Irony of SLFP members pulling out of Govt. over corruption

2017-09-12 00:00:32

Last week the Daily Mirror reported that a group of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) parliamentarians have informed President Maithripala Sirisena that they would be leaving the government and that to discuss their next step they would soon meet Mahinda Rajapaksa, their former supremo.  

According to the report, there are twelve prospective pole vaulters including Ministers Susil Premajayantha and Anura PriyadarshanaYapa and Deputy Ministers T.B. Ekanayake, Dulip Wijesekara, Nimal Lansa and Arundika Fernando.

The reason for their defection is that they have found it increasingly difficult to be in the government amid corruption allegations such as the bond scam and questionable highway projects…  

The irony is not missed. They were not born yesterday. They were members of the former regime, who dared not utter a word against mega corruption that permeated the then government. They were sycophant acolytes of the Rajapaksas under whose orders they placed their signatures on a blank paper which was later annexed to the No-Confidence Motion against the then Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. They voted with both hands for the 18th Amendment, the most regressive constitutional making exercise in recent history. They were also hapless victims of an all-powerful autocrat who oversaw the concentration of power in his office and in his family at the expense of Parliament and independent institutions. The Rajapaksa regime was run by the Rajapaksas -- Basil, Gotabaya and the ministries that were under the purview of then president Rajapaksa gobbled up more than 70 per cent of the government’s budget. The others in his Cabinet did not have a voice. Their existence did not count, except, to vote and bark when they were told. There was a bit too much barking since all the poodles competed for the master’s attention. (Arundika Fernando even narrated an imaginary meeting with disappeared journalist Pragreeth Ekneligoda.) Some others volunteered to be proud nannies of the Rajapaksa scions, soon G.L. Peiris, foreign minister monopolized that, becoming nanny Peiris, while Rajapaksa sidekick Sajin Vas ran the foreign ministry and the Sri Lankan Airlines, both to the ground.  

Those were of course not the best of times to fall foul of the powers that be. Former army chief, Sarath Fonseka, whom the Rajapaksas called ‘the best army commander in the world’ in his glory days learnt that in the hard way. Thus, the absence of open discontent was understandable, but, it was not just coercion and fear, there was voluntary servitude of abundance. Most members of the Rajapaksa regime were willing participants of a ritual of self-debasement. In truth, they were a sorry excuse of elected representatives and undermined the public trust in the elected office.   

Now, their crying ‘wolf’ over corruption sounds hollow, simply because they are hypocritical cants. Corruption of course is a problem in this country, however difference is that, unlike during the former regime, allegations of corruption are now being probed. Take for example the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the bond scam, of which findings have caused embarrassment to the government and cost the job of a former finance minister, who surely deserves that. The Rajapaksas would have taken the judges for a white van ride or got the MPs to sign on another blank paper for the mass dismissal of judges.   

Sri Lanka should foster and nurture those new found freedoms and judicial independence. The starting point should be acknowledging that there is a qualitative improvement. However, Sri Lanka’s habit of denouncing the entire system for rectifiable minor imperfections has often tempted the people to overlook the good side of things, which effectively created the groundswell for three insurgencies.  

SLFP’s problem is two-fold: First there is virtual anarchy in the party due to the President’s failure or reluctance to put his foot firmly down. If he opts to play a J.R Jayawardene or R. Premadasa and pull strings, he could still regain authority in the party. The UNP’s deliberate delaying of investigations into the Rajapaksas is gradually taking its toll on the President and SLFP. Sooner the UNP will feel the bite.  

The other is that SLFP members are already feeling disgruntled for having to play second fiddle. Though that is understandable for any political party, the SLFP has a history of doing politics at the expense of the country, a practice that dates back to its founding father S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike.  

That habit is now making a comeback. It has so far played an obstructionist strategy on economic development. Now, its constitutional proposals smacks of the same machinations. In its proposals submitted to the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly, the SLFP has opposed the abolition of the executive presidency, which was the main election pledge of President Sirisena’s campaign. Instead, the SLFP contends: “The opinion of the SLFP is that complete abolition of the Executive Presidency, that is present today is not wise. Considering various terrorist and extremist activities that happen in various countries in the world, the SLFP believes a President should be elected directly from the public mandate with a certain amount of powers to protect the unitary status of the country and to keep and to protect the stability of the country specially in a situation where a large volume of power is granted to the Provincial Councils.”  

On face value, the proposal has its own logic which cannot be dismissed. It argues for the interests of national security and political stability, which are paramount for any country, and especially for us given our social economic conditions and the recent history of separatist violence.  

However, then, about the already existing constitutional provision incorporated under the 19th Amendment, which prevents the president from dissolving Parliament within the first four and half years, which has an equally significant bearing on the political stability in the country, the SLFP has a different take.  

It states: “We agree to the fact that (in the 10th Paragraph) of the draft, that not to dissolve Parliament during the first four and half years of the Parliament, except for a special situation. But it should be further discussed under which circumstances Parliament can be dissolved in between that time period. However, while implementing the concept that a government made of a majority of public representatives should govern the country, the constitution should be made ensuring opportunities for the public representatives to remove a government democratically.”   

Almost all functioning electoral democracies preclude the president from arbitrarily dissolving Parliament for that itself is an impingement of the democratic rights of voters. Too many elections also distract the country from its developmental priorities. However the SLFP wants to crawl back to power by any means possible and the existing constitutional provision is a handicap. And its removal could provide an illusory hope for SLFP grassroots of the possibility of forming a SLFP government. In the same vein, it wants to empower the executive presidency, because Maithripala Sirisena is the holder of the office. Get the President to dissolve Parliament, and then run the circles around the President himself and remove the term limits of presidency and bring back the Rajapaksas, who will then release all crooks on one large presidential pardon.

  Comments - 1

  • Dickie bird Tuesday, 12 September 2017 14:54

    To say the least, these wanted to join a coalition who manifested to oppose corruption as they sounded to be people better than them. Alas, after 21/2 years they have found out this coalition partners who came eradicate corruption were worst scoundrels

    Reply : 0       0

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