20 May, 2019

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On Political Equations That Never “Stay”

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

Power struggles are rarely if at all about the people. Rhetoric is scripted in, yes, but for the most it remains a necessity as a means to an end. Outcomes which get preferred by parties never privilege the voter. This we know. As such elections have more to do with power and frill than with serving the people. This too we know.

Writing 12 days before Maithripala Sirisena defected from the SLFP and thereby wrecked the political equation, Udaya Gammanpila, then allied with the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), commented on Ranil Wickremesinghe’s moves. Arguing that Wickremesinghe would use a proxy, Gammanpila made a classic inference: that his would use his moves to retain position within his own party.

This is true. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s conduct during the presidential and parliamentary elections was suave to say the least. He aced dissidents within his own party and that in a way which lent credibility to his faction. If at all, he convinced those within the United National Party (UNP) to join him and thereby strengthen party above anything else.

Political equations do not last long, however. Scripted into MOUs (between and within parties) are escape clauses. True, Ranil’s grip on party leadership and his ability to wield power in the face of popular dissent is not unknown. If at all, this will sustain his vision for party and government for quite some time.

Ranil MaithriBut this is just half the picture.

Dayan Jayatilleka once observed that the only way to salvage the UNP was to join up with the JVP and other dissident parties and embark on a consciousness-raising exercise against Mahinda Rajapaksa. What unfolded later wasn’t a consciousness-raiser but a revolt against incumbent. Both Jayatilleka and Gammanpila couldn’t have predicted Wickremesinghe using a stalwart from the ruling party to become prime minister, which explains why both opposed Sirisena’s campaign, the former on principal.

What happened next was the formation of four different voter-camps, all of whom supported Sirisena. They were those who: 1. Supported the UNP; 2. Embraced him from the UPFA; 3. Let go of ideology and supported him; and 4. Were courted by the Jathika Hela Urumaya upon its ejection from the Alliance and hence congealed into the floating voter.

The point is that Wickremesinghe’s equation is shaky. Those four classes remain intact, but altered slightly. Now those with the UNP will remain with the UNP. Those who supported Maithripala Sirisena from the UPFA are with the president. But the other two classes, particularly those from the floating vote-base, are what count. Wickremesinghe’s position should be based or rather positioned on this ground. Why?

First of all, what’s “national” in this National Government? What we’ve seen is a coalition, yes, but one in which the UNP dominates. Power-sharing has been for the most vertical, with state largesse going to the Greens and “titbit” ministries going to the Blues. In this context it’s not too hard for the prime minister to court popularity within his party.

Problem is, these things don’t remain constant forever. Wickremesinghe’s strategy was and is to split the SLFP and this in a way which ensures that his faction within the UNP holds sway on government and party. He needs to do two things here: a successor who’ll continue his legacy, and ensure that his party “gets” the presidency some day. Whether he can do this while accommodating those who’ve been known to oppose him within the UNP is for another article.

Right now, here’s what counts. Without delivering on the mandate given to him by the floating voter, Wickremesinghe’s government can hope for very little. This is not just because the UPFAers who affirm(ed) the National Government are led by a party-less drive to weed out corruption and adjust structural flaws. This is also because their representatives wrecked one political equation, turning Rajapaksa into a lost cause overnight. History, as we know, repeats itself.

Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero is not Green. Nor are Patali Champika Ranawaka and the JHU, as well as those who helped the yahapalana campaign, Shiral Lakthilaka included. They are as colourless as they can get. As such the primary need to contain opposition and lend credence to a Green government means that two requirements need to be met: national security and foreign affairs.

Here’s why.

Part of the reason why the UNP lacks support from the rural voter is that it’s perceived as anti-poor and pro-West. This doesn’t make the SLFP a socialist paradise either, but the point is that for almost 10 years, ever since Rajapaksa breached the famous Maithri-Malik MOU by allowing defectors to join his government, the UNP was badmouthed as a party which stood against the war. Making matters worse was its tilt towards the West, even when geopolitical realities recommended otherwise.

Here’s the pincer: the floating voter supported Sirisena to drive out Rajapaksa for a reason. That had less to do with a rejection of everything Rajapaksa stood for than a need to get his corrupt group out of the way. The former president, let’s not forget, still courts popularity, and from some of his own critics, for the way he handled the war. Those who claim that other factors helped him are hence at a loss for words when asked, “Would these factors have helped without him?”

Logically therefore, two things should remain constant should a “Rajapaksa Restoration” NOT be legitimised: the country’s security apparatus and its foreign relations, the latter of which should remain as neutral and non-aligned as possible.

In an interview with foreign correspondent Padma Rao Sundarji (for her book Sri Lanka: A New Country), Sirisena emphatically stated that national security would remain a priority, while the armed forces would gradually exit civil administration. His statement affirms the view that what Rajapaksa left behind must be held together and that in a way which ensures the opposition cannot justify his predecessor’s return to power. The same, by the way, can be said of the country’s foreign relations.

As things stand, the UNP has much to gain. Even from the SLFP. Having gained power in a way which would have made Machiavelli proud, Wickremesinghe must now ensure that what he got cannot be squandered. At all. For that, he must satisfy those two requirements without letting go of the broader canvas which he and his party seeks to enforce in this country, economically, socially, and politically. If he’s successful in this, there’s no doubt that the political equation will “stay”, indeed for quite some time.

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Latest comments

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    A fine analysis, and this statement is one that the UNP will do well to cogitate upon:

    “Part of the reason why the UNP lacks support from the rural voter is that it’s perceived as anti-poor and pro-West.”

    Also, let’s hope that the cabinet appointed next week isn’t too large.

  • 0
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    Why people think Rajapaksha is indispensable he formualated the set up as people see kike that….What people do not really understand is the Rajapaksha is the severe cancer to this set up.

    because it is a real fantacy to our people whatever the fraud they do.

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    Uditha Devapriya

    RE: On Political Equations That Never “Stay”

    That is incredible ! Govt. with world’s smallest cabinet of ministers (5 members) is in SL !!

    From MaRa Cabinet of 50 Liars, Crooks, Robbers and Criminals to 5 Cabinet Ministers in Mairipala Sirisena Government.

    Please stay that way. Let the Permanent Secretaries of the Ministries run them.

    There will be less corruption and stealing by the ministers.

    t is ten days since the people voted to elect a government of good governance , yet it has still not been possible to appoint a cabinet of ministers , and for the government to carry out its duties duly so far. Under the laws , the Prime minister (P.M.) should take oaths within 7 days , and that was done ; and to meet exigent circumstances , three ministers were appointed.

    Unbelievably the government is now run by five individuals (inclusive of the president) meaning that Sri Lanka (SL) is the country right now with the smallest cabinet of ministers in the world. Some have questioned if the country is being run with five ministers , why have 50 ministers ? In any event the new cabinet of the majority parties will be comprised of 45 ministers.

    Meanwhile, although it was announced ministers will be sworn in on the 2 nd of September ,the SLFP secretary Duminda Dissanayake addressing a media briefing yesterday revealed , it is likely that will be postponed.The SLFP’s 64 th birth anniversary commemoration is to be on that day , but because decisions are being taken by both parties , a postponement is on the cards , Diminda noted further.

    Duminda also disclosed at the briefing that out of the 95 SLFP members elected , about 70 of them are supporting the national government. The double faced villains Dallas , Anura Priyadharshana, Susil and Dilan of the SLFP who are always there at media briefings were conspicuously absent at this meeting.

    Based on informed poliitical sources , while there exists an MOU signed recently between the SLFP and the UNP , another agreement is to be signed with more parties joining , because Douglas Devananda of the EPDP who represented the UPFA and Thondaman of Congress party have consented to join the national government. A new agreement has been necessitated thereby . In the circumstances , a majority of the SLFP led UPFA are probably supporting the national government.

    Those of the UPFA who are now left out of the national government are only the rejected ,dejected and disappointed three extremist groups : Weerawansa of the NFF, Vasu and his one man party , Dinesh and his two member MEP . Gammanpila’s solitary member party , the so called Pivithuru Hela Urumaya is not even a recognised party.

    Hence in the present context, it will be possible to sign the MOU with the UNP under the name of the UPFA. If that happens , the remaining small vestige of the UPFA will have to sit in the opposition , but the opposition leader post cannot be wielded by them because there cannot be an opposition representing the UPFA government . In that case the TNA leader Sampanthan will legally and morally be the choice as the opposition leader.

    In that event ,when a national reconciliation is sought , it is doubtless the opposition leader post being held by the TNA will be of tremendous benefit.

    Meanwhile , referring to the news item published recently by Lanka e news that the MOU signed between the UNP and the SLFP for a united government is inconsistent with the 19 th amendment newly introduced to the constitution , the minister of justice wijedasa Rajapakse explained , though this revelation holds good, any agreement signed outside the parliament between political parties will not be valid within parliament. Agreements outside the parliament are of no relevance ,when the leaders of parties that have been elected to parliament meet and enter into an agreement within the parliament , after informing the speaker. Agreements outside the parliament only notify the nation, he added.

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