Editorial/Opinion

Democracy wins the day (Editorial)

Exactly 50 days after the self-induced trauma there is light at the end of the tunnel with positive signs emerging that the country will finally return to some semblance of normalcy following the reappointment of the deposed Prime Minister.

One cannot help but wonder what exactly President Maithripala Sirisena had in mind when he appointed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister on 26 October. We cannot fathom as to what the President intended to achieve from that point on up to the time Rajapaksa “resigned” last morning – except the self-destruction of his political career. Acting on a whim, the most plausible reason in the absence of any other at the moment, President Sirisena has now become a victim of his own actions and the price he will pay for it will be felt at the hustings.
There is no argument that the country suffered immense economic damage with billions of dollars being pulled out of the country, the resurgent tourism industry being given a body blow during the most lucrative period of the year, democracy especially in Parliament being dealt a severe blow, and of course the country being dragged to the doghouse by the international community.
The silver lining to this dark episode however was the restoration of the integrity and credibility of the judiciary and the re-establishment of the democratic process through the courts of law. The Supreme Court has reigned supreme and should be commended for standing up for democracy and protecting the rights of the people enshrined in the Constitution.
At the same time, it is important to understand that this judicial victory should not accrue to any political party but the 21 million people of this country who silently watched their fundamental rights becoming the plaything of politicians. In the end, it was democracy that won the day and not any particular party, whatever one might say.
President Sirisena at least now must realise that he cannot be a law unto himself, although the chair he sits on is reputed to give such delusional thoughts. He must study and properly digest the contents of the 19th Amendment, especially the fact that his wings are now well and truly clipped as a result of it. He needs to understand that should he try to fly again, a harder landing is assured. He must get used to the idea of cooperating with Parliament and not act in isolation. That is how the system is designed to work. He must realise that his actions may well cost him his political future and that the country is no longer willing to be held hostage based on personal whims and fancies.
This 50-day drama has produced winners, losers, and also villains. The villain of the peace is clearly Maithripala Sirisena while the definite loser of the whole exercise is Mahinda Rajapaksa who accepted the position of Prime Minister, stating that he was doing so for the sake of the country and offered the same reason when he “resigned” as well.
There are at least three clear winners of the 50-day battle – namely the Speaker who, no matter what, stood his ground, the judiciary, and of course Ranil Wickremesinghe, who ironically was supposed to be the biggest loser of the Sirisena schism.
Once again, despite the best made plans of men, destiny seems to have had other ideas for the beleaguered Wickremesinghe, who now once again has been given a new lease of life.
If ever there was a model for a plan gone wrong, then the 50-day drama has to be it. Not only did Sirisena who wanted to bury Wickremesinghe end up resurrecting him, but he also ended up burying Rajapaksa, the one he wanted to resurrect.
In the process, the wily Wickremesinghe has succeeded in cementing his place as UNP Leader with all contenders for the post, including Sajith Premadasa, solidly rallying around him.
Politics they say is the art of the possible. Wickremesinghe’s adeptness at making the impossible possible every time he is threatened should serve as a masterclass for both Sirisena and Rajapaksa.
Wickremesinghe, for his part, has his work cut out. Given one month to once again settle down in office, he has a good 12 months to now prepare for a constitutionally sanctioned general election which can be held any time after February, 2020.
On the flip side, if Wickremesinghe continues in the same vein as before, both he and his party are doomed. It is time that he stopped surrounding himself with political non-entities who have not won an election and crept in through the backdoor or are well past their prime. He must listen to the voice of the grassroots members who stood by the party in its hour of need and not those with business agendas.
It is only when Wickremesinghe gives the emerging leadership their due place and share of voice that the party rejuvenation will be complete. The success that the party has achieved in the past 50 days will be short lived if the Party Leader does not climb down from his high horse and begin the process to groom the next generation.
His all-purpose antidote of appointing committees to study party reforms will no longer do the trick while he can also no longer afford to stay aloof and go to the grassroots only during election time. He also seriously needs to reconsider the tax policy of his last Government which only resulted in driving people to desperation.
The UNP faithful rallied around the party and has resulted in a new found unity not seen for many years. If Wickremesinghe does not seize this moment with both hands and ensure the mistakes of the past three-and-a-half years are rectified without delay, this fountain of goodwill is likely to evaporate in double quick time. History is watching Wickremesinghe and he needs to be aware of it.
President Sirisena, for his part, should not take upon himself the responsibility of holding Wickremesinghe accountable for his actions. He should leave that job to the electorate who in 13 months from now will decide whether he should stay or go.
One has to feel sorry for Rajapaksa whose miscalculated cameo resulted in him being the only Prime Minister who could not conduct business in Parliament due to the absence of a simple majority. He and his fellow Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) members, who abandoned the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), now run the risk of being unseated from Parliament as the party did not contest the last election and therefore have no seats in Parliament. When push comes to shove, especially with some parties threatening impeachment proceedings, President Sirisena may well be tempted to replace the SLPP members with the next in line in the UPFA preferential list, guaranteeing him greater clout with the numbers.
In the meantime, given the Supreme Court order and the pending Appeal Court order, questions are being raised on the legality of the so-called Cabinet decisions that were made since 26 October, including handing over huge deals to Chinese companies at the Port of Colombo. Who will be accountable for any financial losses to the country stemming from these decisions?
Be that as it may, starting today, the country will breathe a collective sigh of relief, not because Ranil Wickremesinghe has been reappointed as the Prime Minister, but because democracy has won the day for the country. Wickremesinghe will do well to realise the distinction between the two and get down to his job, which left much to be desired the last time he sat in that chair.