- Mar 05 2018
The much-hyped Cabinet reshuffle, effected by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, has fallen flat even before he might have conceived the specific changes. Other than delaying, if not outright denying Law & Order portfolio to controversial former Army chief, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, and Prime Minister himself retaining it, almost for the very same reason, it has not achieved anything – least of all the kind of cohesion that is required for the nation to shake of the current state of political instability and economic morass.
There is no denying that the Government seems to have taken some serious view of at least one thing, however political and however uncertain the results. If only to contain the visibly growing electoral influence of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s SLPP, the ruling SLFP-UNP combine seems to have buried their poll-time hatchet, at least for now. By constituting a Cabinet committee to look into/after frauds and corruption, the twin leadership, which includes President Maithiripala Sirisena, has send out a clear message that in the name of upholding Mandate-2015, they will try to ‘fix’ the Rajapaksas, politically and electorally, and through legal and judicial means, possibly faster than thus far.
It is unclear if the constitution of such a committee is ahead of handing over the L&O portfolio to Fonseka, or is a substitute for the same. Either way, the nation seems to have moved far away from expecting the incumbent government to go after the corrupt from the past regime. If nothing else, a day after the Cabinet changes and committee-formation, a Colombo court was told that controversial former ex-Central Bank Governor Arjun Mahendran was not in his Singapore home, as believed.
Mahendran was a creation of the present Government, and he created the infamous, multi-billion bonds scam, which had commenced within weeks of the new Government taking over in January 2015. If sacked UNP Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake too says that the Cabinet reshuffle is a ‘joke’, it may also be a message to the new ministerial panel on fraud, to look deeper than the Presidential Commission and the Parliamentary Committee on the subject have done already.
Chip of the old block
The same cannot be said of younger and junior minister, Wasantha Senanayake, a chip of the old block in the larger UNP family, where his forebears had founded the Sri Lankan nation, when it was still Ceylon and also guided its fortunes and misfortunes early on. There are then others, like junior minister Range Bandara, who has said that some of them would move a no-trust motion against Ranil if he did not change the party structure. He has not said if ‘they’ (?) would seek Ranil’s replacement as Prime Minister or as party chief, or both.
From outside of the UNP and even the ever-fighting SLFP, JHU ministerial colleague, Champika Ranawaka, may have hit the nail on the head by declaring that Cabinet reshuffle was not a solution (to the current ills facing the Government and the ruling coalition. He has rightly pointed out that they required an action plan to address the political, social and economic problems facing the people.
Whatever that be, Ranil has once again proved to the master tactician that he has always been – especially when it comes to saving his seat. For one, President Maithiri and the SLFP are not talking anymore about replacing Ranil. From within the UNP and the SLFP, there are apprehensions and aspirations in individuals and groups about possible sacking or demotion on the one hand, and hopes of induction and/or elevation, on the other.
In typical Ranil style that most people have forgotten after the duo came to power, he has also appointed to committee to recommend structural changes in the UNP, now continued to be led by him. In the past, every time that a committee appointed by him had said anything that was unpalatable to him, Ranil was known to have either diluted their recommendations out of shape, or ignored those recommendations so very completely.
If anyone wants to learn more about ‘constitutional dictatorship’, one only has to look at the way political parties are run in the country. It is not only about the UNP and the SLFP, or what the Mahinda-centred (though not formally led) SLPP, have all already become. Less said about minor parties of the JHU, JVP and the communist kinds the better. Even much less about the political parties of the minorities, be it the TNA, or the SLMC or the CWC, or any other political outfit of the individual ethnic communities that these three otherwise belong to and represent.
After the first round ministerial reshuffle involving the UNP, there is speculation about a further round or rounds in and from the party. This means that Sirisena can delay, not deny ministerial berths to others who have been staying away from the SLPP and the ‘Mahinda magic’ only for such immediate benefits – if only to serve the people even more and better than at present!
Wading for ‘catches’
All of it could leave behind as many blackened faces as there may be some brightened ones. There are the fishes in the troubled waters that the Mahinda SLPP is waiting to catch, and when they are ready to walk into their net, rather than they wading through the waters for a good catch, or for good ‘catches’.
The SLPP too has made its intentions clear by party chief, G L Peiris, declaring that they would contest all future polls under their current ‘Bud’ symbol. That is to say, those SLFP leaders and cadres hoping for a merger of the two parties cannot wait anymore with that very hope in mind. They better decide here and now, which means instability all over again for the SLFP and the Government as a whole.
This is also the crux of the matter. That it is not the kind of window-dressing that Ranil seems to be satisfied with that is required now, for the Government to try and recover some of the lost hope and glory, flowing from the disastrous LG poll results. Neither is there a window for Ranil to dress, nor is there for him to dress up – and what?
What is required instead is a surgical operation for the Government and partner-parties to look inwards and apply correctives, where required, collectively, and individually and independently, otherwise. There is no blame anymore for blaming the Rajapaksa leadership and regime for all that may have gone wrong under his care and governance (or, non-governance/mal-governance), but the LG poll results shows that the voter has left the past behind it, and is looking forward – and also backward – he having lost his patience with the present and the present-day rulers.
It is not impossible for the incumbent leadership to try and set matters right. But for it to happen, or even attempted, the Maithiri-Ranil duo should stop playing foot-loose on the one hand and one-upmanship on the other. They have to take charge, responsibility and hold themselves accountable, too, for all the failures from their own collective past, just as they would like to take credit for the positives – which are of the euphemistic variety, at best.
Better or worse still, by blaming it all on the Rajapaksas still, they will only to prolong their own agony, without bringing relief to the people, which is what they want. In doing so, they are also piling up more trouble for and on the people, who cannot bear any of it anymore, and that may have consequences going beyond a possible return of the Rajapaksas – if not personally, through proxy at the very least, or the very best.
Either way, it would not matter to the Rajapaksas or even the people, who want only solutions to their day-to-day problems or price rise and inflation, job-creation and a sense of insecurity. But it would all end up mattering to the incumbent Government, their leaderships and partners, if they were to continue going down the ‘losing spiral’, if they thought that banking on the Rajapaksas to win more elections than two, way back in 2015, they could pull wool over the voter’s eyes. Those days have ended with 10 February 2018.
This commentary originally appeared in The Sunday Leader.