In the third week of January 2015, just two weeks after he became President, Maithripala Sirisena appointed his brother Kumarasinghe Sirisena as the Chairman, SLT. That was the beginning of making a mockery of the term ‘good governance’.
A month later the Central Bank decided to issue Treasury Bonds in a process which resulted in the then Governor Arjuna Mahendran’s son-in-law making enormous gains. In June that year, just as the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) was about to release its report on the controversial bond issue, Parliament was dissolved, effectively quashing that story. Responsibility for this, we have to conclude, must be equally shared by the President and Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Prime Minister of the ‘Unity Government’ and leader of the United National Party (UNP).
How about democracy and promised democratization? In April 2015, addressing a rally at Vihara Maha Devi Park, President Sirisena vowed to institute electoral reform. Two years later, the 20th is yet to see the light of day. Forget reform, elections to the local government bodies and provincial councils have been postponed indefinitely. Anyway, in August 2015, just before the General Election, the President moved to sack the General Secretaries of the SLFP and the UPFA.
A court order was obtained to stop any moves to reverse the decision. The President, who was also the leader of the SLFP, openly campaigned for candidates of a rival party. Immediately after the election, the President proceeded to use National List slots allocated to the SLFP to accommodate several loyalists who had been rejected by the voters. It is in this manner that the poster-boy of the yahapalana project demonstrated commitment to democracy.
Other partners of the project were no better. The JVP made much of its ‘professional’ national list, but dumped the professionals after the election and made room for party stalwarts rejected at the polls. In February 2016, the UNP which by that time had a pact with the SLFP for a ‘national government,’ used the same facility to accommodate another loser, Sarath Fonseka.
Disgraced former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake’s name cropped up several times for dishing out jobs to the near and dear. There were several diplomatic posts that raised eyebrows on account of the appointed being related to top politicians of the yahapalana government. It was also the UNP that was hell bent on protecting the Central Bank Governor, Arjuna Mahendran.
What yahapalanists should fear is not a return to a past but a march to a different future
The shrill moralizing in the run up to the January 2015 election appears to have had a very short life. All relevant lajja-baya (shame and fear) have been abandoned. This government has shamelessly voted for enhanced privileges which, as Nagananada Kodituwakku has pointed out, are clearly illegal.
But then, the heavens be praised (as some might say), the President’s brother Lal knocks down and kills two people, flees the scene and later hands himself in. President Sirisena, after visiting the houses of the two brothers who fell victim to his brother’s reckless driving, has promised “to look after the well-being of the families and educate their children,” hopefully with his own money.
So we had not too long ago, ‘at least Ravi Karunanayake resigned’ and now ‘at least now the law is allowed to take its course’ never mind that Ravi K was put in charge of rural infrastructure development and now feels fit to issue directives to former colleagues in the cabinet. We also had the ‘better late than never’ brag when the Right to Information Act saw parliamentary passage. We had ‘better than nothing’ when the flawed 19th Amendment saw light of day.
And then there’s that other fall back, “there’s a greater sense of freedom”. It’s true. There’s a marked and palpable difference between the before and after of January 8, 2015. However, a few interjections are necessary to obtain the full picture of freedom-relativity and to talk about what’s probably in store.
Do we have more freedom than we did in July 2008 (i.e. two years and eight moths after Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power, the same length of time between Maithripala Sirisena becoming president and today)? Of course we do! Back then we had checkpoints everywhere. Back then there were bombs exploding. Back then, a war. Fear. Trepidation. Now compare July 2008 and June 2009. More freedom? Why, of course! The degree of freedom after the end of the war was of such magnitude that comparison defies quantification.
Now things did go downhill thereafter, but the freedom-resurgence post January 2015 and the setbacks in the 32 months since, have not given us a rise that is of any significance, given the freedom-jump that came with the defeat of terrorism in May 2009. We are comparing ‘times’ here, note, and not personalities, but we could speak in terms of tenure, i.e. the Rajapaksa Watch vs the Sirisena-Ranil Watch.
As for the future, the way things have unfolded since January 2015 (as described above and factoring violent response to protests) doesn’t make for optimism. The Yahapalanists have lost much ground ideologically and politically. Therefore, history has demonstrated, exercise of the coercive option in more brutal form cannot be too far away.
Let’s not go beyond that, for now. Let’s dwell at the here-n-now. At the Here-n-Now, we see yahapalanists playing Relative Merits, clutching at straws (like Lal Sirisena) and trying to cover a mountain of inconsistency, abuse, theft, nepotism and incompetency with the thin apologetic two-word gravy called ‘At Least…” ‘Look, Lalith and Anusha were sentenced,’ they say and then inquire, ‘would this have happened during the previous regime?’ That’s another ‘at least’. But then, would each and every public official who have done the bidding of yahapalana politicians in contravention of established procedure be similarly prosecuted? That’s where the brag hits a snag.
Among those who voted for Maithripala Sirisena in January 8, 2015, a fair number would have figured, ‘it is important to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa in order to stop the country sliding to lawlessness and a possible third post-independence insurrection that could be worse than the second.’ An equal or even larger number may have thought, ‘Maithripala, with the UNP, would set things right’.
In short, they may have believed that the anti-Rajapaksa coalition would deliver on the yahapalana pledge, even if not in 100 days as promised, soon enough. They may have not entertained the thought that ‘regime-change’ would bring to power people who did not have a clue about ‘good governance’ and worse, would quickly flush the book down the tube.
So this ‘at least’ thing, is it supposed to be a robust argument for a non-return to the past (of the Rajapaksas)? That’s a poor consolation prize, isn’t it? At any rate, if that’s all that it is about, then it means that the At Least Brigade wants the people to be happy with freedom-crumbs and are hoping that crumb-dropping would obtain for them a licence to profit in counter-yahapalana ways.
There’s little merit in bragging about Ravi Karunanayake’s resignation considering the immense lengths which the government went to save him the blushes. The same with the bond scam. Arguably, it’s less about a freedom-culture created by yahapalanists than fear of a more alert people who could not stand the misdeeds of the previous regime and are not going to suffer wrongdoing by the present lot in silence. What yahapalanists should fear is not a return to a past but a march to a different future. And this is something that ought to worry the other factions of the corrupt club as well, those who were defeated and those who swung now this way and now the other, as fortunes waned and waxed.
So ‘at least,’ at best, is an apologists’ uttering, an apologist’s vain hope that it would appease those who expected better. The truth of sentiment can of course be tested in an election, but that’s a word that yahapalanaya is avoiding like the plague. So they want raucous applause on account of the ‘at least’ argument, sorry. A slow hand-clap, at best, nothing more.
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