Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya has expressed concern over Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s request to Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to convene Parliament on February 8 to debate the Presidential Commission reports on the controversial bond transactions between 2015 and 2016 and the serious frauds or corruption that had taken place mainly during the previous regime.
Mr. Deshapriya argued that the debate, proposed to be held during the 48-hour “silence period” prior to the February 10 local government elections, would have some adverse bearing on certain political parties. On the other hand, he admits he cannot request Parliament which has sovereign power over affairs of the country to refrain from debating any matter.
His intention is clear. Since he cannot request the Speaker to stop the said debate during the “silence period,” he relays the message to relevant people through the media. However, one can pose a question whether Mr. Deshapriya’s concern applies to court cases in which politicians are involved, especially where they are accused of frauds. And also he had not said anything about holding it before the “silence period.” Wouldn’t it affect the constituency?
Earlier, the party leaders had decided to hold the debate on February 20, a date after the election. However, the Prime Minister seems to have been prompted to request the Speaker to hold it before the elections following a challenge thrown by President Maithripala Sirisena to do so.
The President had said the UNP and the joint opposition had agreed to hold the debate on a date after the elections as both parties would be affected if the bond issue and frauds allegedly committed during the last regime were debated in the House before polls.
If the concerns of the Elections Commission Chairman were to be respected, either the elections have to be postponed or another date has to be fixed for the debate. Postponement of the elections would not be advisable as it had been long drawn and there had even been agitations over their delay weeks ago. However, the date for the debate can either be advanced or deferred.
Despite the concerns of Mr. Deshapriya, we think the impact the debate might have on the electorate, is minimal as the Sri Lankan general voter is normally not moved by national issues.
We rarely find a UNP member or supporter who is hurt by the bond scam. He or she might have been hurt by the revelation of the scam, but not by the fact that some of his or her party leaders have been involved in such a national crime. There can rarely be a UNP supporter who is also a member of the EPF concerned about his or her contributions to the EPF after proceedings of the Bond Commission were published in newspapers.
Likewise, JO members and supporters are not prepared to accept that there had been high profile frauds and corruption such as the MiG deal, hedging deal, Avant Garde issue or Greek bond issue allegedly committed by their leaders during the previous regime. They are also concerned about the revelation of those issues and not about the possible loss incurred by public coffers. Therefore, it is very unlikely that a Parliamentary debate will have any serious impact on the elections, unless the debates bring forth explosive revelations.
Earlier, the opposition demanded a debate over the bond issue even before the Bond Commission report was made available to Parliamentarians and the government also having well known the futility of such a debate allowed one where there were ugly fisticuffs in the well of the House.
Parliamentary debates are meant to exchange ideas and information in order to arrive at common decisions and conclusions, whereas they are used by political parties and individual politicians to gain cheap mileage and personal brownie points. Yet, a debate on the reports of the Bond Commission and the PRECIFAC, in our view, would not affect the electorate as the voters have already decided as to whom they should cast their votes to.
Hence, the date of the debate, whether it is before the election or after it, would not make a drastic difference.