The March of Folly Continuing vacillation
Posted on April 17th, 2018

By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha Courtesy Ceylon Today

Two months after the Local Government Elections, which made it clear that the country lacks confidence in the current Government, there has been no change in the course, or perhaps one should say the absence of any course, the government is embarked upon. Its only significant achievements thus far are agreeing to a UN Human Rights Council that puts the country in the dock, and the plundering of the country through manipulation of bond auctions.

The President, and almost everyone in his party, and several of those in the UNP, deplore both these achievements, and it is clear there has been nothing to counter them which would convince this country to continue with the Government if it were permitted to choose. But given the current Constitutional position, we are stuck with this government for just over eighteen months more. It is conceivable that there could be a change, but that requires courage, which the President does not possess.

Decisiveness also seems generally beyond him, though when pushed to the wall he can act, as when he refused to reappoint Mahendran to the post he had abused, when he instituted a Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Bond Scam, when he made Vasantha Senanayake State Minister of Foreign Affairs when Ranil wanted Anoma Gamage, when he made Ranjith Madduma Bandara Minister of Law and Order when Ranil wanted Sarath Fonseka, and when he abolished Ranil’s Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM).

Putting decisions off

But in general, because he does not always have the courage of his convictions, the President puts decisions off, and then even backtracks when he thinks he might suffer. So, in 2015 he decided, against the advice of his more revengeful supporters, to give Mahinda Rajapaksa a nomination for the General Election. That made sense, because the SLFP would have been decimated otherwise, or might indeed have abandoned him and gone with Mahinda since the writing was on the wall.

But then, having made that decision, he panicked, and sabotaged the campaign, by rude letters to Mahinda and then by sacking the Secretaries of the SLFP and the UPFA a couple of days before the election, so that the UNP did better than the UPFA.

That is why he continues in a mess, having to work with a Prime Minister he finds at best difficult. But since he thought Mahinda Rajapaksa would be more difficult, instead of doing his arithmetic and realizing that Mahinda could not be Prime Minister when a coalition had to be formed, he gave in to the revengeful, and ended a weaker President than he need have been.

The same seems to have happened this time. Having made it clear that he did not want Ranil to continue as Prime Minister, he watched happily as the No-Confidence Motion was prepared.

He seemed to think then that all members of the SLFP, except for Duminda Dissanayake, whose allegiance is clearly to Chandrika rather than to him, would follow his lead. And so they would have done had he made his position clear, instead of playing around and getting other people to do what could only be persuasion rather than iteration of policy.

And when that persuasion did not fully succeed, given that he did not give clear direction, again thinking the numbers might not add up, he panicked, and thus ensured that they could not. Thus, he left the brave members of the UNP who had spoken out, and the less brave who would nevertheless have voted to get rid of Ranil if they were sure of success, in the lurch.

Once again, then his lack of courage has left him in a greater mess than before. In January 2015, when he was the toast of the nation, and could easily have commanded a Parliamentary majority, he abdicated power to Ranil and to Chandrika whom he thought of as a safeguard for the SLFP, even while she was intent on destroying it. So, the first six months of his Presidency passed with no attention whatsoever to the pledges of his manifesto save the only one in which Ranil and his sidekick Jayampathy were interested.

Then, when the Bond Scam worked, and D.E.W. Gunasekara and the rest of us worked overtime to present a coherent report (and Sujeewa Senasinghe and Rosy Senanayake worked overtime to stymie us), he panicked when a No-Confidence Motion against Ranil was threatened, and dissolved Parliament prematurely.

Electoral reform

That incidentally is why electoral reform was put on hold and, when it was thought of again, it was in terms of experimenting without any clear principles with regard to local elections.

That is why the President now has to declare that the system should be changed whereas, had he engaged in full consultation of those who understood a mixed system, the country would not have to foot a massive bill for far too many Councillors. And of course the opportunity was not taken to streamline their functions, to ensure closer consultation of local interest groups, to limit overlaps with the powers of other elected bodies.

Having dissolved Parliament too soon, with most of his promised agenda forgotten, he played games during the election which led to Ranil getting what came close to a Parliamentary majority in August 2015.

I can then understand his permitting his party, or at least part of it, to join the Government, since clearly it would have been a betrayal of everything he stood for to have driven Ranil into the arms of a TNA that was now more rapacious than it had been for years. But it was completely wrong to call this Hybrid Government a National Government and therefore bloat the Cabinet. Unfortunately, he was aided and abetted in this wasteful exercise by someone who should have known better, Karu Jayasuriya, who seems to relish the role of lapdog to which his leader has reduced him.

That government continued for thirty months without challenge, by the simple expedient of postponing elections, which as happened to the last government with the Northern Provincial Council Election, which it should be noted Gota advised against postponing, led to feeling building up against the Government.

So, the SLPP triumphed but, without listening to the country and clearly declaring that it was his obligation to have a new Prime Minister who commanded confidence, he vacillated and allowed Ranil to claim that, whatever the country might think, Parliament had confidence in him.

Nearly two weeks have passed since that affirmation, or rather the negation of the idea that Parliament did not have confidence in him and the Government. But despite that negation, the lack of a clear mandate to continue with a productive programme of government, which after all is what is required of government, not management of crises of its own creation, has meant that the country is suffering a much longer nonagatha than it copes with during the New Year period.

The SLFP is torn between those who think they have a future, and want to abandon what they see as a sinking ship, and those who think they have no future and want to take their money and run. The nicer amongst the latter, in which number I count Mahinda Amaraweera, hopes that there will be a sea change, but that is ineffably foolish of him and nothing will change Ranil, who perhaps also thinks he has no future and wants to allow those who will fund him for the future to take their money and run. And of course he will plot as his uncle JR did to postpone elections, so that he can cling to power for as long as possible.

Initiating change

How that particular game will play itself out cannot be predicted. The President can make it clear that he is prepared to initiate change, by getting rid of Duminda Dissanayake, and now that he has openly suggested that Chandrika has no idea what is going on in the party, perhaps he will have the courage to appoint a new SLFP Secretary. But I do hope that those who are demanding change will accept Mahinda Amaraweera for a few months more at least, to see if he is able to persuade the President, who seems to trust only him of those in Parliament, to shift gear more swiftly.

And meanwhile we wait and see what will happen in the UNP. Once again, we see promises of change, and deadlines being given only to be shifted almost immediately. My own view is that nothing will change in the short term, and we will for instance find Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, being made General Secretary of the Party while also retaining his ministerial portfolio. And perhaps Mangala will become Chairman of the Party, while presiding over financial policies that will alienate the country even more.

But, while change is unlikely, it is good to see greater efforts to promote alternative perspectives. That Navin Dissanayake did best in the internal UNP poll indicates that the party has realized it needs a very different image. Navin is nothing like Gamini, who was turning into a superb leader when the Tigers got rid of him, but the fact that the party wants someone like him shows its understanding of what it lost when Gamini Dissanayake was replaced by Ranil.

And meanwhile, though those who spoke out had to take a back step, amongst them are enough principled persons who will ensure that, the more Ranil prevaricates, the more pressures will mount on him, from the party as well as the country at large.

One Response to “The March of Folly Continuing vacillation”

  1. NAK Says:

    Rajive has kept the viceroy prince who played a major role in twisting Sirisena’s neck completely out of the picture.

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