28 May, 2024


Well, It’s Legal!

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

The Daily FT of Saturday 16th July condensed an epic political story into a single expressive headline – “RW takes Presidential Baton from Gotabaya.”

RW got his baton from GR. Some actions are immoral, but perfectly legal. There are yet other measures that may be illegal, but not necessarily immoral.

The ‘Aragalaya’ that demonstrated the power of the powerless falls in to the second category.

The German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in his collection of notes later published under the title “Will to Power” took up this conundrum of truth and legality head on.

“All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth“.

It is all about power.

Ranil Wickramesinghe is the acting president of the republic. Constitutional propriety has been observed.

Nietzsche in his “Will to Power” describes the quest for power as an irrational force found in all of mankind that could be channeled to different ends.

With wicked detachment he qualifies the search for power as a perverse but natural trait in the human animal.

The point of departure of this essay is to make sense out of this insanely immoral yet scrupulously legitimate constitutional demarche.

This writer is no adherent or enthusiast of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe. When he took on the job offered to him by an unnerved despot, I described it as a dalliance with political evil.

Now, the Federation of University Teachers has demanded that the acting President should not only step down but also withdraw from the contest.

It is an anguished appeal for moral integrity. It will not resonate with the moral ambiguity of the arch realist. Too much faith is a mean companion to live with.

The land confronts an economic crisis that defies description. Should we waste valuable seconds in a senseless discussion?

As Nietzsche explains truth is not simple. We waste a lot of time establishing our version of truth and convincing the rest of the world that we are right, and the other side is wrong.

As we shall discover in the proceedings in parliament in the next few days, there is no single truth in this business called politics.

There’s no truth that all 225 members of parliament can accept because everything is subject to interpretation as pointed out in the quote with which I began this missive. For constitutional reforms we need a two thirds majority. For drastic economic reforms we need near unanimity. That is the only avenue available to reach relief in dark times.

Besides all that, what’s the purpose of wasting time trying to convince those who are still in the grip of Basil’s bamboozle?

It is time that we too adopt Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s cynical pragmatism.

Politics is not a precise science. In politics there is no way we can define truth. Most of the current anthropoids have voted for the 17th Amendment, 18th amendment, the 19th amendment, and the 20th amendment. It is a talk shop that has no moral compass.

Since Mahinda Rajapaksa claimed that he defeated separatists and forged a single nation that had no minorities but only patriots I knew in my bones, that things weren’t right. I think most of my generation knew long before, that this crisis would come.

The Executive Presidency we have since 1978 produced evil that wasn’t in this land before. I have experienced the personal wrath of one executive president. The irony is that once I was quite close to him. Then carnations became an issue and separation was exquisitely disastrous for me.

We are human. Human reason can excuse all or most evil. So, we mustn’t rely too often or too much on our capacity to avoid evil. More often we seem to reconcile with evil because it is the commonsense thing to do.

I am sure many would disagree with me. But I will say it. Under Rajapakse rule in post war Sri Lanka, to amend Hannah Arendt’s brilliant phrase Evil turned predictable and common place.

Aleksandar Solzhenitsyn in his novel ‘The Gulag Archipelago’ tells us about evil that resides in all of us. “If f only it was all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

In this backdrop let us reappraise Mr. Acting President Ranil Wickramesinghe.

Why did Ranil Wickremesinghe do what he did? There is a pithy remark that is often attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte. “Power is my mistress. I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me.”

People who have spent a lifetime in the pursuit of powerful positions and held them as dear entitlements will always want to keep them.

When Ranil Wickremesinghe accepted the task, he did not lay down conditions to the beleaguered president Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He knew that no matter how many flowers were cut, spring would come.

Sajith Premadasa put conditions because he wished to express solidarity with the ‘Aragalaya’. Sajith was mindful of the future.

Sajith was planning the future. Ranil acted here and now.

Ranil did not put conditions because he is the consummate Orwellian. The object of power is power.

Like most post-colonial societies, we have an elite class that either controls or has ready access to political and economic power. The ‘Aragalaya’ was a determined breakout from the clutch of these dinosaurs of a vanishing world. It will take time. Since my grand children relate to me more than to their parents I know.

This elite class is an organized minority. They still possess the means to badger, bully and coerce the majority which is yet in the process of getting organized.

Ranil Wickramasinghe was born into this elite class. The maternal grandfather was the press baron who had a near monopoly of the print media. His paternal grandfather was a Mandarin in the Colonial Civil Service. His father who hid a razor-sharp mind behind a charmingly cheerful persona was the bosom friend and advisor of president JR Jayewardene.

For his loyalty during his wilderness years JRJ made his son a junior minister. Early in politics Ranil Wickramasinghe was more equal than his peers.

Moving chess pieces behind the curtain is a privilege he has enjoyed since entering politics.

A Faustian bargain has made him acting president. He may well get the prize.

Politics need not be a zero-sum game.

The 21st Amendment already vetted by the Supreme Court abolishes the executive presidency. All opposition parties have endorsed the proposed 21st Amendment moved by the general secretary of the SJB.

It must be approved in a referendum. Parliament can pass it now and hold the referendum with the next general election that most demand at the earliest.

The acting president has said that necessary steps are being taken to restore the 19th amendment. It narrows the chasm. Politics is not the art of hara-kiri.

The legend of Faustus – man selling his soul to the devil has a particularly fascinating appeal at this hour of economic peril and moral drift.

This is a humble appeal to all those who disapprove of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s politics.

Instead of unconditional confrontation, a united opposition should ask “what good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”

Sooner than later a compromise must be arrived at. Should we be human animals or just plain humans? There is great merit in coming to terms with disagreeable reality. These dark times need moral imagination.

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Latest comments

  • 9

    Fair analysis.
    But what faith can we pin on the 225?
    The entire lot should have been sent home with GR.
    Now they will manipulate the system each for his/her personal gain.

  • 2

    Is Gotabaya Rajapakse in possession of a “Diplomatic” Passport with the title “President of Sri Lanka”?

    Shouldn’t that “Passport” be CANCELED immediately, so that Gotabaya does not receive “Diplomatic” treatment in any of the countries he travels to? The Government of Sri Lanka is “Responsible” and “Accountable” if that passport is MISUSED to enjoy any privileges that go with such passports.

    This needs IMMEDIATE attention from the relevant authorities of Sri Lanka. The delay in taking this action could lead to many “International” problems. Remember what happened in the case of Udyanga Weeratunga who was the “Ambassador” to Russia and Ukraine.

  • 2

    If all 225 are faulty at the first encounter, what assures the second to be flawless in totality or in part?

  • 6

    Yes the Angel stepped in at a time, the entire Country was in Peril, where the Devils feared to tread. Had not Ranil Wickremasinghe stepped in it is difficult to imagine what would have happened. There would have been a certain State of Anarchy that would have only helped the JVP and their Peratugamies to take control of a Lawless state. Then again the feud between the JVP and the Peratugamies which was seen during the Aragalaya would have manifested to greater heights that would have spelled further Doom to the Country. All this was saved by Ranil Wickremasinghe accepting the PM Post much to the Criticism that he accepted the post to save the Rajapaksas, inspite of Ranil Wickremasinghe assured that his only concern was to alleviate the Suffering of the Masses doing away with Queues. As Ranil Wickremasinghe promised, he has already served over 75%, the much required Gas to the Urban Folk and Manure to the Farmers, inspite of being mocked by his Critics questioning where is the International Help he promised even before two months where AKD of the JVP wanted Six Months the least to put it right and Sajith Premadasa wanted five years, but none were willing to give Ranil Wickremasinghe even three months.

    • 5

      I hope RW succeeds in his efforts to be President. He has never had full power to do what needs to be done. He has always had someone above him (Chandrika, Sirisena) trying to put a spoke in his wheel. Let him show what can be done with good governance.

    • 0

      How can I dream like you!
      Your optimism, ‘Ranil Wickremasinghe assured that his only concern was to alleviate the suffering of the masses’, is exactly that.
      He is there to heal the pain of the Rajapaksas.

    • 1

      This tweet from Twitter explains the situation with indisputable logic:
      “If the number of votes you obtain at d poll can speak of one’s ability to rule then GR should have been the best person to hold d office of president. I didn’t vote for Ranil. But I am not a slave to my prejudices. If my child is sick I will seek medication even from an enemy.”

  • 7

    Legal but is it ethical , is a question that we can raise in many situations in this society.

    For example , it is common knowledge that the media near monopoly of the Vijaya group and the ITN are controlled by close relatives of Ranil W, the so called acting president.

    Ruwan Wijewardena the UNP upstart is the son of Vijaya Group owner. This media group, while pretendimg to be neutral is always promoting Ranil/UNP interests while attacking the SJB and other parties in a subtle way.

    One time its long term editor known for free drinking at clubs ( 40 years as editor) slandered Chandrika when she was president saying she entertained men under the moonlight. A complete false hood. Nothing happened to him !

    Its Financial editor ( more than 20 years in this place) is a wheeler dealer in the stock market, highlighting or down grading company profiles to suit his personal interest. These editors and their families do not declare their income and assets.

    Now this group is subtly supporting the unelected Ranil to Presidency. Unless our media is completely cleaned up, ownership diluted, workings made transparent and no conflict of interests allowed , true democracy cannot be experienced

    • 6

      “ITN are controlled by close relatives of Ranil W, the so called acting president.”
      Really? Since when has ITN been privatised? At least get your facts right before you rant.

      • 7

        Oh Great point OC, your intelligence is overflowing. My obvious typo is your delight. ! Yes ITN was formerly owned by Ranil’s brother who now owns TNL . What does the name matter ? These former converts are dictating the media .

        By the way, do you consider Shan, a great Buddhist ?

        • 3

          The name does matter.
          If your basic premise is fake, your argument is fake.
          If you’re trying to say that TNL promoted Ranil, that too is false, because it promoted Gota against Sajith in 2020. Who watches TNL anyway, in preference to Sirasa, Derana, and the rest, all with axes to grind, just like you.

  • 4

    I think most of my generation knew LONG BEFORE that this crisis would come.” Such a relief, to know I am not the only one. I dared to say this years ago.

  • 1

    The country and people have only rest of Today, Tomorrow and Day after Tomorrow to make the decision about the future of country. Once this process gone, there is no opportunity to save this country going again to the another circle of Rajapaksa Plus RW regime power which is going to be much worse than now. I am sure Lord Buddha or Lord Jesus or Lord Shiva or Allah or Judiciary are going to come to save this country or stop those those who immoraly capture power but the principles and methods they guided us can save this country such “mass scale Sathyagraha” around the country and Parliament by people and other true patriots of humanity to stop this immoral process through a political coup by mis interpreting the constitution.

  • 5

    “Most of the current anthropoids have voted for the 17th Amendment, 18th amendment, the 19th amendment, and the 20th amendment. It is a talk shop that has no moral compass.”
    Absolute truth. If there is anyone who can get this lot to act in a positive way, it is Ranil. The Pohottuwa lot have no independent existence. When a Rajapaksa is on the throne, they are his subjects. Now they are Ranil subjects. Is there any earth-shaking difference between Ranil’s policies and Sajith’s? Those who were offered the chance to put their money where their mouth is, didn’t take it.
    This is the time to get real. Splitting hairs and wallowing in moral outrage won’t restore our coffers , bring in tourists, or end queues. For sure, voting in another military panjandrum or inexperienced second-rankers won’t do that either.

    • 4

      OC ,who in your opinion is first rank, let me guess !

      you say voting second rankers is not good, are you against a vote to select our leaders ? Do you have a better method ? Again who do you have in mind, who should be brought in without taking a vote? let me guess !

      Do you place yourself among the first rank ? ( of course slightly below RW !)

      • 1


        OC likes Ranil because he is the only one willing to give the minorities devolution. In fact, Ranil is willing to give them a separate state altogether. Devolution is the first step. When CBK was the President, the LTTE gave her a glass eye. They never laid a finger on RW.

  • 1

    S de A, Since baton came from the executive president, it appears to be legal. That is why this EP needs to be abolished rather than allow evil dictators to perform wrong. 225 have lost their morals by robbing money at every possible opportunity, making them detestable. But the 225 major flaw is that citizen’s needs do not even come in to their minds as they are full and opulent, needing a gym. in parliament.

  • 1

    What will happen if all the Opposition MPs including SLFP, SJB, JVP, TNA, MC etc. give there resignation in protest of this unbiased process tomorrow?

  • 0

    Mahinda Rajapakse is the “Ubermensch” mentioned in “Will to Power.”

    “The stronger becomes master of the weaker, in so far as the latter cannot assert its degree of independence – here there is no mercy, no forbearance, even less a respect for “laws.” “

    No mercy to those holding white flags.

    Nietzsche was also a critic of Christianity (Antichrist) and great fan of Buddhism.

    “Buddhism is the only genuinely positive religion to be encountered in history.”

    Steve Jobs was also a Zen Buddhist. The minimalist design of Apple products reflects his long experience with Buddhism.

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