By Malinda Seneviratne –
President Maithripala Sirisena is on a roll. He said that he didn’t know who drafted the ‘100 Days Program’. He hinted that Ranil Wickremesinghe had without his knowledge asked the Air Force Commander to release helicopters to transport Mahinda Rajapaksa (who had lost the presidential election the previous day) to Hambantota. And on Thursday (May 31st), he said he would not hesitate to ban social media if there’s no self-regulation.
These statements raise interesting questions. He is in fact claiming that he was a presidential candidate who has no clue who drafted the key programmatic content of his manifesto. ‘Clueless?’ are we supposed to ask?
With respect to the helicopters, Sirisena himself bragged way back in 2016 that it was he who had arranged it. A forgetful President, then? The truth is that Sirisena had not yet been sworn in as President when the request had been made. The truth is that Mahinda Rajapaksa, through one of his aides, had made the request. A lying President, then?
The statement regarding social media is not amusing. The warning is directed at social media but it demonstrates scant regard for the freedom of expression and a willingness to throw babies along with the bathwater among other things. A sinister President, then?
In the midst of all this, President Sirisena, speaking at an event commemorating the late Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero, said that the Thero had not wanted the Central Bank robbed, a clear reference to the Bond Issue scam and another hint at the complicity of his Yahapalana partner, Ranil Wickremesinghe. Begs many questions.
Did Sobitha Thero tell Sirisena to appoint his (Sirisena’s) brother as Chairman of SLT and Mobitel days after assuming office? Did Sobitha Thero tell Sirisena that it is alright to bring to Parliament through the National List people who had been rejected by the voters? Did Sobitha Thero tell Sirisena to get together with his friends in the UNP and wreck the fundamental objectives of independent commissions by ensuring that the composition of the Constitutional Council overwhelmingly favor politicians? Did Sobitha Thero advise Sirisena to effectively sabotage inquiry into the Bond Scam by dissolving Parliament before the COPE report could be released? Did Sobitha Thero instruct Sirisena to conspire with Ranil Wickremesinghe to include the ‘national government clause’ in the 19th Amendment and thereby ensure that the ceiling on the size of the cabinet becomes redundant?
We could go on and on. We could also ask what Sobitha Thero said to Ranil Wickremesinghe, the do’s and don’t’s for example. The more questions asked, the more likely that Sirisena will have to squirm and moreover make Wickremesinghe squirm as well.
Perhaps this is why Wickremesinghe has come up with the best possible response under the circumstances. He is reported to have told UNPers not to respond to the statement made by Sirisena. He had told the party’s working committee on Wednesday (May 30th) ‘ministers and MPs should not respond to the President but should resolve the problems faced by the people.’
That’s pragmatism. That’s the wisdom of a man who understands the gravity of the situation faced by the Government and by his party. It is an acknowledgment of failure; he’s essentially saying ‘we haven’t solved the problems of the party and exchanging barbs with the President is not going to boost our chances at the next election.’
It is better to attack the possible (or ‘probable’ according to some) threat, namely Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Maybe this is why Mangala Samaraweera is taking potshots at the man. Will that be enough though?
Wickremesinghe probably believes that it is a necessary but not sufficient strategy. The problem is that the last three years have shown that this government can’t get things done and the blame cannot be placed at Sirisena’s door. Arjuna Mahendran was Wickremesinghe’s choice. Wickremesinghe defended him. Wickremesinghe gave the impression that Mahendran would not go into hiding, that he, Wickremesinghe, can prevail upon Mahendran to come to court if necessary. The UNP tippexed key parts of the second COPE report on the Bond Scam. Someone prevailed upon the Attorney General to go easy on Wickremesinghe when he was summoned before the Commission appointed to inquire into the Bond Scam, and if it was not Wickremesinghe it is unlikely that he didn’t know who did it.
The problem is that just as Sirisena can’t pass the buck to Wickremesinghe, neither can Wickremesinghe pass the buck to Sirisena. They are the Yahapalana Siamese Twins, joined at birth, inseparable until Sirisena’s term ends or Wickremesinghe loses the Prime Minister’s post. Complicity is part of the twinning-deal. Damage control, therefore, is the only option available for one when the other gaffes.
In all this, Wickremesinghe has more to lose than does Sirisena. Sirisena told everyone that he was a one-term President. We don’t know if he made that declaration personally to Sobitha Thero, but the statement was made before the Venerable Thero passed away. Unless Wickremesinghe goes for a second innings with Sirisena, the latter is politically doomed. Even if that’s the case, there’s no guarantee that Sirisena will win a second term.
Wickremesinghe on the other hand, having ‘passed’ twice (2010 and 2015) might very well believe he would be lucky the third time or else that this is his last chance to become President. He would love to disassociate himself from Sirisena’s memory-loss, his deceit and other pernicious comments, except that he is not squeaky clean either. Neither is he competent. He’s no genius. He’s no expert on economic affairs. He didn’t even know that China holds the aces in the global economy, just to cite one example.
Sadly Mahinda Rajapaksa gets the last word on this and that’s more of an indictment of the entire political system and culture than the idiocy of the Yahapalanists. He simply said that Sirisena’s speech at the Ven Sobitha Thero’s commemoration showed that there is no government in the country today.’
One says something, the other dismisses it. One questions, the other refuses to answer. One proposes, the other disposes. Their unity comes only because they have a common enemy and shared fear over their political futures. It’s not about ideological or programmatic agreement.
And no, they don’t give a hoot about Yahapalanaya. They don’t know what the word means. In fact, by omission or commission they’ve turned that splendid and noble concept into a joke. Indeed, this may very well be the main reason for their failure, their confusion, their double-speak and the sharp drop in their popularity. They lied when they first uttered the word.