Sri Lanka is one of the oldest democracies in the world. It is only second to the United Kingdom to be granted universal adult franchise. In its 74 years as an independent nation, Sri Lankans have elected their legislators through the ballot and ousted them also through the democratic process. After adopting an executive form of government in 1977, moving away from the Westminster system it inherited at independence, legislators progressively veered towards dictatorial behaviour, though elected through a democratic process. With time, the dictatorial instincts of the legislators grew and they began to tinker with the provisions of the constitution to justify autocratic behaviour. In the 44 years since the enactment of the executive rule, the constitution has been thus amended 20 times, mostly to facilitate autocratic rule. This has led the legislators to lose sight of the fact that they are elected representatives of the people, which fundamentally means they are supposed to rule the nation according to the wishes of its people. Progressively, the autocratic behaviour of the rulers became unacceptable to the people, who began to show their disapproval through intermittent peaceful protests, which eventually resulted in organised protracted protests that resulted in the overthrow of the prime minister initially, and the executive president as the next step.
The election of the successor and the intrigues thereof
With the ousting of the president, the position has been filled through the votes by members of Parliament. The constitution requires that the president be elected by a simple majority. However, the member thus elected is a loner, who even failed to win his own seat in his constituency during the last election, and belatedly entered Parliament through the national list, an act subject to debate. To muster a simple majority, he required 113 votes but the candidate succeeded to muster 134 votes, which leaves room for concern. The current Parliament comprises those who were elected at the 2020 election, and represent the 2020 political will of the country, which rejected this candidate outright. So, the concern is how members of a Parliament who represent such a negative view of this candidate would so overwhelmingly vote in his favour as to appoint him president.
Two views emerge as possibilities. One is that aggressive horse trading took place. The second is that the Rajapaksa ghost is active within the Parliament and it is their will that prevails, not the will of the masses. It is well known that horse trading has been the normal pattern to muster the necessary votes to pass controversial amendments. It is a manifestation of the corruption that has become endemic in the nation and is part and parcel of the electoral process in the country. It also represents the degeneration of the moral values of the peoples’ representatives. For horse trading to be effective, substantial amounts of money need to change hands, and this shows the magnitude of the problem of corruption in the country. Do leaders who engage in horse trading have so much ill-gotten money? Are there hidden hands behind these parliamentarians who seek to fulfil their agendas at the expense of the wishes of the masses? What are the agendas of these hidden hands and where are they driving the country towards? On the other hand, if it is the agenda of the Rajapaksas, are they the key actors behind horse trading? How far will they go to achieve their ends? How deep is the loyalty of these parliamentarians towards the Rajapaksas and to what extent will they go to fulfil them. Does it also mean that the new president will be a puppet in the hands of the Rajapaksas, fulfilling their needs and protecting them from the law? If so, does it also mean that the militarisation of the public sector and all state activities will continue?
The country loses another opportunity
Unfortunately, the country has lost another opportunity to come out of the vicious mess that it has got into due to political manipulations. This being an election held among the elected representatives, and hence did not have the usual biases that operate in a general election, it provided a great opportunity for the elected representatives to abandon their usual prejudices towards one another, their inherent communal and religious differences, and the prejudices they have towards females in leading roles, and go the extra mile for the sake of the country by taking some life changing steps. They could have elected a member of parliament from the north to one of the positions and made history. This is an outcome that can hardly be imagined through a national election in the majoritarian society that Sri Lanka is. (I believe this was even discussed and believe those who mooted the idea should be applauded). They could have appointed female members of parliament to one or both positions and once again made history. (I believe this too was discussed and believe it as a good first step and needs recognition) Had either or both these been done, just imagine the mileage Sri Lanka would have got with the international community. Isn’t this what Sri Lanka needs right now?
Instead, we have opted to appoint a tested and proven failure, one known for his autocratic behaviour, one who is out of touch with the realities of life in Sri Lanka, one who cannot empathise with the suffering of the people of this country, who has no understanding that the spiralling inflation has placed the masses in part starvation, and who believes that people who protest regarding the failure of government to provide basic necessities are terrorists that need to be dealt with. Does the newly elected leader or those who voted to elect him realise the consequences of their actions? Do they believe that it is possible to rule a country against the wishes of the people? Do they believe that the ingredient to success in a highly charged political environment such as ours, is the use of force and violence? Do they not realise that the international community is watching us and looking for a stable government? Is such a stable government possible with a ruler whom the masses reject?
In the past, Sri Lanka has lost several golden opportunities to orbit out of its entrenched issues. One was after the Tsunami, when people across all communities were affected and the international community was generous with relief. The other was after the 19th of May 2009, when the legislators should have used the opportunity to bridge the wide gap that existed in the society. Have we as a nation not lost another opportunity to free ourselves from our present situation and show the world that we are a decent people capable of rational thinking, or do we insist on proving to the world that we are still tribalist in our thinking and behaviour, and hell bent on suppressing the weak?