It used to be said that Sir. John Kotelawela talked first and thought later. That description better suits Mr. Anura Bandaranaike who will later this week return to what he was pleased to describe as a ``carnival of clowns.`` Sir. John certainly was a man of character with a fund of common sense and practical ability although he could sometimes wrong foot himself by shooting his mouth off. It is doubtful that Bandaranaike can claim to be of same mettle. He has surely inherited his father`s oratorical ability and once-upon-a-time put in some work into his speeches. Whether even that little work ethic survives today is debatable.
The media was full of pictures last week of Anura`s ``kiss and make up`` meeting with the president followed by his 58th birthday bash at Visumpaya on Thursday. On that occasion he royally entertained the ring master of the circus he was talking about days earlier. President Rajapakse has delivered the clear message that all ministers of the government hold office not at His Majesty`s but His Excellency`s pleasure. Although there were news reports that Bandaranaike, smarting over the slight of the unimportant National Heritage portfolio foisted on him in the reshuffled cabinet would get something better, that doesn`t seem likely in the short term. Right now Anura has painted himself into a corner and can only accept what is proffered with good grace. That is what he seems to be doing right now.
Bandaranaike`s performance as a cabinet minister, particularly in his pre-reshuffle avatar as minister of tourism, has been unexceptional. He did little other than fighting with the ministry secretary and gallivanting abroad. It is clear that the tourism industry is happy that somebody of the caliber of Milinda Moragoda is now in charge of this job at a difficult time. It is not easy to attract tourists here given the war and the risk of LTTE terrorist strikes anywhere. No doubt Moragoda faces a tall order but the industry perception is that he, certainly more so than Bandaranaike, is capable of facing up to the challenge. The Tourism Promotion Act, in the pipeline for many years, has to be implemented. The new minister has the ability to work with the private sector which runs the tourism industry with the role of the state restricted to that of regulator. Hopefully, something useful can emerge following the changing of the guard.
Mangala Samaraweera will be a tougher nut to crack than Anura Bandaranaike. The president, however, has left the door ajar for the former minister to come back to the fold. Samaraweera has laid down his own conditions, trotting out Ten Commandments to make his return possible. Rajapakse, as we have said before, is redolent with the virtue of kelehi guna danna, and has never chosen to forget the role his former minister played in his electoral victory in November 2005. Samaraweera managed Rajapakse`s campaign and moreover was a prime architect of the arrangement between the Rajapakse camp and the JVP which was a major factor in the president`s election victory. If it is left to Rajapakse alone, he may be inclined to take Samaraweera back as he did Bandaranaike although there appears to be a coterie around the president who would rather he did not.
It is abundantly clear now that Samaraweera is not going to be any danger to Rajapakse or his government. He is not likely to attract crossovers to his side. Unlike the president who can lavishly ladle out ministries to all and sundry, there is little that Samaraweera can offer except life in the wilderness. Judging by what our political commentator has written today, there`s a theory floating around that the UNP is looking at the possibility of Samaraweera crossing to the green corner. Anything is possible in politics. Even Phillip Gunawardene sat in Dudley Senanayake`s UNP cabinet from 1965 to 1970. Samaraweera understands the validity of the old truism that there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies in politics, only permanent interests. So whatever he does now will depend on his interests. So also the president.
While Samaraweera is now demanding investigation into various COPE (Committee on Public Enterprise) recommendations, there have been movements on the government side towards examining his own doings. The former fashion designer enjoys Haagen-Daasz ice cream and likes high living as evidenced by the lavish refurbishing of his offices which visitors have seen as very plush. He also installed a lift in his official residence at the cost of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. Eager beavers nosing around should be able to come up with something if they really want to find it.
As far as Rajapakse is concerned, the biggest negative in his horizon at present was his inability to get his recent JVP allies into his fold. He may have preferred his UPFA partner in the government to a rump from the UNP. But he is not blind to the advantage of having a malleable group of UNPers, greedy for the spoils of office, than the JVP which will be less easy to deal with. His betel leaf ally at the last presidential race would be particularly difficult on how much they are willing to compromise to enable a workable solution to the National Question. As it is Rajapakse has trouble keeping the Marxist party within the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) framework expected to come up with a definitive proposal in the next few weeks. But the president`s hand is strong in the matter of parliamentary survival. With or without the JVP he is now home and dry. Also, it is obvious that forcing an election upon themselves by destabilizing the government is going to cost the JVP plenty.
The UNP defectors are now Rajapakse`s prisoners who will have to dance to his tune. Although they bleat that they are still UNP, the chances of their getting back to that party and being re-nominated at a future election is bleak regardless of whether or not they survive an exercise to save their seats.
Now that the president has got the stability he needs and does not risk a defeat in parliament even if the JVP opts for hara kiri, the country would expect him to deliver on the promises he made including securing a durable peace. That will be more difficult than moving pawns greedy for office on the political chessboard.