By Malinda Seneviratne –
President Maithripala did it. Quite unabashedly. The President, who is also the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) summoned those Members of Parliament who identify with the ‘Joint Opposition’ and outlined what was licit and what was illicit in his (Maithripala’s) book of ‘good governance’. He declared that ‘any member who continues to contravene party decisions and work in an unacceptable manner, they will be removed from their organization positions’. What was unacceptable, going by what’s been reported is ‘working against the party’.
It’s all subjective. It’s all about what Sirisena considers right and wrong. If ‘working against the party’ is a cardinal sin, then first and foremost Sirisena should strip himself of leadership for two serious ‘contraventions’. He crossed party lines and sided with the party’s arch enemy the United National Party (UNP) to run for president. Secondly he actively worked against the coalition led by the SLFP during the last General Election, frequently appearing on the UNP stage to support that party’s candidates. Moreover he worked against both the SLFP and the coalition (United People’s Freedom Alliance – UPFA) by crippling its central committee and unceremoniously and undemocratically removing the General Secretarties of both entities. The fact that the evicted later embraced him is irrelevant to the relevant principles – party loyalty and democratic spirit.
Sirisena would be hard pressed to defend his decision to allow candidates rejected by the electorate to enter Parliament through the back door called the ‘National List’. He was, in that moment, clearly ‘working against the party and those who voted for the party’.
Now Sirisena would have to claim that all this was ‘acceptable’. Acceptable for what reason? Simple: Sirisena saying it is acceptable, nothing more and nothing less. That’s ‘democracy’? Yes. Why? Simple: Sirisena says it is so.
What’s he doing here? What’s happening here? Well, he’s doing what his predecessors did. He’s doing what JRJ did with undated letters of registration and what Mahinda did with his famous ‘files’ (on MPs). He’s blackmailing members of his party. He’s told them that if they don’t ‘think, see and do what pleases Sirisena, then they’ll lose their posts as party organizers’.
Of course he has the power to do so without issuing such threats, but then again he has to issue the threats in order to dissuade them from taking part in the planned Joint Opposition march from Kandy to Colombo. If he said nothing then they’ll go ahead without any fear (only to be disappointed later when he dumps them, one supposes). Clever.
Clever, but out of order. ‘Out of order’ because Sirisena came to power promising change. Sirisena came to power vowing not to do what Mahinda did. Sirisena came to power vowing to uphold democratic principles. He came to power waving two flags, one embroidered with the word ‘Democracy’ and the other sporting the term ‘Good Governance’.
Perhaps people believed that Sirisena actually knew what these terms meant. Perhaps they suspected that he didn’t have a clue but went along either because they felt Rajapaksa had to go or because they wanted the tyrant they favoured (the ‘our man’ factor). Nevertheless Sirisena cannot run away from promises without being called out. He cannot pretend not to know for he’s always been surrounded by good governance tuition masters. They would have told him, as Uvindu Kurukulasuriya correctly points out that allowing members give voice to conscience is a fundamental principle of parliamentary democracy. Party leaders, secretaries of any other office bearers cannot presume on the behalf of any member. Well they can, but then they lose the moral authority to wax eloquent about democracy. Not that they would lose any sleep about such things of course, going by what we’ve seen since January 8, 2016, but nevertheless the point that the good governance tuition masters are not making must be made.
So, ladies and gentlemen, it is official. You can all retire any hopes you’ve entertained about Sirisena (and Wickremesinghe) delivering good governance and democracy. Blackmail has been scripted in and it’s not even in small print. It joins nepotism, intimidation of political opponents, threatening of journalists, grand theft, protection of thieves and so on. Did someone whisper ‘change’? Did someone else say ‘Quite Mahinda-like’? Did a third person say ‘You could also say Chandrika-like or Ranil-like or Premadasa-like or JR-like’? Bottom line: threat is in, conscience out, never mind that the targeted are, like the targeting, conscience-less. There’s a flag fluttering from the lead vehicle of the ‘Good Governance Government’. There’s bold lettering: BLACKMAIL.
Through all of Sirisena’s anti democratic antics and through all the many instances where he’s thumbed his nose at ‘good governance’ Ranil Wickremesinghe has been silent. We have to bring him in here because ‘Good Governance’ is a house in which the two are co-heads of household. They said it. That’s Ranil and Maithri. They spoke of cohabitation, of marriage and the strength of the marital bonds.
*Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Blog: malindawords.blogspot.com. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: malindasene