By Malinda Seneviratne –
It’s an inauspicious number. That’s ‘13’. The Maithripala-Ranil Regime (or Ranil-Maithripala Regime if you will) is in its 13th week. It’s the worst so far for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the United National Party (UNP).
First, a proposal for obtaining 400 billion rupees through Treasury Bills was defeated in Parliament. According to some constitutional experts the defeat of this kind of ordinance amounts to a no-confidence motion. Tradition, thankfully for Ranil and the UNP, is (conveniently) not the strongest suit of our Parliamentarians. Fortunately too, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), headless (in Parliament), is so confused that it doesn’t know if it is in the Government or the Opposition. It was left for Dinesh Gunawardena to make the point. Tellingly, the SLFP, the party with the numbers in Parliament, didn’t pick it up. The ‘loss’ however will not go unnoticed.
Then we had the Supreme Court striking off key elements of the draft 19th Amendment or rather determining that they would require approval through referenda. UNP seniors such as Kabir Hasheem and Lakshman Kiriella had earlier engaged in ungainly chest-beating regarding the passages of the 19th. If Kiriella sounded ridiculous when he threatened to dissolve Parliament if the 19th was not passed he looks sillier now after the SC decision which his own leader has decided to accept and to incorporate into the draft.
Ranil probably expected this. Being a politician (and not a statesman) he played for the maximum, that is to orchestrate an amendment that would give him nationally the kind of absolute power he enjoyed in the UNP. In the political column, however, it is recorded as a loss.
The third indicator that the things are not as rosy as they were in early January is Chandrika Kumaratunga being hooted as an SLFP balamandala meeting. The lady has been making some big claims about her role in President Sirisena’s victory and her current political status and worth which of course haven’t been confirmed by anyone that counts. It is not difficult to organize a hoot. Indeed it can be read as a positive development because few if any would have dared to do anything of the kind to anyone important in the previous regime. But a hoot is a hoot. It is not applause.
As things stand the Government is way behind schedule when it comes to important reforms in the 100 Days Program. If they were over-ambitious that’s pardonable. Politicians are politicians, made of promises. They are not statespersons. The people know and don’t mind as long as things appear to be getting done. The 19th falls into this category, never mind the ominous statements coming from what could be called the ‘Mahinda Group’ (better named as ‘Need Mahinda Badly Group’).
As things stand, the position of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) seems to have been affirmed by the Supreme Court and the UNP has decided to go along with it. Barring upsets from Mahinda loyalists it will pass. This brings us to the Mahinda Factor in the political equation.
P.K. Balachandran, writing for the New Indian Express, referring to the above ‘debacles’ concludes, ‘confused (President) Sirisena yielding ground to resurgent Rajapaksa’. Confused or not, President Sirisena has appeared disinterested in all this. ‘Sleeping’ would be a better description. Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has claimed that Maithripala is using Champika Ranawaka (JHU) to achieve his ends. On the face of it, they have a point; the SC ruling takes away from Maithripala much of what his predecessors enjoyed but leaves him with enough controls. One should note that Anura and the JVP are to Ranil what Champika is to Maithripala as a cute sub-plot in this drama.
One need not be surprised. Maithripala is President under the JRJ Constitution (sans the 19th Amendment). Well, JRJ+ Constitution one should say for the 18th Amendment still holds. And yet, he’s acting as though he is a second William Goppallawa (1972-77). When the man whose office has all the power acts powerless it is natural that everything and everyone under him run around like headless chicken. This is perhaps part of the reason for the ‘Rajapaksa Resurgence’ that Balachandran speaks of. True, the SC determination would make any SLFPer toying with the idea of backing Mahinda think again; MPs gravitate towards power, that’s a given. The Mahinda factor is important though, and its importance is growing.
First of all, the SLFP’s confusion alluded to above has rendered Parliament without a credible opposition. The Government is tripping at every turn (Central Bank bond issue, appointing friends and family to high posts, delays in reform etc). That’s bad for Ranil. For now Maithripala seems untouched. The SLFP doesn’t know how to make capital out of the situation. Opposition therefore has left Parliament. Naturally it is gravitating towards Mahinda.
Mahinda has always been best on the street, with the people. He reads pulse like few can or have. As President he had near dictatorial power complemented by unprecedented popularity. Today he’s rediscovered his pre-presidential persona, added a bit of humility (real or feigned it doesn’t matter, politically) and is thriving in his element.
As things stand neither Ranil or Maithripala (or their key advisors or backers) seem to have a clue about dealing with the Mahinda Factor. How this ‘inability’ marks the political process, is anyone’s guess. It will depend to a large extent on what Maithripala does (or does not do) and we can all ‘thank’ JR Jayewardene for this.