By Malinda Seneviratne –
President Maithripala Sirisena is not an in-your-face leader. That’s a relief. But if his wallflower ways have raised doubts about his ability to deliver on promises made then his deft moves in the past few days should lay them all to rest.
A week ago the 20th Amendment seemed doomed. For all the talk about electoral reform when it came to doing the needful everyone seemed disinterested. The UNP, primarily through Lakshman Kiriella and Kabir Hashim, couldn’t stop talking about dissolution. They even sounded as though dissolving parliament was Ranil Wickremesinghe’s prerogative. Wijedasa Rajapakshe,the self-appointed Grandmaster of Democracy and All Things Constitution ought to have tutored them about what was possible and what was not.
Then there’s the JVP. They seemed to have trashed all the reform files from their drives, hard and soft, and focused their energies on playing their new found role as UNP’s Echo to perfection. Sure, they do insult the Prime Minister off and on but it appears to be tokenism that fools no one and a habit-thing at worst.
The Mahinda-faction played their part. After much huffing and puffing they came up with a no-confidence motion against Ranil Wickremesinghe. The key spokespersons of that group also demanded a snap poll. The TNA and SLMC also made some election-noises. They didn’t show any enthusiasm whatsoever for electoral reform.
Indeed it seemed that the UNP, JVP and the Mahinda-Faction were working together; separated by objective but united by the convergence of immediate political necessity. In fact the President’s lukewarm comments on the 20th Amendment gave the impression that all politicians had united to play a monumental joke on the electors. The twitterati belonging to these groups was busy vilifying one another even as they sang the elections anthem in unison. Dissolution seemed inevitable and imminent.
Then came a rally. For the 20th. For the 20th before elections. An SLFP rally. They were all there. Anura Priyadharshana Yapa and Susil Premajayantha, ‘widely’ expected to be axed from their Secretary posts in the SLFP and UPFA respectively, were there. Also seen were those who by endorsing the no-confidence motion against Wickremesinghe were said to have in that very act expressed support for Mahinda Rajapaksa (against Wickremesinghe AND Sirisena?).
Most importantly, Maithripala Sirisena was there. He, unlike his party stalwarts, did not attack the UNP. He talked of everyone getting together to see the amendment through. But he was there. He backed the 20th. First the 20th, then elections. That was the position he backed.
Then came an unanimous Cabinet Decision to go ahead with the 20th Amendment.
All of a sudden there’s no talk of elections. All of a sudden there’s less talk of the no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister. All of a sudden there’s a lot of talk about the 20th. It’s appearing less and less like lip service. Soon, perhaps, we’ll having the same people who seemed so ready to ditch the 20th and go for elections falling over each other to claim ownership to electoral reform. It would be funny but that’s ok, considering these worthies have taken the people for a joke for quite a long time.
How did this happen? Sirisena Magic? No. It’s called The Power of the Executive Presidency. All he had to do was make a small move and it precipitated giant strides in the matter of amending the constitution. And this is exactly why a cautionary note of the ‘don’t celebrate yet’ kind just cannot be fathomed. The President is reported to have told Cabinet that the next election would be held under the present system.
What kind of logic is that? You amend something because you think that the ‘something’ is flawed. Once amended you don’t affirm and give credence to the flaw by employing it. It is as simple as that.
All credit to the President to get electoral reform back from the wilderness of political bickering. Three hearty cheers and all that kind of thing. What he has proven is that he can get things done against what clearly appeared to be monumental odds. He stood alone, apparently, against the UNP, the SLFP, the JVP, the TNA and the SLMC. He prevailed. Having stood tall he cannot stoop low without hurting his back.
Mr President, we applaud you for showing far more integrity with respect to pledges made than all your backers put together. Mr Present, we are holding back the accolades on the 20th though. We hope you understand.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com