By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
At the end of the glorified 100 days the nation is left with a sense of déjà vu, if not disappointment and frustration. Nothing significant stands out as exemplary achievements of the Sirisena–Wickremesinghe regime to crow about the promised “difference” (when-a-suck). The failure of the Yahapalanaya (good governance) to achieve its promised objectives – not to mention upholding the higher values promised in the manifesto of the Yahapalanaya – has left the people standing empty handed at square one. No government has risen to heights of great expectations within such a short time and no government has sunk to low depths within 100 days as the Yahapalanaya led by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime. Like all promising alternatives in politics it began as the sweetest thing. But then “the sweetest things turn sour by their deeds. / Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.” (Sonnet 94 – Shakespeare).
Worst of all, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime had no compunction in riding rough shod over basic norms respected and accepted in a democratic polity, let alone the vaunted values of Yahapalanaya. From day one it was in such a mighty hurry to reinforce its grip on power that it resorted to arbitrary strokes of the Presidential pen to legitimize its illegal acts to retain power of a minority government which was not elected by the people. Wickremesinghe claims a mandate because he helped the President to win. This no better than the best man claiming after the wedding the right to go to bed first with the bride because he helped the couple all the way to the final act of handing the ring to seal the marriage and make the ceremony a success.
As confirmed by the former Chief Justice, Sarath N. Silva, the very first two acts of President Sirisena – appointing 1. the Chief Justice and 2. the Prime Minister — were illegal. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s appointment of a Singaporean to head the Central Bank was illegal because the new head, Arjuna Mahendran, had sworn an oath of allegiance to the state of Singapore. The first major act of the new head of the Central Bank that led to biggest Treasury bond scandal was illegal. Wickremesinghe’s political instrument, the Financial Crimes Investigating Division, (FCID), a.k.a., the Fascist Centre for Indicting Dissidents, was illegal from the inception. Wickremesinghe usurping the powers of the IGP and directing operations to handpick dissidents for remanding is illegal. As of now the entire edifice of Yahapalanaya built after January 8, 2015 hangs on illegality and immorality.
The new regime is sailing on the myth that they were vested with absolute power in the presidential election to override all norms, practices, conventions, traditions, laws to consolidate their new regime, including the appointment of a prime minister who had no majority in Parliament. A candidate who has been defeated 29 times in the polls claims the right to be the prime minister because he piggy-backed on the shoulders of a winning presidential candidate. Can the parasitic leech have the right to survive by sucking on the blood of the body politic? Or should the creature be removed for the healthy survival of the body politic?
The failure to fulfill the pre-January 8th promises condemns the Yahapalanaya as one of the biggest hoaxes of our time. But there is one notable achievement. Though the marketed propaganda promised to make a “difference” (when-a-suck) to the prevailing political culture the ulterior political objective was to enthrone Wickremesinghe as Numero Uno which the people had refused to grant him 29 times before. In the guise of constitutional changes he tried deviously this time to transfer the presidential powers to his office of prime minister. But his pet 19th Amendment failed. And it is this failure that can be listed as the biggest achievement of the “100 days”. His failure to stage a constitutional coup saved the nation from manipulations to presidential powers which he is incapable of handling responsibly, with due regard to the rule of law. Combining the presidential powers with his prime ministerial powers would have been the dangerous concentration of political power in the hands of any one individual leading decisively nd unerringly to a untrammeled constitutional dictatorship..
Wickremesinghe cannot be trusted with even a sub-atomic particle of power put into his hands. His record shows (as in the notorious CFA) that he uses power to sell the nation to its enemies. He uses power arbitrarily and dictatorially to betray the vital interests that protect the future and the security of the nation. He signed the CFA with Velupillai Prabhakaran without telling the President, parliament, Cabinet, his party and, above all, the people. Fortunately, his stupidity was neutralized by the stupidity of arrogant and power-drunk Prabhakaran who proved to the world that he can run rings round Wickremesinghe – even to sign the nation’s death warrant.
However, considering the over-ambitious agenda outlined in the 100-day program, a point can be stretched to excuse the failure to fulfill all the promises. What cannot be excused is the corruption that shocked the nation even before the Yahapalana-yakos could warm their chairs of power. The main plank in the promised agenda of making “difference” was to run a clean administration, free from corruption. Those who expected the political nirvana at the end of 100 days were left flabbergasted by the financial, political and judicial scandals that make all those who preceded the Yahapalana-yakos look like arahats. The current political theatre unfolding in Sri Lanka is reminiscent of the hapless people condemned to live in Shakespeare’s Denmark – a state rotten to core.
Some of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies dealt with politics of the state. Macbeth focused on behind-the-scene criminal machinations aimed at grabbing power at any cost. Julius Caesar dealt with the fate of idealistic Brutus, trapped in brutal politics to grapple with the dictatorial state. Coriolanus is the brilliant general whose flawed character leads him to fall on his sword of pride and arrogance. Antony and Cleopatra depicts the catastrophic consequences of mixing politics with sex. Distracted and infatuated Antony dismisses Rome as irrelevant (“Let Rome in Tiber melt)” and he sees nobleness only in kissing Cleopatra. Lear paints the pathetic plight of a man fallen from power. Hamlet, the greatest and the most philosophical of Shakespeare’s plays, traced the tragic course of the youth rebelling against a corrupt state. Like all youth the options available to Hamlet was to either withdraw and “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune / Or to take up arms against a sea of troubles / And by opposing end them. (III – 1).
Here, I admit, I have reduced the luminous insights and thematic profundities in the tragedies of Shakespeare to one-liners — a device adopted purely to highlight Shakespeare’s magisterial grasp of realpolitik without indulging in theoretical mumbo-jumbo. The focus here is on Hamlet because he is the most relevant figure to us. Hamlet’s task is to clean up the rotten state. That is the message his father gives him, rising from his grave. The play opens with Claudius who had not only grabbed power after killing his brother, Hamlet, father of young Hamlet, but also marrying Gertrude, his brother’s wife to consolidate his grip on the throne. In the opening scene Claudius’ court is merry-making in a drunken orgy while Hamlet is haunted by the spectral figure of the murdered father goading him for revenge from the grave.
In Hamlet Shakespeare delineates the most rotten of the states he has surveyed. There isn’t a single redeeming feature in the state of Denmark. From the obsequious Polonious, the spineless bureaucrat who sees only whatever his master sees without demur, to the “incestuous” bed of Hamlet’s mother, the corrupted state of Denmark is in a state of tense vacuum and dithering, uncontrolled chaos, with key decision-makers plotting against each other, or speculating on what the next move would be. Hamlet, haunted by the injustice done to his father, poses the most serious threat to the state of Claudius, the ruling king who murdered his brother, Hamlet’s father, to grab the throne. Claudius, feigning innocence and purity, is nervous that his disjointed “warlike state” is “out of frame,..” (Hamlet, 1.2).
Young Hamlet, in this sense, is the universal symbol fighting against the most common evils in politics : corruption, sex, murder, violence and disorder with the least ability/power to take on the state. Of the many interpretations that go to explain Hamlet, there is the possibility of reading it as a Jacobean play of bloody vindictive violence. But Hamlet is not the Machiavellian Prince. He is generally viewed as the idealistic intellectual looking for noble redemption which is almost verging on a kind of madness There is, however, a method in Hamlet’s madness. He feigns madness to retain his sanity. Hamlet is in a state of despair, not knowing how to act decisively to challenge the corrupt politics of his time and end it. He is burdened by the unbearable weight of his time lying heavily on his conscience. What is more he does not know how to resolve it. Therein lies his dilemma. He is virtually paralyzed by the moral responsibility cast upon him to set it right. He says: “The time is out of joint. O, cursed spite, / That ever I was born to set it right.” (Ibid – 1.5)
His conscience is divided, if not paralyzed, not knowing whether to go into action against his own kith and kin which would end invariably in death and destruction. Hence his vacillation. His oft-quoted question, “To be or not to be” echoes the central theme in the sacred book of the Hindus, Bhagavad Gita, where Arjuna is faced with the identical problem paralyzing his conscience : to kill or not to kill his kith and kin in the battlefield. The parallels are remarkable. Stunning! There is enough material for a doctoral thesis in this theme. Shakespeare’s genius shines in all its glory in this philosophical play.
The tragedy facing the nation today too is that of Hamlet in Denmark : the heavy duty of cleaning up the rot in Sri Lankan politics. The magic cure was to come within the “promised 100 days”. It has come and gone without the promised “difference” (when-a-suck) making any significant impact on the lives of those who voted in hope. Apart from the state of rottenness, the entire political framework on which it stands is incredibly bizarre, imaginable only in a Kafkesque nightmare. An elected President is watching passively, with his arms folded, while an unelected Prime Minister, without a mandate, is running a vindictive Jacobean drama of persecuting and remanding members of the opposition on charges far less than those committed by some of the biggest crooks in his government swindling billions of people’s money.
As stated by Sarath Silva, the former Chief Justice, President Maithripala Sirisena’s action in creating his government was “illegal from its inception.” As he states the Yahapalanaya began with two illegal strokes of the President’s pen. First, by breaking all traditions and established legal procedure, he removes the sitting Chief Justice and appoints another with a stroke of his pen. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government was in an indecent hurry to capture the strategic seat in the judiciary that it abandoned all traditions upheld at Hulftsdorp and rushed to install a new Chief Justice. It was more than a case of where justice was not seen to be done : it smacked of grabbing the judiciary from the Rajapakses and securing it for the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime. Commenting on this Sarath Silva said that “the manner in which Mohan Peiris, the then sitting Chief Justice was removed reduced the judiciary to a ‘comedy.’”
He added : “That’s the first thing. And then suddenly Ranil Wickremesinghe takes oaths as Prime Minister. This is whilst a Prime Minister was still in his seat. Is that good governance? This government was illegal since its inception,” he said. (Daily Mirror — 29/5/2015)
The removal of a Chief Justice and the Prime Minister with two strokes of a Presidential pen violates all the respected and accepted traditions and legal norms in a democratic polity. If anyone deserved to be removed any regime has a right to do so within the accepted norms of the law. But when President Sirisena cashiered Mohan Pieirs with a stroke of his pen he knew he was violating the legal procedure because he participated in the Select Committee process laid down in the Constitution when Parliament decided to remove Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. So why did President Sirisena, aided and abetted by Wickremesinghe, step out of the law known to him and remove the Chief Justice with a stroke of his pen? It is the illegality of the process adopted by Sirisena – Wickremesinghe regime in removing and appointing the Chief Justices and the Prime Ministers that exposes them as corrupting the state from day one.
If President Mahinda Rajapakse is summoned before the Bribery Commission for offering Tissa Attanayake a ministerial portfolio – a common practice accepted by both sides of the House to consolidate power — how should these two illegal acts, committed by two strokes of the President’s pen to consolidate two of his key power bases be judged by those who yearn for a Yahapalanayak? Put another way, has President Sirisena reduced the rule of law to the rule of his pen? Is he trying to prove that his pen is mightier than the law of the land?
*To be continued