26 April, 2019

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Can Sri Lanka Be Better Off With An Achchāru Government?

By Ruvan Weerasinghe

Ruvan Weerasinghe

Dr. Ruvan Weerasinghe

A visitor asks you how life in Sri Lanka is in 2015 compared to when they last visited in 2013. Amidst the vastly divergent pictures of reality that advocates of the previous and current regime portray, they want to know what is the real situation on the ground. Below I have tried to be as ‘disinterested an observer’ as possible, given that I have never advocated any particular party line, but as one who voted for change on the 8th of January. I have also included some views of those from different walks of life, even a few who had reservations about the feasibility of what they called an ‘achchāru coalition’.

To be quite honest, Sri Lanka in 2015 is a freer place to live in. At least for a majority of its people. Especially for those who don’t have access to persons with ‘connections’ – I repeat, the majority. You don’t have to worry who’s listening to you when you express your views in public. You can listen to almost any radio or TV channel knowing that any twist they give to their news is owing to their own take on it, and not owing to state threat. Your email is no longer diverted to a ‘file’ in the Presidential Secretariat, nor are your articles to the media collected there. Even if they are, no one appears to be reading them! When the police stop you for a minor traffic offense, you can be happy that they’d also do it to the Prado behind you, driven by a politician. Cases in the courts of the country can be relied on to make fairer judgements free of state intervention. Gradually people, yes even the miscreants of the former regime, have refuge in due process and the protection of the law. Merit plays an increasing role in fitting people to the jobs needing to get done. Tenders are more transparently given to the better bidder. You’d have to be a rabid anti-government supporter to deny any of the above.

Maithripala FB 24 04 2014To be sure however, this is not utopia. More than 10 years of getting used to a system that just about broke every norm of civility and ethics cannot be overturned in 100 days, 6 months or even a year. We are lucky if we can do it in the term of a new parliament. Before we get there however, we need to understand that the old guard will not let this go that easily. This is what is playing before our very eyes these days. Increasing pressure by virtually all the rank and file of the SLFP on what almost appears to be the solitary figure of its President (and the President of the country) to compromise. However, compromising at this point would be a case of two steps forward, and three steps back! The dilemma facing the President of the SLFP is that short of firing virtually the entire senior members (as well as some of the younger corrupt ones) it is impossible to stop it going back to ‘business as usual’. The issue is clear: none of the existing leadership of the party would be comfortable facing the kind of scrutiny that the law enforcement and legal institutions of the country are now dishing out, given their new found freedom from interference.

Demand

The mandate won by the new government was indeed to turn back the tides of nepotism, corruption, greed, cronyism, fraud and thuggery that had become endemic in the land. The root of the problem identified by the people through the various civil society awareness campaigns, to no small measure through social media, was the executive presidential system. In order to start reversing the vile trends in society, it was necessary to start by dismantling the presidential system. Hence 19A was a true demand of the people who had had enough of the previous corrupt regime. This stands as the single most significant achievement of the new regime, even though somewhat diluted by the old guard.

But 20A. That is a whole other story. Who demanded 20A? Not the voter who wanted the old rot out! Today’s voter, and there was a whole new generation who came out strongly thanks to the Election Commissioners commitment to get them all in, has no delusions about any ‘electoral system’ being able to keep the undesirable and criminal elements out of parliament. They are much more realistic. No particular form of ‘electoral system’ can solve that problem. This is a problem that individual political parties must tackle within their own systems of discipline. If they fail to do so, the newly enlightened voter will readily demonstrate their disgust at the upcoming election.

No, 20A is yet another gasp for air by a parliament that is living on borrowed time. Here and in much of this article by ‘parliament’ I mostly mean the SLFP old guard fighting for their lives through an attempt to bring back their old hero. Many of them, most notably the irrelevant left and their pseudo partners in the UPFA’s completely ‘broken’ alliance, sense that this could well be the end of the road for them. Hanging on a hero of a bygone age is their last hope of survival. As such, it is up to them to drum up enough noise about the ‘good ol days’, make enough false allegations about the ‘bad new ones’ and cause general confusion among the public to make them believe that they are somehow missing out on something better. Even that tactic seems to be rather stale and outdated. The modern voter’s intelligence is being insulted by assuming that they’d be gullible to believe this kind of eyewash and prone to be taken for yet another ride.

Disconnect

What we have today is a parliament totally disconnected with the aspirations of the people. A parliament that is obsessed with itself. One that is bent on ensuring its own future at all costs. The 20th Amendment is only one of the symptoms of this. There are many other signs that show that the present parliament has forgotten what they are there for. Having been originally elected to represent the people who voted for them, they now have assumed a life of their own. Over the past five months (since 8th January) have any of them spoken up for, or done anything in the interest of their electorate? Or have they rather been so preoccupied with themselves that all their efforts are aimed at discrediting what the new regime is doing or trying to actively block the independent functioning of the state machinery for maintaining law and order?

So, who wants to bring back the former president? Definitely not the common man who has been at the receiving end of step-motherly treatment in the face of rampant cronyism which often depended on how much money was willing to be parted with. Nor the hard working professional who wasn’t able to depend on the merit system for recognition or promotion. Its also not the honest trader who wanted to do well by sheer hard work. Even true aspirants to Sri Lankan politics would want to be elected by the people than to be ‘selected’ by ‘a king’ based on his likes and dislikes, or maybe his mood of the day. Even the business community, which benefited from the ‘stability’ of a near dictatorship, has today largely realized anew how far superior a level playing field and the fair application of the rule of law is for them to thrive in their endeavors.

But these are not important considerations for the old guard who are in real danger of total annihilation. They simply have to fight for their own survival. They have little other option. Their only hope is to ‘engineer’ an MR-resurgence, however artificial it is. And so, with each rally they organize, they are able to easily scare their colleagues who benefited from the old regime to join them or else face the dreaded FCID or the Bribery Commission. They try to pull the ‘wool over the eyes’ of the public by calling it a witch-hunt. They are hardly convincing though, even as details of transgressions kept away from the masses over the past decade begin to gradually surface. Today, it is hard to believe that any of the top brass of the old guard would not eventually have to answer some hard questions from the state agencies that are now free to administer law and order in the land.

Dilemma

This is the dilemma facing President Maithripala Sirisena. On the one hand, with so many facts coming to light, its hard to imagine that the person under whose rule it all transpired would not himself eventually be convicted. On the other, as President of the SLFP, he has to work with a group of MPs too who most likely have amassed more wealth for themselves than would be possible in their capacities as Parliamentarians and even Ministers. Ironically, those who likely benefited most would be exactly those who held the highest ranks in the party. This of course would mean that his own party hierarchy and Central Committee would be the most likely to be indicted if the present processes of good governance continues. No wonder then that any committee made up of such is able to return with a unanimous decision to bring back the former president as a major player just 2 or 3 days after being commissioned to make recommendations to take the party forward!

The dilemma before the President is clear: should he fulfill the mandate he was given on January 8th by people from all walks of life, or should he ensure that the party he represents wins the next election? So far, the incumbent has shown great statesmanship and is in line to be remembered as someone who changed the course of our history from an almost desperate plunge into anarchy to a civilized society. Will he be able to decide between the two choices facing him, that his primary duty is to the people, and then only to the party? Being falsely accused of being the cause for dividing the party will hardly hold any water if the alternative is being rightly held responsible for abandoning the aspirations of a people who voted him in with great hope in the January of 2015.

In fact he can go further: he can potentially not only be credited with bringing Sri Lankan politics to new heights and the country towards a true democracy, but also for cleaning up a party full of corrupt politicians by appointing fresh faces free from the implications of a corrupt regime, themselves knowing full well that they too would be held accountable by the people who elect them. In short, he would be credited with the inauguration of that ever elusive new political culture in Sri Lanka. This in turn would pave the way for the country to become known as a mature democracy and a truly civil society. While denying nominations to the top brass of the SLFP will certainly take a lot of courage and, to be sure have little support within the party, the resulting SLFP would be a formidable force to reckon with at the end of the President’s term in office.

If the President stands up to this challenge, making what are essentially the hard and unpopular choices, we can indeed have a better Sri Lanka to live in with an achchāru government!

We can, as civil society, say that we expect nothing more than this, and demand nothing less than this, from President Maithripala Sirisena.

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Latest comments

  • 2
    1

    A mixture of exotic ingredients produces a palatable flavour.

    “The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.” — Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence, 3rd President of the U. S.

    • 5
      0

      Dr. Ruvan Weerasinghe

      Can Sri Lanka Be Better Off With An Achchāru Government?

      Yes.

      Because each ingredient in the “Achchāru” is happy, because they are part of the mix.

      Need to make sure one “Achchāru” , like chilies, or Fundamentalists ( Sinhala “Buddhists”, Wahhabis, Hindu Nationalists, Christian Fundamentalists funded by Norway, Israel and the Est, and other “extremists” ) do not dominate the “Achchāru”

  • 9
    0

    So who are the ‘uncommon’ people who want Mahinda Rajapakse back? Certainly there’s enough of them to scare President Maithripala Sirisena in to holding off elections & for the Prime Minister to waste time targeting the Rajapakses. Remember it’s the people’s votes that ultimately decided the last elections & it’s the people’s votes that will decide this election whatever the ‘old guard’ says or does. Or doesn’t the writer know that?

  • 11
    7

    “To be quite honest, Sri Lanka in 2015 is a freer place to live in. At least for a majority of its people. Especially for those who don’t have access to persons with ‘connections’ – I repeat, the majority. You don’t have to worry who’s listening to you when you express your views in public. You can listen to almost any radio or TV channel knowing that any twist they give to their news is owing to their own take on it, and not owing to state threat. Your email is no longer diverted to a ‘file’ in the Presidential Secretariat, nor are your articles to the media collected there.”

    Is this doc writing this crap in his right mentality or he is living in an imaginary place where no other people around??

    Have not we read mud slinging publications targeting MR during his ruling? Have not we read Sunday Times, Ravaya etc., which again target the same? Have not we listened to TNL and such radio stations? Have not we gone to enjoy “Chaminda Puswedilla” in which targeted MR and his family badly?

    • 1
      0

      If one has been indulging in mud, telling the truth will be mud slinging and one can not help it

  • 9
    2

    MS was elected because a majority wanted a change from the lawlessness, injustice, mass corruption, cronyism & all the evil under the sun that seemed to have taken over the country. Despite all this, which is common knowledge, MR still has a considerable following purely based on the myth that only he can protect the Sinhala race & Buddhism. His party members amassed colossal wealth during his regime & naturally wants the past buried, so MS has the herculean task of reforming the party, which in practice, is impossible as everybody, including the hierarchy, have skeletons in their cupboards. MS has to go by his conscience, should he give in to the pressure from his party & toe the line (& go back to the good old days) or take a stand in the name of justice with a new generation of politicians (maybe less perks & a tight leash would discourage the undesirables aspiring to be politicians) & strive for an equitable society? If that is the case, MS will be remembered as the true saviour of SL, even though MR is credited with winning the war on terrorism.

  • 7
    11

    MS have no moral right to dick around SLFP. People made a mistake by voting in a puppet and they will show their response in the general election. All what I can ask the Dr. is what are you smoking?

    • 0
      0

      Patriot, what care you smoking

  • 12
    1

    Its time for our sinhalese people to decide what they want. Do they want nepotism, corruption, greed, cronyism, fraud and thuggery that had become endemic in the land? minorities have already decided. They are in to establishing law and order, equality. A person intelligence can be measured by seeing the cut outs in public places to portray themselves.This is a waste of public money and causes havoc to the environment. I know most of the intelligent educated sinhalese does not want nepotism, corruption, greed, cronyism, fraud and thuggery. Only few like rajapassas weerawansas are encouraging nepotism, corruption, greed, cronyism, fraud and thuggery who will be endup in jail pretty soon. Only problem is with the gam battas(village people) who are innocent and naive who can be manipulated by these idiots.

  • 11
    1

    A beautiful sketch of the current political situation, drawn from an elevated perch. If not for necessary expedient of making it an achcharu, this government could have done better.

    Good advise for the President too. He has to side with the people and this country, and not with the SLFP. The SLFP is badly constipated because of the gluttony it engaged in over long years. It needs a good purge and only the people can administer the right medicine!

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 5
    3

    This”Achcharu” (pickle) was made on January 8th 2015. Now after nearly 150 days, it is giving its “FOUL TASTE”. There is a big difference between “Achcharu” made in our villages and that of “Colombians”. The “recipe” was given by a “Villager” from Polonnaruwa; but the “cooks” have SPOILED the whole thing and it has become necessary to “BURY” it IMMEDIATELY as otherwise it will poison the whole country and the Nation.

    Now another “Achcharu” is in the making – this time a “RECIPE” from a “Royal One” presented by Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe, the present Prime Minister. He says, the Entire Parliament will be made a Government after next election. If that happens, it will definitely be a huge “Kasippu Pot”. These JOKERS are dancing, but they do not know what is going on in the minds of the people. By the time they know it; it will be too late.

  • 0
    0

    “So who are the ‘uncommon’ people who want Mahinda Rajapakse back?” – Sithy Hussain.
    NO UNCOMMON PEOPLE. ITS JUST AN UNCOMMON MAN – RAUFF HAKEEM

    “This”Achcharu” (pickle) was made on January 8th 2015. Now after nearly 150 days, it is giving its “FOUL TASTE”. – Douglas

    YEAP… THE VINEGAR HAS FERMENTED & SPOILT THE TASTE. PLONNARUWA VINEGAR NO GOOD. IT HAS TO COME FROM THE SOUTH. COLOMBO VINEGAR IS ADULTARATED.-

    “Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe, the Prime Minister says, the Entire Parliament will be made a Government after next election. If that happens, it will definitely be a huge “Kasippu Pot”.”- Douglas

    YEAP !!! THAT KP WILL BE FULL OF UREA.

  • 1
    0

    Oh, Achchaaaaaru,

    mouth watering, aroma of spices canot control.

    But should be marinated properly and real taste will get after few days of time.

    If you do not like chilli, or ginger pieces, just throw them out.

    So we hope the same with “Achchaaaaaru govrnance” ,

  • 0
    0

    The people have decided. What is going on is media hype and the bought press…making a noise.

    Bring on the elections and watch the landslide !

    Rajapaksata pare’ duwanda ida madhi wenanwa !

  • 0
    0

    What is the point of the misdeeds of the former President if we cant charge him for his alleged felonies and crooked transactions.
    It is just empty talk because there is no law against corruption. We have only a Public Property Act under which theft of public property can be charged. The UN Convention against Corruption in 1994 recommended a law against Corruption to be passed. But it was not done. So there is no law to hold the President or the Ministers liable for misuse of public property and corruption. The preset government nor any future government will not pass such a law because it cant be made retrospective. So it will be binding on them and the future. So the present government will not pass such a law. Even in the more limited law to hold the Public Corporations accountable to the Minister of Finance was not passed although it was prepared by the World Bank in 2002 and tabled in Parliament n 2008 called the Public Property Act. So don’t believe these politicians will do anything to curb corruption

  • 0
    0

    Mr. Senanayake: What are these Government Institutions called FCID; Commission on Corruption & Bribery etc. doing? As per your interpretation, there is no purpose served in establishing these Institutions and financing their activities from the Tax Payers money. Do you mean to say even the expenditure of Rs. 160 millions by the CRT headed by the ex Secretary to the President, to purchase “Sil Redi” to be distributed to devotees during the last Presidential election was not a “misuse” of funds and therefore no one can be held responsible and accountable. Then why the hell this FCIB summoned Mr. Lalith Weeratunga and questioned him on that matter? You have confused us or in the alternative “educated” us. What is correct?

  • 0
    0

    Sir;
    What a beautiful article you have written! Congratulations for the ability and intelligence . No less for the advice to the good President. Ignore people like the patriot, ignorant and stupid.Thanks
    Nilame

  • 0
    0

    Well written post, Dr Ruan, a good analysis to a great extent done with detachment. However, it would be akin to pouring water on a ducks back – the majority would never get to read your post unless there is a web site like CT for the Sinhala/tamil speaking masses of Sri Lanka.

    An important factor that could have been included in the 19th amendment to the Constitution would have been to make the President of the Republic, apolitical. He/She should not be expected to dabble in party politics. Furthermore, there should have been a “job description”. Since the President is accountable to the Parliament, he/she could be removed easily if he/she acts in contravention to responsibilities of the role.

    IMHO, after reading the Sunday Times (dated 28th June) expose on the Mattala Rajapakse International Airport, I wouldn’t want to see the former President re-elected to the Parliament and none except Gotabhaya Rajapakse given nominations. Though the current President has had a thorough education in the “School of Hard Knocks”, I don’t see the intellectual maturity in him to make right decisions or read the post of Dr. Ruan and understand it, on its merits.

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