After the so-called yahapalana government came to power and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe-led UNP began to create slots in the cabinet and elsewhere for cronies and contemporaries from the state-run institution called Royal College, some humorous wag coined an abbreviation that was singularly apt. He called it FRCS. If some in the medical profession took [...]


President cleaning up a Royal legacy


After the so-called yahapalana government came to power and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe-led UNP began to create slots in the cabinet and elsewhere for cronies and contemporaries from the state-run institution called Royal College, some humorous wag coined an abbreviation that was singularly apt.

He called it FRCS. If some in the medical profession took umbrage at this new formulation it was with good reason. The new appellation stood for Former Royal College Student/s and was not even remotely connected to the Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, except perhaps for occasional surgical incisions into the back.

Just as the holders of the local FRCS filled the positions in the cabinet and other posts and flaunted their official status in the political and bureaucratic hierarchy, last week saw them falling like nine pins.

More appropriately it was like Royal wickets falling in the notorious 9-run cricket match. After that inglorious performance in 1885 Royal ran away. Now 125 years later they are running for cover as FRCS cabinet ministers and other office holders resigned as the country’s politics took a 180- degree turn.

As yahapalanaya proceeded rather than progressed, the good governance Sri Lankans were promised turned into a right royal conflict as Royal Polonnaruwa took on Royal Colombo.

In the last few months it turned even worse. It used to be said that dog does not eat dog. But then they should have watched the shenanigans and back stabbings that has virtually devoured the UNP.

Even in defeat the dogs of war have not stopped snarling and biting each other. Last week the bone of contention was who should be Leader of the Opposition. UNP leader Wickremesinghe got the bone. Now one must await the next thrilling episode of the UNP’s political saga that is surely worth a 100 episodes of a Sinhala teledrama.

While UNP stalwarts were going for each other’s jugular, Sri Lanka’s new president was quickly asserting himself. Orders were already out. No portraits of the president were to adorn the walls of state institutions. No more than four vehicles to escort him, unlike in the days when dozens joined the queue with uniformed men waving and shouting at other road users to get the hell out of the way. No roads to be closed because the president was on his way. And nobody to issue statements except his office.

That puts paid to some cantankerous politicians who are prone to approach every subject with an open pound.

These are the early signs and nobody is likely to disobey. Rather, those who have been previously inconvenienced by speeding politicians with their ‘catchers’ and the uniformed kind accompanying them are likely to applaud these initial orders.

But there are more important issues facing Gotabaya Rajapaksa as he begins his presidential journey. The election results made one thing perfectly clear. The country is sharply divided between north and south. That signifies an ethnic divide.

If the new president’s vision for Sri Lanka is to be achieved and social and economic progress made then he has to further national reconciliation not by word but by deed. There were early signs that Gotabaya Rajapaksa realises that this is imperative if the country is to move forward as a whole and not piecemeal that would leave one group-ethnic or religious-behind. That would exacerbate the division as evident from the election result with the unhealed wounds festering even more.

The president’s remarks at the Election Commission Office underlined the importance of togetherness and unity. He said that he was the president for the whole country, for those who voted for him and those who voted against him.

Those words which embraced the whole rather than a section of society appear to have resonated with major international players welcoming the presidential intentions.

It means that in the early stages of his governance Gotabaya Rajapaksa would need to concentrate very much on domestic issues. He would have to be a domestic president rather than one looking beyond Sri Lanka’s shores.

It is not that international relations need to be permanently in the backburner. They cannot be as India has already indicated with Prime Minister Modi reacting quickly by inviting the new president to visit India.

It is true that newly elected Sri Lankan presidents and prime ministers have habitually made their first overseas visit to India. The reasons are clear enough. It is not only that Sri Lanka and India have historical ties and other close affinities. For geopolitical and geostrategic reasons Sri Lanka cannot ignore or turn its back on India.

Sri Lanka has had to pay a heavy cost for such errors of judgment as history reminds us. Prime Minister Modi’s message along with his invitation to the president to visit New Delhi should serve to alert the new government to India’s interests and its concerns which will probably be articulated more clearly during the bilateral talks between the leaders of the two neighbours.

The message that Indian External Affairs Minister S.Jaishanker brought to Colombo did make a pointed reference to one such concern. The Hindustan Times reported that the message said India expects the new government to take forward the process of national reconciliation to meet the aspirations of the Tamil minority for “equality, justice, peace and dignity.”

So India has already laid down its marker. It is an issue that President Rajapaksa himself takes seriously and interested in finding a solution to. To do so the minorities, especially the Tamil community cannot just sit back and make demands expecting the new government to concede.

It is a matter of give and take. The previous Sri Lanka government did little to resolve with its initial enthusiasm fading away as political imperatives and infighting blocked any constructive moves.

Western media in particular have labelled the Rajapaksas as leaning heavily on China. This is one of India’s concerns too. President Rajapaksa has already said that his policy would be to remain neutral especially with regard to disputes and conflicts between and among major powers.

Whether this is an assertion that Sri Lanka will return to its traditional non-aligned policy or not is to be seen.

But immediately President Rajapaksa would need to concentrate on fulfilling his domestic agenda and in doing so move forward on reconciliation. He would surely recognise as some of his words already indicate, that a peaceful and united society is required to achieve sustainable domestic development.

A stagnant economy will continue to be a burden on the country and any hopes of providing the people with the promised benefits would prove difficult. While attending to domestic development countrywide, international relations outside the Indian Ocean region where Sri Lanka’s immediate interests lie can be postponed until a new government settles down after the parliamentary elections next year.

In the meantime every Tom, Dick and Wimal should refrain from pontificating of matters beyond their competence.


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