Nine Muslim Cabinet, State and Deputy Ministers, along with two Provincial Governors collectively performed a pantomime when they resigned from their posts on Monday, June 3, 2019.
The group consisted of three cabinet ministers namely Kabir Hashim, M.H.A. Haleem, and Rishad Bathiudeen besides four State Ministers Faizal Cassim, H.M.M. Harees, Ameer Ali Shihabdeen, and Seyed Ali Zahir Moulana. Abdullah Mahroof was a Deputy Minister and Azath Salley and M.L.A.M. Hizbullah Provincial Governors.
Before resigning, the group’s Spokesperson Rauff Hakeem made a veiled threat.
“We will assist the government to survive, but their survival will depend on the conduct or conducting investigations thoroughly and properly and do justice to everyone equally.”
According to Hakeem, the decision to resign was supposedly made after a lengthy discussion with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It would enable the government to facilitate investigations to be conducted in a free and fair manner. He further claimed:
“Investigations should be conducted by the CID on the allegations against Muslim politicians. We do not believe that we could expect a reasonable solution to this issue from a Parliament Select Committee in this regard. Only the CID can do that.”
"Their cohorts appointed as Chairmen and Directors of state-owned enterprises stayed put. What happened to their Coordinating Secretaries and others employed at
state expense? "
Of the nine who resigned, Kabir Hashim and M.H.A. Haleem returned to their Cabinet posts 16 days later, on June 19.
Four others, namely Rauff Hakeem, Rishad Bathiudeen, Ameer Ali and Abdullah Maharouf were sworn in, on July 29-56 days after resigning from their posts.
Several investigations by law enforcement agencies and a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) are currently ongoing. Not even 60 days have passed since the dramatic resignations ‘to facilitate investigations to be conducted in a free and fair manner.’
Hakeem, notwithstanding his lack of confidence in a PSC, accepted nomination as a member of the PSC appointed to investigate the Easter Sunday bombings. To call his performance during public hearings as lusterless is to be charitable.
Notwithstanding grandiose claims by Hakeem and Hashim to a lesser extent, here is my take.
In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings, there was a public outcry against Bathiudeen and Hizbullah. They were suspected of having close contacts with chief bomber Zaharan and his group. Some even accused them of aiding and abetting the attackers.
The Joint Opposition proposed to introduce a No-Confidence Motion (NCM) in Parliament against Bathiudeen. The government faced a dilemma. An NCM against Bathiudeen would see many UNP MPs, especially those representing Christian majority areas voting in favour. They could and would not defend Bathiudeen due to the many Christian lives lost in the church bombings. Their voters would never forgive them for doing such a thing.
Whereas the objections were against two Muslim politicians, the en masse resignation of all nine politicians from the community put paid to the NCM.
The alternative NCM brought by one of the two silent constituent parties of the UNP, the JVP, depressurized the issue. Furthermore, anti-Bathiudeen MPs would not dream of voting against their government and losing their perks and privileges.
"Hypothetically speaking, what would happen if one or more of the returning ministers is found guilty in one or more of the investigations currently underway? Or is their innocence already decided and the investigations a mere eyewash?"
After the resignation, not one of the several vacant ministerial portfolios was filled permanently. They were filled with actors or acting ministers.
None who resigned vacated his official residence, nor did they return their official vehicles. The appropriate word for such persons in the English vocabulary is ‘Freeloader.’ One can only wonder if Ministerial Security Division personnel assigned to them were withdrawn. Methinks not. Their cohorts appointed as Chairmen and Directors of State-owned enterprises stayed put. What happened to their Coordinating Secretaries and others employed at state expense?
Hypothetically speaking, what would happen if one or more of the returning ministers is found guilty in one or more of the investigations currently underway? Or is their innocence already decided and the investigations a mere eyewash?
Rathana Thera’s death fast is now forgotten. Public opinion against Bathiudeen has abated. The all-important Muslim vote base is desperately needed by those preparing for elections.
The Director has decreed it was time for the resigning actors to return to the fold.