Even Wickremesinghe’s own remarks at the APC let the cat out of the bag. The full implementation of the 13th Amendment, which entails conferring land and police powers to the provinces, requires new legislation that needs to be endorsed by Parliament.

It was President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s uncle J.R. Jayewardene who
was known as the ‘Old Fox’ of Sri Lankan politics, a sobriquet earned by
his maturity in age when he became the country’s leader and also his
reputation as a scheming Machiavellian politician. Wickremesinghe,
assuming office as President later in age than even Jayewardene, would
have considered the same title a compliment. Old, he is but a ‘Fox,’ he
is not.

He showed that in ample measure last week, summoning an All-Party
Conference (APC), ostensibly to discuss the implementation of the 13th

Amendment to the Constitution, introduced way back in 1987 by a
Cabinet headed by Jayewardene of which he was also a member.

It is no co-incidence that the call for the APC was made soon after his
return from India where he met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Even prior to embarking on a visit to New Delhi, Wickremesinghe had
sounded out Tamil political parties but received only a lukewarm

India and Modi, fully cognisant of the fact that Sri Lanka is now
beholden to New Delhi because it is the recipient of four billion dollars
in emergency aid told Wickremesinghe in no uncertain terms that they
had seen enough procrastination by successive Sri Lankan leaders
regarding the 13th Amendment and that he should get his act together.

This, Wickremesinghe would have seen as a blessing in disguise. He
could kill two birds with one stone by calling an APC for the full
implementation of the 13th Amendment. That would show India that
he was ‘sincere’ in his efforts. At the same time, he could potentially
woo and win a sizeable segment of the Tamil and Muslim vote,
especially in the Northern and Eastern provinces that could prove to be
a decisive factor in the next presidential election, especially if it ends up
being a three-cornered tussle between himself, Sajith Premadasa and
Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

Despite being a poor political tactician, Wickremesinghe cannot be
unaware of the impact of minority communities at a presidential

election. In 2005 he was the victim when he narrowly lost to Mahinda
Rajapaksa by a mere 180,000 votes after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE) enforced a boycott of most of the North and East where
Wickremesinghe lost an estimated half a million votes.

Similarly, a decade later in 2015 when Maithripala Sirisena won, he did
so by recording overwhelming majorities in the North and East which
allowed him to overhaul Mahinda Rajapaksa who polled well over 50
per cent in many of the ‘southern’ districts. This irked the Rajapaksa
camp so much that they displayed an electoral map that showed that
the electorates won by Sirisena and the map of the purported Eelam
advocated by the LTTE were eerily similar!

With such hindsight, Wickremesinghe’s call for an APC to implement
the 13th Amendment in full is for him a mere exercise in politicking. He
will keep up the charade for as long as he can, with an eye on the
minority vote. Having seen an umpteen number of APCs before this, no
one was gullible enough to fall for the same trick this time around- and
they told Wickremesinghe as much at the APC.

Even Wickremesinghe’s own remarks at the APC let the cat out of the
bag. The full implementation of the 13th Amendment which entails
conferring land and police powers to the provinces requires new
legislation which needs to be endorsed by Parliament.
Wickremesinghe’s stance was that since his party had only Member of
Parliament, he would readily go ahead with this if all parties can agree.
When was the last time when all parties in the Sri Lankan Parliament
agreed on anything?

What really riled the opposition though was not this particular aspect.
For any implementation of the 13th Amendment, even as it stands now
let alone its full implementation, provincial councils need to function
for which provincial council elections need to be held first. They have
been overdue for many months now but have been conveniently put
on the backburner by the government.

As it is only too well established, Wickremesinghe’s averse to any kind
of national elections prior to the next presidential election. The nation
witnessed the ugly undemocratic depths to which he stooped to
prevent local government elections due in March this year from being
conducted. He withheld finances, manipulated key officials and ignored
court directives to hold elections. After descending to such low levels
why would he now suddenly allow provincial council elections to be
held? He has already told court that there are no funds for elections, so
they cannot suddenly become available now!

As such, opposition political parties gave Wickremesinghe a taste of his
own medicine at the APC. The Samagi Jana Balavegaya and the
Nidahasa Jathika Sabhawa questioned the sincerity of his motives while
the Tamil National Alliance bemoaned the fact conducting an APC has
become a ritual which Sri Lankan leaders engage in from time to time
although there is nothing to show for all those efforts over the years.

However, the best rebuke for Wickremesinghe came from the Sri Lanka
Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the party he is supposed to govern with. Its
General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam, known in political circles as the

mouthpiece for Basil Rajapaksa asked why Wickremesinghe, a leader by
accident and co-incidence and lacking a mandate from the people, is
trying to tread a path not taken by any of his six elected predecessors.
In saying so, Kariyawasam deftly dodged the issue of whether the SLPP
supported the full implementation of the 13th Amendment but at the
same time exposed this exercise for what it was, a political farce
enacted for the sake of its popularity potential for Wickremesinghe.

It must be acknowledged that in his political career, Wickremesinghe
has shied away from communal politics and lost elections because of
that, most notably in 2004 and 2005. That said, it must be noted with
equal conviction that Ranil Wickremesinghe the great liberal democrat
who was the Leader of the Opposition and even Prime Minister is now
no more. Despite what he says about the 13th Amendment, instead
what we have now is Ranil Wickremesinghe the accidental President,
already a dictator who is fast approaching despot status.