26 June, 2022


Is Ranil Mahinda’s Agent In The Opposition?

Making Sense Of The UNP’s Double Game: Is Ranil Mahinda’s Agent In The Opposition?

By Kumar David

Prof Kumar David

From early September last year, I have been saying that the Rajapakse regime entered a period of acute decline and qualitatively sharper crisis, starting final quarter-2012. Events have borne this out more vividly than anticipated, and the slide appears more precipitate than expected due to a confluence of accidental occurrences. But I repeat, ‘appears’; this is not accidental; it is in the nature of things. When foundations rot, at a certain point collapse sets in; then a system that would otherwise have ridden through difficulties is faced with calamity. An inconspicuous and somewhat boring Chief Justice has shaken the regime to its foundations by being a little stubborn!

What is surprising on the other side is the handling of the impeachment issue by the UNP which has, in any case, been behaving oddly for some time. Its contortions betray inconsistency and confusion. The last thing I wish to do is upset the applecart of opposition unity when all who oppose Rajapakse’s onslaught on democracy must stand together. But when concerns arise about the rectitude, reliability and transparency of one of the major partners in the united opposition, it is necessary to take the bull by the horns, demand straight answers and hold the UNP accountable. That’s the way to strengthen unity. The Asian Human Rights Commission has raised a red alert of a possible palace-led coup in the coming weeks therefore it is doubly important to clarify these concerns.

Is the UNP really opposed to the impeachment witch-hunt orchestrated by the Rajapakses, or is it up to some devious game? Why is Ranil behaving in a manner that leaves an unsavoury taste in the mouth that engenders justifiable suspicion that he is collaborating with the witch-hunt? Public disillusionment is widespread after revelation that super-luxury accommodation was paid for by the SL Embassy, for him and his wife on holiday last week in Venice. At this time, when impeachment fires were blazing out of control, there is palpable fear in society at large that Ranil is in Rajapakse’s pocket. Bahu shouts at Tissa Attanayake that the UNP is a traitor, but there is nothing he can do to deter his erstwhile big-brother ally from subverting their Joint Opposition.

Let me clarify what I am not saying. I am NOT saying that those who suggested, some weeks ago, that CJ-Bandaranaike (CJ-B) should step down, because her husband was embroiled in financial controversy, are now contradicting themselves by opposing the impeachment. I did not call on her to step down because I did not discuss the issue, but had I taken it up at the time, it is possible that I too may have said she should resign. Impeachment, however, is a new topic that cuts across this previous concern; it is far more important, and makes that matter irrelevant. I go so far as to say that if CJ-B were to step down now, it would be a stab in the back of the public which has rallied to shield democratic norms. None who said, at that time, that CJ-B should resign, should repeat the call, at this time, when defeating the witch-hunt is synonymous with defending democracy. Fighting on, not stepping down, is the task now. I see no contradiction in UNPers who were uncomfortable with CJ-B’s incumbency at that time, standing against impeachment at this time. If you donned a fur coat in winter you must discard it for a cotton dress when summer arrives.

Ranil’s vacillating ways

However, there are other matters where the stance taken by Ranil and the UNP is indefensible. I will deal with three; the refusal of the UNP to be forceful about the threat to democracy and its reluctance to take the lead in mobilising opposition, despite being the largest component; second, Ranil trashing the Supreme Court’s determination that it is unconstitutional to use Standing Order 78(A) – SO78A – in impeachment proceedings against a judge; and thirdly barring the two UNP Select Committee members from participating in the Appeal Court hearings of January 3 and 7. Ranil has, in effect, assisted Rajapakse to prosecute his dangerous agenda.

Imagine if a government played fast and lose with democratic and constitutional propriety, or subverted judicial independence, when giants like NM, Colvin and Pieter were in the House! The blast inside the Chamber and the mobilisation outside would have put an end to the nonsense. All criticise the Old Left for its expectation that socialism could be ushered in by coalition with Mrs Bandaranaike, but nobody has accused them of a lickspittle mentality and submissive toadyism to the prime minister. Ranil may not be a lickspittle stooge to the extent of today’s Dead Left trio, but he lacks fire and guts. Is that a personality trait or is he seeking opportunist accommodation in exchange for received and/or anticipated benefits? I suspect it is a blend of both. How the Dead Left leaders vote on impeachment depends on the leeway their boss permits them without getting fired from their jobs as low level jokers in Cabinet.

Just before Christmas the Court of Appeal (CA) took up the constitutionality of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) and warned the Speaker to be restrained till its determinations were finalised so as to avoid a “chaotic situation”. Unsurprisingly, Mahinda Rahapakse’s brother, the Speaker, rejected the request outright; but surprisingly Ranil too told the CA to keep its nose out of PSC business. Then when the Supreme Court made a ruling, read out by the CA on 3 January, that SO78A had been employed in a manner inconsistent with the Constitution and that the PSC’s findings are null and void, he suddenly changed track and called upon Parliament to abide by the ruling. So Mr Ranil what became of your much publicised demand that the Court keeps its nose out of this business? The UNP first played along with Rajapakse but when the tide turned it decided to ride the public mood for political mileage.

The barring of the two UNP members of the PSC from joining the JVP’s Vijitha Herath and TNA’s Sambanthan and making an appearance before the CA on 3 January is an act of treachery – Sampanthan is abroad and put in an appearance via his lawyers. The regime’s case that there is conflict between Parliament and the Judiciary is blown sky high when the representatives of the parliamentary opposition refuse to boycott the CA. Then it becomes clear that the conflict is only between the government parliamentary group and the Judiciary. So why did the UNP undercut the opposition united front and attempt to give credence to the picture that parliament as a whole is at loggerheads with the Judiciary? Search me; I have no answer except speculate that the hotel in Venice must have been classy, or that Ranil and the UNP are up to dirty tricks to wreck the anti-Rajapakse opposition. Harsh judgement? Well it’s a crucial point in history, and the UNP’s game is alarming.

Saving the system

The impeachment saga is the only game in town, and frankly, of the significant parties, the JVP is the only forceful opposition player – the issue in centred in Sinhala-land hence the TNA, despite a correct stand, is an outsider of limited effectiveness. It is the JVP that is making all the running at this time and I predict that it will make gains at the cost of the regime and the UNP. Mark my words, in a year the JVP will be stronger. Now, I don’t want to hear infantile gibberish that I have become a JVP fellow traveller; I am making a prediction about potential benefits based on observed current activity.

The Peratugami (or Frontline Socialists), the JVP breakaway group, is at sixes and sevens and unable to cope with fast developing situations. It is at sea, unable to work out how to intervene; a difficulty the JVP, with its much longer political experience, is not facing. To the Peratugami, this chap Lenin, his strategic approach to basic objectives, and his finesse in tactical issues, is a closed book. There is some usefulness, nevertheless, in simpleton fundamentalists. Let me explain.

Rajan Philips said last week (“Year of Judgement”, Colombo Telegraph, 6 January),

 “(T)he UNP opposition has boxed itself into ineffectuality by being dishonestly evasive. With Machiavellian intent the UNP leader wanted the CJ removed and the government fatally discredited. It has backfired on the UNP; it has lost its identity in the impeachment drama; it has talked from both sides of its mouth and lost its credibility.”

But even Rajan does not ask and explain why! Why does the UNP not take a bold confrontational approach, grab opportunity by the fetlock and mount an open challenge? This is a good opportunity for a challenger, as the JVP has realised.

The aforementioned fundamentalists have an answer; “the UNP, the bourgeois leadership of the UNP, will not go so far as to rock the system; it will not unleash events that will threaten the very foundations of the bourgeois state system”, they have told me. Ranil’s UNP does not want an apocalyptic standoff between two arms of the state, Judiciary and Executive (the Legislature is a mere proxy for the latter) which may lead to fundamental challenges to the nature of the state. I think they have a point, but being fundamentalists they do not simultaneously appreciate the significance of conjectural issues, nor do they have tactical deftness. The simple fact that Ranil’s wits are firmly parked in his nether regions is part of the UNP’s identity and credibility crisis that the JVP is ably exploiting.

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