President Maithripala Sirisena’s high pitched speech at a ceremony to hand over deeds of houses and property to retired military personnel under the ‘Sathviru Sanhinda’ programme held at the Sri Lanka Foundation yesterday (12th) thumbed his nose at the fundamental principles of good governance and indicated that all was not well with the Yahapalana Government he jointly leads with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The President expressed displeasure and disgust at the way that action was being taken against high-ranking military personnel. Referring to an incident where commanders who fought the LTTE had been called for an investigation last year, the President said he had opposed this, clearly implying that he believes that military personnel should not be prosecuted at any cost.
According to footage published by BBC and Derana, Sirisena mentioned an incident from the previous week where the former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and three Navy Commanders were ‘herded to court’ and the cases related to members of the military intelligence who have been detained for over 16 months and insinuated that proceedings were politically motivated and violated procedural protocol.
“As the President, I express my extreme displeasure and disgust to the Minister of Defence, at the way that three former Navy Commanders were herded,” the President said.
He also stated that established procedures related to prosecution have been violated, charged that the independent commission set up in accordance with the 19th Amendment were exceeding relevant mandates and complained that he has not been kept informed of decisions taken.
The President, in expressing his objection to the way that military personnel are being prosecuted, said that the law should be applied to everyone equally, contradicting his early assertion that he believes those who fought the war should not be prosecuted.
Interestingly, these views were expressed not long after he directly violated the issue of equality before the law by interfering in the prosecution of his son Daham over an incident of assault and battering at a night club.
While the President unwittingly demonstrated his abysmal understanding of the principles of good governance, his terse speech also raised questions regarding the nature of the rocky relationship between the two parties (SLFP and UNP) that lead the Unity Government.
The President said that action against military personnel are being plotted ‘in various corners’ and in accordance with political agendas. He said that he had told the cabinet of ministers and the Prime Minister at a special meeting held the previous evening that ‘if the CID, FCID and the Bribery Commission act according to a political agenda, then I would also have to make some decisions’.
He said ‘I have not spoken about these things before, but I have been forced to do so and if necessary to take certain actions’, a clear warning issued to the major coalition partner of his Government.
Interestingly and perhaps not coincidentally this tirade follows a classified report regarding his son Daham’s behavior that had been delivered to the Prime Minister the morning after the fracas at the night club. The President, according to reliable sources, is said to have been upset that the Prime Minister had done little to protect his errant son. Cleary, the President has loose and contradictory notions of ‘equality’.
This is not the first time that Sirisena has got into hot water due to his son’s obnoxious behavior. In fact the rift with his former boss, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is frequently traced to the perception that Rajapaksa had got deliberately exaggerated and distorted version of an incident involving Daham published in several national newspapers. It appears that this time around Daham is causing or at least bringing to surface friction between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe which, if not checked soon, could spell the end of the cohabitation arrangement of the Yahapalana Government.