportunity as he has always done in his entire political career.

Mr. Wickremesinghe seems to be forgetting that he not is starting a post-election government with the relative luxury of a long mandate. Rather, he is heading a pre-election government on a tight leash and he needs a cabinet that is nimble, efficient and able to make targeted deliverables, in a very short time, in a few crucial areas: the economy, prosecuting crimes and corruption, and constitutional reform. He has renewed his promise to abolish the executive presidency, but even he doesn’t know when or how he is going to do it.

The making of the cabinet was his first chance to show that his reinstated government is different from and better than its earlier version that was dismissed on October 26. Ravi Karunanayake’s return as a cabinet minister has shown the very negation of it. The betrayal will be complete, again, if the cabinet size is increased to accommodate more than thirty ministers through another constitutional chicanery.

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Latest comments

  • 4
    0

    How about Ranil added More Suspected Finacial Fruadstwers as non cabinet ministers. Read the list of new Non- cabinet, Statye and Deputy ministers. He added at least who has a shady pasdt. She saved because of the YAHAPALANA COURT system There are other faces. I am suspicious whether they are expecting more court battles.

    • 3
      0

      Rajan Phillips,

      So we have Ranil who is F***** by Ravi Penthouse, regularly, and his makes Ravi theCrook Penthouse, Minister again. So, Ranil has rotten balls too.

      A Land like no other!

      • 3
        0

        Rajan. the betrayal is already complete. There are 57 Ministers with all the deputy and state Ministers. 30 should be 30 including deputies and state ministers.
        Washington-backed, Bondscam Ranil must be impeached for robbing the central bank with Penthouse Ravi, and there should be general elections asap. after horse trading in Parliament is banned and a law preventing those over 65 years contesting.

        With Penthouse Ravi K back the culture of impunity and immunity for financial crimes by corrupt politicians in the Cesspit parliament headed by Bondscam Ranil and his partner in crime Mahinda Jarapassa continues.
        How stupid and deluded so called civil society NGOs and were to think that Bondscame Ranil was better than Jarapassa

  • 1
    0

    You people are either idiots or doing propaganda. There are other reasons to what you say. I ssee some trend. The lucky thing is the majority in Sri lanka are not Engvlish speakers. They always think about the bottom line.

    • 0
      0

      JD
      Me think all Sri Lankans and rest the world are not
      Engvlish speakers.

  • 3
    0

    Did any one expect anything different or to change under Mr. Clean. Is it a coincidence that Aloysius’s ill health popping up as uncle Ranil back in the helm as PM.

  • 2
    0

    The “ lucky bugger “ keeps buggering on , regardless .

  • 8
    0

    Couldn’t agree with you more Rajan, and thanks for another stellar contribution by the way.

    I see this as a combination of arrogance, lack of sensitivity to feelings of his own team and public opinion, inability to learn any lesson from past mistakes, lack of judgment and pure stupidity by Wickremesighe.

    He has burnt in vain all of the windfall of sympathy and goodwill of ordinary masses towards him over the ’50 days of madness and mayhem’ by Sirisena, which could have been turned into an electoral landslide by a politically astute and savvy leader.

    It’s a total disappointment. Then again, we’re talking about Ranil Wickremesighe here, so, no surprise whatsoever.

  • 8
    0

    Well said Rajan Phillips.

    RW has had enough and more chances to prove himself and to end up as one of Sri Lanka’s Greats. He has not only miserably Failed but also severely Disappointed ALL those who had high expectations especially after October 26th. Neither the UNP nor the country can benefit under his INEPT leadership.

    The sooner he goes, along with his Royal Thieves, the better it is for the country and the UNP

  • 4
    0

    “Cabinet appointments are left to two individuals, the highest in the land: the President and the Prime Minister, but neither man could stare down RK and show him the door. “
    ——————-
    When President said he will not appoint Ranil even if 225 MPs signed and submit a request, probably what he tried to do was UNP to rally round Ranil and insist him to be appointed as PM. By appointing Ranil as PM, he would have guessed Ranil will appoint his cronies as Ministers and ruin the image they built up during the 51 days. I think President purposely allowed Ravi, who is hated even by UNP supporters, to get a Minister post to make Ranil and UNP unpopular even among ardent supporters of UNP. Judging from writings in this forum it looks like that has happened.

  • 5
    0

    The biggest mistake RW did and the highest betrayal to the country he perpetuated are the appointments of RK and Malik S.
    What the general public can infer is that , as he has no interest in a better SL for our next generations, he will work only towards the continuity of his fantasy life fulfilling his nefarious desires !

  • 6
    0

    When you look at the cabinet and events preceding its appointment, there is little doubt Ranil is having difficulties ditching “Royalists rule the royaume” doctrine. With that incorrigible mindset, he will drag UNP down, when all other factors seem to be pushing UNP up at the moment.

  • 1
    0

    ranil will get nowhere as long as sira is prez
    he should after 3 months hand over the mantle to sajith otherwise its goodbye unp

  • 2
    0

    “Sir John Kotelawela and Mrs Bandaranaike took on formidable personas like GG Ponnambalam and NM Perera and fired them from their cabinets, even though the dismissals on both occasions turned out to be huge political miscalculations. “
    *
    Sir John lost nothing by being rid of GGP. He lost because he did not play the “official language card” properly. His miscalculation concerned SWRDB’s potential.
    Mrs B did not fire NM Perera without provocation.
    If the LSSP thought that it was the socialist tail that could wag a national bourgeois dog, it was sadly mistaken.
    The biggest loser in the deal was the LSSP, whose knee jerk reaction in the form of a ‘left alliance’ only helped the UNP.
    The SLFP recovered, but slowly. What happened to the LSSP?

  • 1
    0

    It is an interesting article as usual. The point is if RW is clever, he has already made Sirisena to eat his own words, where Sirisena had to appoint him as PM again after refusing to do so. He should appoint Sajith as the Prime Minister where he would have a better rapport with Sirisena so that the government becomes functional leading to an election. Also he could implement policies and bring about closure on corruption cases which have been languishing for years. Also create a vibrant new political atmosphere attracting the young and the disillusioned giving hope to a nation that has been in the doldrums for years. That will help to reinvent the UNP in the short run and gain some ascendency to win a hotly contested election. Other wise it will be like the cancer patient waiting for the final curtain to fall.

    • 1
      1

      Ravi

      “He should appoint Sajith as the Prime Minister where he would have a better rapport with Sirisena so that the government becomes functional leading to an election. “

      So you want another political brat and a closet racist to run this island. He once proposed Bhumiputra system of governance for this island.
      The man who spent more than two years in London and has nothing to show to his family, party and country. He is no Ranasinghe.

  • 1
    0

    Thank you for a a great contribution. I agree with kamal above wholeheartedly. We’ll said.
    Just to give my 2 cents worth
    RW knows full well that this his last few years in power and so he is only giving his cronies the chance to make the most of it? It’s up to the State institutions and banks to act as whistle blowers and prevent RK and such like to make hay
    Actually ranil should be impeached along with Sirisena.

  • 0
    0

    MR amended the constitution to extend his term ‘forever’. MS and RW used it to stop MR.
    A silver lining of the 26 October RW-sack and what followed, was the SC finding the ‘removal’ and ‘the crisis’ illegal.
    The SC may even address the human rights aspects of our version of ‘democracy’.
    .
    Political use: The legality of the number of cabinet ministers will be used by JVP to distance themselves from TNA.
    SLPP will use it to strengthen the language/religion-divide.

  • 0
    0

    Ravi K was ‘removed from the cabinet but was allowed to keep the perks.
    Now Ravi wants the real thing.
    .
    RW used cabinet appointments and MS rejection to tape the mouth of the three SLFP deserters.
    There might be a rope for Ravi K!

  • 1
    0

    R. P.
    RW is really no better than Patholaya, both being political opportunists with narcissistic characteristic and opportunistic behavior; one prefers the trousers and the other “the sarong”. It’s become a Hobson’s Choice.
    The poor SL people are totally the losers.

  • 0
    1

    Dear Rajan,
    Thank you for your writing which I have been following for many years.
    Primarily, you are a Political Historian who reproduces events of the past and condemns current action based on historical events.
    Most of the times, you are 100% off the mark because you are a Historian and not a Strategist.
    RW is a brilliant strategist; having won the ‘Democracy’ battle (26 Oct- to date), his sights are now on multiple Presidential Terms (2 X 5 years) and ways and means of the getting the crowd-puller Premadasa to lead UNP Governments in Parliament.
    RW does not care about the ‘new cabinet’; its is short term anyway.
    Penthouse Ravi is an essential element in the equation; he commands > 500,000 votes in Colombo.

    So Rajan, unfortunate that your strategic thinking powers are limited; continue doling out boring history; that’s the best you could do.

    • 0
      0

      Gorakapola
      RW has been quite brilliant at free loading at the tax payers expense for over four decades.
      This would be his legacy to Sri Lanka.

  • 1
    0

    Ganjapani, RW is a brilliant strategist; having won the ‘Democracy’ battle (26 Oct- to date), his sights are now on multiple Presidential Terms (2 X 5 years) and ways and means of the getting the crowd-puller Premadasa to lead UNP Governments in Parliament.
    RW does not care about the ‘new cabinet’; its is short term anyway.?

    What stratergist? My foot.He did not any battlefor democracy, Katu J did.

  • 0
    0

    Premier RW should revisit the Royal College Motto……

    Disce Aut Discede.
    [ Learn or Depart ].

    By the way Rajan, what is the strength of the LSSP in terms of its followers now?
    Would one HiAce van do to transport the entire lot?
    Hope no hard feelings ah!

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