Is it a Trojan Horse or a coconut husk (pol lella) that Ranil Wickemesinghe presented to the Constitutional Assembly last month, setting opposition politicians aflame and in a frenzy since that day? Some politicians and critics have compared it to a Trojan Horse which appears to be way off the mark. This is no parallel [...]

Sunday Times 2

Ranil’s ‘pol lella’ works magic


Is it a Trojan Horse or a coconut husk (pol lella) that Ranil Wickemesinghe presented to the Constitutional Assembly last month, setting opposition politicians aflame and in a frenzy since that day?

Some politicians and critics have compared it to a Trojan Horse which appears to be way off the mark. This is no parallel to the story about the Greeks creeping out of the belly of a wooden horse to enter the city of Troy and killing the sleeping Trojans as punishment for abducting their lovely queen, Helen.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe appears to have thrown a coconut husk (pol lella) at a pack of baying hounds waiting to attack anything they do not like. Most of us are familiar with the sight and sounds of hounds attacking — with gusto and vengeance — coconut husks, sinking their teeth deep into them and quite often finding it difficult to extricate their jaws. And that is what appears to be happening to the Rajapaksa fans who have gone for the ‘pol lella’, hell for leather.

When presenting the documents to the Constitutional Assembly, Wickremesinghe said they included a report of a Steering Committee and not the draft of a proposed constitution, but that some documents prepared by a panel of experts included proposals for a draft constitution.

Neither Wickremesinghe nor the UNP claimed ownership of or responsibility for these proposals. It was for the Constitutional Assembly to debate it, amend, approve or reject and then, when the Assembly sits as parliament, approve or reject what has been passed by the Assembly, with a two-thirds majority. And the ultimate product will be subjected to a countrywide referendum.

Wickremesinghe and the UNP washing their hands of the proposals for a draft constitution have, well and truly, left the barking opposition hounds with a coconut husk.

It is indeed a clever strategy to beat the Pohottuwa ‘gundu’ of not making any constitutional proposals prior to an election, saying that their new constitution would be enacted when they are returned to power with a mandate from the people. On the other hand, the Rajapaksa-led Pohottuwa wants the UNP which led the Yahapalanaya government — having promised a new constitution — to keep to their pledge and enact a new constitution.

With less than a year for a presidential election, for a new constitution to be enacted by this fractious parliament, and with the approval of a two-thirds majority at that, is quite unlikely.

The Rajapaksas and the Pohottuwa gang appear to have tripped and fallen head over heels on Wickremesinghe’s pol lella, wrecking one prong of their strategy for a forthcoming presidential or parliamentary election: appeasement and reconciliation with the Tamil and Muslim minorities. Mahinda Rajapaksa is cooing communal amity and reconciliation like a dove at the minorities; while Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the hot favourite for the presidential race on the Pohottuwa ticket, has been talking about ‘all of us’ being Sri Lankans and not drawing distinctions between the three races, to his newly formed think tank — Viyath Maga.

Listening to some of his speeches on Facebook, we nearly mistook him for a Colombo NGO man, singing the multi-racial, multi-religious tunes. Gota, as he his popularly known, has changed his looks in recent days from the tough military-bureaucrat he was as defence secretary, and is now wearing the Teflon smile of a presidential candidate. The Teflon smile can be seen on and off when talking to the media or addressing his think tank Viyath Maga (Road for Intellectuals) which Mangala Samaraweera had dubbed as Nomaga (Wrong Road).

Why a former Lt. Colonel, who was not known for his intellectual endeavours, should seek the company of intellectuals now has yet to be explained. Once he is a presidential candidate, the Teflon smile will remain and, if presidency is achieved, it would be perpetual.

But Ranil’s ‘pol lella’ appears to have taken much of the spin off the Peace and Reconciliation show, because it has become the main target for attack, having diverted attention from the Peace and Reconciliation strategy via Viyath Maga. From the time the proposals for a draft constitution were tabled, they were attacked on the basis of being a ‘UNP-Tamil National Alliance Conspiracy’ to divide the country and create a country of federal states.

Mahinda Rajapaksa and his followers are sending out two drum beats: One of Peace and Reconciliation with the minorities without whose support an election is hard to win, as was evident in 2015. The second drum beat is about the diabolical conspiracy of Wickremesinghe with Tamils to create a federal state through a proposed new constitution.

Tamils will be wondering whether peace and reconciliation will ever be possible between the two communities if the very first move between a big party in the South and a Tamil party to bring about reconciliation is construed as a diabolical conspiracy — to break up the country and set up a federal state — by an important party in the South.

That unfortunately has been the pattern of Sri Lankan politics since racism raised its head in the mid- nineteen fifties.
It is likely that opposing the new look Gota will be the man with the dead-pan face, original grey hair, statesmanlike look and many defeats. Wickremesinghe, in recent times, has risen from the depths — after his successful defiance of President Sirisena to sack him – and also has been able to overcome with the TNA the threat of the ’constitutional conspiracy’. But he will need support from the Sinhala base which the Rajapaksas are trying to drum up. He needs a Maduluwawe Sobitha thera on his side.

President Sirisena will be on the starting line, too, for the presidential race. And as president will hold the reins when the race begins and could well upset the apple cart although he may not be at the winning post. Right now he is threatening to hang drug barons — a popular move but not enough to win an election.
The runners are ready but the starter has to wait for the auspicious time pronounced by a ‘royal’ astrologer. On the last occasion a ‘royal’ astrologer had the monarch unseated.

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