By Rasika Jayakody –
President Maithripala Sirisena sent a strong message to the UNP when he took a group of SLFP MPs with him as part of the Presidential delegation while on an official visit to the Philippines this month.
Accordingly, Dilan Perera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Nishantha Muthuhettigama, Sarathi Dushmantha Mithrapala, Lakshman Perera, Angajan Ramanadan and Sriyani Wijewickrama were the recipients of an textravagant holiday in the Philippines at the expense of the taxpayer.
The President’s actions indicated to the UNP that he remained unrepentant about his decision to oust Ranil Wickremesinghe from the Premiership on October 26, 2018. He also demonstrated his callous disregard for the UNP and its Cabinet ministers whom he appointed in December 2018, after the constitutional coup he instigated backfired.
But can the UNP blame the President for acting in absolute contempt of the party? Certainly not. In fact, the UNP that earned this treatment by acting in an opportunistic and expedient manner after the reinstatement of the Prime Minister and the UNP-led government nearly a month ago.
The UNP did not raise objections to the lambasting speech by the President after the re-appointment of Wickremesinghe on December 16, 2018. Several prominent UNP ministers who were highly vociferous during the political turmoil pandered to the President’s irrational behavior by passing off his jibes as “mere critical remarks.”
They lauded UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa—who colluded with Sirisena in this ignominious exercise—as a “noble peacemaker”. They craftily turned a blind eye to the fact that Premadasa’s ‘puppet masters’ were the same people who advised Sirisena during the 51-day political turmoil.
During the 51-day battle for the restoration of a legal government, the UNP repeatedly promised they would hold President Sirisena and other co-conspirators accountable for their actions. They also demanded the appointment of a parliamentary committee to probe “black media “ that supported the chain of unconstitutional actions and the functioning of an illegal government.
Ironically, on the day of Wickremesinghe’s re-appointment, Sajith Premadasa subserviently reassured Sirisena that there would not be an attempt by the UNP to bring an impeachment motion against the President. By making this statement, Premadasa quashed the hopes of all pro-Democratic forces that took to the streets against the President’s unconstitutional and despotic conduct. Without stopping at that, some UNP State Ministers did a 180-degree turn and stood on the side of “Black Media”, unabashedly defending its conduct.
Earlier this month, Sirisena excluded Wickremesinghe when he flew to Laggala to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the ‘January 08’ revolution’, which he himself reversed, in a perverse manner, by appointing Mahinda Rajapaksa the Prime Minister through a spate of unconstitutional actions. Instead of protesting Wickremesinghe’s exclusion, UNP Ministers, led no less than by Premadasa, gleefully attended the farcical anniversary event with the President.
President Sirisena then appointed a committee to vet the resumes of all heads of state institutions nominated by Cabinet ministers. The appointment of the committee, according to the President’s office, was to ensure that there were minimum qualifications and standards for everyone receiving appointments as heads of state institutions. Although there were strong doubts about the President’s true intentions behind the move, the appointment of a committee to vet high-profile state appointments was a step in the right direction.
A few days after the appointment of the committee, however, Sirisena circumvented his own procedure by appointing two former Governors, Niluka Ekanayake and Reginald Cooray, as heads of state institutions. Cooray was made the Chairman of the National Gem and Jewelry Corporation while Ekanayake received an appointment as the Chairperson of the State Timber Corporation.
The President’s Secretary’s circular to all Cabinet ministers clearly stated that persons nominated to head state institutions should be university graduates with strong track records in the fields of administration and management. Both Ekanayake and Cooray did not meet the criteria stipulated by the circular. Cooray, a senior politician, was a school teacher by profession while Ekanayake was an astrologer.
The UNP conveniently looked the other way when the President undermined his own committee to appoint his supporters as heads of state institutions. No UNP MP had the backbone to question the President’s actions, as they all wanted was to be in the good books of the President. The Prime Minister, the man who is supposed to lead the Cabinet members, also looked the other way for reasons best known to him.
When President Sirisena visited Mullaitivu on Monday (21) for multiple ceremonies, he did not invite the Prime Minister, who is also the subject minister for Northern Province Development. Several events attended by the President fell within the ambit of the Northern Province Development Minister, but neither the Prime Minister nor his Cabinet seemed perturbed by the exclusion, and some ministers were even seen merrily hobnobbing with the President during the tour.
Taking a group of SLFP MP as the Presidential delegation to the Philippines is the latest incident in that chain of events. It would be naïve to expect the UNP ministers will have the gumption to raise objections to the President’s move. The UNP has repeatedly indicated that they have little or no regard for the battle waged by socially and politically conscious citizens for the restoration of democracy. For the top-tier of the UNP, the struggle for democracy came to an end the moment the party leaders regained their lost positions.
By the time party bigwigs realize the price they will have to pay for their astounding sense of complacency is too hefty, it will be too late.
*The writer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org