24 September, 2020

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Is It A Twosome game? Ranil Playing Statesman Role, Mahinda Planning Snap Election

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

In last week’s Sunday Island, Hon. Ranil Wickremasinghe, Leader of the Opposition, took centre page to make the case for what he has called the UNPs’ “constitutional formulation”.  The paper generously gave him double exposure by carrying as its lead story, in addition to the centre page article, Mr. Wickremasinghe’s speech before a ‘People’s Assembly’ gathering at the JR Jayewardene Centre.  He told the Assembly to “forget about toppling the government” and work on the more important task of reintroducing the 17th Amendment to the constitution.  Good governance is more important than a new government is what the Hon. Leader of the Opposition is trying to tell the people.  But how is Mr. Wickremasinghe planning to re-introduce the 17th Amendment and “re-establish” all the good independent commissions for public service, police, judiciary, and bribery? “Once that is achieved the rest will fall in place”, he has assured.  But how is it to be achieved?  By writing a letter to Mahinda Rajapaksa? By moving a new 22nd Amendment, as a Private Member’s Bill, to re-introduce 17A, and standing in queue behind the JHU’s Private Member motion for 21A?

Where are 21A and 22A coming from, you might ask.  We know the amendment count is now at 18, and there is 19A that was supposed to see the light of day last Tuesday but seems to have got stuck in the amendment incubator.  So what happened to 20A?  I don’t know, but 21 is said to be the number assigned to the JHU’s amendment moved as a Private Member’s Bill to repeal 13A.  So number 22 could be assigned to the amendment that Mr. Wickremasinghe might move to make good of his proposal to resurrect 17A.  Too many double digits of amendments, you might say, and I don’t disagree.  Salman Rushdie used to make fun of Indian bureaucrats for their obsession with abbreviations in bureaucratese.  The Rajapaksa regime has fallen into the rut of double digitizing the constitution.  Very soon government spokesmen are going to confuse amendment numbers for calendar days.

Constitution by numerology

So what is happening to 19A? That is the face saving amendment that President Rajapaksa is said to have conjured up after the brawl of a cabinet meeting on the ides (13th) of June over diluting 13A.  The news of the infamous cabinet meeting was duly leaked to the outside world despite presidential pleas to the contrary.  An internally well informed commentator ranked the meeting as the worst cabinet meeting since 1947.  Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga would have been reminded of the inside cabinet reporter during her tenure, and may have even reflected on the way karma works in politics when incumbents overstay in office.  Be that, as it may.

19A was expected to be presented in parliament last Tuesday, June 18.  It was to be designed to serve a lesser purpose than originally intended in the overall attempt to ‘dilute’ 13A by removing (a) the provision requiring unanimous consent by all Provinces (or two-thirds majority in parliament) for parliament to change the Provincial list of powers, and providing, instead, for a majority of provinces and a simple majority vote in parliament; and (b) the provision allowing two or more provinces to come together as an administrative unit.  After facing stiff opposition from SLMC, EPDP and the old Left constituents of the UPFA, the President apparently decided to settle for an amendment (i.e. 19A) dealing with only the merger of the Provinces.  The lesser amendment, the dilution of dilution, was touted as a victory for the President and an indication of the continuing unity within the UPFA alliance.

But 19A did not land in parliament as expected on Tuesday June 18. Instead, the JHU’s Athuraliye Rathana Thero introduced a Private Member’s Bill as ‘21st Amendment to the Constitution’ for an outright repeal of 13A.  Not only did the venerable MP jump the gun on 19A, but he jumped two steps from 18A to 21A.  Is 20 bad in numerology for Sri Lankans as 13 is for the Chinese?

Things got curiouser when the good Thero’s motion was seconded by a UNP MP, Palitha Range Bandara.  So much for internal party solidarity over the leader’s (Ranil Wickremasinghe) new brand of ‘constitutional formulation’.  Never mind Bandara has since been suspended, but the moral of the story is that when Ranil Wickremasinghe wants to turn left (progressive) to re-introduce 17A, a member of his party is turning extreme right to second the JHU’s 21A.  Yet, there is plausible logic in Mr. Bandara’s disloyalty.  Did not Ranil Wickremasinghe and his executive team host the JHU at Sri Kotha for constitutional talks?  So can you really blame if Palitha Bandara thought he was only anticipating the leader’s next move?

Twosome game?

Back to 19A. The newest rumour, not unfounded, is that the government is looking into using 19A to reduce President Rajapaksa’s (second) term in office so that he could have an early presidential election next year and make sure of a third term in office for the Rajapaksas. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s method is true to form, but how is Ranil Wickremasinghe going to deal with its inherent madness?  There are a few twists and turns of irony here.

On the one hand, Ranil Wickremasinghe is asking his followers to forget about toppling the government and work towards re-introducing 17A.  On the other hand, President Rajapaksa is looking to topple himself, rather topple his second term, so that he can launch a new third term sooner than currently permissible.  He is apparently trying to make this possible through 19A, treating it as an urgent bill, per usual.  Mahinda Rajapaksa is a past master of the art of timing elections and winning them.  He knows the risks involved in waiting for two more years to run for the third term.  By having it next year, he will catch his opponents unprepared and effectively prevent the emergence of a single candidate to challenge him. His election machinery is virtually state machinery and can be mobilized in no time, which is not at all the case with opposition candidates including Ranil Wickremasinghe.

Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremasingh are perfect foils, each contrasting the other so well that one runs the country with his brothers while the other runs the party with his friends.  If one is the past master at contesting elections, the other is the past master avoiding them.  Ranil Wickremasinghe cunningly avoided the 2010 presidential race and neatly set up Sarath Fonseka as the straw man for Mahinda Rajapaksa.  After 2010, Mr. Wickremasinghe has artfully avoided a confrontation with President Rajapaksa or the government on every contentious issue.  He went gloriously missing in action when the Rajapaksa regime rammed through parliament the Eighteenth Amendment that nullified the Seventeenth Amendment.  Last December, he flew to Rome, where Nero had fiddled, when Colombo’s chattering classes were  burning over the impeachment crisis, and inexplicably let go of an opportunity to take control of the political agenda.  The recent attack on his car while returning from the funeral of fishermen who perished in the sea was a deplorable act of political thuggery by government goons but it also showed how isolated the UNP leader is from his own party’s base.  In earlier times, there would have been such a throng of UNP supporters surrounding the leader and his motorcade that no government thug would have dared come to the street.

The question now is whether Ranil Wickremasinghe is mentally and otherwise ready to face an election next year if Mahinda Rajapaksa were to spring one on the country.  Or, will he do another 2010 and sit it out, waiting for the next auspicious occasion without Mahinda Rajapaksa as incumbent candidate? And what will happen to his plan to re-introduce 17A without toppling the second-term Rajapaksa government when President Rajapaksa topples himself and starts a new third-term government?  Will a third-term Rajapaksa be more amenable to bring back 17A as a legacy gift to the country?

In fairness to Ranil Wickremasinghe, the proposition to re-introduce 17A without toppling the government is more important for what it implies about constitutional change than what it says about partisan politics.  What it implies is that a regime change by itself will not be enough, and may not be even necessary, to bring about a constitutional change.  Instead, it poses the challenge to find a way for likeminded parliamentarians to disregard party loyalties and ally themselves for the limited and specific purpose of positively changing the constitution.  In the ideal situation, the two main parties, the SLFP and the UNP, and the minority political parties, the TNA and the SLMC, must come to a common understanding about constitutional changes.

But rather than achieving such an understanding, President Rajapaksa has been using every trick in the political trade, poaching UNP MPs and coopting  minority and Left parties, to add to his parliamentary majority and change the constitution illiberally, improperly and undemocratically.  He is trying the same approach for the proposed 19A and in his efforts to seriously weaken, if not repeal 13A.  If Ranil Wickremasinghe means what he says, he should start by mobilizing in parliament to defeat the president’s efforts to weaken 13A and amend the constitution to have a snap presidential election.  To do that, he should first protect his own troops from defecting to the government and promote likeminded MPs in the government alliance to defect instead and vote against repealing 13A and for the re-introducing 17A.  Put another way, can Ranil Wickremasinghe outsmart Mahinda Rajapaksa in his own game: prevent the Rajapaksa regime from toppling itself, for now, and causing further mischief to the constitution?

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Latest comments

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    RW is wreaking havoc in his own party by sacking people left, right and center. By doing so he is also losing his support base and votes, which he does not seem to realise. At this rate he will probably end up with about 15% down from the 30-35% last time around. He is a master at digging his own grave or is it a hole to hide in.

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      Rajan dude Good analysis but you seem to have missed the bus in expecting Ranil to be relevant at an election since the Sri Lankan people HATE the bugger!

      CBK – Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunge will be the next JOINT OPPOSITION PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE to take on and destroy the Rajapassa military dictatorship and give Ranil a kick up the ass.

      and Older and Wiser and less greedy CBK as “come back kid” will kill two birds with one stone – save the SLFP and Lanka from the Rajapassas. She will make a great peace time president just as much as she was an awful war time President. DO NOT WORRY RAJAN – just get with the action…!

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        dude,

        Bloody fool, can you count the number with whom she went to bed?

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          So what?! Big deal – don’t be so friggin narrow minded and ENVIOUS that CBK had more fun that you can even imagine – tight Ass Rama!

          I bet I’ve been to bed with more than you can dream off.

          Are you jealous, Rama that some of us have more fun in life and are not SEXUALLY REPRESSED MORAL POLICE!

          May the green eyed monster eat up your fake morality and envy of others fun!

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            @Dude

            You are a bloody Cuckhold and youll stay that way till you die. Clutching a saree potha of course. And you have the damn gumption to tell us “She will make a great peace time president just as much as she was an awful war time President”. What do you think the affairs of the state mean to you. A dice to be rolled for carnal pleasure? To hell with your she-idol. Bloody henpecked idiot!

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          Did you count youself jack…? CBK is no saint, but she is the only hope of kicking the bastard out!

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      Rajan don’t waste your time on the loser Ranil! There is work to do.
      Sri Lankan civil society and CSOs needs to develop a CODE OF ETHICS AND CONDUCT FOR POLITICIANS – in the public interest – which the nasty and corrupt politicians must sign and be bound by before they are allowed to hold office. A CODE OF ETHICS for politicians and POLITICAL PARITIES is far more important than for the media.
      IT is the politicians who are the biggest law and norms breakers. A code of conduct and ethics for politicians and political parties of Sri Lanka is necessary to restor DEMOCRACY into the political parties and national political culture.
      Party leadership of a ALL political parties (like the former Executive Presidential term) should be limited to 2 terms.
      Those who are over 65 should not be able to hold office. Sri Lanka has had 2 youth insurrections and losers and geriatrics in the political parties (Ranil who has lost too many elections to count, Sambanthan in TNA, Leftists – DEW, VASU and Vitarana, all should be forced to resign and hand over to younger and better people

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    Just as Mahinda thrives on making friends and alliances, Ranil is an expert at making enemies and destroying alliances. The record speaks for itself. So the are a perfect fit.

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    Have the guts to say it out loud – Ranil is the only person who is capable of outfoxing the Rajapakse machine to its ultimate self destruction.

    Your diatribe crouched in all those questions and half statements is saying that isn’t it ?

    Learn to say what you mean Mr. phillips…..at least on the internet !

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    Ranil is no different than Mahinda. None of these people are any different. As long as we have politicians who refuse to overhaul the system top-down and bring home the uncomfortable truths, they’re all the same- short-sighted power-hungry manipulators.

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    I think ranil’s plan is to put out CBK as the common candidate at the next presidential election.He has been always saying that the rift between the rajapakshes and the bandaranayaka supporters will be beneficial to the UNP.IF CBK runs for president automatically the SLFP is going to be split up,which is what Ranil is hoping.The million dollar question is whether CBk will accept to run against mahinda because unlike for Fonseka who is a nwecomer in politics,if she loses that will be a humiliating experience for her.While ranil thinks he can use CBK,she may use him in fact to threaten the rajapakshes with her candidacy unless mahinda puts her people back into prominent positions in the party.If mahinda backs out then CBK will withdraw and ranil will have egg on his face.Manipulating CBK for his own ends will not be as easy as Fonseka whom ranil successfully manipulated and made a permanent enemy of the Rajapakshes and potential threat to them.

    If CBK does withdraw from the candidacy,the next best thing is for Ranil to give up the leadership and become the shadow economic development minister.That way he can retain the influence of himself and his dwindling supporters without being kicked out one day altogether and landing in the political wilderness.Sajith should be the candidate then.Since ranil is going to lose anyway and has already been given many chances what is the harm in giving sajit a fair go.

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    Don Quixote is typical of the half baked english speaking supporters of Ranil W. Out foxing are words that should be used in a meaningful way. We can say that Mahinda R has out foxed Prabakaran , Ranil , Sarath Fonseka etc ( If you want to consider them foxy , a word which has a certain meaning) But a guy like Ranil to be considered that cunning or politically smart or otherwise intelligent is stretching your imagination.In his long career he became leader of the UNP only because all the other leaders were killed or died.Finally he became PM only because Chandrika messed up hugely. She only had words. The economy was in the negative. Politically we were lost while the Tigers seem invincible. People voted Ranil in 2001 because they had no other choice. But in 3 short years when Chandriks who out foxed Ranil called for elections Ranil lost badly.Ever since then it has been a losers career . In 2005 presidential elections he faired reasonably well only because of minorities( outside of north) and also illusions of the Sinhala voter who thought he had something to offer.( also he had the support of many accepted leaders from SB , GL, Rajitha-to even Chandrika secretly ) But since 2005 Mahinda R has proved that he was a capable leader while Ranil is a just a mouth piece for business interests.In 2010 Ranil didnot even dare to contest the Presidency. Is that the way the so called leader of the major political party to behave ? Under ranil the UNP has lost so many elections while losing their once 50% vote base to about 25 % ! His calls for democracy and good governance sounds so hollow when we look at his conduct in the UNP. It is also a bankrupt party and cannot even pay the cleaners at the UNP head office. So where are these great qualities of this invincible leader ?Wake up Don Quixote !

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    Mr Phillips says,

    “Ranil Wickremasibghe cunnigly avoided the 2010 Election by setting up Sarath Fonseka as the Straw Man?.

    What a revelation?.

    How would the Diaspora, its IC and the Colombo Elite feel?.

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    we can;t think that MR and Ranil both are same…Ranil.he can’t control his party also so can he control a whole country???,,but there is no one except MR…he is not playing with our lives we believe that…

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      not like mahinda’s not having huge issues in his own party. it just never becomes public what with the mass media being silenced and the parties involved being too scared to give out details being sh*t-scared they’ll lose their ministries.

      “he is not playing with our lives we believe that”. how much is a loaf of bread now?

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        hey idiot can’t you understand breads are not suitable for our health so that’s why its more expensive ..think your mind..don’t be a foolish…If you want to get diabetic so you can eat breads ok..

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          You don’t get diabetic,it is hereditary mate.It could be triggered earlier by bad food,but eventually you will get it if it is in your genes.So don’t give excuses for the rise in the bread prices.

          When people have to eat three meals per day,tell us what they are supposed to eat,rice only according to you,who is probably living abroad and eating to your hearts content various different dishes.

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    High time to kick off RW from UNP. Party lovers should act sooner than later to bring up a leader who can unite the party. Do it soon and dont wait for the executive committee which the No 1 destruction.

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    I like the title “Is It A Twosome game?” Throw in a woman and it will become a nice comfy threesome. Just like in American late-night bedroom games. Now, which of the two wives of the men involved is going to play the threesome third. Both are past their sell-by date and have very little oomph left in them that the men will have to end up in bed together.

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    My concern is not that Ranil is incapable of defeating MR. I think, if things unfold in duly ordained fashion in the days to come, he could well be the JRJ of the 21st Century, another “comeback kid” smart enough to wait on the old adage that oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them.
    My concern IS that, given the flotsam and jetsam around Ranil, interested only in their own well-being and indistinguishable from the Rajapaksa horde, we could well be trading in a violent and corrupt multi-hued dictator for a Green one.
    Don’t we have other choices, for goodness sake?

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      aney appochi,don’t mull too much about changing one dictator for another,if you want the UNP to have a chance of winning then you have to change the leader and obviously sajith is the best choice.Will he become authoritarian and ruthless like his father,i don’t think so,because his qualities are tempered somewhat by the genes of his mother who seemed to be a more easy going personality than the pop.

      It is time to hand over the country to the younger generations.They need the hands on experience too and also the old timers need the competition to bring the best out of them.People should not think because they are older that automatically they are entitled to senior positions,but should make way for the young and also for women if they are found wanting at their tasks.Competition breeds efficiency and one of the big difference between the western world and the eastern one is,the west is more competitive giving more of a fair go for the young and women and also minorities.We asians tend to give too much of respect to the older people and look down upon the younger crowd.

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