By Hilmy Ahamed –
The common opposition probably shot itself in the foot when they declared the 100-day plan and made it their winning slogan, during the Presidential election campaign of January 2015. The promises of a small cabinet, concessions to the people, end to bribery and corruption, introduction of the independent commissions, abolition of the 18th amendment, revamping the executive presidency and constitutional reforms are laudable tasks for a coalition that did not even command a simple majority in parliament, when it contested the elections. The majority of the crossovers are seen as political vultures that did not crossover for the love of their country but for pure and simple survival. Few can live without the power of executive office if they are forced out of government, hence their need to join the winning side. This then becomes the single most threat to the Maithri-Ranil honeymoon.
The show of support to President Sirisena from a wide spectrum of SLFP loyalists after his election win was overwhelming. Some, who were rumored to crossover but changed their minds due to whatever reasons, would be the most repentant, while others probably want to save their souls from the impending witch-hunt of their excesses, hence the bandwagon. The President needs their support to pass the constitutional reforms in parliament. The pressure Maithripala Sirisena has to endure to keep the balance between his newfound friends in the common opposition and his old friends from the UPFA, who have pledged to support him to steer through the reforms that were proposed in his manifesto, is immense. His ability to accomplish this while sticking to his commitment to address corruption, nepotism and rule of law will be the real test of our cool president.
Those who crossed over before the elections expected their perks and privileges to remain the same or increased, while juniors saw this as a step into the cabinet of ministers or ministerial office. How then will the Maithri-Ranil duo steer their coalition in the 100 days and beyond would also be the challenge to their partnership. Beating Mahinda and sending him home may look like a cakewalk compared to the challenges of keeping the coalition boat afloat. Dissent is bound to surface and Mahinda Rajapaksa will be out with his strategies to destabilize the budding administration, so that he could attempt a come back into parliament, take over the opposition leadership and eventually the premiership. It is certainly doable for a seasoned politician of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s stature, unless Maithri-Ranil government is smart enough to bring enough pressure on corruption charges and other questionable affairs of governance under the former president’s administration, which would compel him, not to test his luck. The charges piling up against the former president, his men and family, if brought forward will make Sarath Fonseka’s ordeal after his presidential bid look like child play.
The irony is that, both Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisena have a country to resurrect and run and may not pursue the Rajapaksa clan or their loot. They probably will conveniently leave the onslaught against the former regime to their coalition partner, the Jathika Hela Urumaya and the coalition’s secret lover, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna.
While Champika Ranawaka is on the offensive against the corruption of his former bedfellows under the Rajapaksa regime, the respected monks Ven. Sobitha Thero and Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero are demanding the immediate arrest of the drug lords, ethanol kings and the vice mafia that have taken this country towards hell. The rhetoric is high, and the country is yet to see who is going to bell the cat.
The JVP, with their hugely successful grassroots and urban campaign that contributed immensely to the downfall of the Rakjapaksa regime while not being a formal party to the coalition is now challenging the Maithri-Ranil administration to bring the perpetrators of crime, corruption and violence to justice. This is also an opportunity for the JVP to start their next parliamentary election campaign on this note. Their stand would, in all probability give them the exposure needed to add a few more to their representation in parliament. It also offers them opportunities to barter a better deal either in electoral agreements or ensure that they would be sought after to become coalition partners of the UNP, SLFP or a newly formed UPFA, which may have hopes of contesting under a Mahinda Rajapaksa leadership.
These well-meaning champions of good governance and rule of law will need to ensure that they do not take the law in to their own hands. While they have taken the right course of action in making the necessary complaints to the relevant authorities, the delays they would face should not misdirect them to break the law. The large volume of information that has come in to possession of various groups may become a weapon in the hands of unscrupulous persons who may use it to intimidate and hold people to ransom, hence it is important that the government immediately sets up the necessary mechanism to ensure that vigilante groups do not take control of bringing justice.
The dilemma faced by President Maithripala Sirisena with regard to the leadership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party is pathetic, to say the least. He was forced to take over the leadership of the SLFP because of the threat posed by former President Rajapaksa to take control of the party. On the other hand, he cannot lead a campaign for the parliamentary elections against his new found mates in the United National Party (UNP) who propelled him to the position of President, which would not have been even a dream for him, a few months back. Yet, he cannot sit back and relax as the leader of the SLFP when his cadres are battling it out with the UNP. The choice left for him is probably to quit the SLFP leadership and make sure that his presidential rival Mahinda Rajapaksa is blacklisted from taking over. This probably would need changes to the SLFP constitution, which he would need to address within the limited time, left. The best option would be to find a mechanism for former President Chandrika Kumaratunga Bandaranaike to take over the party formed by her late father, SWRD Bandaranaike and take the lead in the parliamentary elections. She could become the Sonia Gandhi of Sri Lanka. As a proponent of good governance and rule of law, President Sirisena needs to make sure that he doesn’t compromise.
Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe is probably the best person to steer the country out of the economic mess that has been created during the last decade by the Rajapaksa regime and their bunch of opportunistic bureaucrats. This is a formidable challenge, and to deliver on the promises of the campaign, while ensuring the stability of the economy is no mean task. It could cause further pressure on the administration due to the impending parliamentary elections towards the end of the 100-day programme. President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinge and the cabinet of ministers would need to be exemplary to ensure that Sri Lanka will not return to the days of misrule, nepotism, corruption and violence, if they fail in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.