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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Ranil Rajapaksa: Arrogance of Power !

Pride is said to come before a fall. A few months before his ouster, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa audaciously declared in public that his word had to take precedence over government circulars, and the state officials had to do his bidding. Intoxicated with power, President Mahinda Rajapaksa went so far as to have Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake hounded out of her job for refusing to lick the Rajapaksas’ sandals, and manipulated Parliament to compass that end. President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who rode roughshod over the legislature and his political opponents, eventually found himself up a creek. We have had many such leaders who exuded arrogance from every pore before suffering painful pratfalls. The arrogance of power presages a leader’s downfall. This is something the self-important grandees of the failed SLPP-UNP regime ought to take cognisance of.

It is public officials such as the Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration Neil Hapuhinna, Government Printer Gangani Liyanage and Secretary to the Finance Ministry Mahinda Siriwardena who drew flak for trying to scuttle the local government (LG) elections, but it became clear yesterday that they were only puppets and the puppeteer was none other than President Ranil Wickremesinghe.

President Wickremesinghe, speaking in Parliament, on Thursday, sought to poor-mouth the Election Commission (EC) and the Opposition while trying to justify the government’s decision to delay the LG polls. In response to the Opposition’s protests against the postponement of the LG polls, he claimed that there had been no election to begin with, and therefore the question of a poll postponement did not arise. Insisting that the EC had been divided on the conduct of the mini polls, he cast aspersions on the EC Chairman. What one gathered from his jokes, which only the fawning government MPs found amusing, snide remarks, and facetious comments was that he did not care two hoots about dissenting views and the independence of the EC. He defended the Secretary to the Finance Ministry, who refused to allocate funds for the EC and the Government Printer, who stopped printing ballot papers.

On listening to President Wickremesinghe yesterday, we were reminded of something he did in 2015, when questions were raised by the Opposition in Parliament about the Treasury bond scam, which had just been exposed. He sought to make light of the issue, and disparaged the Opposition MPs by claiming that they did not know a Treasury bond from James Bond! He insisted that there had been no wrongdoing, and defended the then Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran to the hilt. But it was subsequently established that the Treasury bond scam had taken place, and Mahendran had been involved in it. The bond racketeers obviously carried out that sordid operation at the behest of their political masters, who needed money, having just returned from the political wilderness. But they were thrown to the wolves. So, the public officials who carry out illegal orders and allow crafty politicians to use them as a cat’s paw to pull out political chestnuts such as poll postponements out of the fire had better learn from what befell the likes of Mahendran.

When a government fails to carry out its duties and functions properly and bungles economic management, it has to resign, paving the way for an election. But having ruined the economy, the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe regime is now using the country’s bankruptcy to remain in power without holding elections! It is now clear that neither the President nor the SLPP/UNP respects the decisions of the EC or the rights and freedoms of the people. The possibility of the government using the country’s economic woes to postpone all elections indefinitely cannot be ruled out.

President Wickremesinghe has thrown down the gauntlet. Will the Opposition pick it up and protect the people’s franchise or continue to be all bark and no bite, causing leaderless protests to erupt with the irate public going on the offensive?

Editorial, The Island/23.02.23

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