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CBK’s case against Sirisena and moral suitability of politicians

16 Apr 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which ruled the country alone and under coalitions for the most part (40 years) of the 76 years since  independence is currently entangled in the second toughest leadership feud in its history. The first leadership tussle occurred in early 1980s, soon after the World’s first Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike was deprived of her civic rights.   

Interestingly, both conflicts involved a female member of the Bandaranaike family and a person by the name of Maithripala – the first tussle was between Sirimavo Bandaranaike and a former minister Maithripala Senanayake and the second between former Presidents Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Maithripala Sirisena. Both battles went to courts.
In the latest conflict, twice President Chandrika Kumaratunga has sought a court order for the removal of Sirisena from the position of Chairman of the SLFP, citing his “unsuitability” for the role. The counsel appearing on behalf of Kumaratunga maintained that Sirisena continuing to hold the post of Chairman was against the party constitution. They noted that while Sirisena can remain as Chairman after being elected as President, once he leaves the post, he automatically becomes an advisor to the party. Hence, they said Sirisena cannot hold both posts as Chairman and Advisor. 
Apart for these legal points they argued upon an important moral point as well. They said that Sirisena’s actions during the 2018 constitutional crisis were deemed illegal by the Supreme Court and he was found to have violated the fundamental rights of people in a case related to the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks. The counsel said these instances serve as additional evidence of his “unsuitability” for the top post in the party. Accordingly, the Colombo District Court has issued an interim injunction against Sirisena, effectively halting his activities in the post until the Court reviews Kumaratunga’s complaint. This interim injunction will remain in effect until Thursday (18).  

One might question the moral right of Kumaratunga to file the petition on the same basis of track record. However, this might be the first case where the track record of a politician has been cited to prove his/her unsuitability to hold a political office.  This is so vital in a country where any corrupt person can contest or be appointed for any public office, unless he is barred from doing so for a period of seven years after being convicted by a court for a crime. 
Especially, political or administrative activities of a person who held the public office - however seriously they have ruined the lives of the people - are not taken into consideration when determining his or her suitability for future public office.
Had there been a mechanism to take these things into consideration when nominating people for elections, majority of politicians who already had represented the parliament, provincial councils or local government bodies would not have the opportunity to contest for these bodies, for the second time. In the absence of such a mechanism, even people convicted for crimes have been allowed to sit and vote in parliament, on the grounds that they have appealed against those convictions. 
The Supreme Court last year held that former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, former Central Bank Governors Ajith Nivard Cabraal and W.D. Lakshman, former Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle former President’s Secretaries P.B. Jayasundera and Saman Kumarasinghe were responsible for the current economic crisis in the country. Though the economic crisis devastated lives of millions of people they have the liberty to take over their former positions in the future. 

Once a politician is elected by the people to represent them in parliament or any such body, they do not have any control over his/her actions, until the next election, even if those actions negatively affect their lives. Hence, as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has suggested, laws must be promulgated to facilitate people to recall those who were elected by them, through the judiciary, in case of the latter’s incompetency or unsuitability is proven by their actions. 
Whatever the ruling by the court on the Kumaratunga’s case would be, bringing suitability of politicians into limelight based on their past actions should be commended.