By Dayan Jayatilleka –
In October 1988, accepting the UNP nomination at the Sugathadasa Stadium, Ranasinghe Premadasa complained in a bitter, biting aside, that as Prime Minister he had enjoyed “the powers of a peon”. That status is about to change if the Opposition wins, because the Maithri manifesto makes clear that the centre of gravity of executive power will undergo a decisive structural shift from the Presidency to the parliament and the Cabinet. Thus Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe is tipped to be the most powerful Prime Minister since Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike—far more powerful than the infinitely more deserving Mr. Premadasa was under President Jayewardene. If after a parliamentary election, a breakaway SLFP is the largest party and if ex-President Kumaratunga is the leader of that party, then it is she who will be the most powerful Prime Minister since her mother. In this scenario, Mahinda Rajapaksa would have been shunted home to Medamulana. Is it only me, or is there something wrong with this picture?
What then are our real choices on January 8th 2015? With the joint Opposition’s declared objective of Maithripala Sirisena occupying a shrunken Presidency and therefore wielding reduced authority, and power being shifted to Parliament and the Cabinet, it will be Ranil and Chandrika who will wield real power and influence. Should we bring them back and toss Mahinda out?
To my mind, what Mahinda Rajapaksa has done wrong- or got wrong–is greatly outweighed by what he has got right and done right. On the other hand, what Ranil and Chandrika got wrong have done wrong, far outweigh whatever it is they did right. Since Mahinda’s positives greatly outweigh his negatives and the opposite is true of Ranil and Chandrika, I see no sense in removing Mahinda and re-instating Ranil and Chandrika, albeit with Mr. Sirisena as the human shield and presidential proxy candidate.
President Rajapaksa should have made Maithripala the Prime Minister. He was wrong not to do so. It is illogical to conclude that Mahinda’s error should be rectified by us by making Maithri the executive President for 100 days and then ceding real power to Ranil and Chandrika. Instead, Maithri must be given the post he is entitled to and suited for, the Prime Ministership, by us voters.
Maithripala Sirisena would undoubtedly make a good President but not right now; Right now, Maithripala would make a superb Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition. He can be a useful counterbalance to Mahinda. We can give him either post through our vote, at the parliamentary election. He can then reintroduce the 17th amendment and thereby reform the Presidency. The next time around, we could make him President.
If anyone should be selected to the top job, he/she must have better credentials, a better track record, than his/her competitor, who may or may not be the present occupant of that post. Are those currently in the Opposition who will have the power to rule over us have a better record of outstanding achievement than the man whose job they hope to take in twenty days, if only to abolish it? Is the opposition more of a proven success than Mahinda Rajapaksa? I have no reason to think so because that’s not what the evidence shows.
How did Chandrika and Ranil discharge their responsibilities in the service of the Sri Lankan state and us, its citizenry, when they were in office? How do they compare with Mahinda Rajapaksa and his record of performance? What is their track record; their ‘form’?
- President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga viewed her electoral victory as a massive mandate for peace. If she had not made the following mistakes, then she could have won the war, implemented a reasonable autonomy arrangement and constructed a progressive pluralist society.
- She failed to see that her victory was also the result of the LTTE’s serial decapitation of the UNP.
- She failed to prudently pick the 13th amendment or the Mangala Moonesinghe proposals (which Madam Bandaranaike had signed off on) as the start-line, and not overshoot the mark and waste time and political capital on a federalizing ‘union of regions’ package.
- She could have presented the more moderate August 2000 draft in 1995.
- She should have settled upon Devananda and Siddharthan as her Tamil political partners instead of pursuing the mirage of a negotiated peace with the Tigers right through to 2005.
- As commander-in-chief, she could have ordered the Tigers to be encircled and destroyed in the liberation of Jaffna (Operation Riviresa) instead of letting them escape with the civilians into the Wanni.
- She did not use her courageous cousin Anuruddha Ratwatte in the role that President Rajapaksa deployed his brother Gotabhaya.
- She patronized and encouraged the Sudu Nelum antiwar movement which conducted pacifist propaganda in the Sinhala areas while the war was raging – thereby hampering morale and military recruitment.
- She failed to give full command and free rein to the best professionals such as Sandhurst-trained General Gerry de Silva instead of the fairly mediocre General Daluwatte who conceived of the disastrous Operation Jaya Sikuru. She failed to send Gen Gamini Hettiaarachchi to the National Defense College in Delhi and instead sent the officer who was the head of her personal security detail. Had the iconic Special Forces commander Gamini Hettiaarachchi been permitted to acquire his NDC qualifications in time, it is he who would have been the Army commander, and could have won the war for us with far fewer civilian casualties and consequent international fallout.
- She squandered the opportunity of rousing global sympathy for Sri Lanka’s war and against the Tigers immediately after their suicide attack which blinded her in one eye and instead switched on the Norwegian peace track.
- She wrongly picked Norway, with its obvious Tamil Diaspora instead of Japan (which neither a Tamil lobby nor granted the state any military aid) as the peace negotiator.
- She wasted the opportunity for a full on counter-offensive with the rapid induction of airpower, presented by her own sterling defence of Jaffna in 2000 after the fall of Elephant Pass.
- She delayed in authorizing the LRRP deep penetration raids on the Tiger command structure until after the Katunayake attack.
- She turned her back on the possibilities opened up by the US ‘global war on terror’ by making key speeches in London and Delhi proclaiming that ‘terrorism cannot be defeated by military means’ (which Mahinda Rajapaksa has given the lie to).
- She sabotaged the Karuna rebellion by permitting the LTTE to pass through the Sri Lankan naval cordon and land in the rear of the Karuna rebel forces.
- She marginalized Lakshman Kadirgamar and negotiated a post tsunami joint mechanism with the tsunami-weakened LTTE which gave them equal representation with the legitimate state in its top tier and a 5:3 advantage in its vital middle tier, with a headquarters located in the Tiger controlled Wanni.
Therefore one cannot but question her moral right to complain about and criticize her decidedly more successful successor.
What then is the actual level of competence in national political decision-making shown by her current ally and partner, the aspirant to the post of an empowered Prime Ministership?
- Ranil Wickremesinghe abjectly signed an asymmetrical CFA which did not reflect the actual balance of power between the Sri Lankan state and an LTTE which had begun to be weakened by the first LRRP hits on its command structure (‘Lt Col’ Shanker being killed in Sept 2001).
- He agreed to disarm the anti-Tiger Tamil groups without mentioning the issue of decommissioning under international auspices of Tiger weapons. He was a model of supine appeasement and failed to respond resolutely to Tiger abductions and killings of Police and army personnel even in the city and suburbs of Colombo.
- He undermined the morale of his military by the Athurugiriya DMI ‘safe house’ raid and the ensuing interrogations, the dispute with the Jaffna army chief over the HSZs, the intervention in which a Tiger ship was allowed to go unscathed from a Sri Lankan navy ambush.
- He allowed free passage for sophisticated electronic communications equipment for the Tigers, not to mention the broadcast of Prabhakaran’s warmongering ‘Mahaveera’ speeches through the Rupavahini.
- He failed to use his ‘Washington connection’ to present Sri Lanka as a frontline in the global war on terror instead of providing an excuse for the Tigers in Washington to the effect that military means should be used against ‘international terrorists’ and not the Tigers (who were manifestly no longer ‘national’ when they blew up Rajiv Gandhi); had he used his supposed international connections to strengthen the Sri Lankan military or secured a public Western commitment so that either could have served as a deterrent to the Tigers – then perhaps the inflation of Tiger territory, power and ego would not have taken place to the extent that they planned and for and publicly proclaimed the imminence of ‘The Final War’ (HRW Dec 2005).
If Chandrika and Ranil had not conducted themselves as they did, their successor and the armed forces would not have needed to wage a war of such huge magnitude and intensity that the collateral damage has caused us to be a target of the international human rights movement.
With this track record, is it therefore wise, is it prudent, is it logical, is it desirable, is it fair and ethical, to usher Ranil and Chandrika into power with Maithripala Sirisena as a ‘human face’, while tossing Mahinda Rajapaksa out? Speaking strictly for myself, I rather think not.