Colombo Telegraph

The Sirisena Syndrome

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

What is happening in Sri Lanka since October 26th is something unique in the country’s democracy. At no time before, the nation had been deprived of an elected government. At no time before, since the introduction of the presidential constitution, had the country seen a president whose only consistency has been his inconsistency. At no time before, had minority parties like TNA, SLMC, and JVP been compelled by destiny to unite to save democracy in the interest of generations to come, and at no time before, Sri Lankans are waking up every morning with some consternation looking literally at the DAY OF JUDGEMENT from the judiciary to know the fate of the country, its democracy, economy and most importantly its president. This is a syndrome that President Sirisena, the memorable gamarala from Polonnaruwa, will bestow to the nation as his permanent legacy when leaving the office for good, perhaps “unwept, unhonoured and unsung”.     

Because of President Maithripala Sirisena’s personal hatred of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the elected prime minister and a leader chosen by his party members – whose ineffectiveness and incompetency has been judged by voters already at the local council elections – the president is holding the entire nation for a ransom. He either wants a prime minister to his own liking or no one else. This is why he has declared rather arrogantly, “I am the government”, like King Louis XIV declared “I am the state”. The king of course brought forth a revolution. What will the president bring forth is anybody’s guess. 

In the meantime the open economy of Sri Lanka is left virtually stranded without knowing what to do next. The tourist industry, which is a critical component in the open economy, and private investment on which employment growth largely depends have been hit hard because of presidential negative political stimulus. Rising cost of living, which the RW government callously disregarded to bring under control, continues sky rocketing. It is time President Sirisena takes a few hours to ponder over what is happening in France right at this moment. It is the rising cost of living that has made workers, students and ordinary folks of that country come to the streets and they are now demanding President Macron to quit.  Will President Sirisena who is claiming to be the government do something to avert this fate? People do not eat constitutions Mr. President, but food. It is un-Buddhist to watch Sri Lankan children going to a police station to complain that they are starving. 

Even if the judges were to decide in favour of Sirisena’s constitutional tantrums and travesties the damage he has done to his office will remain historic even if the constitution that allowed him to do so is radically changed. Jayewardena, the father of this constitution wanted to be a king before his death and that was why he wanted an all-powerful executive presidency to redesign the nation’s polity itself to his liking. The economic and political circumstances of that time and his own unchallenged seniority in politics let him enjoy that privilege. The current president wants to imitate him, but time and circumstance have changed. The tragic consequences of JR’s open economy especially when corruption rules economic and administrative transactions, and the inherent dangers of an executive presidency in the wrong hands were amply demonstrated by previous MR regime. There seems to be no improvement under the current presidency in either of them. It is time radical changes are introduced in both.  

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