Ranil Wickremesinghe takes oaths for fifth time as a Prime Minister
President Maithripala Sirisena appointed a 29-member Cabinet last week after two months of political turmoil. It was reported that the United National Party (UNP) has sent in 36 names to the president to be appointed as ministers and that Sirisena had struck off eight of them.
He had removed the names of Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and Palitha Range Bandara from the UNP while he had also omitted the names of A.H.M. Fowzie, Lakshman Seneviratne, Wijith Wijemuni de Soysa and Piyasena Gamage, who crossed over to the government from the SLFP.
The president, who is still not happy with the current political developments, had said a few days earlier, “My personal opinion on this matter still remains totally unchanged. I decided to reappoint Ranil Wickremesinghe as the prime minister as I have the utmost respect for parliamentary traditions.”
He also referred to several statements made by pro-UNP activists that the president’s actions could lead to violence and Sirisena might suffer the same fate as Gaddafi.
He said, “In the past, Sri Lanka had many leaders who faced numerous problems. Some of them, like J.R. Jayewardene, ruled the country with an iron fist. But no one dared to make such claims, as they knew the dire consequences of such threats.”
The sudden rash action of the president gave the UNP only two options – to either sink or swim, just like what Chandrika Kumaratunge did back in 2004. It was a great test for the UNP. Many of the capable young leaders came forward and rose up to the challenge to support the UNP leader. They now need to be rewarded and recognized. The UNP leaders at least now must move away from the current coterie of people around them and build a new team that has a sense of the common man’s thinking and also reduce the huge gap in policy agreement between the two leaders to ensure the current arrangement survives.
It would take a few more weeks before political normalcy will be fully restored again and even longer before the shaky economy is brought to even keel. Much will depend on how the government will pan out over the next several weeks and months and how they work with the president.
One cannot forget the key role played by the people in Sri Lanka during this crisis. Many people chose to stay in the middle without reaching the threshold of supporting either party or any of the key actors. They were patient and thoroughly poised; their demeanour did not change and they lent their ears to everyone but stood for what was right. That is a mark of a mature country.
The Sri Lankan values stood tall. That is the most redeeming feature in the midst of a broken down government. The determination and the will of our ordinary people therefore clearly deserve the admiration and applause. The government and president therefore owe it to them to do what is best for the country.
Since a two-thirds majority resolution is needed for an early general election that both the Rajapksas and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna want, it also creates the opportunity to piggyback on that majority – for a constitutional amendment.
Therefore, the task before the government is not to pretend that it has a new mandate to govern on an idiosyncratic agenda of multiple free trade agreements and a million jobs and giving jobs back to those cronies, who ruined the government, but to formulate a minimum programme to build on the political gains of the last two months and to capitalize on the space provided by the judges of the Supreme Court. On the other hand, the president too needs to honour his January 8 pledge.
(Dinesh Weerakkody is a thought leader)