Mahinda first to climb the Himalayan peak of power
Posted on September 1st, 2010

H. L. D. Mahindapala

Two landmark events projecting the political landscape in the coming years occurred almost simultaneously last week.

 First, President Mahinda Rajapakse reached the highest peak of his political career. If the defeat of Prabhakaran won the hearts and minds of the electorate at large, enthroning him as the unrivalled leader in the political arena, the silent parliamentary coup that took him across the critical line into a two-thirds majority last week has entrenched him as the constitutional monarch of all what he surveys. News reports stated that the new deal clinched with the SLMC includes support for constitutional changes. Spelt out in details this means that it ensures extending his term of office to an unlimited period. If all the proposed constitutional changes go through it would in effect guarantee a life time presidency to Mahinda Rajapakse with all the powers of the Executive Presidency vested in his hands. He now stands at the Himalayan peak of power reducing the opposition to abject impotence.

 Reaching this height has been the dream of all political leaders “”…” the dream of extending untrammeled power to a life time. J. R. Jayewardene, the father of the present Constitution, drafted it with the sole objective of not only fortifying himself inside an impenetrable constitutional fortress but also to retain that power for the rest of his life. In fact, he boasted that he has all the powers he needs except to change a man into a woman. But when he tried to change the constitution to give him a third term he failed. He failed even with the letters of resignation of MPs in his pocket. Mahinda Rajapakse, on the contrary, has overcome all obstacles even without a single letter of resignation from his MPs. He even managed deftly to make the final move of beating his opponent, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was the last stumbling block to gain total power. Wickremesinghe was threatening not to cooperate with constitutional changes if the President fails to give in to his demands. But by winning over Rauf Hakeem, the leader of the SLMC with seven seats, the President has reduced Wickremesinghe to an irrelevant entity with a nuisance value more than a threat. Hakeem’s votes takes him across the line to a total of 154 legislators  “”…” and President Rajapakse needs only 150 to make him the absolute power in Sri Lanka.

 This leads to the second point. If last week marked the rise of President Rajapakse to the highest peak of power it also marked the decline of Ranil Wickremesinghe to the lowest depths in his political career. With Wickremesinghe hitting rock bottom he has opened the way for Mahinda Rajapakse to consolidate his position as the head of one of the strongest governments ever in the post-independence era. Besides, the major two scourges of the post-independence era “”…” 1.the debilitating violence of Tamil separatism of the north and 2. the futile Marxist violence of the south  “”…”- are no longer hovering menacingly over the heads of Sri Lankans.. And with the weakest opposition declining daily into a state of desuetude, the political landscape is wide open for immense possibilities, surpassing even the Singaporean or the Malaysian models.

 Irrespective of our personal preferences on this aspect of the consolidation of almost total power in the hands of President Rajapakse, the irrefutable, objective, non-judgmental, value free and inescapable political fact is that Sri Lanka has to live with it the foreseeable future. Whether it is going to be good or bad is yet to be seen. Fears have been raised about the tendency of absolute power running berserk. Perceptive analysts like Gomin Dayasiri has already drawn attention to the “Yes, Mr. President” culture raising its ugly head. It is a warning that must be heeded mainly because there is no formidable opposition. In fact, President Rajapakse is now placed in the enviable position of playing in a field where he can kick goal after goal with ease any time he wants. After last week there is none to oppose him and restrain him in a meaningful way.

 In a democracy the task of preventing rulers running rough shod over the people lies mainly with the opposition. But last week Wickremesinghe lost the last bit of power he had to challenge the President when Rauf Hakeem abandoned him and pledged his support to Mahinda Rajapakse. Hakeem was Wickremesinghe’s staunchest ally and prop in the opposition. With Hakeem backing Rajapakse there is nothing in the way of the government to flatten Wickremesinghe. Whether we like it or not “”…” and leaving aside Lord Acton’s dictum of absolute power corrupts absolutely —  we have to hand it over to Mahinda Rajapakse that he has proved to be the consummate leader who had acquired absolute power through the norms available in the democratic process.

 Earlier he had won at the grassroots level by scoring a victory close enough to a near two thirds majority. But that was not good enough to elevate him with legal and constitutional powers to shape the world around him according to his gospel. Parliament was still in command of the numbers needed to restrain him. Wickremesinghe’s last battles were to be in the pit of the Parliament where he was wheeling and dealing to combat Rajapakse for survival. But with Hakeem switching sides Wickremesinghe is now stranded like a duck without wings, without legs and most of all without water.

 Of course, the passage to total power was made easy because Rajapakse was sailing on the strength of the feel good factor that lifted the depressed spirits of the nation to new heights of hope. He rescued the nation not only from the impending disasters of the Tamil Tigers but also from Wickremesinghe who is still wedded to the failed pro-Tiger/CFA and pro-West ideologies. Nothing has contributed to consolidate the power Rajapakse than the negative and counter-productive politics of Wickremesinghe. He is destined to stagnate and disappear eventually into oblivion because he refuses to analyze objectively and learn the unforgiving forces of history that have rejected him each time he claims to be the leader of the future.

 Rajapakse can call the shots now without fear of parliamentary blocks from the leading opposition party led by Wickremesinghe, or his allies, if has any. In the absence of a solid opposition from any political party, either in the north or south, only the Supreme Court and/or a mass revolt of the people can stand in the way of the President. So if he can avoid provoking the people with arbitrary or arrogant acts only the Supreme Court can curtail his powers.

 Wickremesinghe, on the contrary, has nothing “”…” not even a formidable party — to fight back. Having played all his cards he has nothing up his sleeve to take the President by surprise. After he lost his electoral base Wickremesinghe last bargaining chip was in manipulating the Somahansa (“Jillmart”) Amerasinghe’s JVP + Mano Ganesan’s DPF + Sarath Fonseka’s DNF + Rauf Hakeem’s SLMC to confront the President. Besides, to remain as a credible leader of the opposition he needed the numbers. It is only with numbers that he could stand up to Mahinda Rajapakse and that is precisely what he lacks. The last hope was in Hakeem but he has now lost him too. What is left of Wickremesinghe can be sustained (not rescued) only if he can prevent his MPs from defecting to the other side. He has also to hold the remaining runt in the opposition by going into a coalition of sorts.

 Can he do that? One thing that he cannot do is to win and retain political loyalties even from the best of the UNPers. Mahinda Rajapakse has proved to be the master of this game. He is the most dynamic centre of political gravity attracting all minor satellites orbiting around him. Wickremesinghe has neither the bargaining power nor the personality to be the counterweight to his rival. In any case, his alliances with the JVP and the DNA are shaky. When it comes to the nitty-gritty they cannot be allied to his pro-West, pro-Tiger/CFA ideologies. If we are to believe the JVP and the DNA, Wickremesinghe has to dance to their tune which is not unlikely since he surrendered the leadership of the presidential campaign to Sarath Fonseka. The new developments of last week have left Wickremesinghe going down in a free fall.

 Hakeem led the only national, regional and ethnic bloc that stood solidly behind Wickremesinghe. The Tamils whom he wooed and backed would not have a bar of him. Even after he launched his last election campaign from Jaffna, mainly to convince the Tamils that he was more Tamil that Chelvanayakam or Prabhakaran, they refused to rally round him. Only Hakeem stood by him. Now that Wickremesinghe has lost Hakeem all hopes of the UNP rising again has gone down the drain. It couldn’t come at a worse time for him. His primary task is to hold the UNP together. He came very close to achieving it when Sajith Premadasa agreed to patch up their differences a fortnight ago. But Wickremesinghe undercut his own deal by leaking a concocted story slanted to portray his alleged triumph over Sajith Premadasa to the Sunday Times. That was the end of his victory. Angered by Wickremesinghe’s usual undercutting stunts Premadasa rejected the Deputy leadership and has decided to go his own way.

 This leaves Wickremesinghe as the leader of a divided party. The strength of a political leader is in the party. If he doesn’t have the party behind him he is nothing more than a wounded, legless war veteran stuck in a wheel chair. During his 16-year reign Wickremesinghe never had a firm grip on the party. In contrast President Rajapakse has emerged as the irresistible centre of political attraction Wickremesinghe has been the slippery centre that repels the best of UNPers. The failure to unite the UNP has been Wickremesinghe’s nemesis. His obsession to survive at any cost “”…” at the cost of his rank and file, at the cost of the party at large and at the cost of the nation (CFA) — is unacceptable and unpardonable in any democratic polity. He should have resigned honourably ages ago. Instead he insists on sitting at the top undercutting any rivals threatening his position.

 His only chance of regaining his lost reputation would be in the coming local government elections, due around December “”…” January. UNP Chairman, Gamini Jayawickrama Perera, told the media that UNP aims to enter the local government as a strong party. But Sajith Premadasa’s rejection of the offer of deputy leadership and Hakeem’s  switching sides has put this ambition on the “kota uda”, as they in the vernacular. The loss of Muslim votes from the SLMC will reduce the UNP electoral base to a new low. Besides, Abdul Cader, UNP, Kandy District, is facing charges for voting with government. On top of that Mano Ganesan’s brother, Prabha Ganesan, Colombo District, has crossed over to the government along with Palani Digambaran.

 Nothing seems to be going right for Wickremesinghe. Crest fallen and frustrated UNPers, now doomed to wander in a political wilderness in the coming years, have no way out as long as Wickremesinghe runs the UNP from his house at Cambridge Terrace with his “catcher” Sudath Chandrasekera, a former bodyguard and a school dropout,  at his side. Considering the fact that all factors have piled up against Wickremesinghe right now, critical UNPers seem to think that he is running the party to the ground. They are convinced that Rienzie Algama sacrificed his life in vain. Cynics in the UNP now say that the petrol that was delivered to Algama to set himself on fire should have been delivered to Cambridge Terrace which, they say, is one way of uniting and saving the UNP.

3 Responses to “Mahinda first to climb the Himalayan peak of power”

  1. dhane Says:

    Mr.Mahindapala you are a former ANCL Editorial Chief. You may be well aware how Ranil’s father Esmond ruined ANCL during his Chairmanship. So like father like son Ranil is ruining UNP.There is nothing new. I have told this many times & repeating.

  2. Raj Says:

    Ranil also must quit UNP and join UPFA.

  3. PRIYAN WIJEYERATNE Says:

    Isn’t he a “thani-ataya”. No one needs a “thani-ataya” to run any organisation, because it will soon be grounded.
    Ranil “palayan yanna”.

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