Picking the most valuable player in a cricket tournament may be a tad easier than picking the most effective talent in a political entity, particularly a relatively new one. Or a new governing coalition.
But if we put the idea to a test, would there be general agreement on the most valuable player on the side of the new SLPP led political forces?
This writer remembers penning an opinion piece around the beginning of the second Mahinda Rajapaksa tenure as President, which claimed that Dr. P. B. Jayasundera was the most valuable player (MVP)of the then coalition. Some agreed, others didn’t, but there was no vehement criticism overall. Today, Dr. PBJ heads up operations at the Presidential Secretariat, as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Secretary, a job that would make an immense contribution to defining the tone and tenor of the GR Presidency.
Expectations are high as the newly elected President lays down policy and governs with a new agglomeration of forces, but there must be an MVP in the current SLPP + coalition as well.
I’d say that the Most Valuable Player today, is Basil Rajapaksa. Why is Basil Rajapaksa (BR for short, and the former Minister of Economic Affairs) the current MVP? Those who don’t quite agree with my pick, may say that BR is hardly heard of — or heard from — in these times.
That will be like saying a gale force storm is non-existent, because nobody sees the breeze.
This government wouldn’t exist without the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. It was a party born in the teeth of a project to decimate the nationalist and progressive forces in the country. The traditional anti UNP force had morphed into a massive green blob that was part of the arch capitalist UNP, led by the owning classes.
The labour class, and the nationalist forces — the sanga, veda, guru, govi kamkaru five-pillar juggernaut if you will — didn’t seem to have any option at all. They watched in horror as the new ‘national unity government’ ignored them and catered to the anti Sinhala-Buddhist comprador class.
Peripheral forces that do not play an active role in the mainstream political process saw any allegiance to the old centrist SLFP as a bad joke. They agitated for a new force that represents progressive nationalists. Dr. Nalin de Silva stated that going forward with anything other than a new party was an absolute farce. This writer put together a widely circulated piece on web media opining that any allegiance to the SLFP based on historical considerations be summarily abandoned, considering that such a position would be tantamount to suicide by sentimentalism.
Amid the gnashing of teeth by the old guard in the SLFP leadership, then firmly ensconced within the folds of the UNP, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna was born. Enter Basil Rajapaksa. The grassroots organizational effort had to be phenomenal at the seminal juncture of the SLPP’s journey, given that no previous party structure existed. For making things happen in the SLPP, and not wanting to hog the limelight, BR could be classed as the political rarity.
BR has to be the MVP of the current governing coalition, primarily for this reason.
The General Election is on the cards, and the former Minister of Economic Affairs is now positioning his troops for a consolidating outcome. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the brand new hope of the SLPP, and the party membership got its wish. But the SLPP’s term with GR as President and Mahinda Rajapaksa as PM has to emerge from the fog left behind by the chaotic Yahapalana rule.
There will be no perfect Parliament, but the call for fresh faces will be ignored at the party’s peril. New talent is therefore a certainty, but the SLPP nomination process will face the challenge of having to also not alienate the faces of the older order that stood with Mahinda Rajapaksa after the 2015 debacle, up to November 2019.
To some extent, the new administration has attempted in the first two months to please all types, and walk the tightrope. But, tough decisions will have to be made as the new government faces up to key issues, such as the UN Human Rights Council sessions, the thorny nominations process, and other matters such as the fate of the 19th Amendment.
The first challenge of clearing the parliamentary elections hurdle, will doubtless be championed by the government’s MVP, Basil Rajapaksa, because he is the organizational wizard, capable of making the right deals that cut to the chase and deliver on diverse fronts. Without him, and his organizational skill, it’s safe to say, this government would not have materialized.
He is a silent asset, willing to keep a low profile, while doing the hard work, but this time he would also have to cobble his forces together based on the record of the Government in the first few months.
A two thirds majority or thereabouts is not an impossibility, but will be hard to obtain, in today’s political climate of an out on limb minority voter base. If Basil Rajapaksa puts his mind to it, almost anything can be done however, as long as the cards are played right in the days that remain before the election is called.
If there isn’t a two thirds majority in April 2020, and the 19th Amendment is not repealed, the governing coalition would have to find innovative ways to rule, and perhaps innovative ways to get rid of the said terminally ill 19th Amendment as well. That sort of governance will require tenacity, tact, and guile, and not mere brute force.
Today, the authors of the 19th Amendment such as Jayampathy Wickramaratne, appear to be deserting the ship of State that they almost quite successfully totally wrecked. Wickramaratne has resigned as a Member of Parliament, and if initial reports are correct, is seeking to migrate to Europe.
That’s his private life and doesn’t concern us, but certain wags have observed that there is an element of slash and burn to it. The 19th Amendment was supposed to make certain law enforcement institutions such as the police independent. But, as recent events such as the tape-gate scandal and the former IGP’s ‘bend the law’ statements reveal, the police was anything but independent, and as a result the purpose behind the 19thAmendment was lost.
So what was the use then, of the 19th, which intended or otherwise, caused the now notorious dysfunction in the system, as a result of the ensuing horrendously contentious relationship between President Sirisena, and the head of the legislative branch, the Premier?
On top of all that, the relevant constitutional clauses in the 19th dealing with the powers of the President with regard to prorogation and dissolution of Parliament, etc., were badly drafted, and amounted to a mauling of the intentions of the framers of the constitutional document. The joke that did the rounds was that Jayampathy’s draft had more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese.
Now, Jayampathy is to cut and run, and we hope he won’t let the door slam too hard on the disaster he is leaving behind as he exits. The new Government is left holding his legacy. Already the SLPP has paid some price, considering the need to linger on until March to dissolve Parliament, which is also a result of the fixed term Clause that is part of the 19th Amendment.
In this context, the MVP, Mr. Basil Rajapaksa has his work cut out for him. Everything rides on former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s image as the charismatic leader, but that’s already there in place, as has been for a long time. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for his part, is opting for a relatively moderate executive style, that’s a counterweight to his former image as a man who exercised his considerable military muscle without being coy about it.
To be realistic, chances are that his novel moderate image could be subject to severe testing as time goes on. If he keeps to his current highly calibrated middle of the road stance, he would risk alienating parts of his and the SLPP’s base. An example is the Patriotic National Movement’s demand to know whether the Government is sticking to the former UNP regime’s Geneva line or not. This comes after a reported reference by Minister Keheliya Rambukwella to the Geneva UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka, which saw its passage within that body, with the support of the then local Foreign Minister Mr. Marapana.
This writer does not know the details concerning the Government’s decision on Geneva, but the Patriotic National Movement’s query on the matter says something about the tightrope act of maintaining allies by adopting a stance of moderation, while also retaining the faith of nationalists and others forming the backbone of the base back home.
The new Government has been extremely innovative. But it has a gargantuan task ahead of it, considering the challenges that involve the Constitution and of gaining the kind of mandate that will make it a viable and strong one, a task for which the tone has been decisively set.