Victory at times could turn out to be more problematic than defeat. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who won the presidency and consolidated his power in Parliament in style the other day, finds himself in an unenviable position. He is faced with the gargantuan task of not only appointing a new Cabinet but also keeping those to be left out of it happy. In politics, especially on the winning side, everybody wants to be somebody and aspires to plum ministerial posts. Even those who do not possess the minimum educational qualifications to join the State sector as janitors want to get into the Cabinet! This time around, the President certainly has no reason to appoint a jumbo Cabinet as his is a strong government that does not have to depend on portfolio-seeking crossovers for survival.
It is reported that the former ministers who lose their portfolios will be tasked with supervising ministries. President Rajapaksa seems to have borrowed a leaf out of the late President Premadasa`s book. President Premadasa in a bid to appease some of his rebellious parliamentarians made a host of such appointments and those MPs came to be derisively dubbed kankanam amathis. However, it is doubtful whether the former UPFA ministers will settle for less. He, who pursues the stag, as they say, regards not the hare.
One of the key ministries that President Rajapaksa will have to be extremely cautious in finding ministers for is Foreign Affairs. In the post-war period, the country faces new challenges because the LTTE has changed its tactics and, therefore, needs a capable man in that position. Former Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama was rejected by the people at the recently concluded election in spite of his braggadocio. The less said about him, the better! Suffice it to say that we consider his defeat a tribute, as it were, the people of Colombo paid to his predecessor Lakshman Kadirgamar, whom he refused to honour befittingly posthumously. He kept on postponing the installation of Minister Kadirgamar`s statue at the Kadirgamar Institute on some flimsy pretext. This he did, mind you, in spite of a presidential directive several months ago that the statue be put up immediately! Such was Bogollagama`s hubris which eventually brought about his downfall. Minister Kadirgamar`s portrait was unveiled at the Oxford University but his statue has not yet been erected at the institute named after him. And the government talks of GRATITUDE!
We are wary of recommending candidates for the Foreign Minister`s job. But, we strongly believe that the next Foreign Minister should be a highly learned man of integrity who commands the respect of the international community and is capable of defending the country at any forum. He should also be a man who will desist from wasting precious forex to feather his nest and see the world in the company of his spouse and children. The public must not be made to pay for birthday cakes of Foreign Ministers` pampered progeny and flowers for their shrewish spouses occupying expensive suites in foreign capitals. Moreover, the Foreign Minister should be free from electoral obligations and responsibilities so that he could devote his time and energy to ministerial work without having to nurse an electorate and employ his backers at the Sri Lankan missions in affluent countries.
Sri Lanka`s war on terror which effectively neutralised terrorism at home is still on, though its military phase is over. It has reached a stage where the country has to be defended from without against a sophisticated enemy. Unless the government appoints the best person within its ranks as the next Foreign Minister and assigns him to counter the post-war threats diplomatically, the hard-won war victories may not yield the intended results. The time has come for the government to shift from its aggressive diplomacy to persuasive diplomacy.
It is hoped that the President will make a wise choice.