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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2645

Ranil on an Elephantine Rampage

From Mallika Wanigasundara

Believe it or not - UNP [United National party] leader and Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremamsinghe is in a huge rage threatening a prestigious international Bank, lashing out at the business community, jeering at the fourth estate and chastising and ridiculing the Maha Sangha [ the Order of bhikkhus]. This is unprecedented for the leader of the conservative, generally cautious and decorous UNP which classifies itself as a foremost pillar of democracy.

All this must be making the ruling coalition headed by the SLFP [Sri Lanka Freedom Party] and President Mahinda Rajapakse happy. Those whom the Opposition antagonizes will drift in our direction during the next elections, which is what the SLFP must be thinking. Judging by the amount of development activities [albeit smalltime] it has undertaken in the villages neglected for decades the SLFP is no doubt preparing for the event.

Unlike the Colombo-focused UNP [Colombo chinthanaya {ideology}] the SLFP with its traditional roots in the villages believes that Colombo is not Sri Lanka as evident in the Mahinda Chinthanaya.

It is all about a Benz car bought tax free by the leader of the JHU [Jathika Hela Urumaya], the Ven Ellawala Medananda thera on a government permit issued to MPs and allegedly sold without authorization to a third party. The JHU maintains that it is registered in the name of Ven Medananda thera and that it is legally their car. Complicating the issue further, the car however is now in the possession of the Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremasinghe who drove about in it without legal ownership, and the alleged buyer has gone underground and the police are looking for him in connection with other offences.

It is a common practice, though not legal for Parliamentarians, Provincial councillors to sell their permits for tax free cars. While Ranil passes strictures on the Ven. Medananda his own UNP MPs have been selling their permits alleges the JHU. Ranil jeered at the Bhikkhu saying that he needed a Benz car to seek liberation, and kept repeating himself at a meeting. He called the monks ‘dusseela monks’ [bhikkhus who violate the Vinaya or the Code of ethics for monks]

The Maha Sangha were not amused and high ranking prelates such as the Mahanayake theras of Malwatte and Asgirirya expressed opposition and called for more temperate language. Bhikkhus said that the whole of the Maha Sangha should not be brought to disrepute by the Leader of the Opposition.In this country, observers say, and that whatever the shortcomings of some bhikkus, it is unwise and unacceptable for a politician to lash out at the Maha Sangha. There was a tremendous media buzz.

Of much greater national and international significance is the fracas Ranil Wickremasinghe created about the government’s efforts to raise a floating bond issue of US dollars 500 million [five hundred] through the international banking system. The reputed HSBC [Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation] is the leading bank along with Barclays and J P Morgan which would raise this massive sum from a consortium of banks.

The government says that the funds are for infrastructure building particularly in the East which has been liberated from the LTTE. After decades of indebtedness to the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the donors this is a shift in which the government is going for funding to commercial sources. This means higher interest rates but with no strings attached, like opening up the economy in a globalize system, deregulation, privatization, structural adjustment and other such demands.

The Leader of the Opposition announced that when the UNP comes to power it will renege on the repayment of the loan. An outstanding characteristic of Sri Lanka’s dealings with creditors is that it has never fallen down on debt repayment. And here is Ranil W saying that the UNP will not repay the loan, ignoring for all appearances international law.

The UNP is a conservative party with the private sector as its main support base, and Ranil particularly has been very cordial and supportive towards the business community. The rich capitalist class is the strongest rampart which gives its support and loyalty to the UNP.And look what Ranil is telling his friends. Then the UNP wrote to all the Banks, the Secretary to the Treasury etc and said that the UNP would not repay the loan and then raised the matter in Parliament.

The UNP followed this with another unprecedented thing: demonstrated in front of the HSBC office – protesting against the giver of the loan rather than the taker meaning the Treasury or the Presidents office. That was not enough; he made another astounding statement. That when the UNP came to power they would cancel the license of the HSBC and send it packing to Hong Kong and Shanghai. Up to that point not a sound from the Bank and we don’t know what his advisers, voters and supporters have to say. One MP who crossed over from the Jathika Hela Urumaya to the UNP resigned his post as party Treasurer and other posts after the attack on the Bhikkus, and has not been heard of lately.

Then came the next bombshell. Incredibly, Wickremasinghe told a meeting that when the UNP came to power business leaders who are ‘exploiters’ of the people and belonging to certain Chambers of Commerce will be exiled to Somalia which is the nearest he could think of, as ‘apaya’ or hell.

Ranil W does not sound like the staid Grand Old Party, the UNP, but like a bunch of Johnny come lately headstrong, radical leftist, impulsive youngsters.

Ranil seems to be reflecting some voices of the international community, some NGOs and INGOs, some sections of the media which repeat ad nauseam that aid would be cut unless the military operations are stopped, negotiations restarted,[ of course not a word to the LTTE to push it to the table], and the new weapon of the international community, violations of human rights are eased. This is the great hope of the LTTE too which has been painted into a corner and depends on Ranil and these other elements to stop the war.. Development and the supply of food and medicine to the north and east is hateful to the LTTE. How could it then talk about the ‘sufferings of our people.’

Then the flak hit the journalists. Ranil said that they are biased and partisan towards the government of the ‘Rajapakse Samagama’[ Company of the Rajapakse brothers] using the sacred formulaic stanzas that Buddhists recite paying homage to the Buddha and seeking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma [the Teachings] and the Sangha.

He says they replace the ‘Buddhan’ ‘ Dhamman’ ‘ Sanghan’ in the stanza, with the names of the three Rajapakse brothers, Mahinda, Gotabhaya and Basil.

Journalists came on television expressed their disapproval, deplored the use of unacceptable references and requested that more becoming language suitable to his prestigious office be used by Ranil.

Business chambers, the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka the National Chamber of Small Industries and the SAARC Chamber of Commerce condemned Ranil’s statements. His histrionics against the HSBC was described as unbecoming of a responsible politician, and that such statements give wrong signals to the international community and to investors, they said.

HSBC was defended as a Bank which makes a tremendous contribution to the economy and helps a the small and medium enterprises a great deal. HSBC is one of the largest banks in the world and has been in Sri Lanka since 1892. Responding in a very proper manner, HSBC said that in its operations it practices the highest standards and adheres to all laws of the countries in which it operates.

What could it mean, when at this juncture the heads of leading business houses paid a courtesy call on the outspoken and controversial Secretary of Defence, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, brother of the President. He told them that the government was of the firm belief that the final solution to the conflict was a negotiated settlement, but in order to do that the country needs to combat terrorism. The government has a vision and a mission he said. He commented that the whole world has realized that the only way to bring about peace and economic stability is by curbing terrorism.

For you to do business, first there must be a country, he concluded.

- Asian Tribune -

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