By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
“…the whole yahapalanaya movement has been predicated on the abolition of the presidential executive; but this is to be abandoned as Sajith Premadasa sets his eyes on the tortuous one-man show political carnival that is the executive presidency.”
Selling Exercise and the Politician
Mangala Samaraweera could play it straight only for a short time. He, periodically, gives up his good work and takes to where his real skills are and that is salesmanship. Toward this metamorphosed end, Mangala would turn his back on everything he stood for during the days of ‘good behaviour.’ Without doubt, Mangala manipulates in the political stream and he decides to take the challenge and rescucitate a man thus far content with the backwoods and make him King. Mangala Samaraweera did that for CBK; he did it for Mahinda and now he is trying it to rehabilitate Sajith Premadasa taking the latter off his comfortable hole Down South, instilling the latter with a new ticker and passion, and attempting to have him positioned on the top. Until, of course, he decides to reverse course once again.
Without doubt, a politician must also be a good sales person. He has to market his own image and, then, to market the policy changes he desires to achieve on behalf of the people. Beneath all this, however, a responsible politician should stand on the ground of solid principles of policy and behaviour. On the other hand, this seems what Mangala Samaraweera lacks. He focuses purely on a particular sale of a property and then finds his way around to plot the path to sell that. In the current context of politics Managala’s chosen ‘property,’ is a given political personality and he cares not on what the latter stands for. Organising the winning game for his chosen person is all he desires.
There is little difference from the real estate salesman and Mangala Samaraweera. One can imagine how such a feat can be a classic sales achievement of the highest order. Well, these are the periodic bursts that Mangala Saamaraweera makes. It requires a whole lot of deceit, exaggeration, a blind eye to the negatives, great cunning and fabrication.
The sales pitch is very important strategy for a salesman. Mangala Samaraweera has been adept at constructing such pitches that catch on. When acting as Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign manager, Mangala clinched the game in favour of Mahinda with his famous slogan, “Ranil is a Loser.” Remember that? And how that simply worked! So successful that pitch had been that, despite numerous election victories by Ranil Wickremesinghe, there are persons who like to believe in that myth. How could Ranil have been five times Prime minister had he not won? How could he have so skilfully negotiated the extremely difficult relationship with President Sirisena without leaving the administration into total disarray?How could he have beaten the infamous constitutional coup? Are these illustrations showing up the characteristics of a failed man?
I have seen selling skills best exemplified in the Real Estate salesman who could palm of a rotten piece of property for good money after window dressing and big talk. A derelict property is shown up as ‘having full potential in a growing market.’ A decrepit lounge is nothing but ‘stunning and looking into the countryside.’ A new set of apartments have been ‘architecturally designed.’ How else can a design of buildings be done other than by an architect?
And so on… I may have laboured too much on these examples of sales pitches. However, I have done that to communicate how the mind of a real estate salesman typically works. Accuracy is immaterial and flexibility has no bounds while the aim of it all to ‘sell somehow or clinch the deal.’ No steadfast principles of behaviour can be discerned in that kind of task.
Turning Away from Ranil
Mangala worked all these years loyally for his leader, the Prime Minister, sharing the latter’s philosophy of liberalisation of the economy, independence of institutions, encouragement of private entrepreneurship, the need to abolish the Executive Presidency and so on. Now, he backs young and inexperienced Sajith Premadasa along with the latter’s traditional and uninformed old-style economics. Sajith wants little to do with the open economy; he looks toward a ‘bit of socialism,’ as was in the failed past. These include state intervention in free trade, state controls on private entrepreneurship, price control, international and regional protectionism, state take over of private enterprises if needs be, and so on. That is the way Sajith understands economics. Mangala is with him here and, like a good real estate salesman, he can make that look sound as well. Mangala now supports his protege’s backward economic views.
The new sales pitch for Sajith is not yet out. However, one can discern Mangala’s sporadic statements like ‘a time must come when we all must retire.’ Ranil is in his commencing seventies, still younger than Mahinda. Mahathir Muhammed built Malaysian in his later sixties and early seventees. If one is unschooled and immature it doesn’t matter how young that candidate hell-bentis.
Besides, Sajith is hell-bent on building 1135 Chaityas and thousand Daham Pasalas. Are these the things that people want so badly? The fact is Sajith Prtemadasa has never taken part in any parliamentary discussion except in the subject of housing.
The ‘One man-show,’ of the Executive Presidency
Furthermore, the whole yahapalanaya movement has been predicated on the abolition of the presidential executive; but this is to be abandoned as Sajith Premadasa sets his eyes on the tortuous one-man show political carnival that is the executive presidency. We thought that, at least with Maitripala Sirisena the very idea of this vicious system had been made to look ludicrous and impossible in the eyes of the public at large. On the other hand, Sajith thinks otherwise. He has called for ‘a scientific study,’ to assess this institution.
It is clear that Sajith’s campaign style is already that of a pre-19Amendment Executive President. The one-man show has already surfaced. The many changes to government policy that Sajith assumes he would possess the powers of the pre-19 Amendment Chief Executive. This is far from the case.
Presidential governance is very much in accord with the feudalistic and pre-feudalistic order of society that Sri Lanka had. Recall the monarchs of those days: they are accompanied by the vassal elite who sing praises while heralding the arrival of the almighty. Citizens are on bended knees hoping for even ordinary requests to be granted. The power of the king is the all-important thing. In short, this was all a one-man show of power.
Who, then, wouldn’t like to be president? A goodly portion of the politics of power and greed that has been prevailing in Sri Lanka has been due to the attraction of the institution of the executive president. Take that away, and we will have a more moderate parliamentary struggle for joining the cabinet of ministers. The prime minister will be primus inter pares or first among equals.
Given he gets into power, will Sajith restore the old glory of pre-19th Amendment executive Presidency? One can witness the glory of the one-man-show when by Donald Trump arrogantly holds up to the media camera his stupid ‘orders,’every-time he signs the latter. Will Sri Lanka return to such a model given that Sajith wants to be at the driving wheel? Will Sri Lankans have to put up with that kind of thing? Will all the cruel acts of highway murder seen done by the Philippine President reappear in Sri Lanka? In a parliamentary system of government the Prime Minister, ministers and executives have to be under the law and accountable to their actions to parliament.
In the contemporary age, such one-man-shows look ridiculous and hideous, reeking with the undermining of the valuable principle of reaching broad consultation, consensus and collective decision-making. Despite all its weak points, the latter approach is superior and more effective. The sooner we can abolish the dreadful executive presidency the better it is. A nomination given by the United National Party to a candidate not committed to that ideal would be dreadful and disastrous.
It is, therefore, disappointing that the Sajith faction repudiated a last moment gesture of support for abolition by President Maitripala Sirisena himself. The President has now evolved into accepting that change. I thought that was an instance of now or never. I hope it will never be never. As LankaEnews described, ‘that was a catch (udapanduwa) that should have been caught even in the penultimate overs of the game’.
Mangala Samaraweera, according to whose Sutra all this rebel conspiracy is hatched, should be ashamed if he is able to shun the role of the real estate salesman and look squarely and patriotically on the overriding need for right policy direction in order to uplift a nation so overwhelmed by poor people.