By Asoka N.I. Ekanayaka –
In the annals of Sri Lanka politics through the ages it would be hard to find as diabolical an act of betrayal, back stabbing, and crass ingratitude towards ones electors as Maithripala Sirisena’s cheap little coup involving the swapping of prime ministers and re-constituting a mediocre cabinet of his own discredited political henchmen. One hesitates to push the analogy too far, but the whole scenario is so bizarre and unreal as to almost warrant comparison with the sordid betrayal of basic filial affection by the scoundrel king Kasayapa who blinded by suspicion entombed and executed his own father in his naked lust for power around 473 AD.
Whatever Sirisena’s reasons for this putsch, it was not even executed in a way that reflected the courage of his convictions by first boldly addressing the nation and taking the people into his confidence. Instead the insidious hole in the corner modus operandi involving a quick sleight of hand taking the nation completely by surprise, was surely the cowardly way to go about it. Indeed the backslapping bonhomie surrounding the sudden swearing of a new prime minister as conveyed by the video images rather gave the impression that they all enjoyed the sadistic pleasure of fooling the people and catching the nation on the wrong foot. That all this has generated instability, sown confusion, disrupted governance, imperiled the economy, bitterly divided the nation, alienated friends abroad, and opened the gateway to anarchy – is obvious . The president’s action was patently illegal, irrational and immoral.
It was Illegal because Section 42(4) of the constitution specifies that “The President shall appoint as Prime Minister the Member of Parliament, who in the Presidents opinion, is most likely to command the confidence of Parliament” Needless to say that “opinion” must be based not on the President’s capricious whims and fancies, not on dreams visions fantasies and superstitions, not on who he personally likes or dislikes, but on the balance of power in parliament which can be objectively ascertained only by convening parliament and seeking a vote of confidence. Moreover Section 46(2) specifies the two conditions where a Prime Minister ceases to hold office and since neither of these have been met the President’s sacking of the Prime Minister is clearly arbitrary and unconstitutional.
Secondly the President’s action is irrational because while justifying himself by accusing the Prime Minister and government of corruption, he has replaced them not with paragons of virtue and men of unimpeachable honesty and integrity, but with those of the previous regime which was notorious for its monstrous corruption and crime. If Sirisena figured ( rightly or wrongly ) that under the present government the people of Sri Lanka were in the frying pan of corruption – then surely what he has done is to toss them into the fire ! Moreover while complaining about the indifference of his cabinet colleagues to an alleged threat to his life, Sirisena has walked into the arms of the very elements of whom he was petrified in 2014 when he broke ranks and ran for President. Such extreme irrationality by a head of state is incomprehensible.
Thirdly the President’s action is immoral because he has betrayed the aspirations of millions of decent honourable people who even at cost to themselves made him President in the expectation that he would restore the rule of law, and bring to justice those who had committed monstrous crimes during a period of unparalled criminal governance by a cruel and evil regime. The arrogant abuse of power, savage politicization of all the institutions of governance, monumental corruption, unbridled nepotism, widespread human rights violations including massacres and atrocities, abductions and extra judicial killings, attacks on the media, the pervasive use of political thuggary and even alleged war crimes which characterized that fearful regime, are now an indelible part of the sordid history of that period.
In the struggle to replace criminal governance with good governance millions of Sri Lankans trusted Sirisena to be the standard bearer in delivering them from that hated regime. Instead he has gleefully aligned himself with that self same evil conglomerate and brought it back to power ! On his invitation the return of that tainted bandwagon into the corridors of power whose swearing in now fills our TV screens conjures up images of the slab being lifted and the foetid contents of a cess pool erupting and gushing out as the pressure is released ! Well may the millions who are the victims of such treachery echo the heartbreaking dying words of Caesar “even you Brutus ?” as his close friend followed his enemies in plunging the dagger. To quote a modern idiom “with friends like that who needs enemies ?”.
So the question is how did Sirisena come to make such a disastrous move? It probably keeps him awake at night these days as he realises the bitter implications of a ghastly miscalculation that has plunged the country into chaos and may well signal the end of his own political career. A charitable explanation would be that as a general principle in politics, stupidities of this magnitude are often a reflection of the simple minded unsophistication and naivety that might be expected of a peasant.
A more plausible explanation arises from the fact that in 2014 Sirisena broke away from the previous government only at the terminal end of that cruel regime just in time to run for President himself. No doubt he deserves credit for crossing over ( better late than never ). However only God knows the real motives of men in the depths of the human heart.The Bible records that at the dawn of human civilisation “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”, so acknowledging the total depravity of fallen humanity that is alienated from its creator notwithstanding outward appearances.
The human heart has not changed through the millennia no matter whether they are kings presidents or emperors. Otherwise from 2005 – 2014 throughout the worst excesses of draconian Rajapaksa rule, through all the atrocities, crime, corruption and manifold wickedness which dotted that era, Sirisena remained a faithful senior minister taking collective responsibility and enjoying all the perks, and privileges of high office in that regime. Consequently his latest reunion with his erstwhile comrades whom he has now re-embraced and restored to high office is not surprising. It seems to exemplify a phenomenon that the Apostle Peter highlighted with a proverb (in a totally different context) writing from a Roman prison around AD 67-68 shortly before his death “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself returns to wallow in the mire”.
Whatever the reason for the President’s actions in one way it is possible to feel sorry for men like him. Having forfeited a good name and put his own political future in jeopardy the guilt of having betrayed millions of principled citizens who placed their trust in him, may haunt him for the rest of his life. All the shallow outward expressions of sanctimonious piety, with the familiar endless round of religious observances and empty ritual, going from place to place on bended knee seeking blessings, cannot expiate the evil of betraying good people who trusted a man with their future, nor restore a good name once it has been irrevocably lost nor replace public confidence once it has been shattered. Politicians would be fools to imagine that they can set off their meritorious work against their evil deeds rather like managing the debit and credit sides of a bank account. The wages of sin are inescapable.
Finally, in the bitterness depression and outrage of these times each individual will struggle to find some peace by falling back on one’s own deepest religious faith and philosophy of life. Christians may find comfort in the biblical book of the Prophet Daniel who lived through a period of extreme human wickedness and political instability and was himself exiled to Babylon in 605 BC. We are told that the purpose of Daniel’s prophetic testimony is to teach the truth that whatever the unrestrained evil and turbulence that may rock the world around us “God himself is the sovereign and ultimate Disposer of the destinies both of individuals and of nations”. So sorrounded by danger and calamity we find Daniel turning to God, in his own words “seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” and crying out “To you O Lord belongs righteousness, but to us open shame. To us O Lord belongs open shame . . . because we have sinned against you. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy” .
Would that President Sirisena for his sake and ours, might find it within himself to acknowledge his error, repent of his transgressions before God and man and discover the Way that leads to Truth and Life.