Rickety yahapalana bus chugs along… Will Sirisena drive towards anarchy or safety?
Posted on April 17th, 2018

By Arjuna Ranawana Courtesy Ceylon Today

A popular expression in North America is Who is driving the bus?”, it means who is in charge? Most of us travel by bus and they are the bane of our lives. The private buses competing with each other for passengers, stopping everywhere to pick up people, but refusing to stop for them to get off are universally hated, but it is something we have to put up with.  Buses being so much a part of our lives, I thought it would be good to use the bus analogy to describe the politics of today.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s bus was like one of those super-luxury vehicles you see, taking high-end tourists to resorts. High above the road, with tinted glasses that ensconced the passengers, it was full of family and friends. In the bus, they were wined and dined with the best and they had more than anyone who was not on it. The bus was policed by a fierce Conductor who would decide who could get on the bus and any disorderly passengers were evicted.

This bus sped along and once it gathered speed all others on our unruly roads stepped aside lest, they were crushed beneath the juggernaut.

Anyone who opposed them was mowed down. After Rajapaksa was defeated in both the presidential elections and parliamentary in 2015 that bus was dented and looked headed for the scrap yard.

The Unity Government bus driven by President Maithripala Sirisena reminds me of some of the ancient buses that used to ply the unpaved country roads in and around Bibile, in the early seventies. These vehicles had been sold off by departing troops after the Second World War. American built they had wonderful engines and very strong chassis and suspension.

Passengers got in and off randomly and the crowded buses were also stuffed with farmers produce and had people hanging off the sides. The Conductor played a dual role, because the gearboxes were so old that when the bus got moving he had to jam sticks against the gear lever to prevent it from slipping.

The wheels were also not all of the same size, but it did not matter because the roads were so deeply rutted.

There was an air of imminent collapse, but the atmosphere was benign. But they chugged along.

Erratic behaviour

So, when the Local Government Polls results showed Rajapaksa’s sleek new bus the Pohottuwa clearly ahead, the rickety Yahapalanaya bus behaved erratically. Although his party had come third, President Sirisena initiated moves to remove Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe from his post. In many ways he felt that the PM was not allowing him to wield power and it would be best for him to remove him and make the LG results a reason to appoint a replacement of his choice. Now, the driver was trying to wreck the bus.

Former Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala is on record as saying that Sirisena asked the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Members of Parliament supporting him to vote for a No-Confidence Motion against Wickremesinghe in Parliament on 4 April that was being proposed by the Rajapaksa faction of the party.

At the big test, Wickremesinghe sailed through with flying colours with more than half of the Sirisena faction absenting themselves from the vote and right now the UNP bus looks as if someone had given it a new coat of paint.

Since then, the Yahapalanaya bus, although looking like it was restored, was lying in the middle of the road going nowhere as the driver was at the wheel but not driving it. Dazed and confused, the SLFP/UPFA combine in Parliament then turned on each other. The Rajapaksa faction or Joint Opposition accused Sirisena and his group of not keeping their side of the bargain and screamed ‘betrayal.’

The President let us down,” JO spokesmen said. The SLFPers who voted with the JO turned on their colleagues who failed to be present in Parliament at voting time. The two groups each said that they had followed the collective will of the party. It was never known whether the group had reached a consensus on which course of action they were to follow.

With his faction in disarray like a driver trying to coax errant passengers who had got off the bus to climb back on board, Sirisena tried his very best to keep the entire SLFP group that had initially supported the Unity Government with him.

He told the Media on 7 April that he was inviting all MPs who want to strengthen the Government to join me.” But the UNP demanded that the 16 MPs who voted against Wickremesinghe leave the Government on the grounds that they had no right to sit in a Cabinet headed by the PM. Eventually they did resign on 11 April and fall off the bus.

Finally, Sirisena gave up nearly ten days after the NCM and accepted that the 16 can go, and swore in others to replace them.

Overcoming anarchy

At a seminar held on the Easter weekend in Colombo, several days before the anti-Wickremesinghe vote was taken, various experts debated the question How do we overcome Anarchy” in respect of the current situation in the country which has been described by the Pohottuwa leader Prof. G L Peiris as anarchic.

One of the speakers at the seminar was Prof. Desmond Mallikarachchi who argued that anarchy had not yet set in. The country is in a mess, it is confused but not anarchic,’’ he said. Anarchy he said is when different parts of the country will be controlled by different armed groups like Afghanistan was at one time.

But after the current episode Mallikarachchi says anarchy maybe nearer.
In his 7 April Media conference Sirisena said that the NCM against Wickremesinghe was mooted because there were requests from my group as well as several MPs from the United National Party.” Sources close to the President said that the idea was to incorporate all these elements as well as break off MPs from the Rajapaksa faction so that Sirisena could install a Government with MPs beholden to him.

After 4 April, the 16 dissenters who resigned their Government positions have decided to sit in Opposition and it is no secret that the Rajapaksa-faction would welcome them into their fold. The 26 SLFP/UPFA MPs who stayed with the Government naturally would get closer to the UNP and the rest of the UPFA is already with Rajapaksa. A dejected aide to the President said, He expected to get them all under him, but now he has lost them all.”

Sirisena leaves for London tomorrow (16) to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and returns on the 25th and one of first meetings will a Central Committee Meeting of the SLFP at which the party is expected to decide whether they would stay with the Unity Government or leave. After that it needs to be seen where Sirisena will drive the bus to, anarchy or safety.

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