Whatever happened to those political pundits who battered Ranil Wickremesinghe day in and day out in the media backed no doubt by some media moghuls with their own crafted agendas? Some of them were so gung-ho and chirpy as the birds outside at the prospect of driving the prime minister out of his cabalistic battlements [...]


Royal wins but the game is hardly over


Whatever happened to those political pundits who battered Ranil Wickremesinghe day in and day out in the media backed no doubt by some media moghuls with their own crafted agendas?

Some of them were so gung-ho and chirpy as the birds outside at the prospect of driving the prime minister out of his cabalistic battlements in Royal College — Colombo not Polonnaruwa.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe won the no- confidence motion in parliament last week.

Those who have studied the nature of practical politics – and we have tried to follow its convoluted trajectories for six decades or more and in different countries and locales – would recognise that a match is not won or lost until the umpires call it a day. And in politics there are no third umpires. Everybody is an umpire ready to make the rules as they go along.

Those who made a great drama of throwing their ministerial accoutrement into the fire as some pretended would happen at the debate’s end, are suddenly having second and even third thoughts. They are trying to conveniently throw the ball to President Sirisena to bowl the final over as that chap called Dilan Perera supposedly said a couple of days ago. He is ready to follow Sirisena’s diktats as a way of saving his office.

Meanwhile the man who made the loudest protestations and claimed he was not mea culpa, not even minimum culpa, as it were, Susil Premajayantha is said to have left for Japan a couple of days ago, if the grapevine has it correct. The question being asked is whether he went to Japan – as claimed by the story in circulation – on air tickets paid for by the ministry, looking for petroleum, a facility he will not have if he does what he threatened to do.

So even if Ranil Wickremesinghe won this round on Wednesday on the playing fields of Diyawanna Oya he still needs to win the series and it better be kept in mind that in this game there are match-fixers in the field and out of it, those who play for both sides and even play for a third, if one is available.
This is the political IPL where political positions are bartered and money changes hands particularly if it is public funds. Even if this match was won the plotting will go on with some of those playing for the government already booking places in opposition teams. All in the hope of continuing to wear their ministerial hats and enjoy all the perks of office without which they will be nothing.

But all that gusto and political cleanliness some seemed to exude during the many hours of debate came to little after the vote was taken. The prospect of sticking to their threatened departures became less and less appealing as the thought of losing all the ministerial goodies some of which Wickremesinghe himself doled out in the last three years or so and travelling in swanky cars, produced nightmares.

So with other garrulous ones like Dilan Perera now ‘demanding’ that they remain in office though they voted for a motion that claims to have no confidence in the prime minister and the government tool, is surely the height of perversity.

Some predicted the demise of Wickremesinghe as prime minister. Some others told the BBC earlier in the day of Wickremesinghe’s intended ouster, that he was kaput, but began changing the tune as the day wore on. It was becoming clear even to incessantly open-mouthed dullards such as Udaya Gammanpila holding almost daily media briefings when there was hardly any news to pass on, that his pre-vote utterances had punctured his reputation as an intellectual Godzilla among his handful of faithfuls.

I am no fervent admirer of Ranil Wickremesinghe who I have known since about the late 1960s and worked for both his parents when they served as editorial directors of Lake House at different times. I have been particularly concerned about this government’s foreign policy, especially the pro-western kow-towing that the boastful Mangala Samaraweera as foreign minister pursued and had produced zilch except landing Sri Lanka in a quandary at the UNHRC in October 2015.

It is Ranil Wickremesinghe’s choice of personnel who could perform as skillful ministers, intelligent and capable officials and competent diplomats with negotiating skills and ability to project Sri Lanka’s case is what is in question. Wanting to serve friends and relatives is one thing. But that does not produce the promised meritocracy.

Only last month we had the case of our high commissioner in London who left on her “own volition” which is the foreign ministry’s diplomatic shorthand for resigned, quit or just told time is up by some other’s volition. Had the ministry had any kind of backbone there would have been no need for the guessing game that still goes on over her unexpected departure. While I am well aware of the reason why another ‘diplomat’ fell by the wayside I’ll let it ride until the appropriate occasion arises for disclosure.

This is just one instance of square pegs being put in round holes? We know of many such as some of the directors and CEO of SriLankan Airlines, and the case of Arjuna Mahendran who was one of the principal actors in the saga that led to the no confidence motion.

Here is another case. It was reported two days ago that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was ready to offer Udaya Gammanpila a place in the cabinet. If the news is correct then this serves as an example of Wickremesinghe’s failings in personnel selection.

Besides the fact that Gammanpila is a frontliner in the chattering class who seems to have plenty of time on his hands to call a media conference almost every day, one could imagine what a cabinet meeting would turn out to be. Besides wanting to open the batting for the cabinet he would probably want a cabinet meeting each day.

But if the prime minister wants to burden himself with more political ballast in the name of trying to neutralise his opposition that is his problem. Yet one cannot dismiss Wickremesinghe’s other attributes that have produced some excellent pieces of legislation such the Right to Information law which struggled for two decades or so to get into the statute book.

To ignore his contribution in producing such progressive legislation is to misunderstand or not comprehend the value of such laws in the public interest.
What has remained mostly hidden in this attempt by the opposition to isolate the prime minister is the role of Maithripala Sirisena in all this. The growing animosity of the president towards his prime minister is a sign of Sirisena’s growing ambition to continue in office possibly for a second term though he solemnly swore at pre-presidential election platforms that he would quit after one term and return to Polonnaruwa to be nearer his beloved niyaras on which he walked in his less ambitious days.

Sirisena now playing the role of a bana preacher with a monotonous voice and tone to go with it, seems to ask himself what he has done in the last years to take the country forward and ameliorate the living standards of the people.

Sirisena’s acolytes might point to the president reversing some budgetary proposals here and some law there. Why he might even claim as one of his great achievements that he struck down the finance minister’s amendment of an old, anachronistic law that prohibited women from purchasing alcohol and working in distilleries, ably supported by that another cantankerous product of this government Rajitha Senaratne.

Sirisena seems to have acquired the habit of striking down proposals after the cabinet over which he presides has approved them. This has even happened to budgetary proposals if I remember correctly.

Sirisena cannot pass on all the blame on local matters and economic decisions to the UNP ministers. What had Sirisena being doing for the last three years but trying to consolidate his position by winning over more of the SLFP and UPFA supporters by offering inducements in the way of cabinet or other posts to buttress his shaky political power base.

There is one other matter on which he has been spending more time than running the country. That is running to other countries. Could Sirisena’s hangers on name one previous president who has visited so many countries in such a short time? In the next few days he will be in London to attend the Commonwealth Summit.

How many of his family will be accompanying him on this trip and how many has he taken along on other trips such as the recent one to Japan? Will the presidential secretariat which has a website and records various departures and maybe arrivals let the people whom Sirisena vowed to lead to prosperity list all the family members including in-laws who have been taken abroad at the expense of the public purse? Let’s leave alone, for the moment, those who may be facing legal charges who have also gone along for the ride.

Now that Sirisena’s shenanigans are beginning to see the light of day, he is trying to hide behind a highly moral exterior without ensuring that those who are guilty of moral turpitude are prosecuted by a judiciary that seems to spend its time postponing cases by the month.

All are supposed to be equal before the law. Not Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, it seems, whose cases are postponed month after month while the people and their representatives are demanding expeditious justice. Even Sirisena has been singing this tune but nothing happens in these particular cases.
Our judicial expedition reminds me of that old Latin saying about mountains being in labour and producing a ridiculous mouse.

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