Colombo Telegraph

The Withering Heights Of Ranil Wickremesinghe

By H. L. D. Mahindapala

H. L. D. Mahindapala

The most noteworthy promise kept by President Maithripala Sirisena after he became president on January 8, 2015 was to appoint Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister. And, needless to say, the rot began from that moment onwards. Together they promised in their Manifesto to take the nation to “an ideal society” in 100 days. The winning card they played was to promise a moral political culture, quite different from the previous regime. It is the failure to honour their own commitment of maintaining the basic – not the highest — ethical standards that has brought them down in the eyes of the disillusioned public. When the stench of the Central Bank scandal hit the nostrils of the public within the first few weeks of the Yahapalanaya the Siri-Wicky regime lost forever the moral high ground on which they rode to power. Sirisena, however, boasted that he saved Wickremesinghe’s “Titanic” from sinking. But what was he saving? Not the nation. Not the SLFP, his party. Not morality. He was saving only a ship load of thieves. Wickremesinghe admitted in his interview with The Island (1/8) that he was carrying thieves on board his ship. “There were thieves in this government too.” he said.

While Wickremesinghe admitted that his regime had its quota of thieves President Sirisena compared his regime to the “Titanic”. Of course, this comparison is totally inappropriate. No head of state would compare his ship to the disastrous Titanic unless he is a naive greenhorn. He was, in short, admitting guilt for launching a ship that would sink in its maiden voyage. But since he claimed to have saved it (it never happened in reality) it is necessary to ask what was it that he saved. Going by Wickremesinghe’s admission he could have saved only a ship load of thieves. So was it worth it? Saving thieves doesn’t speak well for the man who promised a Yahapalanaya, does it? The blunt fact is that neither of them could save the sinking ship of state. To begin with, neither of them was in charge to save the sliding chairs on the deck. Sirisena, for his part, was willing to turn a blind eye to the thieves on deck. And Wickremesinghe found it easy to exploit the President Nelsonian eye to play his selection of the dirges of “Negombo women”, while his do-nothing captain sang his dirge of nava-gilunath band chune.

Both were working separately in their compartmentalized cabins and when they met on deck it was only to wave each other good-bye until the next time. It was a bizarre arrangement. During the time of Chandrika Kumaratunga the Prime Minister and the President clashed head-on and she cashiered him when Wickremesinghe was posing at White House as an obedient servant of Uncle Sam in the Indian Ocean, usurping the powers of the President. Their struggle for power was quite patent. Their power relationship was doomed to collapse. In the end Kumaratunga got rid of Wickremesinghe in a humiliating dismissal. But under the new dispensation the President and the Prime Minister, who claim to be “mango friends” (amb-ba ya-lu-wo), waged a subcutaneous war with each other. They managed to co-exist neither as political opponents nor as political friends. Each did his own thing, often at cross-purposes, dragging the nation to a standstill with the perplexed people wondering what future awaits them next. Both manoeuvred to extend the promised “hundred days” and, when they were cornered by a no-confidence motion at the end of six months, Wickremesinghe, who ruled without a mandate, was forced to seek a mandate.

Their gamble for power, linked to an alliance of 50 political agencies – including RAW, CIA and NGOs — succeeded on January 8, raising the hopes of the nation to Himalayan heights. They succeeded in grabbing power by promising “the ideal society”, which the misguided urban elite swallowed, hook, line and sinker. The urbanites who fell for this line proved, once again, that a sucker is born every minute. They too went on board the “Titanic” — just for the thrill of it — and today they are going down without life boats in sight.

Though the Siri-Wicky duo won power on January 8 they failed to realise in the intervening six months that to retain power they had to be more moral than the ones they replaced. Nor were they able to fulfil their promises. The “100 day” mantra ran into six months without getting anywhere near the promised nirvana. As the days passed Wickremesinghe was forced to come down from his withering heights. Step by by step he came down from his “ideal society” to “national government”, to “United National Government for Good Governance” and now to the elusive land of a “Lichchavi kings” – his latest promise. Who is going to believe that the Man from Batalanda can ever reach anywhere near the hem of the dharmista Lichchavi Kings? With each coinage he makes it obvious that he is only a noisy vessel making empty phrases which he changes, frequently, hoping that the nation would cotton on to at least one of them. But no one is buying. He himself is utterly confused, believing that he has reached his ideal Ali-mankada when he has not even reached Pamankada. He has been constantly relocating himself in various political spaces, jumping from Yahapalanaya to Lichchavi kings, without getting even a toe-hold of any place. He seems to be creating these ill-defined, vague political spaces to give a gloss to his “thieves” (quote-unquote”) on board his sinking Titanic, knowing that his captain is a do-nothing drifter lost in limbo.

Both failed to achieve anything substantial because they were obsessed with only one thing : vindictive politics of persecuting their political opponents, particularly those in the previous regime. They had only one item in their political agenda : getting rid of Rajapakses. “I will bury them! I will destroy them!” cried Wickremesinghe. If they had spent half the political energy they spent on “destroying” the Rajapakses in some constructive work for the nation they could have proved to the world that they were better governors than those in the previous regime. Sirisena too tried his level best to keep the Mahinda Rajapakse out by vowing not to give him nomination, not to give leadership not to make him prime minister. But he was naive. He was acting like desperate Velupillai Prabhakaran building mud walls to stop the Security Forces advancing with deadly air strikes. He failed to realise that the forces moving outside his presidency were more powerful than those within his presidential fortress. Mahinda Rajapakse won the day despite the mighty international and the Siri-Wicky-CBK forces working against him.

As the dithering “My-3” leaders gets closer to the August 17 – the D-Day – they seem to be wandering in no-man’s land without a compass. They are advancing, if at all, only into cuckoo-land. The hard realities of the new forces changing the political landscape have not sunk into the bone-head of Wickremesinghe yet. The blind refusal to acknowledge and deal with grim realities facing Wickremesinghe can be seen in the following Q & A reported in The Island:

Q: Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is once again your opponent. How do you assess this situation?

A: I don’t see any strong candidate from the Freedom Alliance. President Maithripala Sirisena is the leader of the Alliance and he is not contesting. On the other hand, the President has already said that former President Rajapaksa won’t be appointed as the Prime Minister even if the Alliance secures a majority. No one has been named as a Prime Ministerial candidate. So how can I consider him my opponent?

Every sentence quoted above confirms that the Yahapalayana regime is run a by a two-headed donkey : one body and the two heads of Siri and Wicky. Take Wickremesinghe’s statement that the President is not contesting and so he has no “strong candidate”. In the first place, everyone knows, except Wickremesinghe, that the President is not – and cannot be — a contender in the Parliamentary polls. So how can he contest him for a Parliamentary seat? Sirisena has fought his election and he is sitting pretty doing nothing as President. And, again, why should the President contest for the prime minister’s post, when he is holding the two supreme posts of President of the Alliance and the presidency of the nation? Second, he relies on Sirisena’s statement that Mahinda Rajapaksa will not be appointed as PM “even if the Alliance secures a majority”. In other words, he is saying that President Sirisena will appoint him as prime minister even without a majority. Isn’t this an open admission that he cannot win and he is depending on Sirisena to make him the Prime Minister? Besides, is he that foolish to believe that the nation and the international community – including his buddies in India, USA and UK – will accept Wickremesinghe, who would have been rejected by the people for the 30th time, as the legitimate prime minister? Third, he says that “No one has been named as a Prime Ministerial candidate” and, therefore, he cannot consider Mahinda Rajapakse to be his opponent. Is he serious? Or is he mad to think that he is fighting a non-existent ghost? Is he going to wait till August 18, like the ostrich with his head buried in the sand, to find out that he has been fighting the only other candidate in the field, Mahinda Rajapakse?

This exposes his level of intellect. Only his servile claque in the UNP backbenches (with a few exceptions, of course) consider him to be the political genius. Clearly, there is more substance in a half-boiled sprat than in the peanut brain of Wickremesinghe! His failure to construct a solid argument to a simple question reveals his refusal/inability to grasp the realities undermining his temporary grip on power. How can the urban intelligentsia vote for a bone-head who thinks that there is only one contestant in the political arena and that is Wickremesinghe? These inanities are signs of a delusional loser. He is imagining that he has already won because there are no rivals to him. But at the same he is aware that at the of the day (August 17) he has to rely on Sirisena to get him appointed as prime minister even if he doesn’t win a majority.

The political problem then falls on Sirisena’s lap: is this the kind of joker that Sirisena is going to appoint as Prime Minister? If Sirisena appoints Wickremesinghe again as PM without a majority will he not have to face the wrath of the people who have been denied their fundamental right of electing their prime minister? Besides, such an undemocratic act would be the anti-thesis of Yahapalanaya. It will be a high-handed dictatorial act which is bound to unleash the collective anger of voters who have been denied their political right to elect their prime minister. Can Sirisena join Wickremesinghe in imposing a dictatorship of an unelected minority leader? Knowing this, is Wickremesinghe threatening to increase the powers of the FCID to strengthen his dictatorial grip in order to rule as a minority leader without a majority in the House?

His latest interview with the Island is teeming with his usual nit-witticisms. Exposing the full text will run into reams. I will end with one more Q & A.

Q: The President told the media that you were asked to remove the Central Bank Governor from the post. Why was this not done?

A: No. He told me that most have told him to remove him (Mahendran). I explained to him that he has been cleared by the committee as well as the Court and that it was not acceptable to remove him in such a situation. I also told him that Mahendran and the Treasury Secretary played key roles in making the new budget of this government. We will wait for the decision of Parliament and if the Parliament says he is wrong, we will remove him, I told him. That’s what happened.

For all intents and purposes, the President, Prime Minister, Parliament and the public knew that not only the Governor of the Central Bank but even Wickremesinghe had a hand in the irregularities that took place in the biggest scandal of the Bank since it was established in 1950. Colombo Telegraph which published the COPE report stated that both the Prime Minister and the Governor had a hand in the dealings of the bond scandal. COPE made it clear that the Prime Minister too was directly involved in the decision.” The Governor admitted (21/6 p 1) that ‘This is the policy decision that was taken by the Hon Prime Minister’. But when he was asked whether the Prime Minister was allowed to take such decisions, he dodged the question and simply said ‘It was in the interests of the transparency of the system’.”

Parliament was not only ready with the report but also willing to go further and move a vote of no-confidence on the Prime Minister when the President stepped in to “save the sinking Titanic”. What was the urgent need to dissolve Parliament when the COPE was ready to present it to Parliament? After all, if both agreed to extend “100-days” to six months they could have waited another day till Parliament presented its report. Instead, Parliament was dissolved to cover up the guilt. So who is going to buy Wickremesinghe’s con stories?

Both the President and the Prime Minister are passing the buck to each other without taking responsibility for the crooked deals that took place under their very noses. President told the media categorically that he asked the Prime Minister to remove Mahendran. Prime Minister denies it by giving his version of the events. And the final excuse for keeping Mahendran is that he “played a key role in making the new budget of this government”. What a joke? What is the Einsteinian contribution made by Mahendran to the budget for the economy to make a giant leap from just above poverty level to an economic cornucopia of the First World? On balance, did Mahendran “play a key role” in dragging the economy to a new level of debt which the public will have to pay for the next thirty years, or did he “play a key role” in handing over the biggest dowry to his daughter through his bond-dealing son-in-law, as they say in the market place?

For Wickremesinghe to keep him in the job, is there anything that he has done which the other seasoned and experienced economists in the Bank have failed to do in the past? What is more, as stated earlier, the Governor of the Bank had told the Parliamentary Committee that Wickremesinghe was aware of the bond deals all the way. Which means that Wickremesinghe too was involved in the scam, either directly or indirectly. So when the President boasted that he saved the sinking “Titanic” did he mean that he saved Wickremesinghe also from the sinking ship? The available evidence proves that the Governor, the Prime Minister and the President have been sailing merrily in the “Titanic” carrying a load of thieves. According to President’s boast it seems to have given him a great deal of pleasure in saving this “Titanic” carrying Wickremesinghe’s thieves?

In one sense, Wickremesinghe can be viewed as a tragic figure. He has been ill-fated when it come to power. The hurried rush to dissolve Parliament conforms to the past pattern of Wickremesinghe’s short stints in power. Not only does he have the highest record of losing power he also holds the record for holding power for the shortest time. His staying power at “Temple Trees” in particular was limited. When he was lodged at “Temple Trees” for the first time he was yanked out unceremoniously by Gamini Dissanayake who bluntly told him to get out or else….. He walked out without a fight because he knew he did not have the numbers. The second time, was when Chandrika Kumaratunga threw him out after a brief interlude. This is the third time which he managed to retain for six months. From January 9, 2015 his power had been withering. slowly but surely. His delusional thinking makes him believe that he has won the hearts and minds of the people. But in his heart of hearts he knows that in the end he will have to depend on the President to install him as prime minister. He even admitted this in his Island interview. He knows he will not have the numbers to form a government of his own. His brief stay has been an aberration. The future of the nation in returning to its historical path on August 17.

Wickremesinghe’s vacuous answers makes it abundantly clear that he is not a man of substance who is fit to be the leader of the nation. He never was. Nor will he ever be. His own words condemn him. His failed formulae (CFA (2002), his confining of Security Forces to barracks, the Millenium City massacre of our elite forces, et al) adopted by him to deal with the critical issue of the nation prove that he can take the nation backwards but not forward. His lack of vision, arising from his inability grasp basic realities, confirms his inability to function as a D. S. Senanayake, or S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, or a Ranasinghe Premadasa. It must be conceded, however, that he has an innate capacity to alienate people.

The people kept him out of power 29 times before because they had no confidence in him. The chances are that the people will not give him an outright majority to form a government of his own on August 17 as the mud on him cannot be washed away (a la Robert Knox) to be placed on the throne of the people.

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