Sri Lanka’s leaders of all political hues are not necessarily the champions of liberal democracy. Nor are the country’s elections, which are regularly held, but generally tainted by misappropriation of state property, free and fair in a genuine sense. However, outcome of elections was often the reflection of the overall popular mood. They were not stolen. There is also an overall political consensus to accept the people’s mandate in the elections, and its reflection in the national and provincial legislature. This broader consensus exercised a moderating influence on the usual ugliness and arbitrariness of politics. That is why we did not have paralyzing strikes and hartals to settle scores between the political elites of the kind generally seen in Bangladesh. That is also why Sri Lankan politics had been free of violent ouster of an elected government, at least since the defeat of the JVP insurgency.
The on-going constitutional crisis is threatening this consensus. In the first place, the trigger of the crisis is the President’s highly controversial and arbitrary sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister, and subsequent dissolution of Parliament, when the latter failed to muster the support of the plurality of MPs in Parliament. The sequence of these events was guided by cynical calculations over the time and space to orchestrate cross- overs from the Opposition, and to manipulate the judiciary. Each of these steps went wrong. MR and Sirisena failed to lure sufficient number of MPs. Then, facing a No Confidence Motion against the former, the President dissolved Parliament. The presidential proclamation was suspended by the Court which issued a staying order against the dissolution of Parliament.
The trigger of the crisis is the President’s highly controversial and arbitrary sacking of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as the PM
The Court order effectively turned tables against the President and his Prime Minister appointee MR. Yet, it is at that point that the constitutional crisis ceased to be ‘constitutional’. It is now being guided by extra-constitutional means, that treat the constitution with contempt.
The President can no longer defends his course of action, his PM has failed to muster a majority support in Parliament. The game plan has effectively shifted from defending their actions in the name of the constitution to the disruption of due constitutional process in order to fight off the constitutional challenge. The UNP, JVP and TNA have passed three consecutive No Confidence Motions within a week against MR. The MPs of the Joint Opposition disrupted the proceedings and the vote each time and wreaked havoc inside the House. They refused to take part in a vote by division, leading the Speaker to take a voice vote, which President Sirisena has used as an excuse to refuse to accept the outcome of the vote.
The President’s conduct and justifications of his action is ludicrous and childlike. Yesterday, IP Nishantha Silva who had been leading the investigation into a number of war time atrocities, including the abduction of eleven Tamil youth by a Navy intelligence unit, was transferred out of CID, reportedly on the instructions of the President. The latter has also re-enacted another phase of highly expensive cross overs, setting a deadline for MR to show his majority in the House.
The President is increasingly becoming detached from reality. He triggered the worst ever constitutional crisis, simply because he did not like the face of Ranil (for which latter may have reasons, but, the Constitution does not provide pretext for settling personal prejudices). By doing so, he plunged the entire country into turmoil, the economy is taking a heavy tool. The rupee is on a free fall. International image of the country and the president is in tatters.
Each move by the President to prop up his position has come a cropper. Yet he keeps digging in the hole he dug himself into, perpetuating the crisis
Each move by the President to prop up his position has come a cropper. Yet he keeps digging in the hole he dug himself into, perpetuating the crisis. His personal calculations have taken the better of him at the expense of the country. He is presiding over a reign of disorder.
He seems to ravish the power he wields momentarily over both his oppositions and allies. But, he has done precious little to make use of that clout to resolve the crisis. He held an all party meeting during the weekend, and another yesterday, ostensibly to find means to end the stalemate. Both meetings ended inconclusively. But that might serve the calculations of Sirisena and MR and their goons. They believe in perpetuating the crisis so at one point , the UNP and the other parties will give in to their call for snap General elections. Elections extracted through the threat of political and economic disruption would set a bad precedent and could well be emulated by others in the future.
President Sirisena’s fall from grace is spectacular. That is his own making. However, the country and the people should not be held hostage by his whims and fancies, and personal political calculations. He should clear the mess that he himself created and use his authority to instruct his loyalists to allow and take part in an orderly floor vote. The outcome of the vote should end the rival claims as to who command the majority in Parliament.
President Sirisena is not inclined do that as the JO and a government that he appointed fall well short of majority.
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