The Sunday Leader

Politics Is The Art Of The Possible

by Gamini Weerakoon

There were reverberations in the body politic of Sri Lanka last week when reports said that the usually reticent President Maithripala Sirisena had told his cabinet that if he had the opportunity to appoint ministers in charge of two particular portfolios, some leaders of the former regime would have now been behind bars.

What he meant needed no further elaboration even to the man-on-the-street. He had thrown a cat among the pigeons but there was no visible response last week.

S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha came out strongly against the corrupt administration of the Rajapaksa regime

The allegation reflected strongly on the UNP that had been largely responsible for the election of Sirisena as the president and the formation of the National Unity Government. Only Sagala Ratnayaka, Minister for Law and Order, was quoted saying he was willing to resign.


Yahapalanaya stability

While squabbling and sniping among its membership in public has not been a feature of the present government, it is normal in most governments around the world, even in single party government unlike ours which is a coalition.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is having problems among her own Conservative party colleagues; Donald Trump, the Republican president is still facing opposition from many sections of the Republican establishment including his own White House appointees and Angela Merkel is having problems with those not happy with her migration policies.

Thus, what’s the fallout of President Sirisena’s remarks? Will it impact on the UNP itself that has conveyed the impression of solidity and the Sirisena punch will simply bounce off? Will it catalyse some SLFPers in the coalition who are suspect to be in tow with their former boss to tell UNPers off and break up the coalition? And what of the Marxist leaders in the ‘Joint Opposition’ who proclaim that their only reason to be with the Mahinda Rajapaksa is because he is anti-UNP. But if the Rajapaksa faction is playing footsie under the table with top UNPers, what should they do?



The stark reality for all constituent members of the Yahapalanaya government is that the crack-up of their coalition will result in all suffering jointly and severally. They are unlikely to lose their jobs immediately because Parliament under the 19th Amendment can only be dissolved only after four-and-a-half years after its first sitting! So, where will they be with no leader in sight to command an absolute majority in parliament?

Sense, sanity and their wives will be telling them that the status quo is best for their well being and that politics is the art of the possible - the attainable, as Otto Von Bismarck, regarded as the founder of the German Empire had observed.

The celebrated remarks of President Sirisena could turn out to be a landmark of Sri Lankan politics because it may set UNPers and SLFPers thinking of new journeys into the future while enjoying the privileges of being honourable MPs.

The memorandum of understanding signed between the UNP and SLFP in January 2015 on formation of the National Unity or Yahapalanaya or whatever it is called, ended last month and the consideration for its renewal was extended till the end of this year. While some Rajapaksa hopefuls will be awaiting the prophecy of doom for this government to come true by that time, others will be thinking of strengthening their parties and possible alliances for future hustings.


No Contest Pact?

Both partners of the coalition will be thinking whether they should go to the polls in the near future by themselves or together. The best possible solution will be a no contest pact between the UNP and SLFP which could leave the Rajapaksas high and dry.

Parties that have been in power are generally at a disadvantage because of promises not kept and the usual promises of milk and honey by the opposition but new factors and personalities may come into play that could change the outcome entirely. At the last presidential election, there emerged Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha, a respected monk who came out strongly against the corrupt administration of the Rajapaksa regime and was able to win over a sizeable section of Buddhists for the Common Candidate. He passed away soon after the formation of the Yahapalanya government leaving a huge vacuum in Buddhist leadership.

A recent significant development has been the emergence of Asgiriya Chapter promoting Buddhist interests and their pronouncements happen to coincide and are in consonance with opinions expressed by the Rajapaksa faction. Recently all three Nikayas supported the move initiated by the Asgiriya Chapter to call off attempts to amend the constitution.

Buddhist monks claim their right of entry to politics from historic times when they served as advisors to monarchs but there have been instances where monks and their advice have been rejected outright. While in contemporary times monks are a power in politics before elections, they tend to lose their political clout once they have enthroned their favourites. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, the first in modern times to be elected by saffron power as prime minister, fell to the criminal machinations of his saffron robed supporters soon after.

Nonetheless Saffron power seems to be gathering momentum and could play a significant role in politics in the near future.

There is still two years to go before parliament to be dissolved and for a new government but not to those who may be thinking of extra-parliamentary ways and means. Sri Lanka’s near 70-year-old democracy should withstand that.

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