By Malinda Seneviratne –
The story that’s being shared most in social media with respect to political developments in Sri Lanka is Health Minister and Cabinet Spokesperson Rajitha Senaratne’s claim that former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, will not be nominated from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Senaratne, however, is not the most reliable source of information. His interests in terms of the fortunes of the SLFP, regardless of the position he holds, are dubious. Just the other day he said ‘If Mahinda is given nominations, I will contest from the UNP (United National Party)’. Here he is acting as though he is Chairperson of the UNP’s ‘Nomination Committee’! Declarations from such people should be treated with caution, therefore.
Delve a little deep and one finds that the ‘sharers’ of this story are mostly UNP loyalists. It follows that whether or not President Maithripala Sirisena wants Rajapaksa sidelined, the UNP certainly fears the man. Not without cause, one might add. The last word on the Rajapaksa nomination and prime ministerial aspirations is yet a mystery, with the committee appointed to deliver it hotly disputing Senaratne’s claim. This of course suits the UNP and hence the cheers for Senaratne from that corner of the ring.
Some might think Rajitha has an identity crisis; he’s criss-crossed so much that he deserves to have a new middle name. ‘Ronnie,’ perhaps. The UNP however, does not have an identity crisis. The party knows what it is about: power, benefits for the wealthy, being cosy with separatists. Naturally, ‘power’ is the foremost priority. Nothing wrong in that.
The UNP’s Working Committee passed a resolution demanding that the party ask the President to dissolve Parliament. Again, in social media, this news has spurred loyalists to think ‘dissolution’ and ‘elections’ as imminent. The perception is that the President needs only to be asked and he will deliver. The perception has its roots in the belief that it was Ranil (somehow) and not Sirisena who was elected by the people. Sirisena deferring to Ranil on almost all counts has of course fed this misperception.
But is it only power? Is it only a belief that right now with the SLFP in the throes of multiple crises that makes the UNP beat the dissolution drums? Or is it fear that the Central Bank bond fiasco will explode in the party’s face once the COPE Report comes out?
The UNP’s media machinery is currently in overdrive, planting stories in all media designed to push for dissolution. Part of that exercise is to rubbish the 20th Amendment. Part of it is to harp on the completion of the 100 days and reference to an election promise to dissolve at that point. ‘It’s late’ is the cry. It makes sense from the party’s point of view but it is unadulterated rubbish when one considers the whole gamut of election pledges and the core promise of electoral reform.
Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP have shamelessly tried to scuttle the 20th from Day One. It was something that could have been done along with the (much delayed) 19th Amendment. Then the UNP sat on the draft for weeks. Finally, when a draft came from other quarters, the UNP had to act. Now, using the willing and able partner in the crime of scuttling reform, the JVP, as well as smaller parties who have been terrorized by the ‘threat’ of obsolescence, the UNP continues its foot-dragging exercise on this all-important piece of the overall package pledged by Maithripala Sirisena.
It’s not only a matter of ‘striking when the iron is hot’ to obtain greater numbers at a Parliamentary election. The UNP leadership has other things to worry about, especially the COPE report. If, as initial reports indicate, the high and mighty are implicated, then some gooey stuff will most definitely hit the fan. It would be tough to clean up. Wickremesinghe might live to regret the constitution of the dubious and clearly revenge-seeking FCID (Financial Crimes Investigating Division), not to put too fine a point on it.
So there we have it. The UNP is not interested in good governance. Ravi Karunanayake is mimicking the Rajapaksa cut-out politics. Statesmanship and all the promises about righting the institutional arrangement have been flushed down the toilet bowl called political expediency.
And for all the obvious fears that the UNP has about Mahinda Rajapaksa, he might turn out to be the party’s saviour simply because the antics of his key backers might rattle the President to the point that he dissolves Parliament. No Parliament, no COPE; no COPE, no embarrassing findings; no findings, no jail-time.
Ranil Wickremesinge and the UNP needs dissolution like they need to breathe. Rajitha’s anxieties are comparatively mild. So too his rantings. Will the President bite, though?