Colombo Telegraph

Ours Is A Hobson’s Choice

By Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

Events that have unfolded since October 26 beginning with the sacking of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister followed by the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, Prorogation of Parliament, swearing in of new cabinet ministers, dissolution of Parliament and fixing date for Parliamentary elections on January 05, 2019, stay order issued by the Supreme Court against dissolution of Parliament with hearing of arguments slated for December 5, 6 and 7, resulting reconvening of Parliament, Mahinda Rajapaksa and around 40 SLFP members joining SLPP, successive No Confidence Motions brought by the UNP, JVP, TNA triumvirate, free for all inside Parliament between UNP and SLFP/SLPP Members of Parliament with the use of knife-like objects and chili powder mixed with water and boycott of Parliament by SLFP/SLPP group, supposedly the ruling party has brought the country and economy to a grinding halt. 

These days, little other than the current political imbroglio is reported in the electronic and print media. Ordinary citizens too speak of little else other than the current political gridlock and are waiting with bated breath for the Supreme Court’s decision.

The verdict can be only one of following two. Dissolution of Parliament could be either upheld in which case, Mahinda Rajapaksa and his ministers will gain legitimacy and plans to hold parliamentary elections could proceed. In the event it is declared null and void, it will be necessary to revert to the status quo which prevailed before October 26.

President Sirisena’s declaration of not swearing in Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister under any circumstances could become a complication in the event UNP members stick to their guns and insist on their leader’s appointment.

The culprit in chief in this tragicomedy, if one may use the word, is the lack of wisdom on the part of President Sirisena and his utterly selfish desire to seek office for a second term.

The reasons he has given in justifying his actions cannot be summarily dismissed and has considerable merit. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s inability to work with any President is a matter of record. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga would validate the fact. 

However, it is the manner in which President Sirisena opted to address his problems with Wickremesinghe that has earned him the ire and ridicule of many. The bone of contention is in the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa because of accesses committed during his administration even though many accusations remain unproven. 

Democratic or undemocratic, Wickremesinghe with the support of 60 some MPs replacing a sitting Prime Minister supported by over 140 MPs was not a problem a mere three and half years ago. No objections being raised by the self-serving MPs, especially the so-called official opposition does not make the act any less undemocratic. 

President Sirisena lacked the vision and courage to do what was necessary in an acceptable manner. He could have exercised his right as President to address Parliament and explained to MPs, difficulties he faced with Wickremesinghe. He could have also explained his inability to continue with the farcical unity government and requested MPs from both sides of the divide to move a motion in Parliament for its dissolution with a 2/3 majority as permitted in the Constitution. He could have also informed them, in the alternative he would be compelled to appeal directly to the people by way of a referendum to give him the mandate to hold a general election. Even though constitutionally such a referendum is non-binding, MPs would not have been able to ignore a Yes vote provided it is endorsed by at least 55% to 60% of voters. MPs would have had to give President Sirisena the mandate he sought.

In the current scenario, all major players have become losers. 

President Sirisena is being condemned roundly for his unconstitutional and undemocratic methods. The city folks are angry with his choice of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister even though views of rural people is not known. His announcement of releasing Sinhala and Tamil translations of Bond Commission report along with full list of names of MPs having accepted money from Perpetual Treasuries subsidiary Mendis & Co. fools no one. He is planning to do so not due to altruism but to gain political leverage.   

 Ranil Wickremesinghe’s popularity, severely dented after the Central Bank bond scam was in the wane despite comfortably winning the recent No-Confident Motion (an excellent example of people’s views being overruled by their elected representatives which we call democracy). Had President Sirisena sworn in any person other than Rajapaksa, the opposition would have been much less. Wickremesinghe’s singular plus point, financial integrity, lies shattered after the bond scam. Few would have shed tears for him. Many including some in his party would have sighed with relief over his dismissal. Thanks to President Sirisena’s modus operandi, he has managed to claw back some support. However, in case the threat of a Presidential Commission to investigate corruption during three and half years of Yahapalana government becomes a reality, Wickremesinghe’s image and reputation will take a further beating. 

Mahinda Rajapaksa was known to have headed a corrupt regime, especially from 2010. Despite voters rejecting him in 2015, he had managed to dent the unity government’s popularity and was cruising to a likely electoral victory in the next Parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for mid-2020. He has lost much credibility since being sworn in as Prime Minister on October 26. Shenanigans of his group inside Parliament, his choice of cabinet Ministers and decisions such as appointing the one-time controversial CEO of SriLankan Airlines as Chairman of the national carrier which lasted less than 24 hours has angered the public. It is not known if Rajapaksa’s war-winning shine in the eyes of rural folk remains intact or has been dented.

President Sirisena, in the early days of the unity government, spent tax payer’s money and traveled to London to attend a World Anti-Corruption Conference on the invitation of the then British Prime Minister David Cameron. He spoke of the mandate given to him by his people to eradicate corruption (of the Rajapaksa administration) and his commitment to the cause of fighting corruption. It did not take long for him to lose his resolve. Dissolution of Parliament on the eve of the release of the COPE report on the first bond scam amounted to protecting the scoundrels involved in the fraud and also ensured an electoral victory for the UNP. 

The report by Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery & Corruption (CIABOC) had made some startling revelations after investigating into corruption during the Rajapaksa administration. Mahinda Rajapaksa himself has been charged with depriving ITN of millions of rupees. Others charged for various offenses are; Wimal Weerawansa, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Udaya Gammanpila, and Johnston Fernando among others. The President’s decision to swear them in as Ministers is vehemently disapproved by civil society.   

How did the anti-corruption crusader Maithripala Sirisena, after pledging to fight corruption both locally and globally manage to swear in these worthies as Prime Minister and cabinet ministers? 

After the Supreme Court verdict, what choice do we have other than settling for either Ranil Wickremesinghe or Sajith Premadasa and their band of crooked MPs? If not, we will have to settle for Mahinda Rajapaksa, his wayward siblings, and progeny besides his group of corrupt MPs, many who are also thugs.  

Many cabinet ministers will be either those from the UNP who have accepted money from the bond scam perpetrators or those from SLFP/SLPP, many who have been found guilty or under investigation by CIABOC.   

Regardless of the Supreme Court’s verdict on December 7 or shortly thereafter, the most critical question is; where do we the People go from there. What are our choices? 

Voters should not vote for the UNP if party nomination for next general elections is given to MPs named in the bond scam list which the President has promised to release.  

Voters should also not vote for the SLFP/SLPP if nomination is given to any one of those found guilty of corruption or is under investigation by (CIABOC).   

Ours is a Hobson’s choice.                               

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