By Malinda Seneviratne –
Ranil Wickremesinghe is a man besieged. He has or has allowed himself to be surrounded by a bunch of self-serving politicians who are already as thick as thieves with the very same lot who benefitted from the previous regime and whose naughtiness helped bring that regime down.
Where are those principled individuals who supported him when he decided to back Maithripala? Who really benefited from ‘regime change’? Competent, decent, civilised, honest men and women of integrity or a nitwits, hangers-on, thugs and thieves? He knows the answer and he must know that the knowledge is not his preserve. People know.
But that’s ok. This business called politics is not about any of these things. It is about power. Plain and simple. And in that game, right now at least, Ranil Wickremesinghe has an edge. A big edge. An executive edge, in fact. That edge has a name. Maithripala Sirisena.
Ranil hasn’t quite said it but it popped out of the venerable mouth of long time UNP supporter, Rev Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero the other day. The Thero, now a good-governance advocate, now a UNP supporter, now again a lamenter about errors of judgment, has spoken when the time was right. He wants President Maithripala Sirisena to play a neutral role in the upcoming General Election. He even complains that the President hasn’t been quite neutral of late. The Thero is upset that Sirisena has stated he wanted his party to win! That, he claims, is proof that Sirisena is guilty of being partial! The Thero obviously has no clue about Sirisena’s role in bailing out Ranil Wickremesinghe’s boys by dissolving Parliament before the COPE report on the Bond scam came out. Now Rev Sobitha Thero does not see that as being ‘partial’. Strange? No. As mentioned, it is known that Rev Sobitha is for the greens.
So what would happen if Sirisena takes the Thero’s advise? It means that the UNP’s key opponent, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) would ideally, i.e. according to the Thero of course, campaign without a leader. If the UNP has ‘incumbancy edge’ even though it is far less potent than the advantage enjoyed by the SLFP-led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in 2010, that edge would be amplified by having to contend with a leader-less opponent.
What’s interesting here is that the good Thero need not even ask. After all Mathripala Sirisena is doing a decent job of ‘keeping away’ all by himself and even going a lot further, being comfy with the UNP. Here’s why.
From Day One, i.e. after being conferred the Leader-post of the SLFP Maithripala has had a love-hate relationship with the rank and file of the party. Part of this is understandable. He abandoned the party and the party was upset; during the run up to the election he was attacked mercilessly. One can’t expect him to be thrilled by all that. It was mostly as a product of adapting to new realities that they installed him as party leader. Even after doing that they have been ambivalent in their views on the man. Officially some of them were part of the ‘National Government’ even as their colleagues were called ‘The Opposition’. That confusion apart they have openly backed Mahinda Rajapaksa and campaigned to push the President to accept his former boss and later opponent as the prime ministerial candidate of the SLFP. Again, this cannot thrill Sirisena.
Then there’s a question of colour-blindness which may be cause or effect of perceptions and relations vis-a-vis Mahinda Rajapaksa. As of now when confronted by the color green, Sirisena behaves as though he’s seeing blue. Blue offers multiple problems for him. He first sees ‘red’ (think of the bull metaphor). Then he sees the color of kurahan, yes, Mahinda’s color. The entire color business is confusing him. And others too, one might add, especially those in the party he leads. Fortunately for Sirisena (and the UNP), this color blindness is not costing him, Sirisena, any sleep.
The President has ample reason to be wary of Mahinda Rajapaksa given the latter’s vindictive history. On the other hand, being vengeful in return can also cost him. Imagine the (legitimate) antipathy to Rajapaksa being so deep that he let’s the party split and pave the way for a by-default win for the UNP. Where would that leave him? Having essentially followed the Sobitha-Thero plan, he cannot expect anything from the SLFP MPs except righteous derision. If he is Ranil’s yes-man now in such a scenario he would be a three-bags-full-sir man no doubt. He could suffer all that only on one condition: he is happy being play-thing, puppy dog’s tail and rubber-stamper for everything Ranil says and does.
As things stand that’s exactly where Maithripala is heading. This is why he is Ranil’s edge. His ‘cutting edge’ in fact for Ranil has effectively arranged things in such a way that Maithri uses his (Maithri’s) presidential edge to cut, chop and cleave as Ranil dictates. It’s good for Ranil.