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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Sirisena-Ranil And The Art Of The Possible – Kumar David

“Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall”

“Excellent joke!”

The S&R combination is working well
The S&R combination is working well

Whether this is a Ranil-Sirisena (R&S) government or an S&R one, is significant. It certainly started off with all the trumps and partnership seniority in Ranil’s hands, but time and completion of the 100-Day tasks has moved the equation into an S&R domain; so I will use this acronym assigning political seniority to the President. Typical of the shift is that Ranil asked for dissolution of parliament but President Sirisena, sweating under SLFP heat seems to be holding out for later, hinting at August-September. Pulling in different directions on this issue is understandable; though the calculations on both sides I believe are erroneous. The UNP opines that it will do better under the existing PR scheme while the SLFP (I hope not under the influence of astrological opium again) seems deluded that electorates which voted for Rajapaksa on 8 January are theirs for the asking.

I have stuck up a rude finger at conventional wisdom and been proven right before, so I make bold to say that both are mistaken. The SLFP will be decimated in a first-past-the-post (FPtP) contest even worse than in Proportional Representation (PR) because most of its candidates are scoundrels and social dregs; if the UNP can put up a list of half decent fellows (don’t expect more) it will make gains. As an example, Vasudeva though not a rogue, only (sic!) political traitor, will not hold his seat in an FPtP contest. In one-to-one FPtP contests, sans Gotabhaya’s uniformed killers and minus Basil’s robbed billions, SLFP candidate list will be routed except, perhaps, in the deep South. FPtP will benefit the UNP more than the SLFP. If PR however, the SLFP block vote will guarantee it a reasonable number of seats.

I also believe that the SLFP casting lustful eyes on the 90 electorates that voted pro-Mahinda in January is folly. The effects of the fiasco of his defeat, exposure of a web of crime and intrigue, and the breakup of the network of infamy have been devastating. The Party has been sapped and to put it bluntly, the SLFP is weak and Mahinda a spent force. The Mafia State erected in the Mahinda period has not been dismantled; oh no, only the surface scratched and still a long way to go, but the rogue battalions have been frightened and their ability to intervene in elections shrunk. Should Rajapaksa loonies part company with the Sirisena SLFP and go it alone I cannot see more than 10 seats go their way in FPtP – only in the South – and if PR, even less. Hence survival for the Rajapaksa loony faction is predicated on hanging on to the SLFP and bargaining for nominations. It is out of the question that President Sirisena will offer Rajapaksa the PM slot but the resignation of Yapa Abeywardena, Dilan Perera, Pavitra and CB Ratnayake is at odds with this common sense view and signals a deeper plot. I grant this article is an opinion piece but these thoughts are worth frank debate.

President Sirisena’s dilemma is straightforward and I have sympathy. He is the head of the SLFP and in this capacity it is his obligation to nurture its performance and naturally he does not wish to be the chairman who presides over its decline. Hence not only the Rajapaksa loony faction but also the Sirisena mainstream sees the need to avoid a split. Formally, Sirisena’s task is not to help Ranil become the next prime minister but to ensure the SLFP does well. I am not suggesting the President will manoeuvre the 20th Amendment to benefit his party; not at all. All I say is that without prejudice to his position as head of state, and irrespective of the electoral system, he will (he must) do his bit to improve the SLFP’s fortunes. Hence to avoid a split he will throw crumbs in the direction of the Rajapaksa loonies and consolidate the SLFP vote. The UNP doesn’t like it, but hell what does it expect? That the SLFP Chairman undermines his own party?

The President’s dilemma

Herein lies the crux of an unenviable dilemma for the President, and to a degree the Prime Minister and the UNP. The S&R combination is working well. If one grants that nothing is perfect and the shortcomings – which I will presently touch on – are not fatal, the government is working as well as a bourgeois-democratic contraption can be expected to. Has a decade in the Rajapaksa sewer so lowered the bar that I am easily satisfied by modest gains? Maybe, but what I am trying to say is something different. As the Americans say “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” That is to say, if the S&R engine is chugging along, and if Messrs S and R are working well with each other (the importance of the subjective side can not be overemphasised) then why open Pandora’s Box?

It may sound sacrilegious to the SLFP but the truth is that President Sirisena is better off with Ranil as his prime minister for the next five years than if the SLFP wins the election and foists some incompetent nincompoop as prime ministerial partner. Of course Sirisena cannot say this openly, but in private he can hope. A national government, per se, will not work in the period ahead, but one that additionally marries a Sirisena presidency to a Wickremesinghe prime ministership might. The crisis in the SLFP is driving the two closer together and forcing the President into a quick dissolution.

The sting in the tail

No unabashed, unrepentant and unapologetic Marxist should finish an essay without bitching about the state of the world or the nation. I will leave the world at large to a future date: Is the global economic recovery a myth? Is ISIL beckoning Armageddon? Why is Pope Francis the most popular man on the planet? Why are the frontiers of theoretical physics in confounded confusion? Instead, I will make do with a smaller national canvas today.

Having sung hosannas to S&R Ltd. it is time for a little course correction; otherwise I will be lynched by unsentimental hard-core realists. The question is are all the shortcomings of the S&R administration a consequence of the most that could be achieved under intractable constraints imposed by circumstances, or was it possible to have achieved more? The verdict is mixed. 19A had to be passed with a 2/3 majority, that was sine qua non or the government would have perished. Punches had to be pulled and rotten apples swallowed through gritted teeth (what a metaphor!) to get it enacted. I grant limitation of presidential powers instead of abolition falls into this category. But why an inane Council of State whose inmates will be over 80% appointed by the leader of the UNP and leader of the SLFP, because that is the reality?

And why capitulate and replace seven good men on the Constitutional Council by seven parliamentarians? Parliamentarians are just the persons who SHOULD NOT be included on the Council if one respects the principle of division of power between the three branches of the state. Refusing this capitulation would have brought down the vote on 19A from a 215-to-1 majority to say, 190-to-30, still safely over 2/3rds. Politically however, it would have been a much better result as it would have isolated and exposed the saboteurs of the Rajapaksa looney mob for what they are; wreckers with no concern for constitutional amendment, hell bent on disrupting the government and salvaging Rajapaksa and his retinue of crony criminals. A wonderful opportunity to carry 19A with about 190 votes and show up the wreckers was lost because at the 11th hour both R&S got butterflies in their soft bellies; indeed “some by virtue fall” (Measure for Measure).

Everybody, yours faithfully included, has been complaining loudly that the R&S (note order reversal) administration has wasted useful months going easy on the blackguards of the previous regime who robbed and abducted with no hesitation. OK, my prayer that with the fall of the regime these scoundrels, siblings included should be strung up on lamp-posts, like Benito Mussolini, was too much for the good Lord to grant. But the snail’s pace of prosecution has been painful. Now with 19A done and dusted why do prosecutors still fear to storm the breach?

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man

As modest stillness and humility.

But when the blast of war blows in our ears,

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;

And lend the eye a terrible aspect”.

(Henry V; Some lines omitted)

Professor Carlo Fonseka had rather an odd take on the alleged activism of the Sirisena administration in “President Sirisena and the Law” (Island, 21 May). He suggested the president was a revolutionary activist historically somewhat above the law when he kicked out bogus Chief Justice Mohan Peries and when he appointed Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister. Only a few weeks previously (“Strike while the iron is hot”, Sunday Island , 3 May) I had grumbled how diffident this government was compared to the revolutionary resolve of the Jacobins without whose intervention the tasks of the French Revolution would never have been completed. Same concepts, two opposing conclusions! Prof Carlo enjoys revolutionary history and is fond of his collection of Shakespeare studies. Time to get back to the library Prof; lock the door and work on fundamentals!

– The Island


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