Opinion: Who are President Maithripala Sirisena’s advisors? Rukman Senanayake should be one of them

President at a recent ceremony commemorating Senanayake political leaders

October 21, 2018 (LBO) – The drama over the dissolution of the boards of directors of the Board of Investment (BOI), Bank of Ceylon (BOC), and Peoples Bank has led many to ask the question….Who are the President’s advisors?

Whoever they are, their advice has resulted in simmering tensions with the UNP and its leader Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. These tensions resulted in a no-confidence motion where the Prime Minister emerged victorious by proving a significant majority in the house.

Although it was a win for the Prime Minister, it marked one of the low points in the governing coalition whose main partners are Wickremesinghe’s UNP and Sirisena’s SLFP. Amazingly, the government is still in tact with both parties sharing the powers of the government.

The fighting between the two sides has had some benefits. As a result of the gridlock, corruption from both parties in government has been reduced. A lot of credit has to go to the President for this. As is generally the case with gridlock, wasteful spending has been reduced, and budget deficits have actually improved. Political appointments have gone to better people, most notably perhaps the best political appointment in the recent history of Sri Lanka, Governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy.

Coomaraswamy, and the credibility he has brought to Sri Lanka’s monetary system, is perhaps one of the key reasons that the economy has not collapsed. The economy is certainly floundering, and part of this can be blamed on the political grudge match between the President and the PM.

For the economy to get better, relations between the President’s party and the UNP need to improve. Communication needs to be improved, trust needs to be enhanced, and collaboration needs to happen in the interest of the nation. The leaders of Sri Lanka are duty bound not to let political bickering harm the people of the country.

Like Indrajit Coomaraswamy (68) is to monetary policy, there is a political leader of similar vintage who may be able to help President Sirisena build some goodwill with his coalition partner the UNP. Rukman Senanayake (70) has a knowledge of politics and the UNP that are second to none. He is incorruptible by money or power, and as a Senanayake, he is duty bound to serve the nation.

Rukman Senanayake should be sitting in the Presidential Secretariat as an advisor to Maithripala Sirisena. He would be able to offer Sirisena invaluable advice on how to collaborate with UNP Seniors. He could be a point of contact for UNPers to voice their concerns to the President. He could try to mend fences and build bridges between the two warring factions in government. He could give daily counsel and empathise with the President who has the most powerful, but also the most lonely job in Sri Lanka.

Rukman Senanayake is someone who may understand how lonely it can be to be Maithripala Sirisena. He is someone who has been ‘treated differently’ from a young age, as the grandson and political heir to D. S. Senanayake. He is also one of the few people in Sri Lanka who understand politics as well as the President.

He has been a front line leader in the UNP, a long time member of parliament and a member of the Cabinet. He knows the public sector as well as any political leader. This public sector aptitude is coupled with understanding of the wants and needs of the poor in electorates throughout Sri Lanka.

He is a strong leader who has a history of interacting on a peer level with both Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisensa. In fact he has even gone head to head with both, challenging Ranil for the leadership of the UNP, and also leading the UNP campaign in the Polonoruwa District against Maithripala Sirisena. He has engaged in these politically adversarial relationships, while keeping cordial personal relationships with each of them. In addition to that, Rukman has maintained a cordial relationship with Sri Lanka’s other major political figure, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

For the entirety of the Yahapalanaya government, Rukman Senanayake has been in retirement, as most men of the age of 70 are. During this time, he has written several books, one on his grandfather D.S. and the latest one on D.S.’s elder brother F.R. Senanayake.

Sirisena has recently made comments that the UNP he aligned with is not like the UNP of D.S. Senanayake, or that of his son who was also Prime Minister, Dudley. President Sirisena’s public admiration of D.S. Senanayake should lead him to look around and see who can help him instil in his government the old school values of the UNP. Maybe he should give Rukman a call.