Colombo Telegraph

Have The Actions Of Sirisena On October 26 Strengthened The Democratic Forces In Sri Lanka?

By Niranjan Canagasooryam

Niranjan Canagasooryam

Events of October 26, 2018 and after

Late on Friday, October 26, 2018, President Maithripala Sirisena sent shock waves through the country when he ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister. The shock waves were of seismic proportions when the new duo went on to appoint a set of new illegitimate Cabinet Ministers. It was apparent that the due process for ousting a Prime Minister and the appointment of a new Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers were not followed. What then ensued was the news swamped with the words ‘fake government’. 

The rationale behind creating such a fake government appeared to be a fascinating way of attempting to legitimise an illegitimate regime by building a majority by the time Parliament would commence. The crossovers did not eventuate in the manner anticipated. The President then prorogued the Parliament with an ulterior motive of engineering defections and crossovers through offering financial favours and Cabinet portfolios. Even this unsuccessful, further attesting that they were unable to get the numbers. It was then that the President anxiously dissolved Parliament which supplemented to the already long string of unconstitutional acts. 

At this stage, all the opposition parties, including a member of the Elections Commission, took this matter to the highest court of the land: the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court granted an interim stay order to prevent the holding of elections until the case is heard on December 10 signaling that the dissolution was illegal. With little option, the President recommenced Parliament, which paved the way for a no-confidence motion to be passed against the fake government. In countering this humiliation and a desperate attempt to avoid parliamentary proceedings, the Rajapaksa-Sirisena faction of MP’s resorted to indecent and shameful actions in the Parliament. As the nation watched in horror the disgraceful behavior of our public-funded MP’s in Parliament, this gained further media coverage locally and internationally bringing further disrepute to our nation. Despite all the odds, video footage showcased the brave and courageous Speaker of the House conducting the vote of a no-confidence motion on four accounts against the fake regime.  Despite the many losses, the President still continues to reject all votes taken on passing the no-confidence motion and proceeds to govern the country, strewn into disarray, as if nothing has happened. 

On the meeting held with the President on November 27, 2018 the Tamil National Alliance Leader R Sampanthan reminded the President that his game bore serious legal consequences. An adverse ruling from the Supreme Court on December 10, 2018 could be the basis to institute criminal proceedings against the members of the fake government. Any person executing illegal orders could be criminally prosecuted where the President too would not be immune against prosecution. 

It is in this backdrop, the ousted premier Ranil Wickremesinghe has ferociously insisted that the status quo prior to October 26, 2018 be maintained. As such, there will be no compromises made with an illegitimate group that instigated this ploy to plunge the country into deep crisis. Despite position and power, any concessions offered at this stage would be compromises to democratic values and signal an acceptance of the illegitimate acts carried out. All of these actions, and our political reactions to them, will have dire consequences in the long-term interest of the country.   

Democratic Values

It is widely believed that the man who is in the forefront of fighting against the authoritarian rule to uphold democracy today was once part of a regime construed to aiding and abetting severely inhumane acts. History tells us that under the leadership of former presidents JR Jayawardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa, there were many immoral, undemocratic and illegal acts inflicted on the country. With the best of intentions, perhaps it was Ranil Wickremesinghe’s personal belief of loyalty and obedience to the party leader that he did not oppose these acts. So it is the personal view of the writer that Ranil Wickremasinghe’s achilles heel lies in his lack of publicly condemning some of the inhumane doings committed under the previous leadership that he was part of. 

In contrast, Mahinda Rajapaksa, a man who commenced his political career championing democratic values and human right abuses, is today in the forefront of establishing a fake government deploying the most undemocratic and unconstitutional acts of recent Parliament democracy. His regime boasts of the significant development and infrastructure progress carried out during their tenure in government. One needs to ask the question whether development is considered obtaining foreign debts in order to build an airport where no planes land and a port which was not financially viable, or rashly evicting slums without adequate planning and destroying their livelihoods in the name of urban development, or if the death of 28 people when the mounted rubbish collapsed at Meethotamulla in the haste of beautifying Colombo, or the lives lost of innocent youth to abductors without fair justice granted to their families, or the sporadic killing of prisoners under the label of cleaning up gangsters, or innocent civilians who were unjustly arrested in the name of eradicating terrorism. 

Meanwhile the UNP has received much criticism for exactly the opposite – slow pace of development, not showing adequate development and projects at the grass-root level, lack of addressing the rising cost of living, the negative publicity of the Central Bank bond scam and perceived not to have acted to bring the corrupt and criminals to justice.

There will always be mounting pressure for any government to fast-track economic development and it will be very tempting to flirt with adopting undemocratic means to achieve this goal.  There is a school of thought, particularly the business community, that believe most of the social problems would be resolved if a country progresses economically. Whilst this bears true in some instances where economic prosperity eases some of the problems society face, it is the mandated role of the government and public institutions to understand that a society built on the foundations of strong, individual democratic values will be the means to achieve long-term sustainable development. 

Whilst there may never exist a perfect democratic model other than in theory, one needs to be reminded that democratic values are for one’s own self-interest. We condemn tortures, human right abuses and injustices in the hope that at some juncture, this fate does not befall upon our own loved ones. It is this short-sightedness of people in power who fail to comprehend the long-term benefits of such democratic values being ingrained in every citizen.

Silver Lining 

If there is one politician in Sri Lanka who understands this well, it is Ranil Wickremesinghe who recognises following decades of tried and failed models, without genuine empowerment of humanisitic democratic values instilled in every citizen, there can never be real development that is sustainable in the long term. This is perhaps the legacy and footprint he wishes to leave in our nation’s history books of the future. 

Notwithstanding the issues of the UNP, what their government established was creating a functioning system for an independent judiciary, independent commissions, freedom of media and safety of innocent civilians, thereby ensuring checks and balances were in place to showcase and rectify non-compliance. This is one, if not the most important liberty that any individual could have.

In this current crisis and even with undue political pressures, particularly with the fake government in power, it was apparent that the judiciary and several other institutions were able to function independently. The fear psychosis that existed three years ago is not evident today. During this crisis many lawbreakers and criminals continue to be exposed – this could never have been even considered under the previous Rajapaksa regime. 

Conclusion

Maithripala Sirisena sacrifice of putting his life in danger on January 8, 2015 and stood as the common candidate to defeat the forces of tyranny and autocratic rule of the Rajapaksas’ displayed hope for the nation. More recently, with his actions on October 26, 2018, he had unconsciously committed the ultimate sacrifice by prematurely risking his own political career and caused the unanticipated uniting and strengthening of the democratic forces of this country. By this act, he has merely placed the trump card in the hands of the man who is the country’s hope for championing the need for democratic values.

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