29 October, 2020

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Political Machinations: A Prime Minister Without Any Stakes

By Rajiva Wijesinha –

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha MP

Much energy has been expended in recent months in speculation as to whether we will soon have a new Prime Minister, and if so, who it will be. I was confidently told by an opposition Member of Parliament that 7 Ministers had applied in writing for the post, and opposition papers are having a field day in declaring that senior members of the SLFP are disaffected because their claims might be ignored.

All this speculation is destructive, not least because those about whom there is speculation feel both that they must defend themselves against allegations of untoward ambitions, and also against the possible untoward ambitions of others. Thus opposition politicians and media outlets will in fact contribute to fulfillment of the prophecies they make.

What is not taken into account in all this is that such speculation is inappropriate when there is no impending vacancy in the position of President. Given that the post of Prime Minister carries little power, there is no reason for anyone to want that appointment. Though it is true that both Ranasinghe Premadasa and Mahinda Rajapaksa did much as Prime Minister, they would have done the same without such a position. Conversely, the only person who succeded to the Presidency by virtue of being Prime Minister was D B Wijetunge, and he did nothing of any significance in that position.

I could understand there being frenetic anxiety now for the position of Prime Minister had we not had the 18th Amendment, but since that was supposed to put paid to the lame duck syndrome, it is unfortunate that speculation still continues, and in the process weakens the Presidency. One reason I thought the removal of term limits, which is generally not a good idea, acceptable in the Sri Lankan context is that I had seen what happened to Chandrika Kumaratunga towards the end of her second term. Indeed I was told by a shrewd political commentator around 2004, when I had been impressed by her courage in dealing with the harassment she faced as President when the opposing party was in power, that there was no point in wondering what she might do, for she was history.

Aided and abetted by the absurdities of the limits of her second Presidential term, and also I feel by her adverse reaction to the work of the Prime Minister with regard to tsunami relief while she was away, she ended up achieving nothing in the truncated period she had following the 2004 election that once again gave her a majority. My fear now is that, despite the relief provided by the 18th amendment, that should have stopped speculation about the succession, the same may happen to the present President if he does not firmly assert his authority for the rest of his Presidential term.

Unfortunately, though I am sure that he hopes the current Prime Minister will fulfil that role for the foreseeable future, the latter’s health will inevitably ensure that speculation continues. And while one hopes that he will continue to serve in Parliament for the rest of his current term, it is not fair either on so loyal and effective a servant of the SLFP in his day, nor on the country, that the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka is not in a position to contribute to policy or to decisions.
Even though this may suggest that the position is redundant, and certainly I personally believe we should move to an American style Presidential system with no necessary linkage between the Executive and those elected to the Legislature, while we have such a position in our Constitution, it should exercise influence and authority. Since this is not possible now, it would make sense for the President, as happened with the previous Prime Minister, to make a change while ensuring respect for those who had held such high office.

In making any fresh appointment, the President must of course ensure that he avoids controversy. It would be inappropriate to appoint a member of his family, and I am sure they would not want this, given the difficulties it would cause the President. The work of the Secretary of Defence over the last several years shows that one can achieve much through an executive position without involvement in the legislature or in political activity. I am sorry then that our Constitution does not permit greater use of outstanding capacities in similar positions, without piling on political responsibilities and the need to nurse potential voters and vote getters too.

What we would need then is a neutral personality, and it might be best for the President, given current speculation about problems within the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, and the looming shadow of his predecessor, if he were to appoint one or other of the senior members of the SLFP. To me they have the added advantage of having made it clear that they stand unequivocally for a pluralistic society, and giving them a platform from which they can enunciate this ideal clearly and productively would do much to overcome the current gathering resentment of minorities against the government.

If however it is felt that the position of Prime Minister might give any individual undue advantage in seeking a Presidential nomination at some stage, far in the future though this will be, it would make sense to appoint someone with no claim at all to becoming the SLFP candidate for the Presidency. Certainly we have two capable politicians in harness still who also command international credibility beyond any other member of the cabinet.

I refer to Sarath Amunugama and D E W Gunasekara, who both also command the confidence of the President as the responsibilities he has entrusted to them over the last year indicate, despite their having been made Senior Ministers. And there is also a third individual who, while still engaged in active electoral politics, has recently made clear his commitment to pluralism, even while he commands the confidence of a nationalist constituency. I refer to Dinesh Gunawardena, who again is no threat to any other contenders for future promotion because he belongs to another party, but who can command both national and international confidence.

Though it may seem that doing nothing is the best recourse now, I do not think that, with speculation increasing and corroding trust, the President can afford to wait much longer. A clear assertion that he will continue in office without any change in the constitution, and that he will be the Presidential candidate of his party when the next election is held – I hope not earlier than 2016 – will help the country move forward, along with a new Prime Minister who can relieve the President of some of the burdens of policy making and implementation.

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Latest comments

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    Dude Rajiva, Gota the goon is PM and President all in one!
    But good to ram home the point anyway –
    “It would be inappropriate to appoint a member of his family, and I am sure they would not want this, given the difficulties it would cause the President. good work Rajiva – lets divide and rule the SLFP this time around!

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      The Prime Minister or President, whether he is Rama or Ravana does it matter for the victims of the conditioned government?

      They are the chapters and versus of the same repetitions for the victims.

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    Rajiva has now become a kingmaker. If only the right thinking people listen to his nonsensical posts.none of these people he nominates to be p.m. Deserve to be even in a democratic parliament, these people are selfish time serving two faced sycophants enjoying the crumbs that fall from the Rajapaksa table.we need a clean slate with educated sincere young blood to take over the reins from this familial dictatorship.

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    Prof. Rajiv Wijesinghe, It is a pity indeed that you have not understood the realities. Everyone who is applying for the post of Prime Minister and who wishes to be the Prime Minister in the future has only one aim. That is to be another of the kind of Dingiri Banda Wijetunga.

  • 0
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    You keep advising the president but in your last article (why this sudden copious amounts of writing ???) you said the president ignores you , so why more advice?
    There is a Tamil proverb:
    “blowing a conch shell in a deaf man’s ear” –that captures the president’s attitude to your advice.

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    The Prime Minister is irrelevant under the present set up. Even present incumbent was in hospital for months and the roof didnt come down. He is medically unfit but it makes no different. Please appoint a Pambaya and it will make no difference.

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    Prof.

    How do I apply for the post ?

  • 0
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    Rajiva, Rajiva, there you go again after your fifth scotch of the day! This time you have not told us that you have “told” the President but you are “telling” the President. Whom do you think you are? If you are a honest politician then you would resign your parliamentary and ministerial position. What a spent force you are!

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      Hear Hear !!
      I simply don’t understand why the likes of Rajiva and Dayan continue to criticize the government but hang on to MR’s “sataka” ?
      Are they suffering from a state of cognitive dissonance?

      • 0
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        Not true – now DJ is back to his old post – S Lecturer the UNI of CMBO. So he is free to make his remarks today than had been in the past. I respect him today than in the past – seeing that his remarks becoming somewhat realistic from last few days on. He is not GLP that saw the illegal process of Impeachment against CJ pro constitutional. GLP is just an another example that academic credentials alone can not be most appropriate if he does not listen to own healthy conscience. One should be loyal being in a team, but not to the manner GLP has been :(

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          I agree with you Sunimal. DJ is a changed man now, he has realized his past mistakes and he is working hard to bring democracy and rule of law back to Sri Lanka.

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          I guess we can both respectfully agree to disagree re Dayan, I am yet NOT convinced of his change of
          heart ! Time will tell……

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    Who the hell cares whether there is a prime minister or not? Years ago when Prenmadsa – later president – was prime minster,he said that he ‘had the powers of a peon’.
    The present ‘peon’ has lost his marbles and nobody is bothered.
    Who becomes PM will not alter the wretched lankan military state from its headlong progress into glorification of the Rajapakse Siblings & extended families.
    This pontification on past jokers and advice on selection now is hilarious.
    This guy has nothing to do and no clout and has to justify his pay & perks, and keep blabbing lest people forget that he actually exists.

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    Yaaaaawn! Oh! Rajiva! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawn! Are there no other important issues than a powerless PM (peon)? hy not write about corruption, nepotism, Udayan?

  • 0
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    Basil and Gotabaya have proved their efficiency and capablity beyond any doubt. I wish and pray that one of them should be appointed as the prime minister to march forward the progress of this country

  • 0
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    Rajiva

    Do not be a jocular political eel!

    If MR who was aiming at the presidency killed himself to be the PM over and above others why not we have a new PM who is smart to become the President after MR? You want someone who could be easily thrown away to allow a Rajapaksa to be the next President too.
    Of course, very few know that two of you are related to each other and you are safer in the hands of a Rajapaksa than any other and this is your objective of writing this article. Most likely you were asked by the Rajapaksa family to throw this out to see how the reactions are. How did you discount ministers like Nimal Siripala, Maithripala Sirisena, Ratnasiri Wickramnayaka, John Seneviratna etc as disqualified to hold the PM position? The only disqualification is that any one of them will not give in to BR or GR or Speaker CR.You know it and you like to have DEW who cannot poll 50, 000 votes in the whole country or Sarath Amunugama who has little support from the SLFP as he left the UNP because RW, your cousin(?) did not agree to give him the PM position had he become the President.
    Do not con around my dear. It is not fair by those who gave a Ph D! We are no fools!

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