There was heavy speculation in some quarters that President Maithripala Sirisena’s statement in Nikaweratiya last week that rocked the political and diplomatic circles and also D.B.S. Jeyaraj writing in an article indicating that the president had wanted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe to step down as the prime minister before testifying at the Bond Commission, which both leaders denied.
But for many people sitting on the sidelines, this signalled that his honeymoon with Wickremesinghe’s administration was running low and he would not hesitate to take full control of the administration, including taking the Law and Order Ministry under his wing, leading to a break up.
Sirisena in Nikaweratiya had issued a stern warning to unnamed politicians who had attacked him in recent times, stating that they could very well find them covered in so much dirt that even seven trips to the laundry might not be enough to get them cleaned up.
However, Sirisena’s unexpected grouse seems to have provoked many in the United National Party (UNP) because Sirisena had never mentioned anything of the sort when he met with the UNP MPs in parliament. Some of them had requested for an immediate appointment with the president to address some of these issues.
What these backbenchers must understand is that Sirisena did his job. His job was to leave his party as General Secretary bidding adieu to a 40-year political life in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and challenge the most powerful executive president the country has ever had. That decision was a momentous one. It was a daring move only either the most foolish or the bravest would have taken. He won the presidential elections for the opposition, which even a war hero like General Fonseka could not do.
What more do we want from him? Had he lost the election he would have been seen as a traitor to the cause of the common man and thrown in jail. Sirisena’s decisive move, which is rarely embarked on by Sri Lankan politicians, especially those in power, worked. Had he remained in the SLFP as General Secretary, he would have anyway continued as a powerful minister in the Rajapaksa regime, had Rajapaksa won.
On the other hand, gentlemanly Wickremesinghe and the UNP made a huge sacrifice in conceding the nomination to Sirisena. It was the UNP, Tamils and Muslims who placed Sirisena at the seat of power.
So, it would be best for the progress of the current administration for the second and third-tier leaders of the two parties to focus on delivering and to leave the politics to the two leaders – Wickremesinghe and Sirisena, who have a good understanding how the government must and should be managed, if not the Rajapaksa forces making headway is inevitable.
The two leaders’ hands must therefore be strengthened by both parties and it must be done now, not tomorrow or the day after. Also those who delivered the election victory to Sirisena like former President Kumaranatunga, Health Minister Dr. Senarathne, Chathura Senaratne and Ven. Rathana Thera and others cannot be discarded. That was the treatment that was often meted out to the loyalists in the past. The strength of the current government is the strength of the UNP and 35 percent of the SLFP, no more, no less. Criticism of either party by any, whatever layer he or she comes from, must stop now.
Many people who believe in social media were quick to jump into the debate and say the marriage between the SLFP and UNP had hit the rocks. This speculation was further strengthened because the president had said he had been silent for too long but had now decided to speak out and take corrective action.
However, despite Sirisena’s statements, the relationship with Wickremesinghe as well as the union between the two parties remains strong. The president has the same views as the majority of Sri Lankans.
“He shares the disappointment of the people. He is fed up of waiting for investigations into the big deals to be concluded. For example: why has the Bribery Commission failed to investigate the Dubai bank accounts held by the Rajapaksas even after the current finance minister saying that US $ 18 billion was stashed away oversees. What has happened to the MiG investigation? Why are these investigations still dragging along one-and-a-half years later?”
While the bond investigation was concluded at lightning speed, the government has many times promised the public that all the corrupt deals would be investigated fully and those guilty would be brought to book. Therefore, unless the investigations are politically motivated, the public officials involved must be given the freedom to do their job without fear. The public also at the same time want the government to run investigations against those officials who are also facing corruption allegations.
They also want all the problematic transactions on the stock exchange and financial markets that took place during the Rajapaksa period to be investigated fully and made public. Also, the public want a proper justification to be given for the payment of US $ 115 million to cancel the Airbus planes ordered by the previous regime.
Need for action
There is no doubt that both the president and prime minister want the unity government to run its full term till 2020 and they hope to work together even at grassroots after the local government election. The president also has no power to dissolve parliament for four years. Therefore, those people waiting on the sidelines or warming their seats or making a quick buck or doing nothing, waiting for the government to fall would do justice to the taxpayer if they either fade away or buckle up fast and focus on what they have to deliver to the public.
On the other hand, Sirisena’s outburst should not be taken very lightly because the president is a very patient and a simple man, a person who still has the humility to serve a cup of tea for a visitor at his home. Therefore, it is a clear signal that he is keen to build his own base and that he wants to play a bigger role to deliver on the promises he made without allowing a few people to take decisions according to a different timetable and to keep him in the dark.
There was certainly so much of hope among the new voters that there was finally a way out of the mess and that men and women of integrity with no baggage or charges would be brought into the administration to deliver the promised ‘Yahapalanaya’. Sadly however to the die-hard supporters of ‘Yahapalanaya’, these are days of fading hope and overwhelming despair and the disenchanted have given up and many of them are openly venting their frustration on social media.
Therefore, the time is right for Sirisena and Wickramasinghe to re-examine their mandate and do what it takes to deliver the promised political reform; if they don’t do that, they will only have themselves to blame, if the forces of the January 8 struggle align against them.
History certainly repeats itself for those who do not bother to learn from the past. However, for a happy ending of the current unity administration and for its continuation post 2020, a clear timetable and a firm understanding between the UNP and SLFP (Sirisena - CBK) is a must.
(Dinesh Weerakkody is a thought leader)
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