By Amrit Muttukumaru –
There is something about the printed word that makes it much more credible and influential than anything the visual media can offer. Hence, it will be reckless for any serious political party to underestimate this reality.
It is in this context that one must view the antics of Sri Lanka’s leading and most influential print media company – Wijeya Newspapers Limited (WNL) owned by Ranil Wickremesinghe’s uncle Ranjit Wijewardene. Opposition parties – particularly the SJB led by opposition leader Sajith Premadasa must take serious note of WNL continuing to undermine the SJB ostensibly in favour of Wickremesinghe but actually in promoting the hopeless political future of WNL owner’s laid-back son Ruwan. A spin-off of this sinister game is to strengthen the incumbent government.
If not for its implications in undermining democracy by weakening the opposition at this critical stage, it is indeed hilarious to read the contents of the WNL owned ‘Daily Mirror’ (DM) and ‘The Sunday Times’ (TST) in recent days. Particular reference is made to Will Sajith be eclipsed by Ranil in Parliament? written by a senior DM staffer on 12 June 2021 and the centre page political column in ‘The Sunday Times’ of 13 June 2021 SJB frontliners claim ”fictional” reasons prompted ’confidence’ vote on Sajith’s leadership written by its ‘Political Editor’.
The DM set the tone for this nonsense when reporting the ‘on-off ‘entry of Wickremesinghe to fill the solitary national list seat the UNP was entitled to after its ignominious drubbing at the August 2020 General Election under his disastrous 28 year ‘leadership’. Yesteryear UNP stalwarts with genuine love for the party must be somersaulting in their graves for the sorry pass their beloved party has come to.
The nonsense in the DM include:
(i) “Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), the main opposition of Parliament, appeared to be anxious”
(ii) “speculation, apparently politically motivated, was rife that he would expend his political capital to garner the support of the legislators of the opposition and become the opposition leader ultimately.”
(iii) “You must remember Mr. Wickremesinghe is someone who became the Prime Minister with only 40 seats in his hand.”
While (i) and (ii) will not be dignified with any comment, the mischievous (iii) needs to be nailed to expose the utter distortion of the truth. Although the DM implies that Wickremesinghe “became the Prime Minister with only 40 seats in his hand.” due to his purported acumen, this is far from the truth and is a sinister distortion of facts.
The truth is that if former President Maithripala Sirisena did not deviate from democratic practice after he won the 8 January 2015 presidential election, there was no way Wickremesinghe would have been PM in January 2015. Despite the UPFA dominated by the Mahinda Rajapaksa led SLFP having a near 2/3 parliamentary majority in January 2015, Sirisena appointed Wickremesinghe as PM.
Wickremesinghe who purports to uphold democratic principles and claims to be a liberal democrat, had no qualms to shamelessly accept office without a mandate for himself. This distortion was also facilitated by Mahinda Rajapaksa handing over the leadership of the SLFP to Sirisena who contested the presidential election as the UNF candidate in which the UNP was the dominant entity. It must also be flagged that if Wickremesinghe had the slightest confidence he will prevail, he would have never handed over the candidacy on a platter to Sirisena.
Did not Wickremesinghe pontificate that the UNP will never bring to parliament an individual who was defeated at a General Election? Was he not defeated at the August 2020 General Election?
So much for the DM gibberish “A long-standing politician he is, Mr. Wickremesinghe is an ardent believer of parliamentary traditions, practices and procedures.”
‘The Sunday Times’ article of 13 June 2021 SJB frontliners claim ”fictional” reasons prompted ’confidence’ vote on Sajith’s leadership merely expands on what the DM has already asserted.
More on this subject is found in this writer’s 1 May 2021 ‘Colombo Telegraph’ article Parallel Universe of the ’Daily Mirror’ & WNL.
SJB Media Blackout
Anyone reading the English language newspapers published by WNL – ‘Sunday Times’, ‘Daily FT’ and particularly ‘Daily Mirror’ will conclude that the main opposition party – SJB led by opposition leader Sajith Premadasa is in deep slumber. This may well apply to WNL’s Sinhala language newspapers ‘Lankadeepa’ (Daily & Sunday Editions).
For the most part ignored are the forceful parliamentary and other speeches of SJB frontliners including Sajith Premadasa.
On the other hand, the SJB must not be under the delusion that its impressive parliamentary speeches however sensational will carry them over the line.
SJB has Blinked First
Sajith Premadasa and his SJB have blinked first and played right into the hands of Wickremesinghe and WNL. Do they not realize that Wickremesinghe is politically long gone and worse, reviled by a large section of the electorate. SJB has needlessly panicked by having its parliamentary group reportedly adopting a ‘vote of confidence’ on Premadasa. This is clearly a sign of immaturity and not the stuff of leadership. This will only encourage SJB detractors.
One wonders whether the SJB has what it takes to take-on the SLPP juggernaut (even if currently weakened) if it cannot even stand up to the antics of the mainstream media led by WNL?
Despite Premadasa being one of the rare political leaders in the post-1977 political history of Sri Lanka being free of even a whiff of an allegation concerning any violence – no Batalanda, no nothing, he has meekly accepted being characterized by WNL’s ‘Daily FT’ as the “son of the mass murderer”. This was in an article by ‘Prince of Kandy’ published on 12 April 2021 Is Port City not important? :
“What I do know is that the son of the mass murderer is unlikely to win an election and the sooner we all just get behind Ranil the better our chances of having someone competent redraft the Port City legislation.” (emphasis mine)
Wickremesinghe had no qualms in serving as a Cabinet Minister when Ranasinghe Premadasa was Prime Minister and serving as leader of the House under his Presidency. He also appointed Sajith as UNP Deputy Leader and nominated him as Presidential candidate.
True to form the ‘Daily Mirror’ on 23 April 2021 had a front page news item Ranil calls for new Bill to regulate Port city.
Things just do not add up. The question is why on earth Wickremesinghe was not in Parliament to “redraft the Port City legislation.” by filling the solitary seat the UNP is entitled to on the National list?
Now that the contentious Port City Economic Commission Bill has been passed, WNL’s knight in shining armour has decided to enter parliament. Bravo!
Short Attention Span
The SJB must recognize the short attention span of the electorate and the misplaced belief among a section of the electorate that Wickremesinghe however reviled, stands out as a competent person. This is particularly so in the context of the current pathetic state of the country for which successive administrations are responsible – some more culpable. This is notwithstanding examples to the contrary such as the egregious Bond scam under his watch for which he has yet to apologize to the public, insisting on having Arjuna Mahendran a foreign national as CBSL Governor and a plethora of shocking mismanagement which include placing the National Lotteries Board under the Foreign Ministry and friends/associates with questionable track records in key positions.
The US$ 3.85 Billion oil refinery project in Hambantota mired in controversy surrounding the credibility of some of the investors also took place under Wickremesinghe’s watch. The refinery never took off the ground. Incredibly after Wickremesinghe and former President Sirisena participated in the ground breaking ceremony of the dubious Volkswagen vehicle assembly facility in Kuliyapitiya, both the German Embassy and Volkswagen AG denied any involvement.
Premadasa’s biggest weakness would appear to be his lack of political resolve which was amply demonstrated in his tolerating Wickremesinghe’s disastrous leadership of the UNP for so long.
Premadasa and the UNP members who followed him to constitute the SJB were studiously silent on the egregious Bond scam, Hambantota oil refinery project and the Volkswagen vehicle assembly facility to name a few.
What is also the electorate to make of SJB national organizer’s daughter being appointed to a diplomatic post in Australia by the incumbent government it hopes to succeed? Previously on the eve of the January 2015 Presidential election, did not this very same SJB national organizer exit the UNP under controversial circumstances and support the candidature of Mahinda Rajapaksa?
Why has Premadasa for all intents and purposes meekly accepted being characterized in WNL’s ‘Daily FT’ as the “son of the mass murderer”? Why is he on the back foot when he can be proud of the fact that he is one of the rare political leaders in the post-1977 political history of Sri Lanka to be free of even a whiff of an allegation concerning any violence – no Batalanda, no nothinghe?
He has demonstrated a lack of confidence in himself by getting the SJB parliamentary group to reportedly adopt a ‘vote of confidence’ in his leadership. What is the signal he is giving the electorate and to his detractors both within and outside the SJB?
It will be foolhardy for the SJB to underestimate the damage Wickremesinghe could do to the electoral prospects of the SJB. Apart from the short attention span of the electorate and the mischief wrought by WNL which is the country’s dominant media entity, he is also the beneficiary of some help from other powerful sources. How else could one interpret the extensive security given to him whenever he is out of office – particularly at present when politically he is a veritable cipher?
The rest of the media are so overawed with the power of WNL that despite Ruwan Wijewardene being the State Minister of Defence in the run-up to and during the Easter Sunday attack itself – no politician, media organization, religious clergy or even the vociferous Cardinal are demanding at least some accountability for Ruwan’s share of responsibility for the carnage. If the SJB has the courage to call out Ruwan, it will apart from sending a strong message to the WNL owner, also do a world of good to its credibility.
The SJB has the potential to give leadership to a credible movement in which the electorate could have confidence. At least in the foreseeable future, it is unlikely that the SJB could do it alone. To cut a long story short, the SJB must team up with Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s JVP and appropriate minority parties. It will be strategically beneficial to have Dissanayake as Deputy to Premadasa in a coalition. The question is whether Premadasa is strong enough to resist spoilers within his own SJB and if they continue to be intransigent to show them the door? This is the stuff of real leadership the electorate will respect.
This writer has the hunch that at the next national elections, the JVP under Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s leadership will surprise everyone – although far from sufficient to form a government. This is why it is crucial for the SJB to make a bold move and team up with the JVP.