eadership in politics has been a subject many psychologists and social scientists have attempted to analyze, dissect and write about over and over again. These analysts and writers have ascribed strong leadership in politics to many a politician and history alone stands as the sole judge as to the validity and legitimacy of those claims.
However, when leadership is challenged, when it is questioned and probed, those who come out as deserving and great are those who have taken unparalleled risks under most trying conditions and come out on top to the wonder and amazement of many pessimists and skeptics.
Furthermore, one must guard oneself against reading too much into the simplicity of a persona of a leader, for more often than not, simplicity could be a shield, or a false façade against a more complex and sinister character that a leader tries to conceal. Yet a majority of people fall for that outer veneer and take that as the authentic nature of a leader whom they long to emulate and look up to as a messiah of sort.
But there is one sure way of judging that authenticity, that profound sense of honesty and simplicity- and that is to see if the particular leader is making one gesture after another, one political gaffe after another in order to express his or her own judgments and inner feelings irrespective of the extremely unfriendly consequences those judgments and feelings may entail.
Authenticity is not a calculated notion or a premeditated phenomenon. Yet on the other hand, a calculated and premeditated move by a political leader could be seen as an authentic response from him and that trait of calculating and the premeditated persona is time and time again associated with his past courses of action and thought.
If the critics of the current President Maithripala Sirisena take few moments to look into such details of political analysis- whether scientific or not- they would invariably find in Sirisena a man who is not in conflict with himself and who is not in disagreement with his inner conscience in the implementation and execution of duties as the leader of a most difficult political coalition to manage and steer well out of crisis points. His authenticity is not yet questioned by his closest bedfellows -- Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his UNP Cabinet colleagues. In fact that shade of suspicion and uncertainty seems to spring from the President’s former Cabinet colleagues of a defeated UPFA Government. A set of politicos whose mindset was entrenched in a corrupt system of nepotism and cronyism are finding hard to stomach, firstly the electoral defeat they suffered at the hands of their former Cabinet colleague -- Maithripala Sirisena and secondly, resigning themselves to a stewardship of state by a person they consider quite ‘junior’ in the ranks of the political echelon of the time.
They are still wallowing in their bottomless pit of self-pity, trying hard to make two plus two four -- instead they find themselves planning and plotting to make hay while sun shines by resorting and clinging to their pastime of deal-making and deal-breaking. That they inherited and learnt from their former Master who at present is literally enmeshed in a web of accusations, allegations and even maybe, in the near future, indictments.
Against such a complex backdrop of political and social uncertainties, the country at large is experiencing an economic stagnation along with crashing stock market prices and repeatedly amended budget proposals.
Vagaries of coalition-politics seem to claim their pound of flesh, so to speak. A marriage between the UNP, which I still consider the only party that represents the ‘reasonable’ socio-political thinking of a majority of Sri Lankan voters, and the SLFP whose nationalist luster seemed to have turned into a vibrant racist-populist political thought, especially among a vast majority of Sinhalese Buddhists, is always a very difficult one. Navigating in such cruel waters of political antipathies and contradictions is indeed a task by itself and Maithripala Sirisena as at now stands unscathed and undaunted. That, I dare ascribe to his authenticity.
The former regime of the Rajapaksas employed a sinister mode of propaganda to tap into the fears of Sinhalese Buddhist in the country to gain short-term electoral gains but failed eventually with the departure of Maithripala Sirisena from the SLFP ranks.
In that context it is apt to quote Howard Fineman, global editorial director of Huffington Post who describes what’s taking shape currently in American Primaries: “Trump deploys fame for fame’s sake; taps into populist expressions of fear, hatred and resentment and shows a knack for picking fights and a braggart’s focus on the horse race. All of which allow him to play into -- and exploit -- every media weakness and bad habit in a chase for audience and numbers.” It is absurd to beat a beaten horse now. Yet considering what President Sirisena inherited from the Rajapaksa regime -- a corrupt and decadent set of socio-economic principles -- the methods and means of propagating populist political notions still holds good with a gullible and semi-educated populace.
Showing remarkable poise and craft, President Sirisena very cleverly has palmed off the economic headaches to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe so that in the event of failure to deliver on the ‘economic promises’ made at the hustings it would be not his but Ranil’s head that would roll.
"Navigating in cruel waters of political antipathies and contradictions is indeed a task by itself and Maithripala Sirisena as at now stands unscathed and undaunted. That, I dare ascribe to his authenticity"
However, Ranil’s inner Cabinet, (if he has one) most likely comprises Malik Samarawickrema, Mangala Samaraweera, Kabir Hashim, Ravi Karunanayake, Eran Wickremaratne, and maybe Sagala Ratnayake and Harsha de Silva. One redeeming feature of this ‘inner Cabinet’ is that they seem to be believing in neo-liberal economics and wedded to the fundamentals of post-21st Century Capitalism. Post-21st Century Capitalism is being portrayed as one that is being practiced and advanced in Western Europe and Obama’s America with a more sympathetic approach to humanizing one-time dreaded ‘Capitalism’, especially in the third world countries.
In a fast-disappearing world of Socialist Communist economic theories, resulting from the dramatic collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite countries in Eastern Europe, adoption of more Capitalistic economics seems acceptable to the people at large if such adoption is associated with ‘authenticity’. President Sirisena’s challenge is to sustain that ‘authenticity’ over a long period of time. Among the current leaders in Sri Lanka one who has all the credentials and wherewithal to sustain such a trying assignment is Maithripala Sirisena. He would be best advised to maintain that image of ‘authenticity’, the loss of which would mean loss of trust and confidence the people placed in him when electing him in January 2015.
"When leadership is challenged, when it is questioned and probed, those who come out as deserving and great are those who have taken unparalleled risks under most trying conditions and come out on top to the wonder and amazement of many pessimists and skeptics"
The balancing act which the President is engaging in so precariously with the ‘old’ SLFP on the one hand and a more forward-looking UNP on the other, must be sapping his energy so much, strategic state-craft might be just slipping away into the hands of the officialdom of the day. Therein lies the real problem. The absence of experienced hands at that level is alarming. With all due respect to the current crop of officials at the highest levels, the lethargy and lack of creative and fresh thinking, coupled with the tendency to find shortcuts and pleasing politicians at all costs have characterized their daily chores. That is the legacy left behind by the Rajapaksas and their cronies. Whether President likes it or not, he has to reconcile himself to these cruel realities.
This burdensome task of navigating the ship of state in these turbulent waters is fairly and squarely his and his alone. Even though the powers of Executive Presidency are fundamentally curbed via the Nineteenth Amendment and as the ‘headmaster’ and not the ‘first among equals’ of the state, he still wields a fair amount of clout and if that clout is used decisively and with unmitigated equanimity, the gains are going to outweigh the losses and he could look forward to a worthy legacy to leave behind- one of ‘personification of authenticity’.