01 March 2015

Ranil’s true colors

Mr Arrogance rides again? 
Ranil Wickramasinghe is the Prime Minister of this country.  He is Prime Minister today because he helped Maithripala Sirisena become President of this country.  If he enjoys any power today it is simply because the President has unofficially conferred to him much of the decision-making powers vested in his office by the Constitution. 

We can call it ‘gratitude’.  We can say he deserves reward for favors granted.  There are things we cannot say, however.  We cannot say (as he claims) that 6.2 million people wanted Ranil to be made the Prime Minister simply because what happened on January 8, 2015 was a PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. 

Ranil Wickremesinghe didn’t run for President.  Indeed, we can safely conclude that Ranil Wickremesinghe could not have won had he contested.  If ‘reform’ was his thing then it is more easily obtained by winning the Presidency rather than waiting on the largesse of someone else who was elected.  As things stand, we are not even sure if Wickremesinghe wants reform, considering the fact that he’s quibbling over the utterly petty issue of whether or not presidential powers should be pruned along with instituting electoral reforms, not forgetting that he’s clearly focusing on a General Election. 

None of this should stop anyone from acknowledging that Wickremesinghe is excellently positioned to help push the reform project to a conclusion that satisfies those who voted for President Sirisena.  Having spoken on good governance and reforms necessary to obtain it in the long years spent in the political wilderness, Ranil Wickremesinghe, would know all about it and about how to get it all done.  Wickremesinghe moreover knows what can be done and what cannot, having recommended ‘The Art of the Possible,’ the memoirs of British Conservative politician Lord Butler to Rajiva Wijesinha.  Treating ‘possible’ as a synonym of ‘convenience,’ does not call for wild applause, however. 

All this must disappoint those who saw in Wickremesinghe the statesman the country sorely needs at this juncture.  What is more disturbing however is not the fact that Wickremesinghe is turning out to be ‘just another politician,’ but that he’s demonstrating that he has not matured over the years.  He seems to have lost nothing of the arrogance that is so much in evidence when he wears the hat of party leader.

The Prime Minister accused some Sinhala newspaper of being in the payroll of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and attempting to create communal disharmony.  He is correct in identifying this as a problem, both the payroll-issue (if it is true) and that of fostering communal unrest. He is being remiss in that he singles out Sinhala publications.  He is absolutely out of order when he calls the public to conduct ‘occupy-style’ protests at newspaper offices.  He is being sensible when he promises to talk to media heads about these issues but is bordering on insanity when he says ‘if they don’t turn up, I know what to do’. 

That is a threat.  It doesn’t sit well with the yahapaalana rhetoric.  Perhaps what is more disturbing is how media rights advocates have responded.  Some have said that it is good that Wickremesinghe has articulated the threat, whereas earlier such threats were actually carried out.  Others focus on the ‘communal’ aspect of Wickremesinghe’s ‘observations’ and applaud the same while ignoring threat-issuance. 

There are sane voices, however.  Dharmasiri Lankapeli of the Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions while acknowledging that racism was a problem insists that state interference is not the way to combat it.  ‘The industry itself must wage that struggle,’ he points out.  He also condemns Wickremesinghe for making veiled threats: ‘it is inappropriate and not what you expect in a new media culture that tolerates different viewpoints’. 

 The threat remains.  It colors Ranil Wickremesinghe.  It worries because as of now he is only the Prime Minister and his position is largesse-bounded.  When he is unbounded (as UNP leader, for example) he is no democrat.  This is known.  Extrapolation is easy.  This is why comprehensive constitutional reform is urgent.  We just can’t trust politicians to rein themselves in.