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The country’s democracy in limbo: Where do people stand today?

2018-11-05 00:05:56
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ctober 26, 2018 is a date that will be marked in the notorious political history of Sri Lanka. A country that has once dealt with insurrections, civil wars and minority clashes has now ended up in a confusing political crisis once again. The onset of events which followed since this date has been rather obnoxious. Obnoxious because people had no say in any of the events that transpired. Democracy was at a standstill. While the President himself claimed he had powers to sack a Prime Minister and appoint a purported one it could have been better if he went in for a vote. Or so claims several pro and anti-factions observing the existing crisis. Justifying the turn of events as another coup d’état the President doesn’t seem to be re-convening the Parliament till November 16. Whether the proroguing took place to gain more majority votes for the MR clan or whether it is actually to table the ‘On Account of budget’ isn’t quite clear at this point. Quite interestingly, several UNP stalwarts were also offered inducements to join the newly formed purported government and one or two of them were brave enough to expose the staggering offers.   
While all this is going on, where do the people stand? Those who believe that democracy shouldn’t be at a standstill are continuing to protest to restore it. Hence the Daily Mirror  spoke to several factions including the public to find out what they felt about the existing political crisis.   


“We shouldn’t forget that when half of the country voted for Maithripala back in 2015, half of those votes were also against MR. “It was a move to bring back good governance and to end abuse of power. He also had an election promise that he would abolish the executive presidency and few years later he does a 180 U-turn. If people don’t stand up for democracy it will die. It’s important for people to understand that when people come into power they try to abuse it. Even if the President feels that MR would now command the Parliament, there’s a way in which things could have been done. In fact in a more civilized manner. You don’t have a leader who would suddenly wake up to change the country’s Prime Minister. He should have thought of the repercussions and its trickle-down effect on the masses.”  
Dilumi further said that the President should have acted more responsibly. “People should continuously cry out for democracy. When looking at social media we see that people have started to voice out their opinions. People need to move on and put pressure so that the Parliament would be convened so that they could take a vote.”  

“The President’s decision to appoint MR as PM in this manner is a violation of our constitution and democratic processes. It is a violation of our democratic rights. People need to stand up and resist this violation. A key principle of democracy is that the people have a say in who our leaders are; we get to play a major part in that process. This is in complete violation of that.”   
“In fact, the President has betrayed all those who voted for him in a grave manner,” she continued. “It is unacceptable and unforgivable. But this is not the moment to feel defeated or hopeless either, for us - in a sense this violation of our trust should give us all the more reason to be active, vocal and stand up. The civil society stands by democratic process. We are not interested in protecting any one party or any one person. This ‘appointment’ of MR was unconstitutional and undemocratic and we need it to be resolved immediately. Parliament needs to be reconvened so our elected leaders can decide. Furthermore, we maintain our critique of all political actors and parties; we remember that this government did not deliver on many of its promises to the people. Many people feel let down by this government too and this is very legitimate. But that does not mean illegal appointments can be made in violation of democratic process.”  
She further said that everyone should use whatever platform available to them to resist this. “This is a major crisis for us politically and socially. If we allow this to happen without resistance, we will go down in history for that -- for letting down a country. Use social media. Join with other groups to get involved. Read and inform yourself of what is going on and help inform others, to battle misinformation. Clergy should use their powers of influence to talk to people about the erosion of democracy and human rights and how very dangerous that is. Everyone needs to get involved.”   

Airing his views regarding the prevailing political crisis said that even the Soulbury Constitution was manipulated to overthrow hill country Tamils. “Hence there was no attempt to include all segments of people. The latter Constitution also mainly protects Sinhalese-nationalist orientations of the State. But we only have the present Constitution to move on. The manner in which the President manipulated the present Constitution is unhealthy and he was crude about it as well. The only way to restore some sanity is to speak on the spirit of the 19A where the President cannot dismiss the PM.”  
He further said that the TNA’s stance is correct and that being neutral in this situation is once again unhealthy. Speaking on how various groups could add pressure to move in the right direction, Dr. Hoole suggested that trade unions could be actively involved in bringing some pressure on the government. “Even civil society groups can be involved. I won’t approve of riotous mobs taking to the streets but everybody should do what they can do within peaceful and legal constraints.”  


“We live in a democratic country with democratic principles. But the process that has taken place is undemocratic. It wouldn’t have been so if it was done in Parliament. There have been several crossovers starting from the time of C.P. de Silva. Any other method would be described as coup. Hence, this is an equivalent of a coup. Attacks on minority groups are one of the fears that we have and we saw how the culprits involved in the Digana, Teldeniya incidents were also released. Therefore it is not a good sign for Sri Lanka.”


“Leave aside this constitutional issue and ask the most important question: who commands the majority support among the MP’s in the current Parliament? This cannot be a matter of opinion as it can be easily tested. Simply convene the Parliament and take a vote. The present political developments are not just what happened over the last week or so, but in fact, what happened last week was the culmination of developments since 2015.
The government that came to power in 2015 was not exactly what people voted for. Instead of a government committed to the key elements of the mandate given to the newly elected leaders, namely, to pursue a programme of work covering good governance, national reconciliation, strengthening of rule of law, lean government, adoption of evidence based development and other policies, stamping out corruption, de-politicisation of state machinery, professionalisation of foreign service, criminal justice, etc, the newly elected leaders by and large continued to rule the country in the usual manner. The appointment of a large cabinet and giving all kinds of privileges to them at public expense, increasing evidence of corrupt practices, refusal to adopt sound public policies and strengthen state institutions.  
It is these developments that led to the poor showing of the government at the local government elections. The bond scam was a major factor that contributed to the electoral debacle of the government at the LG elections. Yet, the leaders did not respond to the growing public disenchantment in a decisive and constructive manner.   

 

President has appointed the former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa as the PM, without giving the MP’s the opportunity to cast their vote for him or any other contender including the incumbent PM. This has led to the present crisis and even anger and frustration among many people in the country. It is true that the party under his de facto leadership of MR did well at the last LG elections but people there did not vote to elect a national leader. The change of the PM, if we do now, should be the responsibility of the present parliament.  

Most importantly, the last regime was defeated in 2015 due to its serious weaknesses and diverse allegations against it ranging from abuse of power, corruption, nepotism, politicisation of state institutions , etc. People have not seen any effort on the part of the leaders and other activists connected with the last regime to say that such misdeeds will not be repeated if and when they come to power again. This is a serious matter for people who voted in 2015 for a cleaner and leaner government and do not want a government that would continue with poor governance practices, corruption and abuse of power.  

It is against this background that the right thinking people in this country worry about change of regime without any assurance that the change is going to make the situation in the country better in terms of governance practices and improved public welfare. Many people in this country have been disenchanted with the past leaders as well as the present ones. They naturally want a change for the better, certainly not want to bring back poor governance practices that they witnessed in the country in the recent past. What they very much hope for is a better situation for themselves and their children, not a much worse situation in the years to come.  

The political leaders need to reassure people that the governance situation in the country is going to be better than what it has been in the recent past and over the last few years. They have to show how they are going to bring about that kind of positive change in the country, to make the life chances better for the wider public, not just to those who are in power and their retinue.  

As is well known, it is politicians, their families and supporters who did well in recent times, often at the expense of the hapless masses. To improve the economic and social conditions in the country, it is necessary to rationalise the government machinery, get the most competent and qualified people to take policy decisions, and adopt evidence based policies, rather than to rule the country with a group of self-seeking friends, acquaintances and political loyalists as many leaders have done over the years, making the economic and social conditions intolerable for the vast majority of people.”  

"It’s not a matter of being constitutionally right or wrong it’s a matter of basic human values, basic political ethics and morals that many people have lost. “Looking at the political drama that reached a climax on October 26, one can only wonder what happened to our social value system,” he said. 
The President has let down the whole nation by this most unethical and immoral act. “And who would bear the cost other than the ordinary masses of this Country and speaking on the probable economic losses that the country had to endure, he said if one could calculate the cumulative foreign exchange loss for the nation just from the cancellations of hotel rooms during the past few days that will give us a glimpse of the economic catastrophe of this political drama.  
Adding to that, he asked when the nation was bleeding already especially having an external debt repayment commitment of over US$ 15 billion in 2019 how can the politicians behave so irresponsibly very well knowing the economic cost of their action.  

The king coconut suppliers, poultry suppliers to hotels; people at the bottom of the pyramid suffer the most the consequences of this political drama. Aren’t our leaders at least compassionate towards the common man of this country? Do they have a moral right to come before the public to seek a mandate?  

The authorities should investigate into the sources of the colossal amounts of money which are being used to do ‘Horse trading’. The politicians are gradually conditioning the minds of the people to accept and live with corruption and it’s the time we should rethink and liberate ourselves from the vicious clutches of these political ruffians.”  

 

The Daily Mirror also spoke to the public and this is what they had to say:  

“Every regime is the same” 

- Sanath, a private company employee 

“Every regime is the same. The cost of living is eternally high. They have reduced the prices of essential items but they would continue to fill their pockets. We have to earn to live and they are not going to look after us although they make big promises.”   

 

“Price reduction is an eyewash” 

- Shashika, student 

“Whoever are in power ultimately considers their personal benefit above any other concern. They will reduce prices for now and as they continue, they will increase these prices again.”   


“Changes should happen constitutionally”

- Rasangi, student 

“As a country that works according to a Constitutional process, these things shouldn’t happen. We don’t care about who’s in power but it should happen according to the Constitution and public opinion. In the case of electing the PM it would have been better if they went in for a vote rather than acting according to their own will.”   


“We hope democracy would prevail” 

- Stefan, Law student 

“We can’t say whether the existing situation is fair or unfair. But we hope that democracy will prevail.”   


 

“RW should be sent into exile” 

- Vihanga, Law student 

“It was only at this point that RW thought it’s unfair to overthrow a PM in this manner. What was he thinking all this time? But the President was finally able to reveal who was involved in the bond scam. So I believe that RW should be sent into exile.”   

 

“They should have acted in a democratic manner” 

- Nihal, three - wheeler owner

 “Reducing three wheel fares is alright but if they did this aiming at an election then it’s unfair. There seems to be instability in the government and it’s better if they could summon Parliament and go for a vote instead. People are also stranded because of this crisis, and if they really think about the people they should act in a democratic manner.”   

 

Pics by Waruna Wanniarachchi 


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