By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
“That’s what happens in revolutions. Once the regime is toppled, they’re often usurped” – Waleed Aly
Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and his wife going before old Tirupathi alias Balaji in the Andhra Pradesh temple to beg for help comes as a fearful apprehension to me. I am baffled, as I look up to Ranil as someone who is on the right side of matters. Many view him as an informed, intelligent and rational person. The recollection that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa also made the trip to this part of La La Land about six months before he was deposed is frightening indeed.
Tiru didn’t help Mahinda despite the gold placed before the latter. Tiru cannot help Ranil either. Why? Because Tiru doesn’t exist other than in the clouded mythical world of primitive Indians. Australians will show the middle finger to Tiru when magical claims are being made on his behalf. Sri Lankan leaders must learn from Aussies that when it comes to a problem one must find solutions on one’s own. Why? didn’t Sakyamuni Buddha say the same thing? Be a lamp unto yourselves?
Outwardly, the incident is innocuous; inwardly it is suggestive of a deep political crisis within the fold of the Yahapalanaya government that can bring down the global confidence rates of the new regime.
The roots of the crisis in Sri Lanka go back to the very day of the great deposition of Mahinda Rajapaksa – the revolution of January 8th 2015. The party that led the electoral winning campaign, the Grand Old Party UNP, did not get a comfortable enough working majority. The UNP could have gathered a majority, but not enough to usher in the promised revolution that scheduled fundamental changes – the overthrow of the Executive Presidency and restoring Parliamentary supremacy, revamping the electoral system, setting up of Independence Commissions and the re-establishment of the rule of law that was dumped with impunity by the Mahinda Rajapaksa-led ruling elite. Bringing offenders of the Rajapaksa regime to book was the essential prelude to this promised revolution. The popular imagination of the majority in opposition to Mahinda Rajapaksa was overwhelmed by the anticipated drama of the prelude.
Two years have elapsed and the non-performance of that prelude act is sort of surreal. The cycle is all but familiar with alleged offenders (some of them) summoned to the FCID or Bribery Commission, arrested, remanded, bailed out and released. The charges are very serious ones including manipulation of public property and funds, syphoning them for private purposes, and bribery and brutal murder.
“Catch me, if you can,” the alleged offenders seem to say, “and you will never.”
People don’t look for excuses; their vision is short and they are suspicious of anything possible in the longterm given the public experience of politicians. They even fail to acknowledge much of the substantial work-in-progress and the obvious political freedom in the air. As far as most of the vociferous and articulate government backers are concerned, the game is over and the wickets are folding.
Even academics who are vociferous like Professor Sarath Wijesuriya, Gamini Viyangoda and some others seem to see only the lapses and the failings; rather than emboldening the government to go forward. Public scepticism is growing. The bulk of other academics are totally silent and one notices hardly any serious analysts looking at what’s happening. Sri Lanka has lost that tradition.
In the absence of intellectual discourse on the progress of the yahapalanaya government let me try my humble bit to fathom this all out.
I begin with a rhetorical question: “Can a government without a stable non-working majority enter the deeper end of the rest of the program of promised reform without exacting the cooperation of those in opposition?” The most fundamental step toward the revolution would be the setting up of a new constitution that alone can establish the new order by changing the fundamental rules of the game of governance. This would require a two-thirds majority in Parliament and, then, a referendum. I can see the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, working toward this position assiduously so much so that even an ‘Rajapaksa insider’ like Dilan Perera recently praised him for being a true statesman in handling the steering committee for constitutional change.
Arising out of the deficient Parliamentary strength of the active core in the government- the UNP, it seemed obvious that government had to rope in some MPs from the Mahinda Rajapaksa fold onto their side. Such a step also propped up President Maitripala Sirisena’s ambition to lead a revived new SLFP that would invest him with some legitimacy. On the other hand, this step became the first provocation for the critique of the yahapalanaya government. Many of these cross-overs had controversies behind them and had been known conners and strongmen for Mahinda Rajapakse, while some others were beneath public esteem for other reasons. Critics felt letdown. The ordinary rank-and file of yahapalana supporters didn’t see the reason behind the strategy. Nor could those in government possibly explain the circumstances before a public.
However, ‘bad means to a good end,’ worked here. Some important legislative measures were passed in Parliament with the help of added numbers of ‘yes men.’Furthermore, the so-called Joint Opposition were left with less numbers on the floor of Parliament to shout and engage in vocal exercises and possibly carry away the ‘senkole.’
The strategy also had a symbolical value in that it gave credence to the yahapalanaya promise of “Sammuthivaadi Aanduwa.” There are many in the audience that is the electorate who have felt that these party divisions are the bane of the country and that these blocs should ‘work together for the betterment of the country.’ Here it has come at last!
On the other hand, this added component of SLFPers have shown no enthusiasm for the revolution promised. Most of them focus more on the luxury car permits. Naturally, they would pressurise the government against pursing the legal process that is on against their former buddies of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. They would threaten; they would cajole. It is evident that Mahinda Rajapaksa is also using them as a kind of third column. This is apparent when one observes some of these SLFPers on and oft talking on behalf of the Rajapakses. The other day, Dilan Perera forecasted that at the next elections Chamal Rajapaksa will be PM!
As for Mahinda Rajapkasa himself, he has temperamentally been a Machiavellian opportunist and a moral sceptic. As a result, there are no enemies for him; nor even friends. His backers are mere instruments for his personal journey. As long as he doesn’t smell a threat to him (eg Sarath Fonseka) he would let them do what they want. That has always been his modus operandi. Thus, he awaits with open hands for any of these cross-overs to come back or to conspire and re-align in a combination and permutation beneficial to him. One cannot also rule out some Machiavellian UNPers joining forces.
Besides, the nature of power being as it is, can one rule out the President himself falling within a new political arrangement? Did any of you watch the Warner Bros movie, “Absolute Power,” based on the best-selling novel by the same title by David Baldacci? The theme there is that even the President cannot be trusted when it comes to power. That development would, however bizarre, plainly and unequivocally be a usurping of the revolution. In that event, Ranil Wickremasinghe and the UNP would be back in the doldrums of politics and the revolution will have to be started all over again-maybe many generations later by a more violent vanguard. The JVP cannot take over the reins as, despite Anura Kumara’s brilliance and the honesty of its fold, it has failed to find space in the public imagination as, a serious option for government. Its protests have hitherto done the role only of boosting the chances of anyone wait- ing in line for government.
Small wonder that old Tiru alias Balaji is the only hope. And Sai Baba isn’t around anymore.
*The writer can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org