By Vishwamithra –
After fifty long days, sanity returned to the government quarters. The Executive ultimately blinked. The showdown on the greener patches of Colombo, the Presidential Secretariat grounds, ended in peaceful, yet a not-so-amicable settlement of swearing in of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minster again and on this occasion, for the fifth time in his long political career. That was December 16. On December 20, the new cabinet was sworn in. When one examines the constituent members of the new Cabinet with a critical mind, the climax that was reached on December 16 was more like premature climax in an erotic sense, so to speak. The promise that was much in the air was dashed; those parliamentarians whom the critical elector wanted fired are there with more and more responsibilities and bigger Ministries. Those who failed miserably during the previous Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as Prime Minister from August 2015 to October 2018 are back in. If the United National Party’s (UNP’s) leadership is not careful and sensible, an even bigger collapse seems to be in the making. The notion of being comfortable just because you beat the President at his own game is a misapprehension.
The collapse that was referred to in the previous paragraph is coming. The average constituent is becoming disenchanted by the day. The Executive’s behavior from October 26, 2018 is not the beginning of this coming disaster; it certainly accelerated its pace. Yet the polarization of the country along the lines of the UNP-led coalition and the Rajapaksa-led league has confirmed that a party like the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has no place in the mainstream of the country’s body politic. The JVP’s history and its inglorious days of ’87 – ’89 have left a bitter memory of murder and mayhem. Its gory details and mindless and arbitrary execution of innocent fellow countrymen would take a long time to be erased. It would not be as easy as a deletion of data from a laptop which is an integral part of modern society.
In such a confusing context, against such a brutally realistic backdrop, Ranil Wickremesinghe named a ‘new’ Cabinet of Ministers. The only thing that is deceptively ironic is there is nothing ‘new’ in that Cabinet. Decorating and rewarding failures is a cruel effecting of what should not be done. In politics, as in all other affairs of human enterprise, a long-term strategic methodology to decision-making is preferable to retail-management of daily affairs. Ancient sage, Chanakya said thus: “Before you start some work, always ask yourself three questions – Why am I doing it, what the results might be and will I be successful. Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these questions, go ahead.”I’m sure Ranil Wickremesinghe has read Chanakya’s ‘Arthashastra’, one of the original works of political science in human history, yet he does not seem to have understood the essence of Chanakya’s core teachings. Repeating one’s failed policies and lack of wisdom and guts to sacrifice even one’s own close friends for a long-term and strategic move in favor of better and more prosperous country is a very grave mistake on the part of our Prime Minister; but he has time to rectify them, but the window of opportunity is closing fast. They say that Ranil Wickremesinghe is an enormously experienced politician, yet one wonders if Ranil’s experience would fit into Oscar Wilde’s famous quote: “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes”.
Nevertheless, the time Ranil and his cabinet of Ministers have is limited only to ten short months, just ten months. In the political life of a nation, ten months is a mere wink’s lifetime. Can the UNP, as it is today, without a major shakeup of its fundamental structure and its leadership at all levels, with a nagging lack of daring to change its course of the political life of the country, which is looking forward to leading a nation from the brink of insane leadership at the Presidential level and given the calm or ironic docility displayed by the citizenry of the land, be successful at the next elections?
The answer to the aforementioned question does not look to be very promising. The country is increasingly becoming disenchanted with her leaders on all sides. A voice for more stringent adherence to principles of accountability and transparency is being heard only from the JVP quarters. The alluring dynamic for a more rational and visionary politician or politicians is irresistible. Yet there seems to be none on the horizon. Nevertheless, the UNP could be that fresh face, provided it decides to choose another alternative, an alternative that which not only presents a fresh face(s) in the forthcoming elections, but also offers itself as a serious fighter against corruption and nepotism. On these new frontiers of anti-corruption, the commander-in-chief cannot be those who have been tried and tested already, nor could it spring out from amongst those who profess a rebirth of an already ‘dead-era’. Empty slogans and selfish ego trips have not taken us anywhere. The constitutional crisis that just came to a closure ironically opened many other windows into new dimensions of politicians whose hitherto hidden agendas got unconcealed.
The dilemma confronting Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP couldn’t be clearer. The crisis brought some personalities to the notice of the conscience of the people. Some displayed remarkable strength of character by taking irrevocable steps towards the safeguard of democracy and majority rule; some showed unmistakable signs of solidarity in the face of irresistible gifts of money and ministerial postings; some young guns in the UNP itself exhibited enviable sense of discipline and strategic poise by placing the future of the Party above their selfish ambitions. Yet some failed in this crisis moment. Such men would one day be revealed for those who failed had baggage to prove such selfish and sinister motives. The social media played a decisive role, not only in exposing and running to ridicule the Executive who so richly deserved such ridicule; that specific media channel also exposed the hidden ambitions of some politicians who daydreamed about the Premiership falling on their lap; relying on the Executive’s unkind and crazy orders they, those unambiguously ambitious and selfish men, were rightly measured by their fellow party men and the observations made were stored away for future reference.
But the fundamental question remains. Can the UNP as it is constituted today go forwards as a progressive force of the people and for the people? Can it be successful in future elections at which the overwhelming majority of voters are Sinhalese Buddhists? Can the failed members of the Wickremesinghe Cabinet produce the desired results which they couldn’t in the period of 2015 to 2018 October? The voter is not all that ignorant when it comes to measuring of a political party as far as promises made and promises kept are concerned. In that harsh context, the constitution of the latest Cabinet does not emerge as auspicious.
Ranil Wickremesinghe’s choices are limited and there is very little time in which he could make those choices work. He could continue to dwell in his comfort zone, amongst his closest friends and head for certain disaster; or he could make some changes in his Cabinet, replace those good-for-nothing Ministers with some aggressive and forward-looking younger ones and pursue the Rajapaksas in a very authentic way and bring them before the Courts of Law. He has a third choice too. And that is keeping the same Cabinet as it is constituted today and still pursues the Rajapaksas with more aggression and urgency. In other words, Ranil Wickremesinghe has to portray himself and his Cabinet as a totally different one from the recent past; it is extremely difficult but not impossible. The second tier-leadership of the Party and its rank and file would be more than willing and able to pursue such a novel and daring line of action.
Our county is in pain; she has suffered enough; her politicians have led this beautiful land into an ugly abyss of corruption, nepotism and political vandalism. Her children are living a nightmare which clothes itself in moving screens of television and Smart Phone. Those whose parents belong to the so-called elite and wealthy are meandering form one nightclub to another in Colombo as if they own the land’s coffers and its limited wealth.
Change is coming and its face does not look pretty, at east as it promises now. The sad and petulant countenance could be altered and it needs to be done now, not next month, not next year and not tomorrow, it has to be done now. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s burden is heavy; he cannot complain nor can he place that on another. He and he alone has to carry that. That is the burden of leadership. He has to both treat that burden as his privilege and take it to its logical end of good governance. His other choice is brutal, unkind and terminal: continue in the same mode and perish. He has won a battle; yet he could still lose the war.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org