By Sarath De Alwis –
The President’s metaphor was valid both as noun and adjective. His party the SLFP was the ‘Titanic’ heading for collision with the Rajapaksa iceberg. Keeping the former ‘warlord’ appeased until the 19th Amendment was enacted was indeed a titanic task.
Radiating a sense of relaxed detachment President Maithripala Sirisena explained why he remained silent while the UPFA general secretary announced the ‘done deal’ of nominating ex-president Mahinda Rajapakse for a parliamentary slot. It was engineered by the two General Secretaries of the UPFA and the SLFP Messers Susil Premjayanth and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa.
In distancing himself from the SLFP and UPFA decision to field ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa as a candidate in the parliamentary elections, President Maithripala Sirisena compared his six months in the Presidency to the Captains Bridge of the Titanic that sank on its maiden voyage.
The sinking was the deadliest shipping disaster in peace time that killed more than 1500 or two thirds of its passengers.
“Steering the ship of state, in the last six months was akin to my being at the helm of the ‘Titanic’. But unlike the disastrous voyage of the cruise ship, I did not let the ship sink he said. Dismissing his predecessor’s current efforts to reverse the tide of history, the President seemed satisfied that he had steered the vessel of state in to the safety of a transit port to resume its journey from autocracy to democracy after the general election.
There is a curious irony in President Sirisena’s choice of analogy. Researchers have distilled the facts from the mass of misinformation and speculation at the time and concluded definitely that the sinking of the Titanic was the result of the Ship sailing too fast and not observing the required safety measures in navigation.
After hitting the iceberg the fate of the ship has been decided by some resembling our ex-president Rajapaksa. The huge loss of life in the Titanic disaster was due to the arrogance and conceit of the Chairman of ‘White Star Line’ Titanic’s owner. He had persuaded the Captain to continue sailing, resulting in “water flooding through the damaged hull, forcing it up and over the watertight bulkheads, sinking Titanic many hours earlier than she otherwise would have done.”
The Titanic owner just as Mahinda Rajapaksa today, insisted on keeping the ship going, fearful of losing his investment and damaging the reputation of the company. “The nearest ship was four hours away. Had she remained where it was, the Titanic would have floated until help arrived.”
Now the Former President has assumed the Chairmanship of the UPFA campaign committee. The two siblings; one who superintended the ‘deep state’ and the other who managed the business are now in self-induced hibernation. The new ‘Chinthana’ is to restore democracy, rule of law and protect the sovereignty of the nation. The two SLFP office bearers now in command , the National Organizer cum UPFA general secretary Susil Premjayantha and the General Secretary of the SLFP Anura Priya dharshana Yapa have finally abandoned the charade and are openly promoting the former President.
The battle lines are drawn. To those who pay attention to history, these seemingly inexplicable human folly makes eminent sense. The Bastille was stormed in 1789. The Bourbon king was guillotined in 1793. In our digital age things move faster.
We stormed the Bastille on 8th January. It is now in the hands of the ‘multitude’ to either Guillotine the profligate monarch by the ballot on 17th August or let him back in the ‘Grande Galerie.’
Radiating a sense of relaxed detachment President Sirisena explained the events that led to his grim acceptance of the ‘done deal’ engineered by the two General Secretaries of the UPFA and the SLFP Messers Susil Premjayanth and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa.
He was also mindful of the risks of skating on the thin ice of the UNP skating rink. The President delivered a deft and determined rap on the knuckles of Prime Minister Ranil Wickeremsighe for his handling of the Central Bank Bond scandal. His inference was that it was an unnecessary deflection of the good governance agenda that was the bulwark of his single term presidency.
The former President is neck deep in an existential crisis. It is easy for him to insist that he commands a majority of the ‘majority’ in our plural democracy. He will now have to translate his personal fiefdom in to numbers in the next parliament. Returning redeemers do not rely on coalitions. The choice is either win or bust.
An avowedly pro Mahinda commentator recently suggested that the inclusion of Mahinda Rajapaksa as a candidate in the pending parliamentary elections was a narrowing of the gap between President Sirisena and ex-President. It now appears that President Sirisena has widened the gap further.
An enduring transition of our dysfunctional democracy to a meaningful democracy requires the removal of the residual capacity of the Rajapakse backers to resist reforms. They have over the years developed synergistic links with the overlord that will not evaporate overnight. He has brazenly delivered opportunities of rent seeking to them.
They remain grateful to the departed patron and resentful of the arriving scourge. Reform has to happen before the impetus for change gives way to remorse over lost opportunities.
The hundred days Manifesto did not go beyond the diluted 19th Amendment. The slow meandering of the reform agenda was due mainly to the success of the Rajapaksa machine in coopting of the entrenched elites of the UNP. It is disconcerting to see some of those coopted now ensconced in the UNP national list. The President has suggested that the Controversial Governor of the Central Bank should step down. Is Prime Minister as oblivious to danger as the owners of the Titanic who thought that having too many life boats would make people believe that the unsinkable ship was unsafe? The Titanic did turn out to be unsafe!