- After the No-Confidence Motion
It was like divine rain that ended a crippling and apocalyptic drought for Ranil Wickremesinghe and his United National Party. The initial gains of the Government under his leadership were soon forgotten and it seemed that he had lost all political will to go any further. The bravado and bluff politics of the former regime, now under the guise of the Pohottuwa, gave the illusion of heading for a ruthless re-emergence. Politics doesn’t tolerate perceived failure and Ranil’s terminal death seemed close at hand with even his own party men openly showing disgust. With the failure of the motion, Ranil Wickremasinghe, it appears again, seems to be politically unbreakable. But that, again, is another illusion.
Ranil’s image had been hurtling down at a rate especially since the results of the Local Government elections. Complaints were rife that he was indecisive and ambivalent with regard to “catching the thieves and murderers”. President Sirisena, his hitherto ally, had turned foe and he was out for Ranil’s blood. Rogue elements from the former regime – themselves facing serious charges – had been incorporated to the Government. These persons like Nimal Siripala, Susil Premajayanth, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, S.B. Dissanayake, and Dilan Perera had won the ears of the President and they, aided by Ranil haters Sri Lal Lankatilleka and Maithri Gunaratne, managed to poison the latter.
Sirisena had lost his sense of historical role in the Yahapalanaya revolution. Sirisena had even all but forgotten how he got to possess the crown. He began trying to redefine himself in an unsustainable and self-delusionary fashion as the one entrusted to bring in a SLFP Government sans corruption. Like King Leo, Maithripala Sirisena went mad and began behaving erratically.
All seemed set for the return of the dark age of Mahinda Rajapaksa where we witnessed the dismemberment of the law and justice system, the launching of brutal hit squads reportedly under his powerful brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, serious accusations of corruption, and the smudging and strangling of our economy with unpayable Chinese loans.
Right at this point of strength for Pohottuwa, came down a crushing head blow on the latter. It was poor political savviness on the part of the Joint Opposition and its unofficial leader Mahinda Rajapaksa to bring up the no confidence motion against the Prime Minister. Firstly, the Joint Opposition failed to garner the votes and lost with a big margin with many of its numbers abstaining. Second, and worse, was the bad exposure the leaders of the JO got in Parliament.
The channels of Sirasa were set to transmit the entire session in Parliament out to overseas diaspora persons like me and inside to all Sri Lankans in towns and villages, who were watching aghast. I believe that had been Kili Maharaja’s blunder in judgment as he thought it was going to mark his enemy Ranil Wickremesinghe’s night of shame ending the latter’s long career in Parliamentary politics. But Ranil’s stars are better positioned. He could not be vanquished even during a whole decade by the once-powerful authoritarian ruler, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Here, in my Australian home, I was watching most of the sessions until the end. I did miss a few good moments, unfortunately, but what I saw and listened to was most entertaining. What would befall those who hurl stones from glass houses befell the Joint Opposition Pohottuwa guys. Basil Rajapaksa, Susil Premajayanth, Anura P. Yapa, Wimal Weerawansa, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Nimal Siripala, Gotabaya, Mahinda himself and so many of the former JO bigwigs got it tight as all charges against them were spelled out. While Susil was addressing I could hear cries of “thell (petrol) hora!” Susil could merely keep jumping up and down like a jack-in-the box.
Mangala proved excellent in his exposures and so many others from the UNP and Muslim congress side. However, Anura Dissanayake, the JVP Leader, was best. Anura lashed Ranil as his party voted for the motion; yet, his detailed listing of charges against the former Government were more thorough and effective. It was abundantly clear that the JO was drowned in a holocaust of Parliamentary argument and invective.
TNA Leader Sampanthan in his characteristic sober manner questioned the very validity of the contents of the motion. He pointed out that none of the charges could be specific to the Prime Minister’s doings or misdoings. For instance, the failure to act fast enough during the recent Kandy riots cannot be specifically aimed on the PM as the President also shares that blame. The same with the bond issue, where the Prime Minister was not faulted by the commission. There were many stakeholders who had to share the blame.
President Maithripala Sirisena got a heavy load of attack from the JVP, while the UNP wisely kept silent on that. I cannot remember any past President heaping attack on himself in Parliament as Sirisena did last night. President Sirisena has to be aware and rectify himself soon since he has definitely gone bonkers and out of role during the recent days. While his office demands a level of dignity and distance from sectarian strife the President has transgressed that requirement. He is open for impeachment.
Okay, all the above was right. On the other hand, the most important lessons of this episode have to be learnt by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe because this is his last lifeboat. First, he must quicken the court proceedings against those accused. The proposed judicature laws will have to be re-tailored to meet the requirements of the Judiciary. Second, he must stand firm against having those Minsters in Government who voted for the resolution. These characters must be belted out. They are a despicable lot. This is not negotiable.
Third, Ranil must have a genuine change of heart and listen to his party and its backbenchers. He must keep tuned-in to the latter always and avoid charges that he is tied to his pals and Royal College elite. Fourth, Ranil must immediately make changes in the party that satisfies all and makes room for the next tier of leaders. I see Rosy Senanayake as solid potential. Finally, Ranil must be decisive in all the above and other decisions.
The Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe must recognise the historical role cast upon him as harbinger of the new order of Yahapalanaya. This includes ensuring that all citizens – the lowly and the powerful – are equal before the law; ensuring that liberty and freedom of expression is enthroned; that respect for human life and human rights are activated; that the State apparatus is secular; that firm steps for re-conciliation with our Tamil brethren are in place; that those still in prison camps in the north are quickly dealt with and released. Ranil is now focused a lot on our economy. This must be continued so that structural reforms to the economy are set in motion leaving the door open for growth and increase in national wealth.
To achieve these onerous tasks, the Government must be reorganised into self-propelling units driven by their own steam and power and headed by Ministers. The size of the Cabinet must come down to the legal 30, responsibilities clearly fixed and a system of feedback in operation. I must say his Economic Committee was no good and Sirisena was right there. To each such ministerial unit must be attached a few relevant technical consultants. This is what Lee Kuan Yew did when he was Prime Minister.
(The writer can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.)