A Sri Lanka Trade Union activist protests in Colombo against the proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution (PIcture AFP)
The second reason we now know her better is because she turned her back on the SJB
Markar has said that a cold war exists between President Gotabaya and Premier Mahinda
Sri Lanka’s voters do have short memories. Just turn the pages of time in the history of local politics and we will see how former heads of state Sirimavo Bandaranaike and JR Jayewardene abused power with the intention of becoming ever so powerful.
Mrs Bandaranaike who came to power with a 2/3 rd majority extended her reign from five to six years sans a referendum. President Jayewardene brought in the executive presidency and prevailed over the rest of the ministers of his Cabinet. Mahinda Rajapaksa brought in the 18th Amendment to the Constitution with the intention of being president for life. Now we are seeing the fourth episode of what can be best described as ‘the drama of power hungry dictatorship’.
And what’s of concern is that the majority of people were in the frame of mind to prepare milk rice and serve it to people on the road on the day the 20th A was passed.
Sri Lankans from the times of ancient history have been used to taking orders from kings or powerful presidents. We have that mentality to serve people in power and earn a better ticket to life. To serve these lawmakers some would demand money. Some would serve their masters and the only return they’d want is a ‘position’ or title. We can remember how famous singer HR Jothipala sang for free at political platforms where Ranasinghe Premadasa presided. When Premadasa inquired from Jothipala what he wanted the routine answer from the artiste was ‘I don’t want anything Sir’. We have had people with such a mentality.
Last week we saw a similar episode. Parliamentarian Diana Gamage of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) went against the opposition and voted for the 20th Amendment; which gives extreme or absolute power to the president.
And Gamage maintains that she is affluent and didn’t support the present government’s latest move for monetary gains. Who is Diana Gamage? We know her for two reasons. One is that she is the wife of Senaka de Silva who spent 423 days in remand along with former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka after the 2010 presidential elections; an episode which is best explained by political analysts as ‘political revenge’.
The second reason we now know her better is because she turned her back on the SJB and voted in favour of the 20th Amendment.
There is a saying that one must be careful about people who want to work for free. This is because professionals don’t work for free and those who work for free might be incompetent or have hidden agendas which are harmful to the society. But there are exceptions. According to an article which appeared on www.inc.com and headlined ‘There are only 4 times you should agree to work for free’ here is when you work without pay; when you can gain legitimate exposure, gain real-life experience, gain an impressive addition to your resume and if it supports a cause that your believe in. As for Diana Gamage she is covered by the fourth. She maintains that she voted for the 20th A because the present constitution has weakened the president.
One senior politician who talks sense these days is Imthiaz Bakeer Markar. He has said in a recent newspaper interview with a Sinhala ‘weekly’ that a cold war exists between President Gotabaya and Premier Mahinda. ‘Those who state that they’ll take care of issues that would crop up to suppress the powers of the premier in the future are young politicians who’d say yes to anything’ Markar has been quoted in the weekly newspaper.
Even senior parliamentarians in the Pohottuwa camp who showed concerns regarding the 20th A finally agreed to cast their votes. These votes were cast with the understanding that the government would bring in urgent laws only when it has to deal with emerging security issues and catastrophes and that the regime would acknowledge existing laws restricting the number of members in the Cabinet, the areas covered by the Auditor General and the areas covering dual citizenship applicable to politicians. The opposition however maintains that the concerns shown by some members of the regime regarding certain parts of the proposed 20th A was a mere drama.
Forgetting the beginnings
There was another blow to Sajith Premadasa just prior to the vote taking for the 20th A. He almost had the Muslim ministers eating out of his hand when he said, “The 20th A would destroy democracy and also the country. Hence don’t vote for the 20th A. If you have issues please tell me”. The response from the Muslim ministers was that the country was without a ‘leader’ due to the 19th A. That also tells indirectly that though Ranil Wickremesinghe was made more powerful in his role as premier, through the 19th A, he was not looked upon as a leader or the head of state of the country by the Muslims. This is in the context of Wickremesinghe calling the shots in the Yahapalana regime as the decision maker.
The benefits of voting for the 20th A are already being experienced by the people of Gampaha District. According to a leading Sinhala weekly Basil Rajapaksa is said to have given instructions to set aside rupees million 400 from the government coffers to make arrangements to pay Rs 5000 for each family during the quarantine curfew period declared in the Gampaha District. 72,000 families in Gampaha are set to benefit from this one time stipend, but records reveal that these monies allocated would not cover all families in Gampaha district.
For some strange reasons more than calculated ones Sri Lanka as a nation sees hope flash now and then. When Sajith Premadasa is failing to make an impact as the Leader of the Opposition still the SJB is proving to be a thorn in the flesh of the government. Having had to lure in some members of the SJB to back the 20th A despite having a strong presence in parliament underscores that the opposition is not as weak as the regime claims it to be. Markar was quoted in newspapers stating that the government was forced to strike deals with certain politicians because the opposition responded in a strong manner.
Even the Buddhist clergy is strikingly split at this juncture in the context of supporting the 20th A. Priests like Ven Elle Gunwansa and Ven Muruththetuwe Ananda who backed the incumbent President at the Presidential Elections have been sidelined and their voices are not heard. Sajith Premadasa has been quoted in newspapers stating that the present regime has forgotten the people who worked for or supported the establishing of a new government.
The Rajapaksas maintain that there is no cold war between the president and premier. Mahinda had said recently that ‘the Opposition has a new found interest to see to my welfare by trying to defeat the 20th A and strengthen the powers of the prime minister”.
Gotabaya wants more power and is playing a more administrative role as contrary to the role played by Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa who plays politics at the slightest given opportunity.
Meanwhile there are plans by the premier to uplift tourism in Nuwara Eliya by upgrading the facilities there. And there are also plans to raise the lifestyles of the less affluent people in Hatton, a town which is 41 km from Nuwara Eliya. The government plans to remove 3000 shanties in Hatton and present people with new houses. This system of feeding the poor has continued for ages in return for votes. Once settled in their new houses these residents would say ‘yes’ to the 20th A or anything stronger or more forceful than that! This would be the scenario in areas where the government has garnered massive support during the next four plus years.