“The measure of a man is what he does with power.”
The defection of Maithripala Sirisena from the ranks of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) has only one parallel in history. That was when C P de Silva, the then second-in-command of the SLFP-led government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike and thirteen MPs crossed over from the government ranks to the Opposition and voted against the governing coalition at the time. That was in 1964. The so-called double doctors of the calibre of Dr. N. M. Perera, Queen’s Counsel-level legal luminaries such as Dr. Colvin R. de Silva and Felix Dias Bandaranaike were stumped and humiliated by J. R. Jayewardene, the most astute politician Sri Lanka has seen in her last six decades after Independence. In one of the most remarkable parliamentary coups ever to have been orchestrated, the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike was defeated in parliament.
Such a dramatic event, however, did not occur in 2014. Yet, the announcement by Maithripala Sirisena, the sitting General Secretary of the SLFP and Minister of Health in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Cabinet to leave the Mahinda-led coalition government and contest as a Common Candidate backed by the United National Party (UNP), the arch rival of the SLFP, had all the elements of a blockbuster event in a modern political scenario. Sirisena’s move was a bold one. Unlike the C P-crossover in 1964, which had the desired result of defeating the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike as a fait accompli, Maithripala’s gambit did not assure any certain result. In fact, it was one of the most daring political moves enacted by any political leader since Independence.
In a bitterly fought election, Maithripala prevailed and he did solely because of the Tamil and Muslim vote plus the UNP vote. It is beyond question that Maithripala would not have secured the eventual result, if not for the UNP vote and Sirisena knows it. Sirisena carried his own district, Polonnaruwa, without much of a fight, but the rest of the country where the minority vote was not a deciding bloc, he lost. For example, deeply Sinhalese-Buddhist districts like Ratnapura, Anuradhapura, Monaragala, Kalutara, and the entire Southern province where the minority vote was not of a reckonable magnitude, Mahinda won handsomely.However, Sirisena carried the districts that had the highest populations, Colombo, Kandy and Gampaha and swept those districts that are heavily minority-dominated, the North and the East.
Unlike the United States of America which elects her President on the Electoral College system, Sri Lanka elects her President on the popular vote. No President in Sri Lanka can be elected exclusively on the majority Sinhala-Buddhists’ vote. Time and time again, it has been proven that the winner always gets a sizeable majority of the minorities in the country. Some might argue that this theory is not correct and they cite the election result in 2005 at which Mahinda was the victor. But don’t forget the boycott of elections in 2005 by almost 99% of the Tamils on the decree issued by Prabhakaran and it is beyond a shadow of doubt that this boycott was arranged between Prabhakaran and the then coalition party that ran Mahinda Rajapaksa as its candidate. Had the Tamils been allowed to vote in the North and East, Ranil Wickremesinghe would have become President in 2005!The ‘Four Brothers’ and their cohorts prevented it. Victory at any or all costs was the motto of the ‘Four Brothers’.
Such costs, Sri Lankan either can afford, nor can she suffer. Presidential Election in 2015 marked, certainly not a revolution as some heavily-biased commentators interpret. As far as this writer is concerned, there was only one attempt of a revolution made in Sri Lanka and that was the famous April Insurrection in 1971 by the then Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) led by Rohana Wijeweera. What they attempted in 1987/’89 period was an endeavour to oust a democratically elected government by political terror, fear and murder. Innocent civilians were killed at random; political opponents were subjected to horrifying and shaming treatment and the whole country was in a grip of a fear psychosis; body-less heads were seen almost at every other culvert. It was not a revolution; it was a ruthlessly executed orgy of murder. Hence to call the 2015 elections a revolution is a total disfiguration of facts, figures and character of a real revolution.
Yet why most folks call it a revolution could be explained when the change the 2015 Presidential Elections caused is taken in the context of the high expectations the broad masses envisaged. And it is in that context the current administration led by Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe is being judged and prejudged. Certain strategic errors were committed by the Maithri-Ranil combo. Among them, but not limited to, are:
1. Not dissolving parliament within days after the Presidential Elections
2. Promulgation of a 100-Day Programme
3. Bringing into parliament some known Mahinda Rajapaksa-lackeys such as S. B. Dissanayake and Dilan Perera
4. Going beyond a reasonably acceptable number of Cabinet Ministers
5. Non-removal of Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran on the first signs of trouble and misdemeanour
Being elected on a platform of eradication of corruption, establishment of transparency and accountability, it is anybody’s reasonable expectations that such drastically imprudent decisions would not be made by the leaders of the new coalition- Maithri-Ranil combo.Yet they made those irrational and sometimes idiotic decisions and they would have to pay for them unless they take some remedial measures almost immediately. Memories of our people are short; demands on their day-to-day chores are increasing exponentially in this fast, modern world. Smartphones and Facebook have become regular and necessary tools in their hands; PEO TVs are no more the exclusive possessions of the rich and in a world dominated by these modern-day gadgets, keeping information away from the general masses is simply not possible. Any attempts by those in power to hoodwink the masses the way the Rajapaksa regime did would be exposed by a very alert social media and galvanized civil organizations.
Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe have quite an unenviable task at hand. The sharpening of the minds of an otherwise dormant intelligentsia, a mission they undertook at the elections in 2015, might one day come back on them and bury them forever if they don’t stop being foolish.To show even the slightest tendency to accumulate more power and wealth would be disastrous. That is the cost of sharpening the minds of the general masses. They simply cannot afford to disregard the influence of the social media. Merely attacking the Rajapaksas has to lead to its logical conclusions such as bringing them before the law. The people will make up their own minds, if they have not done so already. The path of greed and avarice the Rajapaksas showed cannot be trekked by the Sirisenas and Wickremesinghes and their supporting crews in their respective party machines.
One last message for President Maithripala Sirisena: He seems to be obsessed with the notion of not to be the leader of the SLFP who would preside over its own demise. He must let that go. If the SLFP is going to dissolve as a political party, it would do so not because of President Sirisena, but because of various other factors amongst which are:the general degeneration of the party as a consequence of lack of discipline at the top, too much emphasis on ‘government’ as a solution to every problem, romanticist attachment to the party as a vehicle of the ‘common man’, lack of accountability built over a long period of time, a philosophical difference between the reasonableness of those who occupy a middle-ground and dependence syndrome enunciated in the policies of the party, thereby increasing dependence on politicians and their importance as saviours of the masses etc. All in all, the people are beginning to lose confidence and faith that they ascribed to the Maithri-Ranil combo at the beginning.
Lack of timely responses to the various allegations hurled at them by the so-called Joint Opposition coupled with the notion that the stability of the present government is in question and allowing the SLFP MPs and Cabinet Ministers to criticize the UNP, their coalition partner, has contributed to the collapse of confidence of the people. In that context, it is pertinent to mention that neither any UNP Cabinet Minister nor any UNP MP has been seen as criticizing the SLFP, it was always the SLFP members (outside the Joint Opposition MPs) who have been seen as lacking in discipline. Twenty years in power has corrupted the minds of the SLFP ranks. It has been entrenched in them that power is forever. The fear of losing that power and any existence outside that power have gripped their minds and made them impotent. That fear of impotency is their tragic ailment.
But let us not prematurely pass judgment on the performance of the Maithri-Ranil combo.
The jury is still out.
The writer can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org