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Why Ranil is still needed

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The Joint Opposition move to pass a vote of no-confidence in Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will come a cropper. Ranil knows that best as he has tersely told a group of opposition pollies (Australia slang for ‘politicians’), “Come on! Present the motion in Parliament and we will defeat that.” 

His own UNP MPs, he advised not to panic over the motion because it has not even been presented to the Speaker. In his 40-year-long political history Ranil Wickremesinghe has never been observed panicking. What is it that invests him with such an emotional state? His savvy knack about Sri Lankan politics. He knows the jokers he is dealing with him.

Pradarshanaya or showmanship

Yes, the latest move by JO and its veritable leader Mahinda Rajapaksa was described by someone the other day as a “pradasharanaya,” or “gimmick exhibition.” Mahinda is brilliant on this kind of showmanship and it has borne him success. Soon after he lost the 2014 presidential elections and the general elections the following year, Mahinda commenced ‘Mahinda Sulanga’. That was a series of public meetings beginning with Nugegoda about which Dayan Jayatilleka went into raptures. 

Mahinda knows how to get crowds and arrange a show of them. He did it at his election meetings when the front row of his audience was studded with his human shield of supporters whom he carried with him wherever he went. Women were lined up by the ropes and they would simply rush to try and touch the divinity as he waded through. They failed to touch even the many golden rings around his wrist and the Indian charms. Yet, the show was what was important. The frenetic effort! 

As Mahinda would eventually ascend the stage, dressed in his red kurakkan satakaya, a kid or an aged person would materialise for the King to display his human touch. Mahinda kisses the kid; if it were an aged person, the latter would “try” to bend in two before the monarch and, once again, the monarch would show a ‘humility,’ by disallowing such genuflection. Media cameras and drone cameras recorded all this. Taxpayer-funded TV media went blast. 

The meeting can now start

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s showmanship is his real asset in the political gameplay. It works and pragmatic philosophers would tell us that what works is truth. Ranil Wickremesinghe fails miserably on this skill. He simply is not up to that. On the other hand, Ranil is often seen in a simple white shirt and pants or in a Western suit complete with tie. Mahinda’s satakaya beats the tie and that resonates with the Buddhistic nationalist stream whom he is tailored to. Ranil cannot do that. Even before the Mahanayakes, Ranil is often seen in shirt and tie. I have never seen him carrying babies.

Our selfish, loony, pollies

The sharp, outstanding distinction between the two images represent one important political truth about the general behaviour of our pollies. They are generally a set of selfish, loony blokes who creep into Parliament to make a buck and try to remain there by showmanship or pretence acts. Most of them are ignorant and over 60% have not passed the O/Levels. 

Mahinda Rajapaksa plays into and symbolises that deeply disturbing trend. Such mind-frames cannot produce healthy political outcomes for the country. Their policies and decisions are intended to get over the moment. The short term is what they eye. Painful long-term decisions are anathema.

Liquidity of political alliances is a defining consequence of this attitude. Parties are not the thing but self-interest is. Mahinda picked up this part of the opportunistic psychology of our politicians when he famously stated that he runs a barber saloon where MPs can walk in and walk out. What an amazing metaphor! 

I recently re-read philosophers who said that the world and life is absurd and merely governed by chance. Even the greatest mind of our generation the late Stephen Hawking said something like that. Well, if nothing else is absurd, the Sri Lankan polity is absurd.

In such a context, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s very dress appearance seems an anachronism. His effort toward installing good governance systems in the island is subject to ridicule by our pollies. Even most of his own party men do not grasp the need for such systems. The substantial gains that his Government has realised thus far goes undervalued. Ranil’s far-seeing economic policies and strategies are just a nuisance as they have “no impact” on the voting public.

Bond issue

To be honest, Ranil Wickremesinghe hasn’t been all that cautious about many of his doings. The Presidential Commission into the so-called bond scam had suggestively advised the Prime Minister to be more cautious about his appointments. (I say, ‘so-called,’ because I remain not convinced that any scam has in fact taken place here.) The Commission hasn’t, however, found him or any Minister as being involved in the ‘scam.’ 

Ravi K’s issue is not directly related to the incident and so the Commission wanted allegations relating to the latter separately investigated. Be that as it be, the fact is that the JO campaign has succeeded in making the Prime Minister be perceived by the public as a guilty party. It is the success of showmanship over fact.

Bull’s-eye of Opposition attack

Ranil is dragged into that focus all the time and attempts are being made to disgrace him. All Opposition guns are on Ranil. As a historical fact, we can recall how Ranil Wickremesinghe had been the bull’s-eye of the Rajapaksa attack even during the time the latter had been in government. He was labelled a failure; unable to win elections. This criticism had being contrary to the position that he had succeeded in being Prime Minister three to four times. At the last general elections, Ranil broke all records by registering over 500,000 votes in his electoral district. This was no mean achievement.

About 20 years in opposition, Ranil managed to keep his party together without breaking up against the intense manipulative pressure of the Rajapaksa Government. His party leadership was challenged twice by his own men. However, Wickremesinghe showed considerable understanding and emotional management to override all these attempts – subtle and direct – and to ride high. In this way, Ranil’s political resilience is outstanding. One cannot easily put Ranil down as, like a rubber ball pressed to sink in water, he keeps coming up. He had predicted the UNP would form a government two years before it did this time and so that happened.

From this perspective, the myriad attempts by Opposition over the years to target Ranil Wickremesinghe speaks more of his attackers than of him; for that demonstrates that Opposition’s number one bogey man is none other than Ranil Wickremesinghe. That throws light on Ranil’s effectiveness and not of his weaknesses.

In fact, the Opposition shows poverty in their futile efforts to paint Ranil Wickremesinghe as a corrupt man. There have never been any charges of corruption against him. No charges of murdering dissentient journalists. On the other hand, of Mahinda Rajapaksa we have a totally opposite picture. The former Chief Justice Sarath Silva openly alleged that Mahinda, while he was Prime Minister, had been seriously guilty over siphoning off tsunami funds to private bank accounts. The present Commission about serious financial crimes have recommended that Mahinda and some other ministers of his regime should be deprived of their civic rights. White vans and gruesome murders marked the former regime.

The contrasting picture is that Ranil Wickremesinghe still remains Mr Clean. He is also Mr Cool. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s political skills are proven. So is his vision capacity. To me, the most important thing about this much-maligned and underestimated leader is that he stands for the values that can keep Sri Lanka together. Ranil Wickremasinghe, even in his depressed moments, never resorted to racial slogans; never touted Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. He is provenly multicultural. He is also modern in economic and political outlook.

To add to these attributes, Ranil is one of the handful in Parliament who possess knowledge of social and economic policy. The nation needs him to remain. He may groom a successor – that’s a different matter. The fact is that he is still needed if Sri Lanka is to be saved from the mad world of selfish loonies. Among all the bunch of political leaders that Lanka now has, Ranil Wickremesinghe stands alone – still unmatched.

(The writer can be reached via sjturaus@optusnet.com.au.)

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