By H.L.D. Mahindapala –
On January 8th, 2015 the nation elected Maithripala Sirisena believing that he would make a difference. His main task was to preside over the constitutional transition from a presidential system to a parliamentary system. To impress that he was not craving for power he promised to be the one-term caretaker president who will be happy performing his ceremonial duties.
So far he has failed to do his main task of changing the presidency into a parliamentary democracy as promised. Even the Supreme Court has knocked him back on this issue. And he is not quite sure whether Parliament too would go along with him to make the necessary constitutional changes. But, in the meantime, he has gone as far as he could by handing over substantial powers to the two biggest failures in post-independent political history — 1. Ranil Wickremesinghe and 2. Chandrika Kumaratunga.
This is like handing over a plane packed with Sri Lankan passengers to two mentally incapacitated pilots: no one can trust either one of them even to go to the toilet leaving the other in the cockpit. Sri Lankans are now flying in a plane piloted by two risky operators with no licence of competence to drive even a bullock cart. Their earlier experiments in flying the CFA and P-TOMS planes were shot to pieces in mid-air by their trusted peace partner, Prabhakaran.
Then as now, both posed as if they alone possessed the magic formula to solve the nation’s problems. Then as now, the Tamil leadership led them up the garden path. It was easy for the Tamil leadership to hoodwink both Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga because neither of them could read the prevailing weather conditions nor the ground situation.
When leaders fail it is the people who have to pay for their stupidity. The cost of paying for the failures of Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga was too much for the people to bear. Subsequently, they got even with them by refusing to hand over power to them. They had to piggy-back on the shoulders of Sirisena to creep into the seats of power they occupy now.
Hopes rose again in the hearts of people when Sirisena won the presidency. But that was short-lived. The people who had high expectations of the new President delivering his promises suddenly discovered that they were lumbered with the same old tired faces of bankrupt Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga. They found that instead of landing in the promised political nirvana within 100 days they were taken for the biggest ride in their lives.
There is no doubt that Wickremesinghe and CBK were good at plotting and overthrowing the Rajapaksa regime. Having accomplished their first step of grabbing power their next mission should have been to prove that they are better than the Rajapakses in running the state. But within the vaunted “100 days” they have come a cropper.
Maverick Rajiva Wijesinha was the first minister to resign from the Wickremesinghe – Kumaratunga regime. He is putting Wickremesinghe, his first cousin, through the shredder exposing the hypocrisies, incompetence, double-standards and the general failure to live up to promises, written and unwritten, of the “My-3” regime.
Tissa Karalliyadda too resigned because he could not work with the UNP with a clear conscience, he said. He was also pressured by his constituents who were asking him to show the “difference” promised by the new regime.
The finger points directly to Wickremesinghe –Kumaratunga combo who are usurping the powers of the President. The President too is responsible for the failure because he is letting things happen under his nose by giving his silent nod. He gives the impression of running a paralyzed presidency. Mainly he seems to be inhibited by his obligation to “Sir” Wickremesinghe and “Madam” Kumaratunga. He is still paralyzed by the mindset of January 9 when waves of gratitude swept him off his feet. He still feels obliged to “Sir” Wickremesinghe and “Madam” Kumaratunga, his manipulative minders, for maneuvering him into the Presidential seat.
Unfortunately, President’s misplaced sense of gratitude is making him look like a puppet in the hands of these two manipulators. The tragedy is that the President has handed over his powers to two discards who do not have the mandate to wield power at the center. Neither of them represent the people in the sense that Sirisena represents the people as their chosen representative to lead the nation. People have vested power in him and they expect him to do fulfill his job as promised. But he has gone the way of all flesh. The difference (when-a-suck) he promised has not materialized though the 100 days are up. Failure to transfer power to Parliament is one thing. It is even excusable considering the obstacles that stand in the way which they should have seen before making promises.
But his failure to deliver the clean administration – the primary slogan on which he rode in to power – is inexcusable. He has appointed his brother to the top job in Sri Lanka Telecom. His son is now a permanent fixture in his foreign entourage. His son-in-law is planted in the Ministry of Defence. His daughter is also shown as an item in the Foreign Ministry. So was he faking the sadhu part he put on to win the votes on January 8th ? Is he not guilty of violating the fourth precept in the Panchaseela?
While he is tending his domestic patch with paternal he has handed over powers of ministerial and administrative appointment to Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga. None of these has enhanced the credibility and viability of the “My-3” regime. Sirisena has lost the initial advantage of being a viable alternative to the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.
The major political steps taken so far carry all the hallmarks of events manipulated by the two discards behind the throne. Realizing his inability to hang on to power, even with Kumaratunga and the President behind him, a nervous Wickremesinghe is now begging foreign governments to help him. (See his article in Japan Times – April, 8, 2015)
Wickremesinghe’s over–reliance on his Western friends to rescue him from impending disasters is as short-sighted as his reliance on his former partner, Prabhakaran, to end the war and restore peace. The West is cock-a-hoop that there is a regime in Sri Lanka now willing to be their puppet state. John Kerry crowed that Sri Lanka is a success story of their foreign putsch. But can Uncle Sam and the Brown Sahibs of India save Sirisena’s “Sir” and “Madam” if push comes to a shove? For instance, when “Sir” was Prime Minister under “Madam” President Wickremesinghe went round the world with a begging bowl. He even met George Soros. How much did he get from them?
It is apparent that the sudden rush of blood to Wickremesinghe’s head, with high expectations of all the presidential powers falling into his lap has made him lose his balance. He has unleashed his wrath on Australia and even threatened to shoot Indian fishermen. He named journalists who had supported the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa – a veiled threat to free media. He even threatened to strike down businessmen who are in the opposite camp. But he was brought down to earth when he was defeated on the floor of the House – his bear pit where he has to fight for survival. Bluffing, as usual, to dissolve Parliament if he was defeated in the House – a power which he does not possess – he could do nothing when the part of the SLFP that is not with Sirisena threw out the critical finance bill.
As for Chandrika Kumaratunga, she was defeated long time ago by the then Chief Justice who ruled that she can’t extend her term by changing the date of her swearing in. She represents nobody except her bitter hate of the Rajapaksas. Ever since power was transferred to these two political twins, the vaunted “Yaha-pala-naya” has been running on the hate politics of Chandrika Kumaratunga and the usual incompetence of Wickremesinghe. And the people are made to pay through their noses for their mega million failures.
In his typical bumbling way, Wickremesinghe blundered by appointing Arjuna Mahendran as the Governor of the Central Bank much against the wishes of President Sirisena. This was meant to be his big move to win the confidence of the global investors and save the economy. But it landed him flat on his face.
They are doomed to fail because they refuse to learn from their past. With the mega-million bond scandal which came crashing down on Wickremesinghe’s back, Mahendra has not only ruined the image of “yaha-pala-naya” but blown to smithereens his “Uncle’s” theory that power in the hands of the prime minister in parliament is better than power in the hands of the president. Wickremesinghe took over the Central Bank and the Department of Census and Statistics from the President promising to clean up both institutions and make the “bastards honest”, to quote a famous Australian political expression. But Wickremesinghe today is faced with (1) his favourite “nephew” answering questions at the Bribery Commission on the biggest financial scandal since the Central Bank was established in 1950 and (2) charges for violating emigration laws in Singapore, his home base.
But this hasn’t fazed Wickremesinghe. He is quite happy to carry on with his co-partner, Kumaratunga, playing their ends against the middle of Sirisena. They are happy to let Sirisena do the ceremonial part (example: shaking the ungloved hand of the Queen abroad) while they usurp his powers at home. So far the President has not woken up to the fact that the two manipulators are pushing him into a corner from which he cannot get out. They know that jointly they can push Sirisena into any corner of their choice, both at home and abroad, though Sirisena can’t do the same to them unless he gets Mahinda Rajapaksa to join him. He is dependent on Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga because he has abandoned his inherited and natural political base in the SLFP. Until the results of the coming elections are known Sirisena will be puttee in the hands Wickremesinghe-Kumaratunga duo.
He has managed to triumph so far because the Southerners have seen only the “pirith noola” on his right hand and not the Don Juan Dharmapala hiding inside his upsaka national costume. Like Dharmapala he is elated that he had been anointed by the Queen in London. Right now he is lost between the al-lay-, val-lay, pal-lay, gum-may roots and shaking the (ungloved!) hand of the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Sirisena, when he came home, told the SLFP top-rung, with glee and pride, of how he shook the ungloved hand of the Queen. He is mistaken if he thinks that he has won over England with a handshake. It is not the Queen’s hand that is going to save him. It is the “hand” of the SLFP that lifted him that will save him.
Queen’s handshake is only a cosmetic exercise. It is her ministers and her loyal opposition who will fix Sirisena. Predictably, they have treated him as a colonial boy mesmerized by the ungloved hand offered by the Queen. Both David Cameron and Ed Milliband have told the Tamils that they have given a piece of their mind to Sirisena and asked him to behave. Following the political dictates of the Tamil lobby they have sworn that they will make Sri Lanka pay for crushing the deadliest terrorist outfit of the world.
So where does the Queen’s handshake leave Sirisena? Can he rely on that when he has the “hand” that gave him everything he has in life? He grew up with the SLFP “hand” – the symbol that gave hope to a fallen nation. It is also the hand that lifted him up from the al-lay, val-lay, pal-lay, gum-may roots to what he is today. It is the hand of Bandaranaike that lifted the nation from the depths of colonial oppression and denial of the nation’s heritage. The choice before Sirisena is simple: will he genuflect and kiss the hand of the Queen or rise with the historic hand of Bandaranaike that defined the nation and the way to the future?
Sirisena’s hundred days are over. Time is running out. The SLFPers who owe their gratitude to the historic legacy of Bandaranaike are out of his fold. Sirisena is paralyzed because he still feels he is obliged to Wickremesinghe and Chandrika Kumaratunga, the renegade daughter who climbed on the coffin of Bandaranaike to claim votes but not his historic legacy. But where can his “Sir” and “Madam” take him?
The questionable role of Sirisena has divided the SLFP into (1) the S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike camp allied to the Left-wing and (2) Wickremesinghe camp aided and abetted by the Right-wing Chandrika Kumaratunga allied to the American-Anglo-Indian camp.
But the people voted for Maithripala Sirisena who has yet to fulfill his promises. For instance, he promised never to betray the heroic al-lay, val-lay, pal-lay, gum-may youth who fought for him and protected him when he was Acting Minister of Defence. His loyalty to Wickremesinghe-Kumaratunga combo can only take him back to CFA and P-TOMS, or revised versions of these failures. This is also what the Queen’s ministers and the Indian sahibs want.
According to a TV report in Ada Derana Sirisena has confessed to overwhelming pressures coming from the West and India. He has said that he can’t give in to what Modi wants nor can he not give into them. One can understand the pressures he is facing. But not his inability to decide on his course of action.
This is an issue that needs another essay. But for the moment, it is suffice to say that the answer is in his hands. As President he has to answer one question : what does he want? We all know what India and the West wants. We also know what Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga wants. What we don’t know is what he wants.
The people elected him to defend the nation. Mahinda Rajapaksa won the heart of the nation because he defended the nation against foreign interventions. Whose heart can Sirisena win if he gives in to what the West, India, Wickremesinghe and Kumaratunga want?