Colombo Telegraph

Mahinda The Trampoline

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Here’s a question. Who’s worse: the person who cashes in on another’s victory by jumping over and then abandoning him or the person who doesn’t but still uses that other for his campaign? Not an easy question, we note. People are frail. Politicians are frail. They have no permanent friends and for this reason their preferred outcomes shift over time. (Dr) Mervyn Silva, for instance, would hardly have baked bread with Ranil Wickremesinghe or Arjuna Ranatunga this time last year. Yes, it’s a small world. Not that this makes it better. Or worse.

For Mahinda Rajapaksa however, there’s really no choice. He has no permanent friends, but he has his clique. That clique has been rooting for him. Still is. Its first “victory” (if you can call it that) was the Nugegoda rally. Extrapolating this to the UPFA’s decision to nominate him for the election is simplistic and ridiculous. But that’s the “narrative” his faction continue to read. They’ve “won” what they want so far. Can’t blame them for believing they’ll “win” in future.

That’s why the former president has no option. He must stand by his clique. Always.

But the likes of Udaya Gammanpila, Wimal Weerawansa, Dinesh Gunawardena, and Vasudeva Nanayakkara will not be enough. That is why (for instance) Rajapaksa could not have (even with those four rioting throughout the country on his behalf) obtained the support of his party if it wasn’t for Susil Premajayantha and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa.

And now, those who chose to go dumb when Sirisena’s faction trashed their man’s predecessor are coming out. One by one.

It happened two weeks ago. Three Deputy Ministers – Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Sudarshani Fernandopulle, and Eric Weerawardena – resigned from their posts. They were not Mahinda loyalists. Indeed, if it wasn’t for Maithripala Sirisena’s infamous “declaration” on July 14 they wouldn’t have made their move. They affirmed loyalty to the SLFP and UPFA. Their statement came right after the Mahinda Faction had made one in support of Rajapaksa at the same venue (the Opposition Leader’s office). Timely. Calculated.

There’s a problem here however. All three of them in effect “looked” the other way when the “Bring Back Mahinda” campaign was in full sway. If they ignored and even discouraged that through silence once, what explains their change of face now? Where do their loyalties lie?

Let’s not forget that they resigned during the election season, i.e. when ministerial posts are worth a dime a dozen and getting a manape is more important. In this context would it make sense to consider their decision(s) as an affirmation of loyalty to their former leader? Of course not. It doesn’t take a political scientist to conclude that they downplayed Rajapaksa’s campaign even during the presidential election. They were among the first to get on Sirisena’s platform after he won.

Is this a problem for the has-been president? Yes and no. Most of those contesting from the UPFA have no “leader” to turn to. Maithripala Sirisena has in effect given up party leadership (until the election’s over that is) and this means there’s no person to “hold up” the UPFA. Sure, the president did himself no favours by confessing (with pride) that he saved Ranil Wickremesinghe’s skin. But politics isn’t all about popular mandates and for this reason it won’t be surprising if he goes back to leading SLFPers while doing his best to castrate his own party after August 17.

Meanwhile, there’s Mahinda. He’s different. His loyalty to party is uncontested. That wave gathering around him is irresistible. Makes sense to be on his side. Votes don’t come easily, after all. That’s why those who’ve renounced their ministerial posts (with chest-beating words) are claiming that they are “with” him. That they’ve realised their folly and have come to embrace him.

That’s just rhetoric however. They wouldn’t be using Mahinda if they knew they’d win without him. What warrants scrutiny therefore is what they want with him.

What happens after August 17? Nimal Siripala de Silva says “I will be the first to announce him as prime minister”. That’s rubbish, as everyone who has read the Constitution will realise. Whoever’s vying for the prime ministerial post (according to Article 43) shouldn’t only command the confidence of the Parliament. The president must choose him. That explains why a) Sirisena chose Wickremesinghe and a minority government and b) this was not unconstitutional (never mind what Sarath N. Silva can or will say).

Now here’s the pincer. If Sirisena decides to go for a National Government (he has indicated that), and he opts for Ranil over Mahinda, where will Alagiyawanna be? Fernandopulle? Weerawardena? Janaka Bandara Tennakoon? Will they continue their Mahinda-love? Or will they join this coalition, obtaining (as they did before) ministerial posts based on loyalty to the president?

All this is conjecture. Guesswork. But if those who win thanks to the former president abandon their de facto patron for ministerial portfolios, they’ve got nothing to lose. Nor has Rajapaksa, for that matter. If he rides on a sympathy wave again, it’ll accumulate. Based on how (un)popular the National Government will be, that’ll work in his favour. Someday.

In the meantime, he’ll have to wait. He’ll have to be a Trampoline. Tough, yes. Can’t help.

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