By Amrit Muttukumaru –
Examples of the rank hypocrisy of Ranil Wickremesinghe after becoming unelected Executive President include:
1) In March 2022 while being the solitary MP from the UNP he led he “demanded to know when the government would be able to table in the House the recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report on Sri Lanka.” (‘The Island’ 10 March 2022). Today as Executive President and Minister of Finance he is effectively REFUSING to table in parliament the “staff level agreement” the government has reached with the IMF. This very same Wickremesinghe stated at the All-Party Conference convened by then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in March 2022 – “Article 148 of the Constitution has vested control of public finances in Parliament; however, the Parliament has so far been ignored.” (‘Colombo Page’ 23 March 2022)
2) After the alleged undertaking given by then PM Wickremesinghe to the EU in 2017 to repeal the draconian PTA after which GSP+ was reinstated, not only has he reneged on this promise but more dastardly he signed a ‘Detention Order’ under the PTA to detain for 90 days three ‘Aragalaya’ protesters which include Wasantha Mudalige – Convener of Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF). Ref. “Sumanthiran reminds Ranil of an unkept promise” (‘Daily FT’ 26 August 2022).
3) Is it not shameful for Wickremesinghe to portray himself as upholding democratic values when he knows that his Presidency is unlawful since his ‘National List’ parliamentary membership is unconstitutional due to it being 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. Even if this is ingnored, does not his Presidency lack legitimacy?
Is Ranil an ‘ICON’?
Despite Wickremesinghe arguably being the biggest hypocrite among politicians in this country since independence, the media empire of his maternal uncle Ranjit Wijewardene – the feared Czar of the print media in this country considers him an icon – “Ranil emerges as icon but tough challenges ahead” (‘The Sunday Times’ 4 September 2022). The same ‘editorial’ page political column also states that the “staff level agreement” with the IMF is a “feather in the cap for President Wickremesinghe”.
This clearly does not tally with reality because the conditions include political stability at the center of which is political consensus which is a non-starter. The conditions also include a credible anti-corruption mechanism which is also a non-starter given that Wickremesinghe’s political survival is dependent on the same people who have contributed to the country’s political/economic agony.
The temporary absence of queues for fuel and cooking gas is being marketed by Wickremesinghe’s acolytes as a huge achievement by him. Is this not a superficial reading of the ground reality? For example, does the weekly fuel quota meaningfully resolve the problem? Do not fisherfolk throughout the country continue to protest due to the high cost and shortage of kerosene? Is not the cost of life sustaining essentials prohibitive? Are there not plausible allegations of corruption in the purchase of fuel and cooking gas which have not been laid to rest? Is it not the fear syndrome that is keeping a lid on things? Whether temporary or not only time will tell.
It is fraught with danger for the governance of this country that hardly anyone recognizes that the real motive of Wijeya Newspapers Limited (WNL) to go out of its way to promote Wickremesinghe’s dismal political track record is to carve out a political future for WNL owner 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.
The country has paid a heavy price by not taking cognizance of the mischief wrought by the businessmen controlled media. In this instance the focus is on Ranil Wickremesinghe.
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 WNL with its stable of Sinhala and English language newspapers. WNL newspapers include the country’s ‘go to’ newspapers: ‘Lankadeepa’/ ’Sunday Lankadeepa’ (Sinhala) and ‘Daily Mirror’/ ‘Sunday Times’/’Daily FT’ (English).
On the dynastic project look no further than the Op-Ed article in vivid colour “Back To Senanaiksm And Save The Party” in WNL owned ‘Daily Mirror’ (7 September 2020) directly promoting Ruwan. His mother Ranjani is a grand-daughter of the co-founder of the UNP and the country’s first Prime Minister DS Senanayake.
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 JR Jayewardene who brought his nephew Wickremesinghe into politics.
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 usually loquacious Cardinal has demanded accountability from Ruwan for his share of responsibility for the Easter Sunday carnage.
Are we expected to believe that Ruwan did not have knowledge of the attack even to the extent of Harin Fernando’s hospitalized father?
Are we also expected to believe that investigative journalists from his father’s media empire would not have tipped him off?
It is downright dangerous to give the media both state/private – a free pass to operate without ‘independent’ regulation. It is a myth that the privately owned media is superior to the state owned media.
The ‘self–regulation’ through the ‘Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka’ (PCCSL) is a FARCE. For example, WNL’s ‘Sunday Times’ Editor – Sinha Ratnatunga is also Deputy Chairman of the PCCSL. The implication is that you have to complain to Ratnatunga about Ratnatunga!
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. 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?
Also shameful is that he is depending on Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s SLPP to fill the balance period of Gotabaya’s tenure.
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 – “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) – ‘The Sunday Times’ 24 July 2022.
Despite almost the entire country knowing that 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.
The watershed island-wide ‘Aragalaya’ protest movement famously began its journey on 9 April 2022 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’ by parliament! This by no means should be interpreted as going ‘soft’ on the terrible violence prone ‘administration’ of the Rajapaksas.
Why are we not hearing about Corruption and related issues such as Sri Lankan names in the ‘Panama Papers’/ ‘Pandora Papers’ and accountability for the egregious Bond Scams/ Easter Sunday carnage?
Is it not the fear of exposés by Ranjan Ramanayake that led to Wickremesinghe giving him only a conditional pardon which keeps him away from active politics?
Even SJB leader Sajith Premadasa seems to harbor fear of Ramanayake. If not, why has he reportedly said:
“We will not pressurise the government to grant Mr. Ramanayake his civic rights as he has got freedom after a long imprisonment. We actually thank the President and other Ministers who have been instrumental in getting Ranjan the presidential amnesty” (‘Daily Mirror’ 27 August 2022)
I urge the ‘Aragalaya’ and other activists for ‘system change’ to consider encouraging a new political formation under the leadership of Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, MA Sumanthiran PC, Dr. Charitha Herath, Nagananda Kodituwakku, Wasantha Mudalige, Hirunika Premachandra and other like-minded persons. I know this proposal has its shortcomings – but could anyone suggest anything better from what we have today?