By Ameer Ali –
“Politics is the art of the possible”, said the 19th century German statesman Otto Von Bismarck, and Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) is the embodiment of that truism. How else could one describe this man’s mercurial rise from a zero to hero within a matter of two and a half years and without any support from the people this country? By being an impostor if not a doppelganger of Rajapaksas and a trustworthy insurer of their ill-gotten fortunes, he won their trust, identified himself with their political party and eventually filled in with their support every position vacated by them from finance ministry, to premiership and ultimately the presidency. He deserves to be congratulated.
The ancient regime is back in power as in Egypt, and Rajapaksas have proved that they are not yet a spent force in politics. But there is a difference between what happened in Cairo and in Colombo. In the former, it was a military man from the barracks who grabbed the presidency with force and bloodbath, murdering nearly 800 protestors and throwing the elected prime minister into prison. Here, it is by an unelected parliamentarian through the constitutional process, but with a promise to maintain law and order and protect the constitution by getting rid of what he called the karalikaruwo or rebels. However, once he orders the tri-forces to act they wouldn’t know the difference between his karalikaruwo and aragalakaruwo or strugglers. A bloodbath in the weeks or months to come cannot be discounted. Rajapaksa regime had no choice but to rally behind RW who has already earned the sobriquet Ranil Rajapaksa. The interim political order could now be baptized with a new nomenclature, Ranil Rajapaksa Interregnum (RRI). Will this interregnum run its full course until the end of the current parliament’s term of office? The immediate task facing RRI is economic reparation.
RW should be hoping to win at least some semblance of support from the people by bringing relief to at least part their economic suffering. He could do that by way of importing a couple of shiploads of fuel, medicines and food. The ones that are reported to have arrived already seem to be a preplanned affair to coincide with RW’s succession. Of course, there is no foreign currency to pay for them. The present Governor of SLBC, whom RW wanted GR to get rid of in favour of one of RW’s nominees, has warned of an empty treasury and negative reserves. The president would therefore be urging IMF, the World Bank and possibly the Asian Development Bank to release emergency funding to help his regime to survive. He could also approach India to do more and quickly. But ultimately, all such assistance are not gifts, but loans to be settled later. That would bite the treasury for years to come. Even then, foreign assistance would not flow until political stability is restored. That depends on what aragalaya proposes to do next.
To the aragalayers what had happened so far is the worst possible outcome. A man who had been rejected at the ballot box and tarnished his reputation by acting as the chief insurer of Rajapaksa fortunes is now at the helm, installed by the same corrupt gang. There is also speculation that GR, if he fails to find a country to accommodate him permanently may come back to Sri Lanka with all privileges of a past president intact. Hence, aragalaya has no choice but to continue with its mission.
RRI could prolong only with the barrel of the gun, and RW would have no compunction in employing that because he also carries a personal grudge against the protestors, for he believes, without any evidence to support, that the arson attack on his private residence was the handywork of aragalaya. Moreover, RW is a prodigy of the old order and he would be the last person to entertain any form of systemic change that would disturb that order, let alone the change aragalayers are demanding. Didn’t this president say that he wanted the army helicopters to crowd out Galle Face Green? He no doubt wants to clear that precinct of crowding protestors. This is why a confrontation between aragalaya and RRI is unavoidable. Trade unions, university students and the leftist groups would be expected to swell anti-RRI demonstrators. Would that confrontation be the swan song for RW and ultimately RRI? Nothing could be discounted at the moment.
At a time when the nation was expecting to receive a president who could unite the different communities and rejuvenate their collective synergy to restart the war on want, they have been presented with one who personifies failure. The current bunch of 225 parliamentarians had proved once again their incompetency to read the pulse of the nation. Aragalaya was apt in passing no confidence on the entire 225 and demanding them to quit. But they are there and Rajapaksas are on the saddle. Given this scenario, how could the protesting youth expect RRI to entertain any of their six immediate demands submitted recently? In reality, solutions to the current malaise lie not inside but outside the parliament. Would the progressive forces at least now resolve their petty ideological differences and form a broad coalition with aragalaya to take the struggle to a new level?
*Dr. Ameer Ali, Murdoch Business School, Murdoch University, Western Australia