By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
Maithripala Sirisena’s MOU, marketed as his cure-all plan for the future, is very high on rhetoric and pie-in-the-sky promises and very low and vague on specifics or their ability to deliver the promises. Even a cursory glance will reveal that the MOU has promised castles in the air which will remain there forever because Sirisena and his two main partners, CBK and Wickremesinghe, have neither the ability nor the political means to bring them down to earth.
Put another way, this trio is trying desperately to sell old wine in old bottles with new labels. Though they were supposed to signal a new direction for the nation there wasn’t a single new face at Vihara Maha Devi Park with a single new idea. Despite all the ballyhoo and blandishments, the MOU is nothing more than a dreary collection of clichés put together by the same-old political failures who have no credible alternative to challenge the unmistakable achievements of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Second, the promises in the MOU have been deliberately reduced to the minimum to avoid running into controversial and contradictory issues that would crack open the differences and throw the signatories apart. All the critical issues and the specifics have been left out, knowing that the cart drawn by CBK-Wickremesinghe-Sirisena would disintegrate overnight if they went into the larger national issues or any details of even the promises in the MOU.
For instance, it focuses on the constitution without mentioning a word about the most controversial constitutional issue : 13 A. Why? If they included 13A it would rip them apart. They know that there is no unity/consensus on this central issue facing the nation. Such issues are too hot to handle. So the MOU has been pared down to bare bones in order to present a deceptive front of unity which the Opposition has calculated to be the only means of defeating the Rajapakse regime.
But the reality is that the contradictions pushed under the MOU carpet have the potential to erupt any time tearing the coalition into bits. The MOU consists of irreconcilable forces which the center cannot hold together for long. That is also the common history of coalitions. Either this coalition will go the same way that propped up Gen. Fonseka for a short while, or it will crumble under the weight of its own contradictions.
Right now, however, the clear, single-minded objective of the Opposition is to pursue expedient and vindictive politics and not a constructive program for the growth, peace, security and territorial integrity of the nation which has been the foundation of the politics of Mahinda Rajapaksa. No doubt, there are many structural weaknesses in the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime which even those in the government ranks accept. But in terms of historical progress, in terms of laying the foundations for a new future, in terms of burying the violent past, in terms of showing new directions both in internal and external affairs, in terms of protecting the nation from external and internal enemies, there has not been government in the post-independent era to surpass the achievements of the Rajapaksa brothers.
There is nothing in the MOU which can match or hope to achieve anything greater than what Mahinda Rajapaksa has achieved in the broader sense. Without having any higher goals than those achieved by Mahinda Rajapaksa, the petty nit-pickers who drafted the MOU have gone for abstract promises that will keep them floating for a short while in the Never-Never land.
The raft of slogans raised for democracy, rule of law, law and order, easing of communal tensions, justice, human rights etc., are cries that can be raised against any democratic state. Even against President Obama – the Nobel Peace Prize winner who has killed children, imprisoned innocent citizens in Guantanamo Bay without trial for years, tortured suspected enemies of prisoners in other countries to make American look clean (rendition), slaughtered peaceful guests at wedding parties, and also the old and young and even patients in hospitals – all of which add up to more than all the war crimes and crimes against humanity piled up by Bush.
It must also be conceded that there is room for improvement in any system. There is room for improvement even in the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime – and he would be the first person to admit it. What is more, working for internal reforms has been the eternal law governing all states. That is the acceptable norm of any vibrant democracy. But working for regime change without having a stable and viable alternative should be regarded as one of the political crimes against citizens because the unmanageable consequences that follow invariably end in chaos, victimizing the very people who initiated the changes. Example: “the Arab spring”.
Wittingly or unwittingly, the joint opposition is proposing in essence a local “Arab Spring” which they cannot manage – not with the rival parties in the coalition competing with each other for a greater share of power and pressing for their specific demands to keep the gun powder in their political guns dry to fire at the next election.
The contradictions and tensions created by the competing parties within the All-Party government will make any proposed government ungovernable. Wickremesinghe, who is supposed to be the prime minister, will be in a dizzying spin not knowing how to appease the dog-eating-dog politics in his Cabinet. The number of ministers he needs to appoint for him to just stay in power is likely to pass all known records because he will have to appease all those coming in to prop up his government. Each one of them will be demanding his/her share of the limited cake at the expense of the other. Consequently, his proposed two-year government will be run by the numerous parties which even Sirisena could not name at press interviews.
But here comes the crunch: Wickremesinghe has established a unique global record for his failure to either lead his party to victory or to hold them together. His greatest skill so far has been in driving people away rather than keeping them together. One need not be an astrologer to predict that his “Ach-cha-ru Cabinet” is most likely to collapse when he starts distributing the ministries, greasing the palms of each MP crossing over, and fulfilling the secret IOUs. In all probability, the life span of the proposed All-Party government is not likely to be more than a bottle of French wine placed in front CBK.
It is clear that the framers of the MOU limited the time span to two years because they know that it is unlikely to last that long. That is why they have agreed to go their own ways after two years. All this means, that the over-all mission of the MOU is only to target the Rajapaksa regime and replace it with Wickremesinghe, who could not and cannot win power on his own steam.
Picking Wickremesinghe as the man to restore democracy is a fatal flaw. He was picked by Sirisena not for any charismatic leadership qualities, or for his vote-wining capability but purely because the UNP still has the largest vote bank in the opposition. It is purely a tactical maneuver.
The inherent defect in his politics is his inability to read or be with the zeitgeist – the spirit of the times. Only a leader who can gauge the minds of the people can win the trust of the people. But some bitter streak in him makes him the kind of imbecilic prawn-head who would decry, at the height of a successful military campaign, the capture of Toppigala as piece of worthless rock. People who identified themselves with the glorious victories, all the way from Mavil Aru to Nandikadal, have never forgiven him for his cynical condemnation of our heroic soldiers. This is one of the outstanding examples of his inability to read the spirit of the times.
His knack of stabbing himself with his loose tongue has cost him the best prizes in politics. His ideological fixations leaning towards the West – plus his inability to relate to people – has disconnected him from the grass root forces that determine the fate of leaders. Alienated from the people, rejected by his party as a credible leader, and having lost his place as a national leader who can be trusted to lead the nation in times of war and peace, he has been living in a political limbo waiting for the rotten fruit of power to drop on his lap. Today he can only bask in the glory of outsiders. He is a nominal leaders who has the capacity only to follow other leaders.
What is more, how can a man who has failed to win the trust of the people over and over again – 29 times – be picked to be the flag-carrier for democracy?
Democracy is all about winning the trust of the people. More than any other political system democracies are built on the trust placed by the people in their leaders and the leaders in their people. No democracy can be established or made to function effectively without winning the trust of people. The dynamic principle that sustains and drives democracies is the trust placed by the people in their elected representatives to run the state. So on what rational logic can Sirisena hand over power to resuscitate democracy to a man who had lost the trust of the people in 29 elections in a row? Wickremesinghe has neither won the trust of the people nor his own party. Isn’t it a gross betrayal of democratic principles to hand over power not given by the people to a man who can’t even relate to the people?
Sirisena’s proposal to hand over power to Wickremesinghe to restore democracy is worse than handing over the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama who had engaged in destroying peace ever since. What is worse Wickremesinghe has not even won the trust of his party, let alone the people. They don’t trust him even to be their presidential candidate. To begin with, his own party sacked him when “Deaf and Blind” Wijetunga appointed him as prime minister. Gamini Dissanayake walked straight into Temple Trees and tossed him out with ease, without so much as a peep from him.
The next humiliation was even greater. CBK, her buddy now, sacked him when he was having a chat with Bush at the White House. She sacked him because he was selling the nation down the river to Prabhakaran. So on what democratic, moral, or political principles have Sirisena decided to hand over power to man who has lost the trust of the people, his party and the other political leaders who have refused to back him as the common candidate?
This arbitrary act of Sirisena to appoint an unelected prime minister is a perversion of accepted democratic principles. Sirisena’s anti-democratic act is in reality is an insult to the people. It is just the opposite of what the Opposition says it wants to achieve. How can Sirisena restore dignity to the people when he appoints a man unwanted by the people? It is a political fraud that condemns those who claim to be champions of democracy aiming to restore democracy.
Besides, what democracy will hand over power to a leader who has betrayed the will of the people by handing over their sacred territory to the enemies of the nation? Second, what guarantee is there that he will not reverse the national trends put in place with the blood, sweat and tears of the self-sacrificing people? CBK-Wickremesinghe combo is noted for their anti-national policy of handing over territory and/or powers to the Tamil Tigers, and now to their surrogates in the TNA. Furthermore, has Sirisena calculated the possible reactions of the Security Forces and the people at large when CBK-Wickremesinghe duo begins to dismantle and reverse the foundations laid by the Rajapaksas to secure the nation against internal and external enemies?
Consider also the other promises made in the MOU. Neither CBK nor Wickremesinghe brought down the cost of living when they were in power. How are they going to do it this time? Wickremesinghe did not hesitate to deport Paul Harris, the correspondent of the Jane’s Weekly and Daily Telegraph, for exposing the biggest land sale to the Tigers. Is this the man who is going to defend media freedom?
Wickremesinghe’s loyalties have been to Bush, Blair and Cameron. It is his loyalty to West that has lost the loyalty of the people. He is struggling hard to win back the trust he lost by going through contrived motions of being a Sinhala-Buddhist patriot. But the people are not buying it because they know that his heart is with Cameron and the Right-wing politics of the West.
This also means that when JVP and JHU support Wickremesinghe they are lending their support to the anti-Sri Lankan Western forces of Cameron and Michele Sisson. Needless, to say that CBK is forever ready to clink wine glasses with Sisson in their common bid to overthrow Mahinda Rajapaksa.
But to their dismay Asia Mirror, quoting unnamed Opposition sources, reported that Mahinda Rajapaksa still leads by 60-40. That apart, it is the post-election scenario they envisage that is fraught with danger. They are banking on Sirisena winning the election without realizing that they are partners in the crime of destabilizing the nation.
If the wishes of Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Champika Ranawaka, CBK, Sisson, TNA etc are to come true then Maithripala Sirisena will have to remove D. M. Jayaratne, the current Prime Minister who still commands a majority in the House. Right now Wickremesinghe does not command a majority in the House to be prime minister. For Sirisena to achieve his goal there has to be a mass exodus from the Government benches to the opposition. For this to happen he will have to offer ministerial posts and mega-millions practically to each and every MP, most of whom are already Ministers of one sort or another in a jumbo cabinet. So to install and prop up Wickremesinghe as his Prime Minister Sirisena will have to begin by bribing the likely MPs willing to crossover on an unprecedented scale. Is this how he proposes to begin his regime of purity?
There is no doubt that if by any chance he wins, the nation will run into unchartered territories of uncertainty and chaos. Whether he can manage a critically fluid situation, with unreliable partners in his coalition of convenience, is anybody’s guess.
The thriving business community in particular should be wary of neither-here-nor-there politics of a heaven on earth promised by the Opposition. Their future depends on peace, stability and continuity. But one thing will be certain: the unstable situation will force Sirisena to engage in corrupt deals, just to stay in power along with his prime minister, Wickremesinghe.
So, after promising to be the Greatest Saint of Purity, can Sirisena make any difference to Sri Lankan politics?