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In praise of President Sirisena

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Ranil Wickremesinghe belongs to that old tradition of pre-independence comprador class. He understood and mastered the system. He, however, did not expect the peasant from Polonnaruwa to wake up and undermine the system by ordering a public transparent inquiry



“Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.” –George Orwell, 1984


Who made Maithripala Sirisena the President of our republic? Was it the Executive Committee of the UNP that decided to endorse him as the common candidate? Or the majority of people who voted for the common candidate? 

This missive is in praise of Maithripala Sirisena’s handling of the Bond Commission report. More specifically it is in praise of his unhesitant referral to the Supreme Court for a precise ruling on his current tenure in office. 

This writer is relieved to discover the new bold and decisive Sirisena, who has abandoned his ‘Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep’ demeanour. One hopes he will gradually shed his ‘Apey Hamuduruwane’-‘upsaka’ mask and also his ‘Ranaviruwas have done no wrong’ disorder as well, in his remaining years in office.

The immediate purpose of this dispatch is to congratulate him on his discovery of the precise mandate he received on 8 January 2015. The people did not vote for him to replace Mahinda Rajapaksa in office. He was not elected to implement the agenda of the UNP. He was not tasked to reform the SLFP. He was tasked with halting corruption, punishing past offenders and deterring present offenders. 

No one expects him to draft a new constitution all by himself. If he cannot persuade Parliament to enact the required legislation, let the people decided the composition of the next Parliament. He was not elected to name ‘flyovers’ after Sobhitha Thero. Had he lived he would today, urge him with all his might to fly away and not even fly over the cuckoo’s nest presided over by Ranil Wickremesinghe. 

Those who saw the movie or read the novel by Ken Kesey would know the parallel between the three years of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s premiership and the psychiatric ward described as the Cuckoo’s nest. The story is about a psychiatric facility run by an obstinate matron. The narrator calls it a combine. The kind of combine that today runs our country. Ranil, Malik, Charitha, Pasky, etc. 

The combine adopts a mechanistic attitude towards their charges. They manipulate the process and methods. Their system was to offer rewards to the pliant and shame the resisters. What was horrific about the story is that the victims failed to realise that they were being controlled at all. The novel that satirically mocks the consumer society damns the powers that be for emasculation of the defenceless.

The Bond Commission report should be made available to Parliament, people and the Prime Minister concurrently. 

The manner in which the President has handled the report of the Bond Commission has made politics or our island something far more compelling than politics. 

That the issue of the Bond Commission report coincides with the Local Government elections is not a matter of concern but a propitious eventuality for democratic discernment. 

This writer is not surprised by the derisive comments and tasteless fun made of the President’s referral to the Supreme Court. 

Maithripala Sirisena does not belong in the elite crowd. We do not extend to him the kind of deference that Ranil or Mahinda claim as their due in status and power. In both camps – Mahinda’s and Ranil’s – he is the outcast. How dare he consult the Supreme Court was an elite reaction. It was not a popular discussion and created no mass embroilment.

The 19th Amendment prevents the President from dissolving Parliament. Ranil claims that he commands the numbers and therefore he is the organ grinder and the President should be the proverbial monkey. This was the President’s resort to practical politics informing Parliament that the equation has two components. What is immoral about knowing the terrain that one has to navigate in? What is so vulgar about learning the depth of the swamp he has to wade through? 

It almost certain that the Commission has ruled that the takeover of the Central Bank was not legally permissible. The Prime Minister has to explain why he wanted the Central Bank under his ambit and why he selected Arjun Mahendran to run it. He must also explain why he wanted Arjun Mahendran’s tenure extended for another term and also why he preferred Charitha Ratwatte to the present incumbent who happens to be the President’s alternative that he accepted with frosty stoicism.

The bond controversy is not a partisan battle. This is controversy about the wealth of the nation. The subject is neither new nor surprising. It has been said that in the early days of UNP rule the country was run not by an oligarchy but by an ‘olivergarchy’ – a reference no doubt to the financial wizardry of Sir Oliver Goonetilake who was Colonial Auditor, Financial Secretary and Civil Defence Commissioner of colonial Ceylon and Governor General of Independent Ceylon. 

Ranil Wickremesinghe belongs to that old tradition of pre-independence comprador class. He understood and mastered the system. He, however, did not expect the peasant from Polonnaruwa to wake up and undermine the system by ordering a public transparent inquiry. When the question first surfaced in Parliament, Ranil stood up and surveyed the House in mock eagerness and asked, “Who amongst you can discuss the question of bonds?” He was right. 

We have the advice of a great practitioner of paper money to understand the swagger Ranil displayed at the time. Mayer Bauer Rothschild who made his fortune by financing wars and profligate monarchs has said it for all time. “The few who understand the system, will either be so interested from its profits or so dependent on its favours, that there will be no opposition from that class.” … “Let me issue and control a nation’s money and I care not who writes the laws.”

We live in a period of transition from an autocratic rule to a democratic yet dysfunctional rule. Political ambition and patrimonial politics still threaten our task of creating a just society. These are not ordinary times. We cannot be led by conventional thinking. Old arrangements must be dismantled. It is too early to conclude that Maithripala Sirisena is the man who could deliver. That said, we have no choice but to help him steer us through the murky swamp. 

It has been said that upheavals offer new opportunities. This is an opportunity to create a new path instead of muddling through as was the experience of the past three years. 

We must encourage new leaders. We must create new ideas. We must depart from the tradition of servility to political parties and political leaders. 

The bond scam has taught us a lesson. Experience in the old ways is not only irrelevant but also presents a clear and imminent danger to our wellbeing in the age of transparency in governance. 

It seems that President Sirisena has decided to convince the man who has done wrong by doing what is right. People will believe what they see. Let them see.

A caveat. I may be wrong. I fervently hope not. 

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