PARLIAMENT WRESTS BACK CONTROL FROM ARAGALAYA

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Going beyond the politics and plots that went into the huge victory for President-elect Ranil Wickremesinghe in Parliament, there is a greater message from the process itself. With a single, definite stroke, Parliament has wrested back the authority for the nation’s celebrated democracy from the Aragalaya street-protesters, who forced their decisions on constitutional institutions and individuals heading them – and still want more of the same.

In the immediate context, all those political parties and their leaders from within Parliament who had wanted Ranil too, to go as Prime Minister, along with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, but had contested and voted alongside have conferred greater legitimacy to the person and the process than if they had boycotted the same. That is to say, they have lost their case, and accepted with honour and dignity.

Likewise, it will be in order that the multiple groups of protesters with different ideologies, backgrounds and priorities, go back home, now that their collective demand for the exit of the Rajapaksas from elected positions has been met. If they are allowed to insist on Ranil’s exit, in the future they could be tempted to add other names, too, if only to keep themselves relevant and on the streets after a point.

Even more, future protesters would be tempted to repeat the current struggle for other demands, failed aspirations and unkept political promises of their times. Even if the occupants wind up ‘GotaGoGama’ and go back to their urban homes and villages, in the coming weeks and months, the nation is bound to hear about such protests – peaceful and otherwise, outside provincial councils, district offices and local government institutions, for all and nothing.

Maybe, at a more appropriate time, Parliament and the higher judiciary too, should get into the act of identifying ways to protect the nation’s democracy as much from mobocracy as from the political class, which is what the Aragalaya was all about. The Supreme Court especially could take suo motu cognisance of the arson incidents of 9 May and 9 July, and come up with constitutional/legal protection for the nation’s institutions. Parliament should then write them into the statue.

Dream comes true

For Wickremesinghe, it is a dream-come-true moment, yes. He had aspired to become Executive President through more fair means in elections – 2005, but the LTTE cheated him of it. The question would however, remain if any Tamil support for Ranil would have turned more Sinhala-Buddhist voters away from him at the time.

Circumstances denied Ranil the opportunity to contest the presidential poll afterwards, three in a row. He had held on firmly to the UNP Leader’s post only with that in mind.  In post-war 2010, Sarath Fonseka became the Opposition candidate, in 2015, in an anti-Rajapaksa vote, Maithripala Sirisena became the victorious common candidate.

In 2019, fellow-UNP deputy leader, Sajith Premadasa stole it from under Ranil’s nose. Sajith also stole the party votes from Ranil. By ensuring that he got the lone National List seat for the UNP in 2020, even if delayed by months, Ranil has proved more than one point – first by becoming Prime Minister, and now by winning the vote for ‘interim President’.

Ranil could not become President when he was politically strong. But he has become President when he is politically the weakest. The chances of his contesting the presidential polls when due late next year is brighter now than any time in the past decade. If he is able to deliver on the food, fuel and forex promises that he had kindled when made Prime Minister, he may still have a better chance to be elected President on his own steam – though more than 15 years older than his 2005 contest.

For both Prime Minister and President now, Ranil’s National List seat mattered as much or even more under the Constitution, for the presidency. This way, the founding-fathers ensured that the ‘interim President’ would still remain as representative as possible than letting Parliament elect an ‘outsider’, if it came to that.

MR’s game, game-plan

Talking to newsmen after Ranil’s election as the nation’s eighth Executive President – the first one to be selected by Parliament against the mainline nation-wide polls – two-term President and predecessor Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa declared that the losing candidate Dulles Alahapperuma was their man, that they had all voted for him – but lost. The question is if Mahinda had Dulles’ say-so to use his name, which makes the latter a part of a grand strategy that fooled Sajith and the SJB.

The figures speak for themselves. The Rajapaksas’ SLPP seemingly voted for the man that the leadership chose – but whom did the former choose. It was obviously Ranil. Their candidate got most, if not all SLPP votes. Ranil’s 134-82 victory tally shows that close to 25 non-SLPP MPs had voted for him. Not all of them are accounted for after Vigneswaran and the CWC committed in his favour at the last-minute. How many from the SJB and allies cross-voted?

Obviously, Mahinda is seeking to tell the Aragalaya protesters that Ranil was not their man, and that they need not have to waste their time, continuing / reviving their protest, demanding the exit of the President-elect. Even as Acting President Ranil empowered the armed forces to ensure law & order, which predecessor Gota had shied away from, whatever the reason. The courts have also woken up late, to bar beach-front protesters from getting closer to the Presidential Secretariat.

Supportive role

As President, Ranil now has good tidings from the IMF, with which he had nearly-concluded the IMF bail-out package, that they too, are ready to help. On the IMF say-so will happen assistance-flow, especially from the West. The Indian neighbour, which was the lone aid-giver through the past months of unprecedented crisis that the Government of the day did not know to address, leave alone manage, too, has since spoken about playing a ‘supportive role’ to the IMF.

Internally, for the IMF and the international community to help Sri Lanka, there has to be political stability and also a secure environment for tourist arrivals and massive foreign investments in multiple sectors. Parliament has ensured that there will now be as stable a Government as Gota had, especially after the parliamentary polls of 2020. It is for the nation to ensure that the atmosphere is otherwise conducive for economic activity of any kind and every kind!

(The writer is a policy analyst & commentator, based in Chennai, India. Email: [email protected])

By N Sathiya Moorthy