Coup Sri Lanka: some winners, mostly losers

As a president proves shockingly stubborn, a nation waits with baited breath as to what His Excellency the loose cannon on a rocky slope will do next.

Two Prime Ministers and the fates of their respective parliamentary groups hang in the balance like trapeze artistes. A Court bides its time until submissions and counter-submissions are made, and half the polity chews their fingernails in no little anxiety. That the final judgment will steer the ship of State in one of two directions is evident. To safe harbour for a brief while at least or stormy open seas yet again.

There is a plethora of small to medium-scale and even larger players scrabbling for a footing on these shifting political sands. Buff, polish, buffer, pad up, look respectable to shareholders and stay afloat on the stock market – the lot of many corporate houses these days. It’s the economy, stupid! And stupid corporate press releases. Plus in the real world, real worries. A staggering currency at an all-time low; dwindling reserves; a balance of payments act crippled by budgetary rudderless-ness.

Then there’s the bastion of the Central Bank. A bulwark by dint of adroit and impartial management acumen against political vagaries – but can it valiantly stave off our “rather onerous debt burden” and worsening country sentiments indefinitely? The new captain at the helm of the CBSL would be forgiven for feeling like the boy who stood on the burning deck…

Already, who some of the losers are – from banks and businesses and boutique hotels to the tiny tea kiosk at the street corner – is clear. Most obvious perhaps is Sri Lanka tourism, this year Lonely Planet’s “prettiest girl on the beach”. Maybe least noticed in the parliamentary mêlée are the lamentable losses incurred to special trading privileges such as GSP+. National coffers run dry courtesy IMF et al., “pending further clarity on the political front”. At the time of going to press, it was as clear as MP Johnston Fernando’s chilli-stained chair-throwing hands.


So what’s the top three players’ “end game”? An erstwhile one-term President is no doubt as pleased as punch at the low blow he aimed at the body politic for reasons best known to him. He probably has reasons himself of which reason itself knows nothing. He might even be congratulating himself that in one fell swoop he has rid himself of a troublesome Prime Minister and proven himself the larger man by embracing a former enemy to his bosom with hoops of steel.

If one person’s personal ambition is going to cripple the country’s prospects, ‘Aiyo Sira’ had better stand in line. We are not likely to forget JR or RP or forgive VP, leave alone fawn over CBK, MR in a previous avatar and RW in an intended future incarnation. If there is one lesson that it is still not too late to learn, it is that the Exec. Has. To. Go. – 20A, anyone?


But it might be more than the sitting Prez who comes a-cropper. As it is, Maithri’s standing is precarious. That his brace of Premiers could gang up on him to impeach His Excellency may be keeping him up later than his customary bedtime. And the writing is on the wall for 2019’s presidential race. For whomever the UNP fields, it is evident a former president on the loose again will campaign in whatever capacity – godfather of the nation or great proxy for a brother – against the incumbent.

If MR thinks, however, that the SLPP’s landslide in the LG polls is the barometer of his budding victory, he must think again. The floating voter impressed by his military derring-do and get-it-done fraternity has probably bobbed away after the hideous show of hooliganism in the House. Plus the economic perils we face at present and the ever-looming threat of regional politics needing a dab hand at diplomacy will probably erode the city-based genuinely nationalist vote he has taken for guaranteed before.

There is such a thing as being too smug, and Mahinda has been there and done that – at his cost, and ours – before.


In the meantime, public sympathy for RW – like our national reserves and brief international respite from being a banana republic – is rapidly dwindling. Where once the urban and urbane held that “Ranil must go, but not like this” – now, they’re more willing than before to “let him go gently into the good night”.

A rearguard of GOP conservatives and their sly social media apologists might desperately plead that he must remain in situ and make amends before stepping down next year. But even that old guard’s sneaky last stand by inveigling my mother-in-law’s naïve and sentimental empathy may have heard the sound of the last post in long-sidelined UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa’s dulcet tones. Speaking with decorum like a seasoned campaigner to international media scenting the kill.

Star non-players

But the son of ‘anti-impeachment Ranasinghe P’ might prove obdurate in the face of Ranil’s lasting displeasure. He and other aspirants to the UNP’s purple may well be reminding themselves of the many internal reform initiatives that the green leader has faced and survived to thrive by stirring up apathy wherever he went after that. They are as legion as his electoral defeats.

While SP may stay staunch and true to his party leader, counting discretion the better part of valour, the real strategic campaigner might prove to be another UNP stalwart to whom Maithri offered the Premier’s mantle. The Honourable Speaker may be seen by many newfound fans as the last man standing in a shambles of a House.

But some can’t forget he came late to this match of the democratic-republican game. Nor can they forgive him for proceeding with caution in the early stages, with sterling under-fire delivery on post-14 November sittings coming on the heels of tactical delays in the first days. Where was our Guy Fawkes then? And have we forgotten how he crossed over under compulsion, or to be fair by an incorruptible conscience, when Mahinda pulled 17 green birds?

Red card

Could it be then that Maithri was not being unmindful of his SLFP audience at that public rally when he dropped the names of Sajith and Karu like two bricks? Some suggest they fell at his two leftist feet. Let’s give native cunning its due, however – that’s where the MS-MR combine see the principal (and perhaps principled) opposition to their project coming from. At least as far as the UNP goes.

As far as the UNP goes, the farther the better – if they don’t get their act together! Maybe they feel their primary calling today is to be a lightning-rod for democracy in the face of egregious constitutional and parliamentary abuses. Perhaps if they’d cleansed those Augean stables to begin with, as we mandated them to do, we could have been spared an increasingly horrendous coup…


Civil society – the Colombo and other main city-based segments of it – are in danger of being the real losers.

On the one hand, a cynical UNP has worked them at both ends. Something the greens are good at doing – organising the rallies in left field and then making a sprinting dash to breast the tape, beating their not very impressive chests and claiming: “It was a famous victory for democracy, that rally was!”

On the other, a corrupt gang of desperados trying to get back into power by hook or by crook – their treasons, stratagems and spoils ranging from the unconstitutional to the uncivilised. To whom liberty means a cinema and roundabouts are the swings they too demonstrate around in far less orderly fashion!

Some citizens good and true from grannies to trannies have not been content to watch or be armchair warriors. They have burned shoe leather at sundry vigils for all the world of good it has done to get a quisling President to change his mind. Yes, change it again – after he changed it the last time! And our nation’s destiny and future prospects at the stroke of a gazette-signing pen. He’s probably one person in the whole kit and caboodle of the political cauldron who’s everyone’s favourite loser – the poor fishy farmer that he is.

Let us not return insult for injury. Two parts of the playbook remain unexplored. First, let the President himself – who so disingenuously thanked his MPs for being models of rectitude at their last outing – permit the law of the land to prosecute them for their vandalism and violence at their two previous excursions.

Then, consider posterity rather than his own fundament – and grow a pair, voila! As well as a socio-political conscience! And appoint someone from the UNP as prime minister. And, if that check and balance between personal ambition and youthful naivety in the House won’t work, call that presidential election – and let us all lose… again.

(Journalist | Editor-at-large of LMD | Writer #SpeakingTruthToPower)

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