19 May, 2022


A Uniquely Unprecedented Situation: Is There A Way Out?  

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith may have been elaborating the obvious when he said, in the course of his sermon at the re-consecration of St. Anthony’s Church at Kochichikade, that the people are confused and that “they are doubtful whether the country will come out of the prevailing uncertain situation … (and) whether our political leadership is capable of taking this country out of the mess it is in.” As a description of the country’s current state of mind, the Cardinal’s words are unexceptionable. Even Mangala Samaraweera will not be able to take exception to these words or use them as cause to complain to the Pope in Vatican about his Cardinal in Sri Lanka. Taking a cue from the Cardinal, and viewing the recent situation in its historical context, it is more than fair to say that the present situation is uniquely unprecedented. 

It is unprecedented not only because the people have no faith in the current political leadership but also because the entire political leadership is totally clueless about doing anything to take the country “out of the mess it is in.” And the cluelessness is not limited to the current President, the Prime Minister and their respective hangers on in what now passes for government, but it pervades the Joint Opposition, so called, and its fellow travelers – some of whom border on the political in spite of being ecclesiastical. This disturbing combination of the people’s lack of faith in the political leadership, on the one hand, and the collective cluelessness that characterizes the entire political leadership, on the other, has never been experienced in Sri Lankan before.

There are several layers to this toxic combination of the collapse of public confidence in political leaders and their collective cluelessness. Easter bombings and their aftermaths have brought out all the political skeletons hidden in official cupboards. The skeletons spare no one and span everyone from the previous government to the present one, including sections of the police who are alleged to have protected Muslim extremists against the complaints of Muslim moderates and non-political Muslim citizens. 

The skeleton list starts with the President, and based on the public allegations so far, he deserves to be put through at least an impeachment hearing. But no one in parliament is thinking about impeachment because no one there is concerned at all about the damage that Maithripala Sirisena is doing to the country’s political and constitutional system. In totally different circumstances in the US, Donald Trump has turned the threat of impeachment against him into a defensive weapon to protect him. Sirisena faces no threat of impeachment, but as his first and only term as President draws to its inevitable end, he is turning what he promised would be the last term for the executive presidency in Sri Lanka into nothing other than a spectacle of executive nincompoopery.    

The 19th Amendment (apparently) clipped the wings of presidential powers, but it certainly has not reduced the incumbent’s capacity for presidential silliness. On the other hand, while the 19th Amendment (supposedly) increased the powers of the Prime Minister, its intended first beneficiary, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has shown no evidence of using those powers to any worthwhile end. Between the two men, the government has no record of achievement to talk about. The presidential and the prime ministerial sides of the same government, through their respective presidential commissions/trials and parliamentary committees, are exposing each other’s corruption and incompetence. If transparency is the unintended benefit of a divided government, its comical side was in full display during Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit last Sunday. 

It is getting worse. Sirisena refuses to convene cabinet meetings, Wickremesinghe works through a private cabal, and both men co-ordinate their hugely unnecessary travel plans to be out of the country at the same time. Neither man deserves to be in politics and power for anymore time, and for the first time in Sri Lanka’s political history, the head of state and the two heads of government are being called upon to resign from office by those who have no interest in running for office. The call for resignations of the PM and the President is also the call for a caretaker government to step in and figure out a way out of the current mess before plunging the country into national elections. This too is quite unprecedented. 

Equally unprecedented is the lack of enthusiasm for the Joint Opposition as a curative successor to a failing and falling government. People haven’t forgotten that those now in the Joint Opposition were the same folks who were in government until they were interrupted by the bad dream of yahapalanaya. Naturally there is no enthusiasm in seeing the same folks return to power as if nothing happened in January 2015. The dream of yahapalanaya may have been betrayed, but the material sources for that dream have not disappeared. Sri Lanka used to be different.   

When things were different

For all its shortcomings, Sri Lanka has been quite a vigorous practitioner, and even a beneficiary, of the system of electoral democracy. In simple terms, electoral democracy enables the political system to periodically reproduce itself, and in turn to rejuvenate the governance system. The parliamentary system provided the framework for electoral democracy. Starting literally from scratch, the country hobbled together a party system that provided the contenders who vied for power and alternated between government and opposition at every election over thirty (1947-1977) years. 

What was remarkable about these elections, in contrast to the current situation, was that each election generated great enthusiasm and hopes for change, even though the hopes, more often than not, ended in frustration. The governing party vigorously defended its record while the opposition passionately promised much more than it could possibly deliver. The whole electorate was awash in spirited debate and discussion at every level. Politics was stirring stuff and it gave meaning to people’s lives. 

While it is not an exaggeration to say that the slide began after 1977, today’s grim reality is also that about one half of the country’s present population were not born in 1977 and only the oldest 15% of the present population would have voted in the last of the old-style parliamentary elections in 1977. The present parliament itself accurately mirrors this predicament. If I am not mistaken, only Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Mahinda Rajapaksa had been elected as MPs before 1977. All the other MPs were elected in 1977 or after, and could rightly be described as the political children of the executive presidency. And it shows.

Even after 1977, there have been moments of genuine political enthusiasm – in the parliamentary election of 1994 that marked the end of the UNP regime after 17 long years, and to a lesser extent in the presidential election of 2015 that saved the country from falling under permanent rule by the Rajapaksa family. Public enthusiasm came to the fore  again in October last year in response to the Sirisena-Rajapaksa constitutional coup. Yet, in all the years after 1977, there was no general loss of faith in the political leadership as it is being sensed now, in 2019.  

The call for a caretaker government, rather than an immediate election, is in itself a measure of the current lack of public confidence in political leadership and the failure of leadership to inspire enthusiasm in the political process. The opportunity for a caretaker government first arose in December last year after the Supreme Court ruled against the purported dissolution of parliament by the President. Ranil Wickremesinghe should have immediately gone for a general election after instituting a neutral caretaker government. He had his best chances to win an election with the political wind fully in his sails. He blew it by opting instead to continue governing through cabinet mucking (not making). 

Ironically, even the institution of a caretaker government has to be done by the same political actors in whom people have no faith. Such a task is not impossible in a parliament where MPs are known to cut across party line often for unwelcome purposes. The difference now is to identify a group of MPs who will come together for a positive purpose like forming a caretaker government. The JVP seems to have forgotten that it started the 20th Amendment many moons ago. Reviving it now, perhaps along the lines suggested by Nihal Jayawickrama, could also be the starting point to win support for a caretaker government.   

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Latest comments

  • 1

    Caretaker Government ????
    To take care of whom one may Wonder.

    Yahapalanaya took care of the Crooked Brigades lead by Dr Ranil’s mate Dr Mahendran .
    Car Permit Millionaires , their families and their mates.
    Commission Collectors from Government deals.
    And the worst of all, the sponsors, financiers, mates and relatives of the Suicide Bombers who destroyed the Catholic Community and their Holy Places..

    Instead of giving the Cardinal a simple direct answer for why the Cardinal Didn’t know what the UNP Minister Harin Ferrnando’s dad knew on Thursday, Dr Ranil formed a Circus in Kotte to muddle the issue and Dry Clean the Muslims.
    Because they are now 100% behind the UNP and pumping Oxygen to Dr Ranil.

    I am sure our Catholic brothers and sister do not want any of them even near them let alone rule them again by forming a Caretaker Government of the same crooks?.

    If Dr Ranil is fair dinkum he should resign and call a new Election .
    So should Sirsena who turned a blind eye to Dr Ranil and his UNP shenanigans for good two to three years and let the country turn into this Shit Pit..

    • 0

      Mr. Phippils why cannot you think of globalization and global forces using Sri Lanka to Divide, and Rule? Why is the scope of your thinking so limited, small, and islanded, and only focused on local politicians and ethnic and religious conflicts when the Easter attacks came from outside and were orchestrated by global forcces?

      The Solution is to identify the real criminals behind the Easter Sunday bombing and have a multi-religious protest with Buddhist, Hindu, Christians, Muslim leaders and civil society to protest outside the US and Saudi embassies.

      Until the real culprits are identified inter-religious conflict will continue and leave Sri lanka vulnerable to the US SOFA, and MCC land and ocean grab project to turn the country into a US military base and colony to fight the war on China and Asia Rising.

  • 2

    When the Law reformers are failing, the judiciary and the law enforcement community will fail.
    Lawless society is the breeding ground for religious extremists.

  • 2

    Minorities have ruined what was Sri Lankan culture, with their backward looking laws and practises. Sinhala Buddhist culture was primarily a matrilineal culture which gave lot of freedoms to others including women and minorities (pls see Sinhale Kandyian law – Woman under Binna marriage can keep all her property in case of separation etc.). Girl child is considered lucky in a Sinhala family, even now a family without a daughter is looked at with pity. Matara Women traditionally were considered very erudite and strong ( “Matara ammandi fame” and famous independent poetess “Gajaman Nona” who stood her ground alone against british)- unpreceded in old patriarchal cultures like Muslim, Christian and Hindu( who want to keep women veiled for sexual purposes for producing babies). Minorities have invaded us and converted this old tolerant culture to what it is today – violent and intolerant. Moral of the story – should never have let them in. now too late. Sinhala today has lost all pride in there traditions and practices and have embraced violence of these foreign cultures

  • 1

    May those who selected and promoted Sirisena in 2015 , deceived 6.2 million people and poisted this cursed Ranil – Sirisena Yahapalana hook-up on innocent people of this country which eventually led this miserable situation rot in eternal hell.


  • 1

    a group of mp;s coming together
    you mean the same old buggers? are you joking?
    they will be there till their term is up and maybe even beyond forget caretaker governments
    till then like the paddy field the country will burn

  • 2

    Now that the TNA has given up samasdi ( federalism ) and satisfied with samurthi certificates, the govt faces no threats protests for a new constitution or a political settlement from them. President should use this opportunity and print more and more samurthi certificates and issue it to Tamils to keep them quite. Who cares about caretaker govt ? Posing for a photograph with the President or Prime Minister or any other ministers while issuing the certificates is enough for TNA M.Ps.

  • 2

    There is need for a new generation in politics. All those over the age of 60 should be banned from contesting as the present generation of senior politicians is totally corrupt
    But this article seems absolutely uncomprehending that much of the crisis in Sri Lanka is externally caused by those who use internal divisions – political, ethnic, religious to push their imperial projects – from the US ambassador visiting Buddhist monks to sell the SOFA in violation of the US Constitutions seperation of Religion and State, to the MCC debt trap development economic policies that US puppet Bondscam Ranil is pushing..in the belief that US will make him President.
    Bondscam Ranil and Sira have debilitated all institutions and this country survives because of a few good people who speak out

    Ranil should be impeached first – before Sirisena for the disaster the country faces as it is about to be turned into a US colony. economic
    However, the American war machine is squeezing Strategically located Sri Lanka like a giant Octopus to take it over and use it to fight the war on China and Asia Rising to make America great again

  • 0

    Yes, I do concur with you on the lines suggested by the one time permanent secretary to the ministry of justice Mr Nihal Jayawickrama as ut eems to be a good option in the present predicament until Dr Satchi Satha cones up with a better one.

    Most if not all humans only think , fret and fume at the most recent effect or outcome emotionally and tend to overlook the antecedent and precedent chain of causes that contributed to the most recent 21st April o & and/ or all pogrames inflicted mutually and otherwise on all citizens & denizens from the pre– Christian era to the present times of countlesscperiosl of battles, wars & peace in-verween times.

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