By Rasika Jayakody –
Sri Lanka’s political crisis, which came to an apparent close with the reappointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister on December 16, is still smouldering.
Sirisena has also removed the name of Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, a UNP front-liner, from the list of Cabinet appointments nominated by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The UNP attributes the omission to Sirisena’s deeply personal hatred towards the former Army Chief.
It was reported that President Maithripala Sirisena directed the post-October Chairman of the state-run Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) Sarath Kongahage to stay on despite the appointment of a new Chairperson by Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
Moreover, Sirisena has continued to meddle with high-profile judicial appointments: new battle lines have been opened with the Constitutional Council over the appointment of judges recommended by the Council.
Sirisena has refrained from appointing Justice Gamini Amarasekara and S. Thurairajah as Supreme Court judges, despite their names being recommended by the Council that was appointed under the provisions of the 19thAmendment to the Constitution.
Instead, Sirisena has nominated two others— K. K. Wickremesinghe and Deepali Wijesundara – and is seeking the Council’s approval on their appointment. The 10-member Council overlooking high-profile appointments has however stuck to its guns, swiftly shooting down the President’s attempt.
It is abundantly clear that Sirisena has not learnt anything from the 51-day coup attempt that was unsuccessful only because of all the pro-democratic political forces in the country that united to defeat it. He remains unrepentant and continues to subvert the Constitution, especially the 19thAmendment, which strengthened democratic institutions.
President Sirisena’s behaviour should worry all of the forces that collectively defeated the ‘Constitutional Coup’ through a gruelling, prolonged battle. His intention to derail the UNF-led government increases the possibility of recurrent tensions that may result in another political turmoil.
President Sirisena, therefore, remains an existential threat to political stability in Sri Lanka. In spite of the appointment of a new government, Sri Lanka’s democracy remains shaky and vulnerable. When Sri Lankans go to sleep at night, they do so not know if they will wake up to a new government.
The country’s way out of the current instability hinges on the UNP’s future course of action on Sirisena. At this point, it seems as if the UNP does not want to rock the boat and is working towards restoring normalcy. The real problems will come to the fore after the passage of next year’s budget.
It is naïve to believe that the President and the UNP can co-exist in a government until the next Presidential election, fixed for January 2020. If the UNP intends to run the government for the next 13 months, it has no option but to neutralise the ‘Sirisena factor’ through democratic means.
The UNP is currently looking at the insurmountable task of abolishing the Executive Presidency. Any drastic reform of that nature requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament and given the current sharp divisions in the country’s political sphere, the UNP is unlikely to secure this.
The shortage of numbers also hampers the possibility of a successful impeachment. The UNP cannot embark on an impeachment process unless a large chunk of SLFP-UPFA MPs guarantees their support. From the UNP’s standpoint, a botched impeachment attempt may embolden the errant and hostile President.
The JVP has proposed a parliamentary investigation into all coup leaders, including President Sirisena. The TNA has also expressed support for a similar process. It is still unclear as to how the UNP wants to go about doing this. The clock is ticking but the party still seems to be recovering from post-October 26thtrauma.
The citizens and activists who supported the UNP’s return to power after the Constitutional Coup do not want the party to let Sirisena off the hook. They want the largest political party in Parliament to exert pressure on Sirisena to step down from office following Wickremesinghe’s reinstatement.
It was Sirisena who stated that he would resign from office and go back to farming in Polonnaruwa in the event of Wickremesinghe’s reappointment. What loyal UNPers and other supporters demand is a persistent exertion of pressure on Sirisena to follow his own words.
It is already clear that a section of the UNF, including Sajith Premadasa, do not believe in holding Sirisena accountable. They still believe, albeit naively, that the UNP can negotiate with Sirisena and work out an action plan for the next 13 months. Their misplaced trust in Sirisena is driven by a confluence of factors, such as their desire to gain the support of controversial media moguls and dubious pro-nationalist monks.
The party backbenchers who are hell-bent on pursuing action against Sirisena are puzzled and confused. They are already coming under pressure from the grassroots-level supporters who showed strong anti-Sirisena sentiments throughout the political crisis. It is slowly dawning on them that party leaders have different motives and priorities.
It is the same complacency and total oblivion to ground realities that ousted the UNP from power on October 26 with the outbreak of the Constitutional Coup. It is the same ambiguity on policy that made the national unity government ineffective for over three-and-a-half years. It is disheartening to see at the end of the relentless effort for justice that the UNP has made clear to all its allies that ‘clarity of purpose’ is too much to ask for.