Sri Lanka’s dual leadership avoids showdown, but both bruised
ECONOMYNEXT – The appointment of a respected economist to the post of governor to replace controversial Arjuna Mahendran has avoided a showdown between President and the Prime Minister, but both men have emerged badly bruised.
President Maithripala Sirisena who on Wednesday announced he would appoint a new governor "within hours" named Indrajit Coomaraswamy more than 70 hours later on Saturday "after consulting all parties concerned."
The announcement over Twitter was an indication that he had the concurrence of his Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who was stoutly defending the former incumbent Arjuna Mahendran and was keen on his re-appointment.
By choosing a man from Wickremesinghe’s old school, Sirisena could be setting a cat among the pigeons although the appointment of Coomaraswamy, who is a year junior to the PM, would appear to be a victory for the Royal College cabal.
However, neither Wickremesinghe nor Sirisena have had their way with the appointment of the governor, a post made controversial by a former incumbent Ajith Nivard Cabraal who dabbled in politics during the Rajapaksa regime.
Wickremesinghe’s inability to have his way also underscored his lack of power. The constitution does not give the Prime Minister any executive power, the only safeguard he has is from the 19th amendment.
The amendment passed by the interim government that came to power soon after Sirisena became President in January 2015 prevents the President sacking parliament until it completes four and a half of its five-year term.
"Ranil can use his political capital to resist the executive, but his own position is becoming increasingly precarious after the central bank bond issue," a ruling party source said.
Some of his strong supporters have begun to question Wickremesinghe’s staunch defence of Mahendran who was accused of insider dealing that profited his son-in-law’s firm that purchased long-term bonds from the Central Bank.
President Sirisena himself went public saying he advised the Prime Minister not to sully his good name over the bond issue.
Civil society groups which supported Sirisena to topple Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January 2015 elections are dissatisfied with the unity government, but Sirisena may have won back some of the support by making sure that Mahendran is not re-appointed. The president may have wanted to appoint deputy governor Nandalal Weerasinghe, but that idea was scuttled following UNP allegations of his loyalty to the former regime.
However, settling for a nominee from Wickremesinghe’s own socio-economic class showed the President was not ready to go all out and have a confrontation with his PM. Although he was not giving way to the Prime Minister, he was naming someone the PM would find hard to reject.
Political sources say some of Wickremesinghe’s allies had quietly ditched him and were seen supporting the president’s stance over the Mahendran affair. If the standoff continued, there was a real danger of a public split in the unity government.
Former president Chandrika Kumaratunga is reported to have played a key role in bringing about a compromise.
Even on Thursday, the prime minister argued that since Mahendran had not been found guilty by any court, he could not be removed. However, he may not be able to bring back Mahendran, unless fellow Royalist Coomaraswamy resigns prematurely.
Coomaraswamy, who had started his career as a researcher at the Central Bank over 40 years ago, was a director of economic affairs at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London and has impeccable credentials for the job. (COLOMBO, July 2, 2016)