Ranil‘s Machiavellian mindset
And a government hopelessly out of tune with the aspirations of the people
As the country becomes a battleground for local government elections with the government continuing its efforts to sabotage them, last week it demonstrated that it was hopelessly out of tune with the aspirations of the people.
The attempts by the government to stymie the polls have been nothing short of phenomenal. The latest last-ditch effort came in the form of hurriedly introducing the Regulation of Election Expenditure Bill in Parliament last week.
That task was entrusted to none other than Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe who did justice to his reputation as a ‘deal maker’. He reneged on an earlier pledge given to the opposition that the Bill would be deferred for a month and kept a straight face while introducing the Bill, saying it was not aimed at derailing the elections, which have now been scheduled for March 9.
The opposition smelled a rat in this sudden urgency to see this legislation through Parliament. Both Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake proposed an amendment to the Bill which would exempt it from the ongoing election campaign. Rajapakshe, after solemnly pledging the Bill will have no effect on the campaign, refused to do so.
These tactics aside, we also hear periodic outbursts from assorted government ministers and the likes of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s general factotum Vajira Abeywardena saying the government does not have sufficient funds to conduct the election. Pensions were delayed, the salaries of executive grades were held in abeyance and Minister Mahinda Amaraweera complained that he has no money to purchase paddy, all part of a concerted effort to convey that the government cannot afford an election right now. To boot, Secretary, Ministry of Finance submitted a sworn affidavit to the Supreme Court raising concerns as to whether the poll can be held because of financial constraints.
Amidst all this lamenting about the lack of funds to meet election related expenses, two other events proceed uninterrupted. The grand celebration for the upcoming 75th anniversary of independence is going ahead without any care for all the money that is being spent on it. This is despite several calls for austerity in this time of crisis and a public display of muted ceremony rather than all the pomp and glory of a full-scale event. While Sri Lanka is said to be starving for dollars, the government is dispatching hard earned foreign currency to the missions overseas, so they too can celebrate the event in style!
Adding insult to injury last week was the announcements that two new cabinet ministers have been appointed by Wickremesinghe: Jeevan Thondaman and Pavithra Wanniarachchi.
That is, of course, Wickremesinghe’s prerogative as President but these appointments reek of political opportunism. Thondaman, at 28 years of age, has only one claim to fame- his surname. It is a blatant ploy to woo the votes of the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC), in the event elections are forced upon the government. Wickremesinghe is clearly worried that the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), which is in alliance with some leaders of Tamils of Indian origin will steal its vote in the plantation sector. Hence the offer of a cabinet post to a political neophyte with hardly any impressive credentials.
Worse still is the appointment of Pavithra Wanniarachchi. This lady is an avowed Rajapaksa loyalist and once literally fell at the feet of Mahinda Rajapaksa and worshipped him publicly. The language she used to ridicule and belittle Wickremesinghe at previous election campaigns was unbecoming of a lady and even more so for a lawyer.
Wanniarachchi held the key portfolio of health when the Covid pandemic hit and made a mighty mess of it. She was pictured throwing a pot of water to the Kelani River trying to ward off the evil of Covid. She also drank, and thereby promoted, an unauthorized ‘peni’, which, it was claimed prevented the ill effects of the disease. All this, while the Covid immunization program faltered until it was taken over by the army and the country was forced into a lengthy lockdown. Wanniarachchi presided over this state of affairs and this is the person Wickremesinghe chooses to join his Cabinet.
Just as it is with the appointment of Thondaman, it is a political decision and not an appointment bestowed on Wanniarachchi because she is the best person for the job or because the Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Resources Conservation is in dire need of leadership. She has been appointed with an eye on future elections because the Cabinet lacks representation from the Ratnapura district.
What is unsavoury about the appointments is that they come with all the trappings of a Cabinet post: staff, vehicles, fuel allowances, security details, office space etc. which of course comes at a cost to the government and therefore to the tax payer. This, at a time when they are repeating ad nauseum that they do not have funds to pay pensions or hold elections!
The hypocrisy is revolting because the country is going through tough times, its citizens have had to cut back on their basic expenses and we are told that even more difficult times are ahead. Yet, for its rulers, a different set of rules apply: they decide what expenses are permitted even if they are non-essential, such as the independence day being held on a grand scale or appointing more and more cabinet ministers. They also decide what more hardships should be imposed on the public such as the proposed hike in electricity rates, so that even more wasteful expenditure can be sustained.
This is not surprising though because the government is now headed by Ranil Wickremesinghe, a failed politician all his life. He was never known to read the pulse of the people, believing instead that he can use his Machiavellian mindset to outsmart the voter.
What Ranil Wickremesinghe doesn’t seem to realize is that, this time, the people didn’t elect him, only 134 MPs did. The next time he seeks a mandate of the people, he will be told that he has to go.
-This article was originally featured on counterpoint.lk
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