By Rasika Jayakody –
Sri Lanka is on the threshold of a fresh political crisis. President Sirisena, afraid that he will be implicated by the findings of the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) probing Easter Sunday attacks, has resorted to subversive methods to derail the process. At an ’emergency’ Cabinet meeting called on June 7, the President said there would be no more Cabinet meetings until the sessions of the PSC are suspended.
By not convening the Cabinet, President Sirisena intends to grind to a halt the state machinery thereby scuttling the government. All-important decision-making, typically conducted during the Cabinet meetings, would come to a halt, heightening public resistance to the government.
The President hopes this will pressure the UNP to suspend the sessions of the PSC, which have already cast aspersions on the President’s ineptitude as Defence Minister.
The President’s action stems from his fears the findings of the PSC will show him responsible for security lapses leading to the Easter Sunday terror attacked. If the President is found culpable, it would hinder his ambitions for re-election, and he could even be impeached by Parliament.
This is not the only spanner thrown by the President into PSC proceedings; also on June 7, he said he would not allow any security officers in active duty to appear before the Committee. It is clear the President was shaken and angered by the testimonies of former Defence Ministry Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujith Jayasundara (who he sent on compulsory leave) and former DIG of the Terrorist Investigations Division (TID) Nalaka Silva. Their statements indicate that the President, who took complete control of the defence apparatus last year, criminally downplayed the threat of a terror attack in Sri Lanka.
Jayasundara, who has already filed a Fundamental Rights petition against his removal from post, also testified that the President had offered him an ambassadorial post if he accepted responsibility for the security lapses leading to the Easter Sunday terror attacks and resigned from office. Fernando, a one-time confidantè of President Sirisena, also made it clear that the President had maintained unofficial channels of communication with State Intelligence Service Chief Nilantha Jayawardena, rendering his debriefing to the President as Defense Ministry Secretary irrelevant.
The statements from Fernando and Jayasuriya allude to how the defence apparatus was made dysfunctional by a President who lacked the intellectual substance to function as a line minister to so critical a subject such as national security.
The President’s comments of June 7, that he would not allow any serving officer in the defence establishment to testify before the Committee, is also an indication he is not beyond committing a gross interference of the legislature.
Be that as it may, the Cabinet has made it clear it is not in a position to accommodate President Sirisena’s demands. The Constitution does not allow Ministers to influence the affairs of a PSC. And in a vicious reaction to the ministers’ refusal to act on his demand, the President has decided he will not convene the weekly Cabinet meetings on Tuesday.
The President’s actions have demonstrated his inability to comprehend the basic functions and separation of powers of the Executive and the Legislature. The country is heading fast towards a fresh constitutional crisis—the second in six months sparked by him.
It is also clear that the President is emboldened by the UNP’s disregard for any violation of the Constitution. Even when they took up cudgels in the name democracy after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was unceremoniously sacked during the ‘Constitutional Crisis of 2018’, the battle ended the minute the Premier regained his seat. On the eve of his reappointment, party second-in-command Sajith Premadasa assured the President that there would be no impeachment motion brought against him for violating the Constitution. Premadasa betrayed the 51-day struggle for the restoration of a legal government in Sri Lanka in that one statement, brought about by all those that mobilised for democracy.
Even after the resolution of that political crisis, a group of UNP MPs formed a ‘Sirisena Nikàya’ within their own camp to completely disregard the aspirations of those who demanded the restoration of Parliamentary democracy in Sri Lanka. Instead of holding Sirisena accountable for blatantly violating the Constitution, this group covertly supported his every move to undermine the duly appointed Cabinet.
It was also a startling revelation after the Easter Sunday attacks, that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and State Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene had not been invited for the National Security Council meeting by President Sirisena since the conclusion of the Constitutional Crisis in late 2018. What was even more alarming, was that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and his party had not taken issue with the exclusion, until 259 citizens paid the price for the criminal negligence on Easter Sunday.
It is for these reasons that President Sirisena has focused on derailing the PSC by not convening the Cabinet and disrupting other affairs of the government. The President clearly believes the UNP will ultimately cave and he will manage to manipulate the PSC into submission.
It is the duty of the Parliament to hold President Sirisena accountable for his actions. Unfortunately, the UNP has proven to be incapable of leading the process. Instead of offering a solution to the current conundrum, the UNP has become a part of the problem, making it abundantly clear to socially and politically conscious citizens, they must look elsewhere for a solution.