by Namini Wijedasa
Nothing pulls at the Sri Lankan heartstrings more than two political enemies briefly compartmentalising their mutual loathing to beam hypocritically at each other with the objective, however fleeting, of convincing a gullible public that, this is it: “We are chums now”.
Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mahinda Rajapaksa are currently engaged in such an exercise. After it became obvious to the latter that his proposal to remove the term limit on the executive presidency was too risky to be tried, he switched gear to a more digestible alternative—the creation of an executive prime ministry.
The president then figured that, rather than conducting this whole business of constitutional change behind closed doors (as he is often prone to do), he will infuse some welcome transparency into the process by inviting others to participate.
Ranil was the first recipient of Mahinda’s magnanimity. He was asked to shuffle along to Temple Trees where the pair of them chatted like old friends before agreeing to meet again with other members of their parties. So, Ranil hobbled into Temple Trees once more with a bunch of UNP cohorts and they chatted some more. The next day, they even shared expensive distilled beverages and grub at Dinesh Gunawardena’s house after a productive (we hope) discussion on electoral reform.
Then, on Friday, Ranil and President Rajapaksa were spotted guffawing with each other at a public event in Anuradhapura. Sigh. They’ll be holding hands next and strolling into the sunset. No?
Of course, we have seen this sort of thing before, leaders who despise each other pretending to set aside their differences for national interest. And we think that it may even have worked occasionally in the distant past.
But the only time this formula saw success in recent years is when the 17th Amendment was passed. And our political leaders remain so flabbergasted at their lapse that they are still trying to undo the damage of having collaborated to enact that exasperating piece of legislation. (For all his bellyaching about the non-implementation of the 17th Amendment, we know Ranil doesn’t want it either).
So where will the latest Ranil-Mahinda confab end up? Not where that earlier Ranil-Mahinda confab ended up we hope. WHAT confab? Why, have we already forgotten the famous SLFP-UNP marriage of October 2006 when Ranil and Mahinda (very much like today) embarked on a series of convivial chats that culminated in the actual signing of an agreement between the two? An EM-OH-U, it was called in bars and bus stops.
At the time, Ranil and Mahinda agreed to collaborate on matters of — and no brownie points for guessing this one — national interest. Less than six months later, in February 2007, national interest was kind of flung to the mongrels when 17 UNP parliamentarians defected to the government without so much as a C-U-BYE to Ranil. And this, after all those smiley photos and clammy handshakes had left hordes of pathetic optimists around the country bleating euphorically about how Mahinda and Ranil had finally forged a bold and historic alliance for the good of the country.
But let’s not put a damper on the current spate of babble between Mahinda and Ranil. It does not become us Sri Lankans to be sardonic, sceptical and miserly (unless the occasion really calls for it).We must plod on with political naivety forever drummed into our psyches, our faces wearing looks of believing adulation and our minds conditioned towards blind worship. Reality is too harsh for us Sri Lankans. The key to our survival is our indefatigable capacity to be led on.
So lead on, oh Ranil and oh Mahinda. For the moment, these talks suit both sides. Ranil can momentarily divert attention from his despondent failure to lead his party and his even more miserable inability to accept the fact.
Mahinda has come out looking altruistic, beneficent and, frankly, a damn good leader. After all, he has now thrown the discussion out there and is not any more trying to “smuggle in” constitutional reform as if it were some private project.
In the end, who knows, Ranil might agree to everything and pull out at the last moment —on a technicality — without the flicker of an eyelid. Or Mahinda might lead Ranil around in circles with the sinister objective of preventing him from attending to the very serious business of reorganising his party. Or, they might sign another EM-OH-U because, what the heck, it’s only an EM-OH-U... something to talk about in bars and bus stops.
But there we go, being disgustingly cynical again. Shut up, already and C-U-BYE.