“What an anomalous position! The Prime Minister and other Ministers are collectively responsible to Parliament except one member of that Cabinet, the chief whose policy the whole Cabinet is carrying out. The Prime Minister and the other Ministers can be pilloried and thrown out for no fault of theirs, but the fountain-head of the faults and deficiencies in question will escape scot-free immunized by the Constitution itself.”
– N.M. Perera, 1979. Critical Analysis of the New (1978) Constitution
Today is April Fools’ Day. For Christians, it is also Easter Sunday. Skeptical wags will relish the coincidence, which occurs only three or four times a century. Here at home, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe may have been wishing the Joint Opposition’s No Confidence Motion (NCM) to be nothing more than an April Fools’ prank, or, failing that, in the week of the risen lord he (PM) too could rise from the near-death ordeal that he has been going through over two months and as many moons. Alas, there is no April Fools for PM. The NCM is no prank or pickle. The man is in a real predicament. Nor can Easter save him. The Christian message of Easter is that – one who sacrifices one’s life for one’s faith will live on even when dead. In politics and in public life, if you sacrifice your honesty for ill-gotten gains, you are spiritually dead even if temporally alive.
The Prime Minister already stands injured and insulted, by his co-executive’s Gazette Extraordinary. With the stroke of the presidential pen, Maithripala Sirisena has gutted the PM’s portfolio, removing the Central Bank and all matters economic and financial from the PM and relocating them in the Finance Ministry. That is where they have always been since the government of Prime Minister DS Senanayke and his Finance Minister JR Jayewardene. That is where they must always be. The younger forces in the UNP must reflect hard and realize that how positively differently the yahapalanaya government could have unfolded if Ranil Wickremesinghe did not commit the cardinal blunder of usurping the Central Bank and handing it over to his baby-boy governor and his wheeler-dealing UNP cabal.
1956 was the last time Easter fell on April Fools’ Day. In Sri Lankan politics, that was a particularly bad year for the UNP and one that may seem to fit chronological extrapolation by a frequent political commentator to reach 2018 from 1953, 1956, 1964 and 1970. Never mind, predictions based on chronological extrapolation are no less flawed than astrological prognoses in electoral politics. The Prime Minister’s predicament is all post-2015 and nothing pre-1977. Leaping over decades to imagine linkages, and creating narratives spiced with familial connections, is self-serving political commentary. However, it is possible to see a continuous curve in the way Ranil Wickremesinghe has been conducting politics throughout his political career starting from 1977. However, blaming his parents for his political failings is as pathetic as praising one’s parents to sell one’s political wares.
Yet, it cannot be said that the Prime Minister is not without an escape door, morally and politically. Morally, the opportunity for redemption is the fundamental condition of transformative justice, just as it is the essence of Christian teaching based on the New Testament. ‘Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth’, on the other hand, is Old Testament thunder. Politically, Ranil Wickremesinghe will still have life in the UNP either as a beleaguered PM (if he wins the vote), or as an elder statesman of consequence (if he loses). It is the President who will have nowhere to run if the PM wins, and will become the sole scapegoat for blame against the government, if he loses. Either way, the President would have got his well- deserved comeuppance.