he Constitutional crisis which developed with the the events of October 2018, has unfortunately not ended in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Court ruling, the President’s actions in dismissing his Prime Minister, appointing a new premier in his stead and dissolving parliament when the newly appointed premier could not prove his majority in parliament were unconstitutional.
Since the re-swearing-in of Ranil Wickremasinghe as Prime Minister, the executive and legislative arms of government have effectively been at variance with one an other. The differences between the executive and the legislature have worsened since the President rejected the Primes Minister’s invitation to renew the UNP-UPFA agreement which formed the basis of the former United National Front (UNF) Government. Refusal to appoint Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka as Minister of State is an example of how differences have descended to a petty personal level.
Today, the President, as the Head of State, is the commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He has also taken unto himself the portfolio of Minister of Mahaweli Development and Environment. In addition to those portfolios, the President has taken charge of the Police force.
Resultantly, today the Country and the President face yet another dilemma. Having no allies in the government, the President is left in an embarrassing position of not being able to introduce legislation regarding the portfolios he holds, ranging from bringing Amendments to introducing new Bills in parliament for the ministerial portfolios he holds, as legislation needed to introduce an Amendment or a new Bill is subject to approval of the leader of the party in power.
As, the President has no friends within government and leaders of the country, show no sign of a willingness to co-operate with each other. The country’s economy is stagnant. Its currency is depreciating, lenders have put the approved loans/aid to the country on hold, public servants fear to act as they are unsure which one of the protagonists will prevail. In short, a situation of near anarchy prevails with neither party seemingly ready to give an inch to help the country move forward.
This political deadlock is dangerous and can rubbish the entire parliamentary process and the unsavoury scenes which we saw enacted in Parliament in November and the street demonstrations which followed could easily recur. If this situation is allowed to degenerate, violence could easily erupt.
The country, as reported in the Daily Mirror of July 4, 2018, faces a massive external debt. Sri Lanka’s external debt stockrose to US$ 31.6 billion in April that year! According to Jetwing travels, the hotel industry which was expected to bring in much needed hard currency has recorded a 20% slowdown in tourist bookings during the winter season which is generally the peak season. The travel warnings issued by some western countries continue to deter tourist arrivals.
The value of the rupee continues to fall and is making it more and more difficult for the poorer sections of the community (who form a majority in the country) to make ends meet. The fall in the share market is indicative of the economic decline in the country. What is worse is that the present political deadlock, as shown earlier, is making the parliamentary system unworkable. If it gets worse, it could even threaten the democratic fabric of the country.
However, Sri Lanka and its people have shown resilience in the face of adversity. From the 60s, this country has seen four attempts to overthrow the government by extra-parliamentary means. We have been through a near three-decade-long ethnic war. Yet the country was able to maintain its democratic structure sans a few hiccups. No one in this country wants to go back to those dark days. It is time the political leadership puts aside their petty party political and personal desires and begin prioritising the well-being of the country.
Despite the present deep party-political divisions, if there is the political will, the present divisions can be reconciled and lead to a fresh chance to build bridges of trust.
The words of Sir Walter Scott in his ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel’
“Breathes there a man, with soul so dead
Who ne’r to himself hath said,
This is my own my native land...” are very relevant to us in Sri Lanka today.
Do our politicians have the political will to put aside petty party-political differences and work towards uplifting the country which one and all claim to hold dear? Or will we take the fast track to violence and anarchy?