No force can or will put asunder, what masses have put together, seems to hold good as Ranil and Maithri scratch their two year itch of wedded hitch It was in that bleak hour in the winter of Lanka’s discontent in the year 2014, that two men of diverse backgrounds were inexorably driven by fate’s [...]


Come or go Chicago, Sirisena vows to see through his first presidential term


No force can or will put asunder, what masses have put together, seems to hold good as Ranil and Maithri scratch their two year itch of wedded hitch
It was in that bleak hour in the winter of Lanka’s discontent in the year 2014, that two men of diverse backgrounds were inexorably driven by fate’s summons to share adversity’s straw lined mattress.

PRESIDENT MAITHRIPALA SIRISENA: Birthday boy celebrating with 66 candles on his cake today

One was born with the silver spoon stuck fixedly in his mouth. The other was born with the mammoty his forefathers had held for long to till the land. One slid suavely into Colombo 7’s comfy settees in elegant drawing rooms of the posh whilst the other found his natural setting in the nation’s paddy fields.

If there was anything of a common nature they shared it was that they went to Royal for their education. Esmond Wickremesinghe the son in law of newspaper baron, founder of the Lake House newspapers D. R. Wijewardena sent his son Ranil to Royal College in Colombo whilst Albert Sirisena sent his first born son Maithripala to Royal Central College in Polonnaruwa.

Both took to politics from an early age and though Ranil was thrown in at the deep end by his Uncle JR to sink or swim in the UNP pool, Maithri rose through the ranks of the SLFP. Both, it seemed, at that time 12 years ago, were destined to remain as fixtures in Parliament. One permanently fixed to the Opposition leader’s seat, the other stuck to the secretary ship of the SLFP with no hope of making it to the top for the Rajapaksa dominated power structure ensured that the bottle neck was exclusively reserved for the Rajapaksa dynasty.

Though Ranil had his brief hours of power as Prime Minister twice – as brief as the life of a mayfly – Maithri was reduced to the role of an evangelist, a lay preacher damning the evils of smoking from every pulpit he could find. But they both had two things in common: ambition and patience. The lust for power coupled with the belief that everything comes to those who wait. And just when the public had almost given up on the duo and considered them well past their shelf lives, and held them as two who had missed the bus and condemned them as ‘gederatanakiwena’ spinsters, fate played its hand to bring together the odd couple – Ranil, the born and bred capitalist, Maithri with the leftist bent who, in 1971, was incarcerated unjustly as a suspected JVP member during the youth insurrection – to tie the nuptials in a somewhat unholy matrimony to serve, out of expediency, the demanding needs of a nation in dire strait.

MATCHMAKER: Former president Chandrika who brokered the deal

Of course, it was a marriage of convenience and neither party had any romantic illusions that it was anything but that. Brokered by former President Chandrika who acted as the matchmaker, and proposed and blessed by the venerable Sobitha Thera, Ranil brought the dowry of millions of votes whilst Maithri brought to the wedding feast the best dish – himself, the clean white clad groom with clean hands who, though risen from the dregs of the Rajapaksa mire, had risen unsullied to bloom as the white lotus of Lanka’s hopes.

But the graffiti was already writ large on the wall. And it read, no one expects the ‘item’ to last for long. Even the pre-nuptial agreement, signed on December 1, 2014 with Ven. Sobitha also signing as a witness, recognised the reality and made provision accordingly. But while it lasted, it provided that Ranil, as Prime Minister, would do the dishes in the kitchen whilst Maithri, as President, would stay in the master bed room and bark the orders – though most of the time, as events came to pass and made clear, his voice didn’t carry to echo in the dwelling’s galley.

But miracles do happen in real life and it has happened in the case of Maithri and Ranil’s wedlock. Mainly it had been due to Maithri’s inclination and temperament to play the role of the henpecked husband to Ranil’s imposition of petticoat government. But make no mistake. There have been many a time the man in Maithri had roared and tamed the shrew in Ranil to meekly surrender. It is that give and that take on both sides of the political bed that had ensured that the tempestuous union is still alive and kicking; lending credence to that age old adage that the family that fights together, stays together.

But it nearly floundered on the rocks not even two weeks after the arranged union was first consummated on January 9th when Maithri said, “I will” to the nation’s invitation to assume the presidency; and then proceeded to tie around Ranil’s neck the prime ministerial thali, even though some of Maithri’s own family at the DiyawannaOya House appeared not to repose any confidence in Ranil at that time. But Ranil’s dower had come with a price tag that demanded that Ranil’sneck be so adorned with the Mangala Sutra thread.

The first crack appeared when Ranil appointed Arjuna Mahendran as the chairman of Central Bank, much against the wishes of Maithri And when the bond scam broke in late February 2015, it seemed that Yahapalanaya had lost its much professed virginity and that the PM had added a drop of muck to the glass of pristine white milk, Maithri had offered the nation to share and sip with him as President. And even today, two years and more after the event, that one indiscretion, that one gross misjudgment, that one preposterous blunder has served to taint and tar the white pavada, a credulous nation had laid out in earnest for Maithri and Ranil to walk with heads held high in that spring sunshine when the heavens opened up and granted reprieve to a nation in distress.

ARCHITECT: Ven Sobitha Thera who blessed the union for the nation’s sake

Alas, like Eve’s folly of eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree in a moment of mindlessness which drove her and Adam east from the Garden of Eden, that original sin has hovered like a phantom of doom and, ever since then, has threatened to banish both Maithri and Ranil from the sunny uplands and plunge them to the sewer of public opprobrium. What a pity, what a tragedy, what a crime that such an uncalled for incident should blight Lanka’s lotus hopes – and so early in the dawn of its bloom.

On August 31st last year, Mahendran’s tenure as Central Bank Governor came to its contractual end. But he – this Lankan born Singapore citizen by choice – refused to vacate the sizzling seat of office, made increasingly hot as more and more scandalous details of the bond scam surfaced. He had the audacity, the sheer nerve, the impudence to demand of the Government to extend his tenure of office – as if the nation owed him a special debt for enriching his son-in-law with a Rs 5 billion bond bonanza under his watch, whether or no he had any hand in the grant. Whilst Ranil wished him stay, it took Maithri to pay a presidential visit to the Central Bank to show Mahendran the door out. And thus, perhaps, saved the Yahapalanaya bacon from being burnt beyond digestible redemption; publicly barbequed beyond recognition on the charcoal stove of public opinion. .

There were other differences also, as it is common in any healthy relationship – lovers’ tiffs that recreate the magic, that break the monotony of never ending bliss – and it’s common for envious and curious neighbours to eavesdrop, espy and spread the bad word that the end’s nigh for the marriage that was not made in the heavens but forged in Lanka’s grassroots; born ‘from the soil of people’s hard necessities.”

But then, in that same year, when the August general election results revealed that Ranil’s UNP had been crowned by the public to hold the highest number of seats in Parliament; and when none could lay the charge that he did not command the confidence of the majority of the House – though, of course he fell six seats short, – a mere hurdle that could have been jumped with a little bit of horse dealing with the other minority factions in Parliament – the UNP leader, to his credit, did not kick the Maithri ladder he had used to climb to the top but strengthened it further to make his final ascent by entering into another memorandum of understanding between the UNP and the SLFP to keep their matrimony for a further two years. Maithri and Ranil both knew they needed each other.

MAITHRI AND RANIL: Odd couple but still walking hand in hand

That pact signed for a period of two years on August 21 in 2015 expired last week. But not before mutual survival and common interest had given it another four months breathing space. Two months ago, Maithri and Rail verbally agreed to give their see saw relationship another chance, another shot, until the end of December. But whilst Ranil was riding his sledge declaring the bonds will last till 2020, Maithri was not so sure what Santa would bring in his sack, come Christmas.

This Wednesday, he announced to senior media personnel and editors at a meeting held at the Presidential Secretariat that, come what may, he was determined to see through his first presidential term; that he was confident of completing his full five-year term.
He further declared that he was in control “in spite of various statements attributed to various political party spokesmen,” and dismissed recent speculative reports regarding the stability and future of the ‘unity’ government. And said if there were to be a parting of their ways in 2018: “I will continue with my mandate. I will continue with those willing to join the administration.”

For the last two years there have been the highs and the lows. The high tide and the low ebb. The fights followed by the smiles. The near breakups soon followed by the make-ups.For instances there has been the case of the SLFP and UNP speaking in different voices on issues such as SAITM. On human rights issues. On the issue of foreign judges sitting on the war crimes probes. Even the bond scam has produced different approaches.. There have also been differences of opinion when it had come to the appointment of people to the top most jobs.

But that is only to be expected. They are but part and parcel of a coalition government; illustrations of the thrust and parry of swords, instances of two presently friendly rivals fencing in peace times, daring the dew to rust their unsheathed swords to stay in form till the inevitable day dawns to go for the killer jab.

Some, of course, have been more contentious than others. And that includes the slow pace of investigations into corruption that took place under the previous regime. But apart from the normal day to day trivia that sometimes disturb the family peace, the coalition seem, touch wood, touch gold, to be holding, though no one on the outside can say for sure what rows flare behind closed doors. So its kinda intriguing, is it not, that Maithri chose to invite the media this Wednesday to the presidential secretariat to tell that, come what may, he will complete his five year tenure as President? What made him doubt, what made him get goose bumps that he won’t make it to the finishing line?

What suddenly made him express, unasked, “confidence” that the consensual government would remain in office till 2020, what made his say “whoever wants to leave could do so” but he would carry on with the government that is there? And what made him state, in an almost self reassuring way, “It is not me but the SLFP parliamentary group that is in the consensual government. Although some say their party would form a government on their own soon; under the current composition of Parliament no single party could form a government on its own. Even if there is another coalition, I will fulfil my responsibilities towards the people as President of the country until the end of my term.”

Under the constitution, even if Ranil were to grab the pillow on his side of the political bed and walk out of a relationship which has served him nicely these long two and a half years and head toward the sunset in search of six other partners to lie with him and crown him prime minister when he is already prime minister now in his relationship with the president, MaithripalaSirisena will remain as president till the year 2020 no matter what befalls the coalition government.

Ranil Wickremesinghe if he chooses to decamp – and he had so far shown no mad rush to do so but, on the contrary, declared that the coalition should last till 2020 – will be reduced from prince to pauper, condemned to go a begging from other political parties six more seats in the belief he can rule the roost in the House but still end up forlorn in his attempts if the President decides to appoint someone else as prime minister as one who, in his opinion, commands the confidence of the majority of the members of parliament as the constitution dictates – in the same manner and constitutional power he appointed Ranil premier on January 9th 2014 when the UNP had only 43 MPs and were in the minority. There may be pandemonium in parliament but pomp and executive power of the executive presidency would reside at Paget Road safe in the crown Sirisena’s head would hold. And let’s not forget, that two can play the same game of coveting scalps from other parties.

The president’s style of leadership has generally been to watch issues develop, monitor its trend, closely follow public opinion and gauge the public mood and only then make his stand clear – similar to the manner a leader of the French revolution Ledru-Rollin is reputed to have said: “There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.” Perhaps, its time for Sirisena to lead from the front.

Thus this Sunday morning as Maithripala Sirisena celebrates his 66th birthday and makes a wish before he blows the sixty six candles standing on his birthday cake, lets raise a toast to the birthday boy and wish him well; and pray, for the nation’s sake, that his wish for the UNP bonding to last till 2020 will be answered.

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