Maithri: From Waterloo to Watershed?
Politics & Society by Prasad Gunewardene
The general belief in the country is that most of our politicians are comedians. Most of our politicians do act like comedians time and again. In the previous regime Mervyn Silva was outstanding. He tied a government official to a tree. Later, it was told that the victim performed that act himself. Mervyn staged a drama both inside and outside the Rupavahini Corporation. Finally he won the award titled ‘Minister of Public Affairs and Public Relations’ for his outstanding “public performances.” Not only Mervyn, many others also played brief comedy roles at regular intervals. No wonder the world would say that Sri Lankan politicians are the best comedians in the world.
From day one Maithri won the presidential election, it is nothing but comedy within the SLFP and the UPFA. In a single day at the same time two Central Committees of the SLFP met in Colombo and one argued with the other about the legality of the respective entity. Maithri formed a Cabinet of Ministers, Deputies and State Ministers. Many of them left him at regular intervals. After nominations also his ministers began to tender resignations. The last was Janaka Bandara Tennekoon. His resignation was sent in the form of a poem at a time the centre of politics is tensed with an election campaign on. A resignation at the tail end of a government after dissolution of Parliament does not affect the process. The loser will be Tennekoon himself. Now he goes to contest an election without ministerial power. Politicians should demonstrate a clear vision of their path at this critical juncture with an election campaign at peak.
The ministers who resigned in the recent days may have been of the opinion that they could attract public sympathy or take pride in doing so. Their exits are never felt by the people. The people are busier trying to meet ends to live their lives and have no time to care for politicians. It is the politicians who claim that the people want them. But the people never contribute to that claim being disgusted of crossovers. Most of the politicians elected by the people cross over for personal gain much against the wishes of the voters. Such politicians do not talk sense and the people scoff at them. The upcoming general election will prove that point as most crossovers may not return to Parliament. The few who may return will have to thank late President J.R. Jayewardene for introducing the proportional representation system embedded with the preferential voting pattern.
The latest excuse to tender resignations is President’s Maithripala Sirisena’s address made on 14 July in which he stated that Mahinda Rajapaksa will lose the August election and be a loser forever. So, some ministers resigned stating it was a setback to the party. However, Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to ignore Maithri’s prediction. Mahinda as usual goes round the country carrying on the campaign. It is Mahinda who should have felt hurt by Maithri’s prediction. If Mahinda is not worried why should others worry and make it a big issue? In resigning over that issue, those who resigned have renewed Maithri’s prediction before the eyes of the people while their opponents in the UNP are taking advantage of the internal crisis in the SLFP. Emotional politics played by most SLFPers in trying to display allegiance to Mahinda is also a cause for the present crisis and the widening of the rift between Maithri and Mahinda. They failed to embark upon intelligent methods to mend fences between the two. Hence, the widening rift in the SLFP has given passage to the UNP to push it to the wall in the upcoming elections. There’s a contrast in politics of wisdom and politics of emotion. Politics of emotion is only practiced by political fools because they are blind to the fact that there are no permanent friends or foes in politics. We have many of them in the centre stage of politics today.
Maithri is a leader with patience and wisdom. He is quietly watching the situation. He does not want to convince those who threaten to resign not to do so. He lets them to do it. Wise political leaders do not obstruct the path of disobedient and mischievous members. They let them have their way as it’s’ a blessing in disguise to the party in the larger interests. In politics, loyalty is the most important criterion. Whoever may be the leader, the membership should follow him.
The recent resignations of several SLFP Ministers have strengthened future plans for the party by Maithri. He has just started to make new appointments to electorates. Therefore, it’s a crucial time for SLFPers who aspire to continue in SLFP politics. The upcoming election is not important to Maithri who is bent on the concept of a National Government. Ranil and the rest back Maithri’s concept. Maithri’s plan is to clean up the SLFP to face the next general election in 2020. Hence, the losers would be those who oppose Maithri. A political leader in the Executive President’s office is a strong leader and his physical appearance or strength do not matter. What matters is political wisdom. Hence, the membership should be guided by that reality. One can learn enough lessons from the past on how men like J.R. Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa faced internal crises within the UNP. When some ministers opposed the 13th Amendment and the Indo-Lanka Accord, JR told the Cabinet, “You can have your say but the President of Sri Lanka will have his way”. Premadasa and Lalith Athulathmudali were the two senior members who were openly critical of the 13th Amendment. What did JR do? He got Premadasa as the Prime Minister and Leader of the House to present the 13th Amendment to Parliament and directed Lalith to wind up that debate reminding them of collective Cabinet responsibilities. Ranasinghe Premadasa during his presidency did not succumb to the pressure mounted by strong men like Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake. He expelled them from the Cabinet and the UNP.
Leaders of the past like Ms. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, J.R. Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa put the party before all things and never succumbed to pressure by the membership. They let those who opposed the leadership to leave or either sacked them. They exercised their political wisdom in the long range and re-built the party in a strong manner. In the present political context, victory or defeat at the upcoming general elections to the SLFP or UPFA which is in disarray do not matter to Maithri as Maithri has other future plans for the SLFP. Those who act like misguided missiles at this critical juncture would be the losers. Even if Ranil and his government resign today, it would not matter to Maithri at all. Maithri is a farsighted man who is watching everything with patience. If anyone tries to outsmart him, he knows how and when to drop a bombshell. One could view the real Maithripala Sirisena in office after the August General Elections. I state that fact having known and studied him over the past four decades in politics. In true form, Maithri does not fear to tread entities where angels fear to tread. Maithri’s fearless walk out from Mahinda’s Government last November demonstrated his courage and bravery. None ever dreamt that this small – made man would take such a giant leap.
([email protected]// )