By Kumar David –
The initial title of this piece was “Requiem for a President” but Tuesday’s developments have left me flummoxed for a title; it is a most unusual constitutional wrangle when a President declares that he will not appoint someone as PM even if he secures a majority in parliament. Additionally, the leader (MS) of a party (SLFP), showers imprecations on the head of the person (MR) leading that party’s electoral campaign. Alice in Wonderland stuff! MS has to take the blame for this circus because when he nominated MR for the slate of the party he nominally leads, he put himself on collision course with the declarations that he now pronounces. If the UPFA gains adequate seats there is no power on earth that can prevent MR from becoming prime minister. How can MS constitutionally refuse? True the UPFA has little chance of winning; but hypothetically, if it does, what is MS’s way out, short of a constitutional coup? Didn’t I warn you that the two-competing-centres-of-power provision in 19A was a huge blunder!
Mind you, I like President Maithripala Sirisena. He is a decent man who has won respect for Lanka on his overseas assignments, is scrupulously free of corruption and has kept many promises. Unlike his predecessor he is not a fraudster, he has not woven protective wraps round drug scullions, nor is he feted as overlord of a Mafia State. What a pity he vacillates like a straw in the wind. One grievous defect in a good man can be fatal.
So oft it chance with particular men
Carrying the stamp of one defect
His virtues else be they as pure as grace
As infinite as man may undergo
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault. The dram of eale
Doeth all the noble substance oft adulter
To his own scandal.
And what is his defect? Not that of Hamlet, who dithered over the MORAL dimensions of his choices – “thus conscious does make cowards of us all and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought” – but rather, the high price that MS now has to pay is for a dearth of boldness in the aftermath of 8 January. His first misjudgement in his Indian summer was failure to follow up the alleged coup in the early hours of 9 January and stalling the arrest of those incriminated, MR included. The next let down is not bringing to book venal politicos of mega-corruption infamy (and now nominating them); how painful and slow the Basil and Gota cases. The third mistake was holding on, in 19A, to an elected presidency with semi-executive powers. A ceremonial president, whatever the electoral outcome, would not now be treading water. To what extent Ranil shares blame for these flops will be known only when the archives of oral testimony burst into the open one day.
Poor Maithripala Sirisena
It continues to puzzle me that mine was the only voice raised to warn that the twin-competing-power-centres structure created by 19A (an elected semi-virile presidency and a powerful prime ministership empowered by and answerable to an elected parliament) was an unstable recipe. Where were our constitutional pundits and political columnists; sleeping? However, no one, yours faithfully included, foresaw that it would come to a head so quickly. If MR becomes prime minister, perish the thought but grant the hypothesis, the knives will be out and it will be curtains for MS. This worst case, albeit unlikely scenario, is a timely reminder that post-19A the Constitution is skating on thin ice. This brush with constitutional death and the menace of physical elimination that MS faces has incontrovertibly proved the blunder of the twin-power-centres design, and proved it even before the dust has settled.
If MR does becomes prime minister despite MS’s imprecations and vows, since the Paksas learn their political lessons from China, the dreaded Quincheng Prison 30km outside Beijing is worth knowing about. It is the last port of call for high profile political prisoners; Mao’s wife Jiang Quing, President Liu Shaoqi’s wife Wang Guangmei, the 10-th Panchen Lama Choekyi Gyaltsen, to name a few, sojourned there. High flyer Bo Xilai and ex Security Tsar and Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang are current inmates. The first American member of the Chinese CP, Sydney Rattenburg, was there from 1968 to 1977 on phony spying charges. If locking up Fonseka on trumped up charges is how the Paksas operate, I leave the fate of Sirisena who has brazenly crossed the Paksa path to your imagination. MS’s vow not to make MR PM is understandable from the point of view of the threat to his personal safety.
MS vacillates like a straw in the wind. He is blown by winds against which he has neglected to consolidate a bulwark using CBK, Rajitha, Arjuna Ranatunga, MKADS Gunda, Hirunika, Amunugama, Neomal and Earl Perera, Mrs Fernandopillai and others. That is, he has failed to organise those who were loyal to him in the SLFP and has simply drifted; he may be a nice man but a poor strategist. He did not take the essential step of ensuring that the SLFP Secretary was 100% reliable; quite the opposite of the Paksas who stuck a stooge in every crevice. SLFP Secretary AP Yapa sat beside UPFA Secretary Premajayantha and wagged his tail in approval when the latter announced that MR would be the UPFA (including the SLFP) prime ministerial nominee. At the time the SLFP CC had made no decision on the matter.
Rajapaksa is blind to the reality that the UPFA will lose the elections; he is unsighted by greed for power and lust for loot, and he lacks the self-discipline to call it a day and retire. Heroism worthy of a Don Quixote drives him to nail his flag to a soda-bottle mast. By propping up Rajapaksa, Vasu, Wimal and Dayan who let their tongues walk away leaving their heads far behind, have prompted a backlash, an alliance, (UNF-GG), of many political parties and factions and 30 civil society organisations with TNA side support, which will maul the UPFA at the polls.
MS is said to be opposed to nominating twisted Sajin Vas, kudu Duminda, pantaloon Mervyn and Premamal Jayasekara because of allegations of bribery and criminal activity. The grapevine says Rohitha Abeyagunawardena, Johnston Fernando, LW Perera and Mahindananda Aluthgamage are also to be excluded for incompetence or worse. There are, maybe 30 others, who if nominated under an MS umbrella would turn candidate Sirisena’s promise of clean governance into duplicity. This will spread unhappiness like a weed killer among those who trusted him. Poor man, he wants to run with a fed up public and hunt with the jackals; no can do Sir!
This MP nomination charade has spiced up the real drama: No-nomination for MR, Maybe-nomination, Conditional-nomination and finally a crawling-on-the-belly capitulation. Since MS has made it explicit that he does not want MR within a mile of parliament but has been forced to stomach it, if MR becomes PM, MS’s goose is cooked as crisp as roast for a Chinese banquet.
Will President MS have the gall to throw Gota, Mahinda and a slew of military brass to the wolves if the UNHRC Report to be released in September accuses them of violations? I doubt if he, or Ranil, have the gumption to do unto the Paksas as the Paksas would have done unto them if the tables were reversed. The aftermath of the UNHRC process, internally and internationally, is about politics, not human rights. The main UNHRC process reached its peak with the resolution condemning the Paksa government and the resulting opprobrium did contribute to regime change. But you can’t ask the international community to pull your chestnuts out of the fire all the time. Now it’s time for Lanka to inflict a second defeat on the Paksa family led UPFA and follow-up with prosecutions. Three of the siblings should have been strung up on 9 January, having missed that opportunity Lanka needs to make amends by defeating the MR bandwagon and burying it for good on 17 August.
What of MS if the UNF-GG wins?
What of MS if the UNF-GG forms the next government? If it has a brain, it will leave him alone to catch his corner and twiddle his presidential thumbs. MS for his part is unlikely to get involved in plots against the government, and if Rajapaksa is in parliament he will shun the UPFA parliamentary minority. MS’s Tuesday night announcement will further discourage and weaken the UPFA electoral base; maybe that was its intention. No wonder PK Balachandran in a column in the Indian Express of 12 July argues that the UNF-GG has “Sirisena’s tacit consent”. I am dead serious; he should resign form the SLFP, he has indicated that he intends to do something like that, and wash his hands of politics. One-term Sirisena can best spend his days observing sil and speaking at school prize-givings. Why not, it’s a sedate and leisurely style? The Queen seems to have found the elixir of eternal life and our Gopallawa was a contented man.
But will the UNF-GG win a clear majority? Wisdom among commentators at the moment is that the UNP alone will win a plurality of about 90 elected seats while the UPFA collects say 60 (add to both, their shares of the 29 National List MPs; say 20 in total). This leaves about 55 (National List MPs included) for the Tamil and Muslim parties, the JVP, the Field Marshal and the UNP’s GG partners. I indulge in no predictions; these numbers are here simply to conceptualise how President Sirisena can pass the remaining four-plus years of his term in relative quietude. There is plenty of charity work to do and a gossamer life of delicious relaxation to enjoy.