There’s a game I came across when I was checking if there was a word called ‘bluffoonery’. I’ll get back to the game in a moment. The reason for the search was simple; there’s been an overload of bluffing in the politics related to the presidential election of late. Secondly, I was also thinking of ‘buffoons’ which refers to ridiculous but amusing persons. Clowns. That’s how I got to the game Bluffoons.
I will leave it to the reader to check out the details of the game, but here’s what it is all about: a mix of fantastic bluffing games rolled into one great party game. Party game! Apt! Yes, I am thinking of the United National Party (UNP).
A week ago we had Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisena first wanting Cabinet to abolish the executive presidency and then pointing fingers at each other regarding who first wanted the meeting. That was after the majority of ministers roundly objecting to the proposal. It was not only these two gentlemen that slipped that day. M.A. Sumanthiran (TNA) did too.
Now Sumanthiran is good at calling federal arrangements ‘unitary’ (for reasons of expediency) but is bad at keeping subterfuge under wraps (he blabbed to Ratnajeevan Hoole, who in good faith no doubt spilled the beans). He wanted the executive presidency out of the way so that the 13th Amendment can do the work Eelamists in all probability always envisaged. Take the executive president out and the 13th rises to challenge the unitary character of the state. Sumanthiran couldn’t hide his disappointment. That’s just a sub-plot at this point though. The real story is all about clowns playing a bluffing game.
Now an executive president can have opinions and political projects, including that tired one about abolishing the very same office he or she holds. However the deed can only be done with a two-thirds majority in Parliament followed by a national referendum on the matter. Impossible as things stand and unlikely in the near future. In all the 41 years since the Second Republican Constitution came into force, there was only one occasion when a ruling party or coalition enjoyed such a majority. The country had to be freed from terrorism and had to have an extremely popular leader. We also had a close-to-dead Opposition with poor prospects for parliamentarians of the relevant parties. Then there was the Sarath N Silva determination sanctioning crossovers. Added up to two-thirds and resulted in the 18th Amendment. The 19th (like the 17th) Amendment was a ‘moment’. The ruling coalitions did not enjoy a two-thirds edge. Abolishing the executive presidency is easier said than done.
It is on record that the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) has objected to the PSC recommendations on constitutional reform.
And yet, it is reported that Wickremesinghe has agreed to have Sajith Premadasa content as the UNP’s presidential candidate if he agrees to a) Appointing Ranil as the Prime Minister, b) Abolish the executive presidency within six months, and c) Amend the constitution as per the proposals of the parliamentary select committee which deliberated on arrangements to obtain ‘reconciliation’. All this is contingent on Premadasa becoming president. That’s a steep hill to climb, but let’s leave that aside.
Now if the 19th Amendment clipped the powers of the president and made the prime minister the effective caller of shots, as the UNP has claimed, what is the logic of anyone doing the hard work only to have someone else rule the roost? Ranil would have Sajith run a race and then hand over the gold medal to the party leader.
The second is even worse. Buffoonery, sorry bluffoonery. So Ranil would have Sajith do the hard yards get to the finishing line, cross it, and then declare ‘this is a silly race, let’s scrap the event altogether’. Ranil would be the Prime Minister. Where would that leave Sajith? Just another minister in a UNP cabinet?
The third has to be read, in part, as the seasonal offering to bait in the minority vote, the UNP banking on its (diminishing) vote base among the Sinhalese to make up the numbers.
Nevertheless it is a dangerous move for it will be read as a mandate. Not that Premadasa would win, but it’s a black on white thing and two-bit communalists of the TNA, for example, would have a ball quoting chapter and verse. Just like Resolution 30/1 of the UNHRC, Mangala Samaraweera’s worst act of treachery, endorsed of course by both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe.
The parliamentary select committee came up with a set of proposals. There were nine in fact when one counts the alternative proposals annexed. The ‘main’ document is patently anti-Sinhala, anti-Buddhist and most certainly a recipe for disaster if reconciliation is about ALL communities and mechanisms are about integration and not division. The UNP did not submit proposals of its own. They have to be identified with the thrust of the proposals. Indeed, Wickremesinghe, when imposing conditions on Premadasa, was careful to avoid going into the details of the proposals.
It is on record that the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) has objected to the PSC recommendations on constitutional reform. The JHU submitted its own recommendations, which are annexed under the ‘after thought but irrelevant’ column, so to speak. Where does that leave Patali Champika Ranawaka?
That’s his problem. That’s the problem of the JHU, a subplot within the overall political circus that the UNP’s search for a presidential candidate has turned out to be. It looks like the entire yahapalana coalition, Sirisena and his reduced-to-next-to-nothing SLFP included, have done nothing over the past five years apart from playing ‘Bluffoons’ in secret. So much so that they’ve started playing the game in full public view. Maybe it’s their official Party Game.
Interestingly, after all this, Premadasa has refused to bite. Where that leaves him and Ranil is left to be seen. More bluffing? More buffoonery? Let’s watch. Let’s laugh our guts out.
We might as well.