By Amrit Muttukumaru –
Ranil Wickremesinghe is probably the most disliked politician in the country today in the reckoning of people crying out for a strong opposition. Although nationwide he is electorally irrelevant and toxic to democratic governance, influential sections of the print and electronic media in the country are doing their damndest to keep the rump of the UNP led by him politically alive to weaken the opposition in general and de facto opposition leader Sajith Premadasa in particular to serve their respective business interests and agenda. An exception to this is a popular TV network with its own baggage of controversy supportive of Premadasa. Under Wickremesinghe the UNP has lost a record number of nationwide elections and also lost thousands of exasperated party faithful. On the other hand, Premadasa then UNP Deputy Leader was largely a mere spectator until he recently formed the UNP breakaway Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party. His leadership is still not convincing.
In this milieu the print media seems to be the most active led by Wijeya Newspapers Limited (WNL) followed by Upali Newspapers Limited (UNL). While in the case of UNL it is not a surprise given its consistent stance over the years, it is indeed baffling in the case of WNL which at least has pretensions to be ‘independent’. WNL is owned by Wickremesinghe’s maternal uncle – Ranjit Wijewardene who is also its Chairman. Wijewardene’s son Ruwan a laid-back politician has preferred to remain in the UNP rump led by his first cousin Ranil rather than join the vast majority from the UNP who are members of the UNP breakaway SJB led by Sajith. The SJB was the logical outcome of Ranil’s refusal to budge from the UNP leadership despite almost singlehandedly bringing it to virtual ruin. His links when PM to the scandalous bond scam has done immense damage to the UNP. It is widely perceived that Ranil’s political leaning for a considerable period even during the time when he was PM in the so-called Yahapalana government was not in sync with the majority of the UNPers who were getting increasingly frustrated.
WNL influence on the print media of the country is such that when Wijewardene’s son Ruwan was appointed Minister of Mass Media by his cousin PM Ranil with access to information and influence over all competitive media, there wasn’t a whimper of protest from any of the competitive media. A lucrative business of Lake House Printers & Publishers PLC virtually owed by Ranjit Wijewardene is the printing of cheque leaves and security documents for State banks
It is amazing that Ranil and the rump of the UNP he leads is being given ‘star’ status by the media while ignoring the real opposition led by Sajith and his SJB! It is unbelievable that the media is ignoring the implications of 80 former MPs of the UNP dominated UNF in the previous parliament throwing in their lot with the Sajith led SJB.
Media Games – Examples
Is it not astonishing that the media knowing fully well that the UNP is today little more than a name board and worse may even be in cahoots with the ruling dispensation is giving it and its electorally toxic leader Wickremesinghe top billing? Consider the following examples:
‘Daily Mirror’ 4 May 2020
‘Daily Mirror’ 24 April 2020
‘Daily Mirror’ 20 May 2020
‘Daily Mirror’ 24 April 2020
‘Daily Mirror’ 12 May 2020
‘The Island’ 20 May 2020
‘The Island’ 20 May 2020
viii) For sheer audacity it is difficult to beat ‘The Island’ of 21 May 2020. While the most prominent news report on Page 3 is Ranil Wickremesinghe lauds Kerala Health Minister’s efforts in letter, probably the most inconspicuous on the same page at the bottom is Sajith wants Parliament summoned as EC says no to General Election on June 20
Premadasa should never have allowed matters to drift and allow Wickremesinghe and his cohorts which now include powerful sections of the media to wrest the initiative from him and his Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party. In the context of the constitutional conundrum surrounding the impending General Elections in the midst of Covid-19, should not the SJB have taken the fight to the SLPP? The issues presented by the SLPP on a platter to the opposition would have been manna from heaven to any vibrant opposition in another country. If Sajith and his SJB cannot stand the heat they might as well fold up and call it a day instead of simply going through the motions of just being an opposition.
Would not the fallout from Covid-19 particularly in terms of an uncertain future have tempered the bravado and unreasonableness of those concerned in the population to accept the truism that survival is only possible in a united country with all communities living as brothers and sisters? Is this not a powerful starting point for the opposition? Why is this not being effectively marketed? Why is the opposition letting others to set the agenda?
The SJB has missed ‘full tosses’ such as the blatant call to welcome foreign remittances irrespective of the source even if only for 3 months. The media have merely reported this without comment. Does this not have money laundering implications? Does not the country already have a major problem with illicit drugs? Does the link between money laundering, illicit drugs and funding of terrorism need elaboration?
Why is the opposition not demanding a stimulus package which gives due attention to vulnerable sections and makes any corporate bailout contingent on reforms pertaining to social justice, environmental protection and others? The Rs. 150 Billion Strategy to Revive Economy proposed by former CBSL Governor Nivard Cabraal – now Senior Adviser, Economic Affairs to PM Rajapaksa and the recently released “Multi-sectoral approach for post-COVID-19 economic revival from Ceylon Chamber” demonstrate a deficiency in these crucial aspects.
The opposition must demonstrate a far greater resolve than what it has done so far.
Romesh de Silva PC was spot on when he reportedly told the Supreme Court that the opposition had “betrayed” parliament by its undertaking given to the President not to “overthrow” the government if the ‘dissolved’ parliament is convened.
It is beyond one’s comprehension that there are still some persons in the SJB who are kowtowing to the electorally ‘toxic’ Ranil Wickremesinghe. This ambivalence sends a signal of weakness and bodes ill for the electoral prospects of the SJB.