Editorial/Opinion

Let sanity prevail

Four years ago, on 21 November, 2014 to be exact, the then Health Minister of the all-powerful Mahinda Rajapaksa Government made a shocking announcement at a hurriedly arranged media conference at the New Town Hall in Colombo. Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena flanked by members of the United National Party, a powerful section of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party led by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, and others, informed stunned reporters that he had decided to quit his ministerial post and come forward to contest the presidential election as the “Common Opposition Candidate”.

After nearly a decade of oppressive rule, violation of civil liberties, and rampant corruption, the great majority of Sri Lankans heaved a collective sigh of relief. The mood that prevailed in the country at the time was for the return of democratic rule, abolition of the executive presidency, and strengthening of independent commissions to preside over key areas of governance.

Sirisena in an emotional and passionate speech at this media conference solemnly swore he will abolish the executive presidency, strengthen independent commissions, restore rule of law, and work towards eradicating bribery and corruption.

Four years to the day after that historic announcement, Maithripala Sirisena stands before the country as yet another betrayer of the cause. Sri Lanka is yet again crying out for the very same reasons it did four years ago. The man who was supposed to be the saviour is now the villain. By virtue of this fact, Maithripala Sirisena no longer enjoys the mandate he received from the 6.2 million people who voted for him in 2015.

At the same election it must be noted that 5.8 million people voted against him. Therefore, as things stand, almost the entire electorate of 12 million voters now stand opposed to him one way or the other.
These 12 million voters never wanted or never voted for the union he has now formed with Mahinda Rajapaksa. In fact, every one of them bitterly opposed such a union and expressed their sentiment through the ballot. It appears the President has scant regard for the will of the people and is treading on very thin ice.

In exactly 45 days from now, he will be constitutionally empowered to call for a presidential election. He can be assured that no one will move the Supreme Court to prevent such an election. With such an option soon to be available, it is left to be seen if Sirisena will do the right thing and seek a fresh mandate ahead of a general election which in accordance with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution is not possible before February, 2020.

Going by his recent actions it is clear that Maithripala Sirisena will not let the Constitution of the country get in the way of his personal ambitions. Even if there was to be a general election tomorrow, what is the guarantee that Sirisena will accept the result?

An election costs Rs. 4 or 5 billion. How many billions will have to be spent to satisfy the President’s requirements? It’s the man on the street, who pays taxes on sprats, onions, and potatoes, that has to ultimately fork out the cash to fund the billions that are needed to hold elections.

One thing Maithripala Sirisena seems to have miscalculated is the resistance of the collective of parties lined up against him. While he plays the waiting game, hoping that this nightmare he has brought upon himself will go away, the Opposition parties have been equal to the task, matching him move for move.
Having obtained interim relief from the Supreme Court, enabling Parliament to be reconvened, they have turned on the heat by winning three consecutive motions of no confidence. Another vote is due this week on a proposal to cut expenditure for the office of the Prime Minister. This vote too is likely to go the same way.

Piling on the pressure, the 122 MPs, who have expressed their lack of confidence in Sirisena’s Prime Minister and his Government, are now going for the kill. On Friday, these 122 MPs filed an application for a writ of quo warranto against Mahinda Rajapaksa in the Court of Appeal, seeking a ruling on his authority to hold the office of prime minister after losing multiple votes of no confidence.
How long more is this battle going to go on while the country heads into an abyss? The President must answer for the political carnage he has caused. He cannot keep quiet and pretend nothing has happened, because the country has lost billions of dollars in revenue, grants, and investment funding, since 26 October.

The other issue is the bureaucracy. State officials, the Police Chief, and the service commanders are bound by the oath to protect and adhere to the provisions of the Constitution. The majority group in Parliament is already on record that it will personally hold responsible those who do not uphold the Constitution.

One has to feel for the bureaucracy. They are caught between a rock and a hard place. The incumbent President is one that has been legally elected but not the so-called Prime Minister and his new Government. While they are legally bound to protect and carry out the orders of those protecting the constitutional provisions, they are equally bound to act against those who violate the supreme law. Given this situation they would have to tread cautiously when following orders from various authorities.
After Sirisena’s appointed Prime Minister Rajapaksa and his Government lost a third vote in Parliament last Friday on the composition of the Parliament Selection Committee, it is clear that the Government is in no position to govern this country.

For all intents and purposes, if the Government cannot stand its ground in Parliament or be in a position to have a vote passed, there is no government. That is the reality today. This begs the question as to how there could be Cabinet meetings and Cabinet decisions considering the legality of such decisions.
If this state of affairs is allowed to continue by a stubborn President who only has to say the word to return to the status quo pre 26 October, what is likely to follow is civil disobedience. Dr. Rajitha Senaratne is already on public record that his party will launch such a campaign in the week ahead. If and when this takes place it will be a very dark day for this battered country which has endured civil unrest, a full-blown war, a tsunami, and other natural disasters; and now, the disaster in the making caused by Maithripala Sirisena. Let us hope sanity prevails.