SLFP-UNP: Is it a Gay Marriage?

Politics of corruption (Island Editorial) 

Speculation is rife in political circles that the internal crisis of the government will come to a head if President Maithripala Sirisena attempts a Cabinet reshuffle without the UNP’s concurrence. The SLFP faction of the government is pressing for drastic changes in the Cabinet. Government leaders are busy papering over the cracks in a bid to prevent the morale of its supporters sagging.

Even the shadow of a doomed marriage is crooked, as a popular local saying goes. The same is true of the political marriage of convenience between the UNP and the SLFP. One may wonder whether theirs is a same sex marriage as there have been no signs of the yahapalana baby being conceived.

The government is suffering from what may be called the political autoimmune disease; it is destroying itself. The UNP and SLFP factions are at war and what keeps them together is the gnawing fear of the Rajapaksas making a comeback with a vengeance. The UNP is craftily capitalising on the SLFP’s fear of its dissidents to achieve its objectives.

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Time was when parents used to scare little fussy eaters into consuming food by threatening to hand them over to goni billa (imaginary child abductor carrying a sack). This trick worked and terrified children allowed food to be shoved down their unwilling throats. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is using Mahinda as a goni billa to ram various things down the throats of the SLFPers loyal to President Sirisena.

According to an inspired leak from the PM’s office, Ranil has ordered that the Joint Opposition be provided with all necessary facilities for its upcoming May Day rally to be held at the Galle Face Green. He is aiming at killing two birds with one stone. If the JO succeeds in holding a mammoth rally, the UNP will gain the credit for having acted very democratically and, above all, President Sirisena will get a scare and become more dependent on the UNP to keep Mahinda at bay. If the JO rally becomes a flop, its leaders won’t be able to pin the blame on the UNP; they will have to fault the SLFP.

There has been an inordinate delay in prosecuting some of the JO members much to the annoyance of anti-corruption activists though incriminating evidence against them is said to be available. The JO is not vocal in condemning the UNP’s corruption and has let up on the PM to all intents and purposes. It can easily mobilise people and stage street protests against the bond scams, which have, according to the Central Bank professionals, caused a loss of about Rs. 10 billion to the EPF alone. But, the JO worthies have chosen to act with restraint. Their reluctance to launch a frontal attack against the UNP is due to two reasons. They themselves have a history of stealing public funds and abusing power and, therefore, are wary of provoking the UNP into going the whole hog to make them pay for their not-so-past sins. On the other hand, their real enemy is President Sirisena and not the UNP, which they apparently do not want to weaken at this juncture as its loss will be Sirisena’s gain. The UNP is not going hell for leather to haul up the JO members before courts because they are a countervailing force against the Sirisena faction of the SLFP; they inflict more damage on the SLFP than the UNP.

Not to be outdone, President Sirisena has sought to have the whip hand in the government by driving the UNP into a corner with the help of the ongoing bond scam probe. Whether the UNP will fight back while facilitating the JO’s offensive against the Sirisena faction of the SLFP or swallow its pride and agree to extend the yahapalana connubiality beyond 2020 on President Sirisena’s terms remains to be seen.

The anti-corruption drives of cantankerous Sri Lankan politicians are like the much-feared nukes in the arsenals of the world powers, which never use them against one another for fear of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). So, it is only wishful thinking that anyone will be punished for corruption under either the current regime or a future government. The irate public will have to settle for entertainment provided by political dog and pony shows.