President Sirisena has over the past few months shown a penchant for pulling surprises on our people during weekends. The first major surprise occurred on Friday, October 26, 2018, when he appointed former President and incumbent MP for Kurunegala District Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister even before he dismissed the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
A somewhat nebulous situation and it resulted in the country having two Prime Ministers at the same time. The situation got even more aggravated when Wickremesinghe rejected the President’s action, saying he enjoyed the support of the majority in Parliament. When Wickremesinghe proved his majority in Parliament, on Friday, September 9, Sirisena surprised the country once more. He dissolved Parliament by proclamation... which led to his actions being challenged in the highest courts of the land.
The President surprised the nation once again when he vowed on Friday, December 14 that he would never to re-appoint Wickremesinghe as his Prime Minister whatever the outcome was. But on Sunday, December 16, President Sirisena re-appointed Wickremesinghe as Premier!
But he saved his biggest surprise for Friday, January 18, 2019, when during an official visit to the Philippines, the President praised his Filipino counterpart Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs, which has taken thousands of lives. He referred to it an “example to the world.” In his speech, President Sirisena indicated he would like to replicate Duterte’s deadly manner to crush the growing drug menace in Sri Lanka. He went on to add the drug menace in Sri Lanka was rampant and he felt the best way to tackle the growing menace was to follow the example of his Filipino counterpart.
According to official figures published by the Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), between July 2016 and the end of November 2018, a total of 5,050 persons had lost their lives; they were lost mostly at the hands of the Philippines police force.
However, the official toll falls well short of estimates given by Human Rights groups and campaigners for victims, which vary from 12,000 to 20,000 extra-judicial killings. Many of the undocumented killings, the rights groups say, were carried out by “death squads” and unofficial militia. Chito Gascon, the Chairman of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, was on record saying the toll could be as high as 27,000, though, he emphasised, investigating the deaths was complex because the Police withheld records on anti-drug operations.
Why our President’s lauding of the brutal tactics of President Rodrigo Duterte is so surprising and unbecoming, is that our President was elected to his present position on a platform to do away with the fear-psychosis, which was gripping our country at that time.
In fact, at the 71st Session of the United Nations’ General Assembly, our President said with justifiable pride ‘I have given the leadership to usher a new era of social, political and economic transformations in my country. Before I came to power, people in my country were living in fear and suspicion. I could end that period, and lay the foundation for strengthening the rule of law and restoring democratic rights to the people of Sri Lanka to live happily in a free and democratic society...’
And why the President’s cheering on of Duterte’s killer squads is even less unstable is that our President is a practising Buddhist in a country, which gives foremost place to Buddhism, whose four noble virtues are Meththa or Loving, Kindness, benevolence, friendliness, amity, goodwill, and active interest in others.
Karuna - Compassion: a fundamental quality in the Bodhisattva ideal of Buddhism. Mudhitha or Empathetic joy is a delight in others’ happiness or good fortune, it can also mean celebrating the virtues of others. Upekkha - Equanimity: Calmness and composure, especially in difficult situations.
All religions -- be it Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam -- speak of the sacredness of life and all four of these religions are part of the fabric of the Sri Lankan culture. So, how can we recommend the world to follow the example of Duterte in the Philippines, who is waging a war on sections of his own people?
At times we, Sri Lankans tend to thoughtlessly shoot off our mouths i.e. to talk too much in a loud and uncontrolled manner. It is time for all of us -- from our leaders downwards -- to look before we leap and think before we speak.