By Saliya Pieris –
“The King is dead. Extended reside the King.” In Britain the passing away of the old monarch and the advent of the new, is heralded by these words. In Sri Lanka, Wijithamuni Zoysa, Member of Parliament, echoed these exact same thoughts, in somewhat cruder terms in his infamous “Appachchi Mala” speech.
After the Parliamentary Elections, the speed at which scores of Parliamentarians from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party switched their allegiance from the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to President Maithripala Sirisena marks a new low even for politicians in Sri Lanka. Gone are the days when politicians at least kept a decent interval and in the very least supplied some excuse when switching sides. Today no interval is necessary and no excuse provided.
The Surrender Of The Rajapaksa Camp
As for President Sirisena, he has now regained substantial manage over the machinery of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which probably just more than a month ago had side-lined him or as some claim was on the verge of removing him as celebration leader. The day was saved only by an order from the District Court.
Hours right after the Parliamentary election it was clear that several of those who had been on the Rajapaksa camp which includes Susil Premajayanth and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa had raised the white flag of surrender. So full is the surrender that they have accepted ministerial workplace from the really President who just weeks ago suspended them from their Secretary posts.
If ever Mahinda Rajapaksa produced a error following losing the Presidential Elections, that was to let go of the party leadership. 1 reason probably why Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe in no way let go of the leadership of the UNP even for the duration of the wilderness years.
President Sirisena in his own quiet way has demonstrated time and once again that he is not a push-more than, some of his political moves equalling or even surpassing the Machiavellian abilities of his predecessors.
Mahinda Rajapaksa Lives On
However in spite of gaining manage more than the celebration machinery, whether that identical control is regained over the rank and file of the party is an entirely different query. As much as Ranil Wickremesinghe could not be written off regardless of dozens of setbacks in the past, it would be equally naïve to assume that Mahinda Rajapaksa or his political legacy has come to an finish.
Inside the vast majority of UPFA supporters, Mahinda Rajapaksa lives on. Now that President Sirisena has shown an appetite for remaining in party politics, his political accomplishment will depend on his capability to either win over the Rajapaksa camp or his ability to wean the celebration voters away from them. Despite the camaraderie shown at the swearing in of the Prime Minister and at the SLFP anniversary this week, it is challenging to think that the rift will be totally healed as long as Mahinda Rajapaksa remains in active politics.
The months to come will see further developments in the tug of war inside the UPFA and SLFP. That half of the SLFP Parliamentarians abstained from voting for the resolution increasing the Cabinet of Ministers shows the challenges that the President will have in his bid to stave off a permanent split in the party.
2020: Sirisena Versus Wickremesinghe?
If President Sirisena is in a position to rally the party about him and to fend off the Rajapaka challenge, then when the period of the National Government comes to an end, the most significant challenge to Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP will be from the rejuvenated SLFP led by Maithripala Sirisena.
The subsequent Parliamentary elections in 2020 could effectively be a Sirisena v Wickremesinghe election, specially if the Executive Presidency is entirely abolished by this time. In such an eventuality the possibility of Maithripala Sirisena returning to Parliament in the Prime Ministerial form can not be ruled out. Such a move will also see a realignment of political forces as soon as again.
The subsequent couple of years will see political manoeuvring between the two centres of power- Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe as each leader seeks to position himself, to lastly probably face each other the day when the national government comes to an end.
Although this eventuality may appear strange to several of us in Sri Lanka, this is not uncommon in countries with national or coalition governments. David Cameron and Nick Clegg sat in the government as Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister even as they battled it out at the hustings in 2015. In 1945 following five years of National Government, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Deputy Prime Minister Clement Atlee faced each and every other at the Basic Elections and Churchill was buried in a landslide.
Creating The Second Tier Of The UNP
The unprecedented delays in appointing the Cabinet of Ministers reflect this intricate balance of power and energy play within the new regime. It is in the face of this future challenge that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe ought to seek to create the second tier of his personal celebration and broad-base his assistance within the UNP.
On the 23rd of July 1977, when Prime Minister J.R. Jayewardene was sworn in by President William Gopallawa, the composition of the new Cabinet itself gave impetus to public self-assurance. What ever criticism that existed against Mr. Jayewardene, of his rule from 1977 to 1988 a single of his greatest achievements was his potential to construct up a powerful team and his capability to select appropriate folks irrespective of his private friendships and preferences. It is this team which helped Jayewardene to develop a solid government, which paved the way for the UNP to rule for the next 17 years.
When he left the Presidency in 1988, Jayewardene left to the UNP a legacy of a sturdy second tier of leaders like Prime Minister Premadasa, Ministers Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake.
The Cabinet of Ministers in 1977 saw the induction of first time Parliamentarian Lalith Athulathmudali, into the Cabinet of Ministers as Minister of Trade. The present Prime Minister himself was a beneficiary when at the age of 28 years he was inducted into the Cabinet of Ministers in October 1977, just a few months after he was appointed as Deputy Foreign Minister, as the very first time MP from Biyagama.
Old Wine In A New Bottle
The Prime Minister continues to attract criticism more than the manner in which he selects individuals for public office. Not absolutely everyone in the UNP camp is happy about the manner in which selections have been created to the Cabinet of Ministers, which was appointed on Friday. Some feel that these appointments reflect the perennial difficulty the UNP has faced beneath Mr. Wickremesinghe’s leadership and that after again the UNP has lost an opportunity of bringing in fresh faces to the leadership. Apart from a handful of new faces such as Daya Gamage, and Harin Fernando, the new Cabinet has a lot of of the identical old faces from the past- some stretching back to the 1977 government.
At least three of the new UNP Ministers are septuagenarians on the verge of retirement at least one UNP Minister was recognized to be on the fence during the Rajapakse regime some were mere bystanders in the course of the Rajapaksa era believing Rajapakse to be a fait accompli who could by no means be dislodged some did not contribute in any way to the ouster of the former President. Whether or not some deserved Cabinet Office at all is a moot point.
Leaving Out The Young Turks’ Of The UNP
In contrast, left out of the Cabinet are many younger Members of Parliament who entered the legislature and energised the United National Celebration, waking it up from its extended slumber in the opposition. Dr. Harsha de Silva, Eran Wickremeratne, Ruwan Wijewardene, Ajith Perera, Niroshan Perera have been among those who worked tirelessly from 2010 to 2015 to energise the opposition and were in the frontlines against the Rajapaksa regime. There have been no critical allegations against them as to their conduct in the last handful of months.
The inspection of numerous government installations and activities by these MPs for the duration of the Rajapaksa regime, their active opposition to the impeachment of the Chief Justice, their vocal criticism of the Rajapakse regime, and their pro-active participation in parliamentary and political work culminated in the effective revolution of January 8th. These MPs worked with dedication in the run up to the Presidential Elections to organise the UNP. Some of them have been deeply involved with the likes of Mangala Samaraweera and Malik Samarawickrema in the effort to bring in a frequent candidate. They have demonstrated competence in both political and specialist life at the highest level.
The appointment of professionals such as Harsha de Silva and Eran WIckremeratne to Cabinet Office would most surely have inspired public self-confidence in the new government. Critical questions arise as to the criteria followed in the allotment of crucial Cabinet portfolios.
Though disaffection and resentment arising out of selections to government, would not surface proper now , numerous years down the line these resentments could surface at the most critical time. This is one lesson which President Premadasa had to discover just two and a half years into workplace as President when disaffected UNPers which includes the Speaker M.H. Mohammed joined in the impeachment against him in August 1991. It hardly needs to be stated that it will be a lot less difficult to pull the rug from beneath the Prime Minister’s feet than from below the feet of the Executive President. This has occurred to the Prime Minister as soon as before.
Nevertheless laudable his vision could be, he must not leave space for complacency and take his party males and the voters who voted for the UNP for granted.
A Lesson From Abraham Lincon
The Prime Minister should possibly take a lesson from the connection between American President Abraham Lincoln and Edward Stanton his Secretary of War, during the Civil War in that country. Regardless of his intense dislike of Stanton, Abraham Lincoln selected him to his Cabinet because Lincoln felt he had all the needed qualities for the position whatever his private dislikes had been.
At some point, Stanton became 1 of the most beneficial political assets that President Lincoln had and the two established a close specialist and private relationship which lasted until Lincoln died.