It was a cheap trick, Mr President

It was a cheap trick, Mr President

By N Sathiya Moorthy

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s so-called disclosure that the Election Commission (EC) had not declared the local government election (LGE) legally, smacks of political skull-drudgery of a kind that his name h as evinced through much of his long political career. As the Head of State and Government, and also the senior-most parliamentarian along with TNA’s Sampanthan but with vast and varied politico-administrative experience, it was his duty to have corrected the EC when it fixed the LGE for 9 March without quorum. It is this quality of his that friends and foes alike fear at one-level, suspect him at another level and hate him for what he may not deserve otherwise.

According to Ranil, only two of the three independent EC members attended the meeting that decided the LGE date. Media reports too had indicated as much but no one took it seriously, as a third member, making up the quorum, had approved of the decision, post facto and on-line. A fourth member, Mrs P M S Charles, quitting office in between would not matter to the conduct of LGE, it was said. But absence of quorum was a different matter altogether.

In this, the question also arises if commission Nimal Pumchihewa erred, and deliberately so. If so, it also raises questions about his motive and also the propriety of his continuance in the high office. Anyway, in the absence of a new panel appointed by the Constitution Council, revived by the 22nd Amendment the incumbent was rendered lame-duck to say the least. The question thus arises if they should have at all initiated a move, which has become legally untenable and indefensible. If nothing else, the EC has not refuted the President’s claim or charge, as the case may be.

Yet, none of it could absolve the government, especially the President, of leading the nation up the ‘garden path’ (?) on the LGE. It was a cheap trick, after all. And if the Opposition calls him a ‘liar’ or has ‘gone insane’, they may be rude, yes. But as one of them said, Ranil’s declaration that the LGE was not legally declared was the ‘height of absurdity’, yes. Yet, the President may not be wide off the mark. It makes his silence when he remained silent on the LGE date issue not behove either of the high office, or the person holding it. Full-stop.

The EC has now said that they would announce a new date for LGE on 3 March. Well said, and also maybe well-intentioned, too. However, political parties are not sure that the government would want the local government elections any time soon. They should know. When in power, all those parties, barring the JVP, had conspired with the very same President, when the latter was Prime Minister, to divine reasons and reasons, to delay the provincial council polls, as if they wanted to deny the democratic opportunity to their people.

Stop knocking…

Hence for the Opposition to cry foul and appeal to the international community to pressure the government to hold LGE here and now may be as politically immoral or amoral as Ranil’s late-discovery about the illegality of the polling date. More importantly, from a larger national perspective, they should stop knocking the doors of the international community for what essentially are domestic issues.

They need to look at the mirror first, and also news sources, to find out if in any other country, the political Opposition has been in the practice of inviting trouble by indulging the international community (read: West) with its angularities and preferences. Of course, this government team cannot blame them for it, as former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who while in the SLFP Opposition parent, had camped in Geneva, to complain against the UNP government for rights violations. It was very long back that he might have even forgotten it. Rather, he would love the nation to forget it.

Of course, the government’s fears about facing the people has been brought out by a recent opinion poll that puts the leadership’s popularity at a woefully low 10 per cent, down from 18 per cent, the last time round. However, the President’s standing has marginally improved. The contest for the leadership is said to be between JVP’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD) and SJB’s Sajith Premadasa, 32-31 per cent. In another poll weeks earlier AKD’s standing for presidency stood at a substantially high 48 per cent.

Hurting more

It is in this background, calls for Mahinda to return as Prime Minister need to be understood. It is a now-or-never battle for Mahinda personally, though he still can hope that the Rajapaksa clan can weather the current politico-electoral storm with a lot of unsolicited help from their adversaries. But there are also aides of his erstwhile President-brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa who want Mahinda to retire from active politics and settle down peacefully.

More than such suggestions, it is reported that China wants Mahinda back is what could hurt the Rajapaksas’ chances mightily just now. After the China-funded ‘white elephant’ debts and the unspeakable disaster of their ‘organic fertilizer’ policy and supply, no Sri Lankan, however loyal to Mahinda otherwise would want to touch him with a barge pole.

There may still be a silver-lining for the Rajapaksas, however, if Gota, who went over to China could claim on return that he had convinced Beijing on debt-restructuring for the nation to be able to avail of IMF funding facility, followed by the rest. Alternatively, China should independently rush to the nation’s rescue as it has done recently in the case of Pakistan. If it happened it would have geo-political implications. At the same time, if Gota returned empty-handed, which he most likely is to be, he would have to explain to the nation, as to what his China trip was all about. That could hurt the Rajapakas more than already.

(The writer is a policy analyst & political commentator, based in Chennai, India. Email:

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