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Time for transition from Arahath to President

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Maithripala Sirisena was elected by the voters to be the President of Sri Lanka. Sirisena overcame the obstacle of the incumbency by erecting the broadest political tent the country has ever seen. It seemed as if everybody except the Rajapaksa clan were part of the Sirisena grand coalition. The grand coalition of distinct and disparate groups was a clear indication of Sirisena’s realization that he needed to unify the opposition to beat the incumbent.

Maithripala Sirisena’s platform was basically a call for the return of decency and fair play in politics as well as curtailing the powers of the executive presidency. Here was a man who obviously had a great dislike for the office of the President due to its excessive powers, yet felt compelled to seek that office in order to dismantle the same.

It was apparent that the people of Sri Lanka have had a bellyful of the Rajapaksas and were ready for a change. Post war/2009 period of the Rajapaksa presidency had been notable for its opulence, excesses and ham fisted rule. Rajapaksa was seen by many to have taken the Presidency for granted. Sirisena’s soft spoken calm demeanor and simple ways were the perfect foil for Rajapaksa’s family centered extravagance and bluster.

Over three months have now passed since the election. While much has changed, much has also not changed. To President Sirisena’s credit he has reduced the overt ugliness of Sri Lankan politics in this short period. There is a palpable reduction in the fear factor among the people. There is a sense of personal freedom among the populace that was clearly missing during the previous regime. Minority anxieties about Buddhist extremism have been alleviated to a degree. He has made long overdue overtures to India and the west and has been well received.

In fairness to the President, much of the incoherence is the outcome of poor decisions taken by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and his cabinet. As a politician with limited nationwide exposure and sans a political party to back him, Maithripala Sirisena was forced to form an unholy electoral alliance with the leader of the opposition Wickremesinghe and the United National Party. Handing the premiership to Wickremesinghe who controlled less than 25% of the MPs in Parliament was part of that electoral pact. From the outset it was obvious that Wickremesinghe would have a difficult time managing the affairs of the state due to his lack of support in Parliament.

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s anti-corruption drive is a crusade to find any wrong doing that could be pinned on the Rajapaksa family and their supporters to drive a permanent wedge between the former and the current president in order to break up the SLFP and the UPFA coalition. A split in the coalition will most certainly increase the chance of UNP winning a majority of seats at the next general election.

Then there is the not so subtle attempt by Wickremesinghe to usurp the power of the executive through clever wordings to the proposed amendments to the constitution. This more than anything else should cause President Sirisena to be extra vigilant with Wickremesinghe. The attempt to usurp the powers vested in the Presidency by constitutional duplicity shows a total disdain for the will of the people and the legally elected President on the part of the Prime Minister.

Wickremesinghe has survived as the leader of his party in spite of losing two presidential elections, overseeing the loss of another and losing numerous general and provincial elections by decimating his opponents in the party and appointing sycophants to the party hierarchy. Wickremesinghe sycophants maybe better educated and more refined in their public behavior than the bunch that crawled in the footsteps of Mahinda Rajapaksa, but they all exist for the same reason. Wickremesinghe’s record at elections may not inspire the confidence in many, but he is a formidable opponent in that he seems to find a way to remain politically relevant in spite of himself. In the case of Maithripala Sirisena, Ranil Wickremesinghe has played him like a well-tuned guitar from the day the two became unlikely allies. 

Now that the powers of the Presidency have been clipped by the passing of the 19th amendment to the constitution, President Sirisena needs to start mending fences in his own party and gear up for a general election. President Sirisena must build a loyal base for himself and retain the services of politically savvy and knowledgeable individuals so he could move away from Wickremesinghe’s sphere of influence. With the passing of the 19A, Wickremesinghe has got a whiff of political blood in the air and will likely go all out to disrupt a rapprochement between Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa in order to facilitate a permanent split in the UPFA. President Sirisena should realize that Ranil Wickremesinghe cannot and should not be trusted with unfettered power for he could do to Sri Lanka what he has done to his own party.

At best, Ranil Wickremesinghe is a reluctant democrat. At worse, he is a dictator in democrat’s clothing. 

Maithripala Sirisena might be a reluctant President who is more interested in serving the dictates of the Dhamma, but he needs to realize that the people elected him (not Wickremesinghe) to a full term to provide political direction for the country. Maithripala Sirisena, not Ranil Wickremesinghe is the real deal here. Maithripala Sirisena was sworn in as the President of Sri Lanka on January 9, 2015 and not ordained as a monk. Therefore, the duties of the Presidency must supersede seeking of Arahathhood.

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