The march of folly The mirror cracks
Posted on August 29th, 2017

Rajiva Wijesinha Courtesy Ceylon Today

Developments in the two weeks I was away suggest that the government is, a year before I expected it, hurtling towards its end. Or rather I should say towards its end as we know it, since the manner in which the Elections Bill was changed at whim suggests that we are back to the days of J. R. Jayewardene and his manoeuvres to stay in power at any cost.

We can therefore expect strategies on the lines of the first few amendments to the Constitutions which

Stymied the Courts which had delivered a judgment in favour of Sirimavo Bandaranaike when J.R. was engaged in stripping her of her Civic Rights

Allowed him to have a Presidential election at a convenient time whereas the Constitution had earlier had fixed terms which is the norm with regard to an Executive Presidency

Permitted a Referendum to extend the term of Parliament even though the Constitution itself specifically laid down that the term of that Parliament, elected under the first-past-the-post system, ended in July 1983

Joint Opposition

Unfortunately, the Joint Opposition is not very good at dealing with such manoeuvres, and we will see much sleight of hand with regard to perverting democracy in the months to come. The only positive aspect is that the President I think has a conscience and will not be the lead plotter, as Jayewardene was. But his conscience has not always triumphed. And as we saw when he dissolved Parliament before fulfilling his solemn promises, or when he sacked the secretaries of the parties he headed, including the coalition group which allowed him no such authority, he can be panicked into behaving badly.

The fact then that his heart still seems to be in the right place, as shown by his robust defence of the Attorney General’s Department against UNP calumnies, may not prove enough to save us from a repetition of the horrors of the mid-eighties. But the behaviour of others suggests that they too know that sticking with the Wickremesinghe formula of lopsided and selective development will destroy the last vestiges of popular favour.

The satisfaction Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe exudes suggests that he has no regrets about what has happened. This is in contrast to Ravi Karunanayake’s evident disappointment at the manner in which he was made to go. And whereas Ranil was able to replace Ravi with one of his trusted acolytes, the fact that he had to hand over justice to Thalatha Athukorale, who also has a conscience and understands how unreliable Ranil is, suggests that his grip over his party is loosening.

Challenges

Of course this has happened before, and he was able to overcome the challenges that for instance Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa – and indeed Gamini Athukorale way back in 2001 – were thinking of launching. But even if he clings to power as he has so brilliantly done for 23 years, he has obviously lost the authority he regained by his support for Maithripala Sirisena at the 2015 election.

Another interesting indication of this is the fact that Champika Ranawaka has begun to pronounce more boldly now. Way back in 2015, it will be remembered, when he was in the forefront of the effort to stop Ranil abolishing the Presidency, he declared:

“Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe must take the responsibility for the controversial sale of Central Bank Bonds as long as Arjuna Mahendran holds the post of CB Governor.”,

He said the Anti-Corruption Committee headed by the Prime Minister was biased when it came to several incidents including the Bond sales, the floating armoury, Avant Garde and RADA.

“The ministers including me and Minister Rajitha Senaratne opposed the appointment of Mahendran but the Prime Minister said it was one of his decisions and he will handle it,” the minister said.

Panicked

But then, when the President gave UPFA nomination to Mahinda Rajapaksa, he panicked and joined the UNP, which seemed in the next couple of years a gilded cage. Certainly we had nothing like the same intensity of public pronouncements as he had engaged in earlier, and indeed he contributed towards the muzzling also of Ven. Rathana when that worthy decided he needed to speak up.

Ven. Rathana has continued to be silent, but Champika weighed in once again on the bond issue earlier this month. I cannot now find the article, and I do not think he was quite as forthright in his criticisms of Ranil as he had been before being entrapped, but there seemed a spark again of the old radical. And though it is unlikely that he will make common cause with Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, he will certainly not linger behind if Rajapakshe seems to be taking over his nationalist credentials.

Meanwhile senior members of the SLFP are also moving towards more sensible positions. John Seneviratne, whom I noted some time back would be the best General Secretary of the SLFP, since he is widely trusted and has never been a sycophant, seems now to be taking a leading role in quietly advocating independence from UNP perspectives.

The President would do well to use him more, given that his original imposition on the party, Duminda Dissanayake, has neither the personality nor the clout to provide the leadership the party needs. And while poor Nimal Siripala de Silva, whom I much like, seems once again to have missed the bus, Susil Premjayanth has also begun to assert himself. He too is widely acceptable, and deserves a more prominent position.

But of course if the President decides that Ranil has to go before his involvement in the bond scam becomes more obvious, he would have to choose first from the UNP. And while Sajith and Karu are slow to pick up, I would suggest that Ranil himself has now provided the President with a popular and generally acceptable alternative.

If Thalatha does not try to impose party perspectives on the Attorney General’s Department, she could step into the shoes her brother would have filled admirably had it not been for his premature death.

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