Thus spake Prez
Thursday 4th August 2022
President Ranil Wickremesinghe has proved that he is playing his new role with aplomb, and is desirous of adopting a novel approach to governance, if his maiden policy statement is anything to go by. He had yesterday’s ceremony to mark the inauguration of the third session of the ninth Parliament pared to the bone; there was no gun salute. Such measures are bound to go down well with the public.
Declaring that he was the President of every Sri Lankan, Wickremesinghe undertook to defend the rights of all citizens. He stressed the need for all Sri Lankans to unite at this hour of crisis and make a concerted effort to steer the country to safety. He offered to form an all-party government. The SJB, the SLPP dissidents and others are right in having accepted an invitation from the President to talks on the formation of an all-party government, which, we believe, must be an interim administration pending a general election. The formation of a national unity government and a National Assembly tasked with taking key decisions collectively will help reduce the President’s dependence on the Rajapaksas for parliamentary support. Let the President be urged to ensure that the parliamentary watchdog committees such as the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), which are to be reconstituted, will be headed by Opposition MPs.
President Wickremesinghe got on his hobby horse—the need to reform loss-incurring state ventures. A divestiture project will not be politically wise, but it will help save a great deal of public funds that continue to go down the gurgler. It is high time someone plucked up the courage to grasp the nettle.
Wickremesinghe has demonstrated that he is a cut above most other leaders by discussing what the country has to do to reap the benefits of its strategic location in view of the emerging Indian Ocean centric economic power bloc. His exhortation to the House not to oppose foreign investment for the sake of doing sounded sensible, but no agreements detrimental to the national interest should be signed. His offer to formulate a national economic policy for the next 25 years is also of interest. This is something many other countries have already done while Sri Lanka is living from hand to mouth. Another salient point in the President’s speech was his undertaking to respect democratic dissent while getting tough with lawbreakers in the garb of protesters. He sought to allay fears among the people that a witch-hunt against the Opposition had got underway. He said peaceful protesters could complain of injustices, if any, via a dedicated telephone line, to a committee headed by a retired judge, who, he said, would make inquiries and take speedy action. This may be reassuring to the youth who have set out to change the world. The President, however, will have to back up his words with deeds. The proof of the pudding is said to be in the eating.
President Wickremesinghe’s avowal of a neutral foreign policy could not have come at a better time. The international media focus is currently on Sri Lanka due to a controversy over a Chinese survey ship scheduled to arrive at the Hambantota Port. India has expressed concern over the movement of the Chinese vessel.
The President’s willingness to bring in the 22nd Amendment, which will curtail some of his executive powers, is to be appreciated. All progressive provisions in the now-defunct 19th Amendment have to be restored, but the President must be able to hold the Defence portfolio.
The President has talked the talk and impressed even his critics, and now he has to walk the walk. He has taken a huge political gamble and finds himself in an unenviable position. What he has undertaken is a political high-wire act without a safety net. He has to strike a fine balance between unpopular measures that need to be adopted to put the economy back on an even keel, and action to placate the irate public, protesting and demanding relief. The arduous journey he has embarked on is far more perilous than Grusha’s walk across a collapsing rope bridge over an abyss, in The Caucasian Chalk Circle. He has already lost his house at the hands of some savages masquerading as change seekers, and his political enemies are all out to engineer his downfall. He is in fact sailing between Scylla and Charybdis. One can only hope that he will succeed in his endeavour, and the country will benefit therefrom. Let him be wished good luck!