By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
Ranil Wickremesinghe beat all odds and topped the list of preferences – a feat that was considered impossible earlier. At the base level, shorn off the rhetoric and the tinsel, it is an achievement that reflects the combination of national, international – and even some anti-national – forces. It has triumphed as the new force, replacing the preceding “Mahinda magic”. Wickremesinghe has done what his uncle, the Yankee Dicky did, rather late in his day. Of course, JRJ shot into power with a formidable force behind him. Whether the limited force behind Wickremesinghe has the depth to last the course and go the same distance as his uncle is yet to be seen.
But this strikes a note of warning to political analysts : never write off a political survivor despite repeated failures until he goes down to push daisies. Extrapolated to the current situation, this means that if Wickremesinghe can rise from his grave the chances of Mahinda Rajapakse who is up and running, neck to neck with him, are far greater. Examples of Jayalalitha, de Gaulle and Churchill, or the rejects like S. B. (“Balu”) Dissanayake etc., creeping in through the backdoor, demonstrate that Rajapakses chances, even if he is put in jail, are rosier than that of Wickremesinghe when he was down. In short, a political survivor who is down need not necessarily be out. Also, the eternal,never-failing Buddhist principles of Patichcha-sammuppa-da kicks in to establish that the triangle can be completed only when all the three sides of the same size are there, next to each other. In the case of Mahinda Rajapakse the three sides are there but the line on one side has fallen a wee bit short. It is not down difficult to catch up and fill the gap on the missing side.
So where ever Wickremesinghe is Rajapakse will not be far behind, breathing down his neck. It is political myopia to write Rajapakse off at this early stage. Even if he steps out or is forced out he will still be there, like a touch-me-not ready to spring back when the time is ripe. The signs are already beginning to turn ominous for Wickremesinghe. He rode into power firing on all his moral cylinders. But the moral riders in his own car are now turning against him. Ven. Sobitha, expressing moral disgust with the entire political class, has confronted Wickremesinghe with his failures to fulfil his promises. Ven. Sobitha is dismissing the new Siri-Wicky regime as a”joke”. Parliament is condemned as a den “for thieves, thugs, drug dealers or ethanol dealers”. His verdict :“The people are laughing at us.” In short, within a few months, the nation has skipped the dawn, skipped the high noon and slipped instantly into a twilight with the light fading fast. To change the metaphor, it seems the Siri-Wicky regime is dying in the cot with uncut umbilical cord hanging loose. To change it again, even the honeymoon seems to be strained even before both parties could even get to bed.
Though it was a personal victory for Wickremesinghe, he has nothing much to crow about now, though they take cover behind a few tit-bits. The overall results did not hand him the power he needed to govern in his own right with increased powers of the President in Parliament – his main political thrust launched in the January 8 presidential campaign. This watered down the full flavour of his victory. He is still dependent on the SLFP to muster the power he needs to be in overall command of the state he plans to lead. After the failure to transfer presidential powers to the prime minister in parliament and after the failure to get the requisite electoral votes to run a government of his own he will have to limp along as half the man he wants to be in power.
As against this, SLFP, along with its traditional allies in the Left, produced the second highest vote-winner, Mahinda Rajapaksa, bringing the SLFP within striking distance of power. In terms of electoral clout the difference between the two is 3. 28% which gave 106 seats to the UNP-led UNFGG and 95 to the UPFA. These two basic figures affirm that neither party won outright power, though, of course, the UNP got the slight edge to grab the throne. These figures indicate clearly the standing of the two camps in the electorate and parliament respectively are not too far apart. Buoyed by the weightier alliances and other external factors, the UNFGG was expecting to deal a crushing blow to the UNFA. But it didn’t materialise. A slight shift either way, in the Parliament or the electorate, can make all the difference as to who would retain power with whom and for how long.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s strong performance is far superior to any of the performances of Wickremesinghe when he was in the opposition. But Wickremesinghe’s grit and survival skills carried him through. Rajapakse, however, gained greater credence and significance when John Kerry took credit for the regime change in Sri Lanka. For Rajapakse to retain a formidable grip on the nation at the end of an uneven battle in which global forces were pitted against him stands as solid evidence of the strength of the forces that are waiting in the wings to regroup and strike back. The fears and frustrations of the UNFGG forces were further highlighted by “Paki” Saravanamuttu, who lamented dolefully that “the (election) result would be disappointing for the UNFGG which had hoped for a clear rejection of the Rajapaksa era – infamous for corruption,state intimidation and Sinhalese nationalism.” His other line is equally damning: “This has potentially given Mr. Rajapaksa a new lease of political life. He’s not out at all.” (The Australian, 19/8/2015 – p.11)
This then is the underlying reality. Yes, Wickremesinghe managed to scrape into the seats of power for the fourth time with barest minimum. This does not mean that he had crushed the Rajapakses. Defeated candidates, like Jayalalitha, Wickremesinghe, and Mahinda Rajapakse have many lives. However, the upshot of all this is that Wickremesinghe is enjoying a fund of goodwill right now. His cup runneth over. The current political ambience is dominated by the euphoria of the UNPers which is understandable. Enjoying the sweet smell of success is also inevitable considering the fact that they have been in the wilderness for nearly 20 years. But the danger is in being intoxicated by it, assuming that they have acquired the mandate to do it their way all the way. The time hasn’t yet come for Wickremesinghe to sing : “I’ll do it my way and the others can take the highway.” So Wickremesinghe’s formula of “national government” is not only vital for his survival but also a pragmatic necessity to tide over his shortcomings and escalating issues, if he can. Unlike JRJ, Wickremesinghe has no power to stabilise his power and put his undisputed stamp of authority without the backing of the SLFP, particularly the backing he gets from the CBK-Sirisena duo. His real source of power is in the hands of this SLFP duo, not the UNP MPs. If the SLFPers pull the rug under him he is kaput.
In fact, the MoU between the UNP-SLFP concedes the fragility of the political alliance. It is, for all intents and purposes, a tentative and experimental alliance for two years minimum, with the possibility of extending it further. Legally, under the amended constitution, the President cannot meddle with the newly appointed regime for the next four years. But Wickremesinghe can’t run a stable state and deliver his promises within the time available to him – four or two years — without the backing of the SLFP. The alternative is to tie up with the TNA as a compliant outsider – an unholy alliance which will come at a heavy price. There is one glimmer of hope in all the combinations and permutations of the minority parties : the force is still with the two main political parties. Power hasn’t shifted to the minorities to the extent it was feared by some. For instance, the rise of pro-American Wickremesinghe is a far better bet for the State Department than the papier-mache prime minister, V. Rudrakumaran, of the TGTE in New York. America has found their pliant man in Colombo to do their bidding and in this setting the Tamils in New York, London, Paris are totally irrelevant to their geo-political agenda. At least it has exposed the hysterical lunacy of the extremist politics of asinine Vigneswaram gone ballistic.
However, the fact remains that Wickremesinghe is still sailing in President Sirisena’s “Titanic”. Sirisena, in his convoluted way, sounded the warning when he said that it was he who saved Wickremesinghe’s “Titanic”. He went all out to plug the leaks and if he pulls them out Wickremesinghe will certainly go down with his band. But can Wickremesinghe steer his way through in the stormy seas ahead, with or without the CBK-Sirisena duo ? His main anchor is Chandrika Kumaratunga. Jointly, they led the nation to brink of disaster with their CFAs and P-TOMs. When finally their hidden agenda is revealed the nation will find that they have been plotting and planning to drag the nation back of February 22, 2002 – the fateful year in which Wickremesinghe signed the CFA without telling the President, Parliament, Cabinet, Party or the sovereign people. His style of government, as seen even in his last “100 days”, is to steer the ship of state like a juggernaut, dismissing the thundering waves lashing the hull on all sides. He either goes into intransigent denial or appoints endless committees to the problems he just can’t handle, hoping that if he puts his problems in the freezer the issues would go away. How far can this style carry him? How long will the nation tolerate his idiosyncratic fancies? Which book of R. A. Butler or Gladstone can provide him with the answers to the 21st century problems of Sri Lanka?
If this is condition prevailing when Siri-Wicky regime is facing mere teething problems how are they going to meet the pending challenges that are waiting round the corner to grab them by throats and shake them down? For instance, if the moral and the socio-economic conditions continue to worsen – and there are no signs of it improving — can CBK-Wickremesinghe mobilise the necessary forces to hose down pyromaniacs like Vigneswaran and Gajendra Ponnambalam, igniting, in competition with each other, ethnic extremism to grab the title of “the sole representative of the Tamils”? In any case both of them will be starting on the wrong foot because their aim is to revive the blue print they tried it first with their CFAs and P-TOMs and failed in Febraury 22, 2002. The hidden agenda not revealed to the electors threatens to drag the nation back to February 22, 2002 when Wickremesinghe signed the infamous CFA with the one man on earth who never stood for peace and reconciliation. So can they do it this time what they failed the last time? They have nothing in their armoury except to fire their failed formulas. But can they reverse the victory of Nandikadal and drag the nation back to the failed “juck-muck” politics of Wickremesinghe? This is a critical issue that needs another chapter.
As the numbers stand now, this new symbiotic relationship between the UNP-SLFP is more favourable to the UNP than to the SLFP. It will strengthen the UNP more than the SLFP. Though the SLFP will bargain for its pound of flesh it is the UNP that can come out on top, more so because of the ideological confluence of the triumvirate – Presidency, Prime Ministership and Madame Defarge counting the heads that fall from her guillotine. CBK who was booed at election rallies was given a standing ovation in the post-election party room because she has emerged as the Chief Executioner with power to roll heads or fix severed heads. But once Wickremesinghe gathers his Cabinet together the overall responsibility will fall on the shoulders to account for success or failure. All three of them will be watching over each others shoulder to see that the other won’t get excessive share of power that would jeopardize his/her interests. All three of them will be walking gingerly trying to balance the power they share to shore up their political bases.
Every single move from now will be seen as a critical move to get the lion share to consolidate their grip on power. Initially, the internal power-struggle will be subdued and tolerated by all three parties but as time goes on it can turn sour and bitter. The internal power struggle has thrown national politics into a spin. That is why Ven. Sobitha, the leading light of the moral crusade, is moaning about the power vacuum in which the SLFP and UNP power brokers are floundering. That is why the initial term of the MoU is limited to two years – roughly the testing time span for any honeymoon in any marriage, personal and political, except those in Hollywood. But that is to anticipate events that may or may not happen.
Wickremesinghe’s task is two fold : 1. to deliver his list of impossible promises (he has already failed the “`100 day”test.) and 2. to protect his national cup filled with half a million votes. If his skills in keeping the 100 promises within 100 days is any indication of his capacity to deliver then the nation has only one source left to get at least an inkling of what’s in store : the astrologer of President Mahinda Rajapakse who assured him victory in the presidential race! If, as promised, Wickremesinghe can deliver an absolutely free media in a persecution-free, corruption-free democracy, without vindictive politics rejected in the Lichchavi principles which he promised, and transforming the Siri-Wicky regime into a transparent state guaranteeing human rights of all, then his cup will overflow with a million votes next time round. But the Central Bank scandal, the banning of the publication of the Parliamentary report, the decision to cohabit with the very politicos whom he has condemned, his own cronyism, going along with nepotism, etc., etc., within the first 100 days of the Yahapalanaya reduces him to a purveyor of slogans and not substance.
There are also some ominous signs arising within the UNP itself. In the hullabaloo of helter-skelter goings-on leading UNPers seems to have gone out of the radar screen. Example: Sajith Premadasa, the Deputy Leader, is hardly visible and in his place the unscrupulous careerist Champika Ranawaka has crept into through the backdoor to Wickremesinghe’s influential circle. First he tried to creep into the bosom of President Sirisena but he soon realized he was not that indispensable to the President. Now he is worming his way into the heart of Wickremesinghe. He sidles up to Wickremesinghe, like a Churchilian dwarf whispering obscenities in the Emperor’s ears. He cultivates the top to impress the power-brokers that it is worth having him because he is the man of the future. All these Svengalian machinations makes him the obnoxious interventionist manoeuvring to oust the traditional UNPers. He is the kind of man who was described by Lyndon Johnson as a man worth having on your side because he could direct his piss on the outsiders, shooting from inside, rather than pissing in from out.
Ranawaka is bound to be a stinging thorn in Wickremesinghe’s side. As it his plate is overflowing and the last thing he needs is Ranawaka. But then in his desperate bid Wickremesinghe has never hesitated to align himself with an assorted variety of wheeler-dealers from Gonawila Sunil to Batalanda brigades. So why not go along with Ranawaka if he is ready to be another Gonawila Sunil to Ranil.