The joke was that Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe, regardless of stated political differences, were totally dependent on each other. In Mahinda’s case Ranil was the perfect Opposition Leader and he would have loved nothing better than having to go head-to-head with the man. The fact that Ranil shied away from such a confrontation on two occasion, gives credence to this view.
Ranil needed Mahinda. The out-of-the-blue road work outside Sirikotha when Ranil was harangued by party detractors was just one of several moves made by the aiya to help the malli. All that’s in the past, after the January 2015 results, one might think. Is it true though?
Right now Ranil Wickremesinghe is acting as though he’s the all powerful executive Prime Minister. Many of his backers and party loyalists believe that President Maithripala Sirisena is a 21st version of William Gopallawa. Some even think that Sirisena is madly in love with Ranil. That’s a view held by myopic UNPers as well as incredulous SLFPers who must wonder which party the President really backs.
The truth is that things are not that rosy for either Ranil or the UNP. Right now, the power struggle within the SLFP or rather the attempts of the pro-Mahinda group to gain lost ground serves the UNP’s interests. If there’s a split of any kind, naturally the UNP stands to gain. A resolution in whatever direction would be less savory, consequently. In any case, dissolution of Parliament in the context of an unresolved internal conflict in the SLFP would be ideal for the UNP. The call for dissolution therefore is logical. The logic of the call however is dubious.
Maithripala Sirisena came to power promising sweeping reforms in the institutional arrangement. Electoral reform is a critical part of the reform package pledged to the voters. Citing the end of the ‘100 Days’ as reason for dissolution is poor form from the UNP, especially since it is the UNP that has constituted the biggest drag to the reform process. The UNP, as of now, had orchestrated a virtual standstill in Parliament. The UNP is playing spoiler, that much is clear. They demonstrated this amply by the antics over the 19th Amendment and the scandalous foot dragging over the 20th.
The UNP, moreover, is in deep trouble over the Central Bank bond issue. If the COPE report on the subject implicates big wigs in the party, it might snowball into the President sacking the Government. Yes, he does not have to dissolve until April 2016. If that were to happen, if and when elections are called, whether or not the 20th Amendment is passed and whether or not a passed 20th will result in elections being held under a new system, and whether or not the Mahinda-factor dents the SLFP, the UNP will not have things as easy as it would if say parliament is dissolved tomorrow.
Ranil needs Maithripala right now. He needs Maithripala more than Maithripala needs him. Since Ranil has not delivered on key promises and since his ministers have compromised national security, made a mockery of objections of wastage and are now implicated in massive fraud, Maithripala can say ‘All bets off, brother’. Indeed, sacking Ranil might give him just the little leverage he needs to mitigate the Mahinda-factor within the SLFP.
‘Maithripala’ is therefore a dangerous card to bet everything on, as far as Ranil is concerned. The Mahinda-card might be a stronger trump to push Maithripala to dissolve. One thing is clear. President Maithripala Sirisena is no fool. However, he could earn that tag should he opt to be Serf Maithri to Lord Ranil.