By Kumar David –
Impeachment is of P unfeasible in Lanka’s supercharged partisan context: This cabinet is better than Yahapalana’s
The Cabinet of Ministers Sirisena grudgingly swore in on 20 Dec is, in the circumstances and taking into account the material available, a pretty decent one. There are five simple reasons why I say so. It is not bursting at the seems with crooks; to an extent core-competences have been recognised; people who can’t stand Sirisena have been given prominent and powerful places (Harin, Patali, Rajitha, Kiriella and Harison); the media ministry after considerable standoff has gone to a democrat (Mangala); and the absence of an SLFP contingent of proven bribe takers has improved cleanness compared to the yahapalana Cabinet that Sirisena torpedoed. Misplaced cunning and petulant obstructionism have boomeranged on him; it has helped launder dirt from the Cabinet.
Before saying any more nice things about the new Cabinet I need to express reservation about the swollen number of Ministers; there are a total of 55 Cabinet, non-Cabinet, State and Deputy Ministers and the filigree differentiation probably contributes nothing to getting the job done. More than half the UNF’s MPs carry the additional title Minister of some variety. Love of title and avarice for perks (salary, additional staff and vehicles and accommodation) are obvious motives.
I am pleased by many of the reappointments; Mrs Atukorale (Justice), Rajitha (Health), Hakeem (Higher Education), Mano (National Integration), Sajith (Housing), Mangala (Finance, averting a fright that it would be assigned to an aspirant unacceptable to the middle-class radicals who rescued the government from its predicament). Kabir Hakim taking over capital-intensive Highways and Petroleum will keep the filthy fingers of potential miscreants out of the jampot; friends tell me Viraj Kariyawasam is a good choice for education. This is a bourgeois democratic mainly UNP liberal ornamented Cabinet and within these parameters the outcome can be graded as satisfactory.
Those of you know my style of thinking will be surprised to hear what I say next: Giving the Power & Energy Ministry to Ravi may pay off. Hold on, before incinerating me; hear me out. The first premise is that thanks to power balances within the UNP and the deft style in which Ravi manoeuvred in recent weeks he cannot be excluded from a substantive post, but Finance was out of the question as it would have led to an uproar in the classes and forces that united to defeat the Sirisena-Mahinda conspiracy. The second point is that Ravi is able and efficient at getting things done; a businessman with Jaycees and Banker magazine nods, a man of many parties (Athulathmudali, Gamini, Srimani, Chandrika and now UNP loyalties) and a shrewd manipulator of the political scene. The third great advantage (yes advantage) is that he hasn’t got a clue of the difference between a mega-VAR and an auto-reclosing circuit-breaker.
To my mind the outcome will be is an ambitious 55-year-old businessman-politician, keen to prove himself and willing to (he has no choice) guided by sound opinion. The last point is important because of the shambolism, corruption and blunders of the Siambalapitiya-Batagoda regimen in which the Power Ministry has been immersed for three years. I speak with some subject knowledge in declaring that it has been the most costly and damaging institution of the yahapalana regime. Ravi has no reason to swallow all this shit despite Batagoda’s reappointment by Sirisena as Ministry Secretary. It is possible that a new broom though not expertly designed for the job, may be able to sweep some of the muck off the stable floor. He will have to address long-term power and renewable planning, revisit coal, repair relations between the CEB and the Regulator, and intervene in the massive scams re oil-power and LNG now in full swing. Why not give it a shot, he is not dense and not Pavitra? On the other hand, vultures may already be ringing his door bell; we’ll have to see how things pan out.
The reasons why the appointment of Sarath Fonseka was resisted tooth and nail, and why there was a battle (eventually unsuccessful) to wrest away the police ministry from Sirisena are open secrets. Of much contention in the next 12 months is whether murder and corruption cases against leading actors of the Rajapaksa regime and investigation of claims of multi-million-rupee scams by relatives of the current incumbent will be pursued. Failure to pursue these prosecutions with enthusiasm buried yahapalana and will do the same to the new Administration. This is the bottom-line, the minimum demand of all who mobilised to bring this government back to life after it was illegally ‘overthrown’. Sarath Fonseka is much motivated to pursue Rajapaksa era crimes and this makes him a threat to SLFP-PP leaders. The police have will have a role to play in both issues. It is obvious the ability to interfere in these matters was much prized by Sirisena.
Impeachment, retirement or sick-leave
George III of England reigned for 60 years (1760-1820) though in the last 10 years he was so stark raving crazy that a regency was established. However, from about 1802 his mental illness (bipolar disorder, a blood disease porphyria or unintended arsenic poisoning, the choice was never clinically confirmed) he was intermittently disciplined by parliament or forcibly restrained by his physicians. As early as 1783, Parliament voted in favour of a motion condemning the “influence of the monarch in parliamentary voting as a high crime”. It is true that, comparatively, the UK had to undergo this agony for a much longer period though the country did have powerful Grandees who would intervene to redress the balance when George’s mental health problems drove everyone to distraction.
Caligula was Roman Emperor for just four short year (AD 37-41) but coincidences don’t end there. He was known as a moderate emperor during the first six months of his rule but after that most accounts present him as an insane tyrant. He became unconstrained in the use of personal influence and irrational in the abuse of imperial power. The most hilarious example of irrationality are popular but unconfirmed accounts that he made his horse Incitatus a Senator – not an appointed MP, there were none in those days. He was assassinated by a conspiracy of the Praetorian Guard and Senators in AD 41.
Impeachment in Sri Lanka will have to be a joint initiative of the two major parties, the UNP and SLFP-PP. This is out of the question because in terms of the provisions of our Constitution the incumbent Prime Minister will automatically accede to an interim presidency. For example, if for any reason Sirisena is incapacitated or removed from office Ranil will become acting president. Of course, there is nothing, not even the devil himself that will terrify the other side more. The converse is also true. Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole asserts “The Gazette (dissolving Parliament) was surely misbegotten and unlawful . . the President does not have the authority to order something so brazenly illegal”. Though he is quite right it will not make a fig of a difference to our parliamentarians; we had better adjust to accepting reality and bear the unavoidable with fortitude. At worst it’s another twelve months only and we will be rid of this person.
The matter that needs urgent attention of parliament is changes to the Constitution. A JVP resolution calling for abolition of the Executive Presidential system is being debated right now. It is certain of securing a simple majority, maybe even two-thirds if a sufficient number of UNP and SLFP-PP members see common sense. Since it is not a Constitutional Amendment securing two-thirds is of no extra advantage. It is urgent that a Twentieth Amendment at a minimum abolishing the Executive Presidency be promulgated within the next few months. Otherwise we may have to go through a similar nightmare once again.
Sri Lankan polity has taken a horrible turn for the worse; simply asserting the supremacy of Parliament over President and Executive, and continuing the independence of the Judiciary won’t do in the long-run. That’s a nice formula but with the collapse of political ethics on all sides, inherited notions of the independence of the three branches of state and the supremacy of the people don’t make enough sense anymore. It seems that cock won’t fight anymore – and similar crisis seem to stretch to other countries as well. What when the people themselves have become corrupt? Who will keep watch when the watchman has become truant?
Many countries including Lanka are in uncharted waters; a big rethinking of fundamental categories has fallen due. The democratic will of the people has become counterproductive on a variety of local and/or global issues including absence of concern for minorities (the present worst case in Burma), proclivity to elect corrupt or criminal politicians to parliament (Sri Lanka and India for example), a short-sighted drive to consume now without concern for the future, insensitivity to climate change (Macron’s travails, Trump) and specific mistakes like Brexit. Alt-right Populism and the right of neo-Nazi movements in parts of Europe have mass support. Quite clearly the old formulae of democratic liberalism are being outflanked and posing social democracy as an alternative only address the economic and socio-economic side of things. There is a need for discourse and action on a wider scale.