The begging bowl is what’s least associated with power politics. The sword, the gun, white vans, and all that wealth provides are much closer to it.
Yet, the meeting between current President Maithripala Sirisena and the ousted president Mahinda Rajapaksa earlier this week saw much focus on this utensil of the powerless.
There is much being said today by the PR drummers of Hambantota strategy that Mahinda Rajapaksa remains unquestionably the most popular politicians among the Sinhalese today. This was stated most vehemently by Mahindananda from Nawalapitiya who earlier led our sports to disaster, at a political TV debate this week. It is no accident that he was part of the MR team to meet with MS.
If such is the popularity of this defeated leader, what is the need to come with a political begging bowl to have him named as the prime ministerial candidate of the SLFP or UPFA, at the next general election?
Would it not be very simple for MR to run as an SLFP candidate, after all he has lost only his presidential powers, and not his political rights, from the Hambantota District, to which he poured millions of public funds in the search for glory? If his popularity among the Sinhalese is as much as his drummers beat out so much today, it could easily take him to the top of an SLFP majority in Parliament, giving MS no choice but to name him the PM? Why then, the pleading or begging to be the PM candidate?
Such simple solutions are not the stuff of the defeatist SLFP or UPFA politics today. They have to beg for position; weep for attention; pose for recognition; accuse others of revenge; shout to be heard; even justify the assault on an academic to demonstrate support for people power, and use places of worship for the Buddha as centres of worship for the cut-out of defeat in politics.
Politics in Sri Lanka have seen many sad situations in the past. But the saddest so far is the inability of a person who led the country for nearly a decade, and also gave political leadership to defeat separatist terrorists, lacking the courage to accept defeat at the polls, and settle down to political retirement, or even possible statesmanship, without the trappings of power.
The real issue seems to be the passage of 19A, which has seen the reduction of the powers of the Executive Presidency, and an important increase in the powers of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers.
It is hardly likely that MR would have come to plead with MS to be made the SLFP’s candidate for PM, if 19A was not adopted and the country was left with all the constitutional horrors of 18A, the amendment so craftily and crookedly introduced by MR in September 2010.
A little bit of recall would be helpful. To former president Ranasinghe Premadasa goes the credit for describing the Office of Prime Minister under the JR Executive Presidency, as nothing more than the job of a peon. Of course Premadasa was a strategist in his own right, and made full use of the portfolio of Housing and Samurdhi to build a voter base of his own, while doing the job of Peon – Prime Minister.
The examples of Prime Ministers who served under Mahinda Rajapaksa – just two of them – Ratnasiri Wickramanayake and D. M. Jayaratne – do not speak, much of the value or worth of this office, politically. Ratnasiri Wickramanayake attached some importance to it due to his political experience, but the last man – D. M. Jayaratne, was nothing more than, or even les than the political peon that MR clearly meant him to be.
If 19A had not been adopted with all but one SLFP member voting against it, much to the displeasure of MR no doubt, it is hardly likely that last Wednesday’s meeting between MS & MR would have taken place with the political begging bowl on display for the candidacy for prime minister.
It is part of the irony of politics that the begging bowl for political office was proffered MS by none other than MR who had repeatedly refused to consider the rightful claims that MS had earlier made to hold the office of prime minister, even under the all powerful Rajapaksa.
Having crossed 19A we are now hopefully on the threshold of 20A. Whether that goes through or not, we will soon have to face a general election.
That will be when the actual popularity of candidates, even a defeated president will be best displayed. With the begging bowl being so important in the politics of the SLFP today, signs are there could be much more use for it the coming weeks and months, too.