By Rasika Jayakody –
Sri Lanka, one of the oldest parliamentary democracies in Asia, faced its worst political crisis in 2018.
The legislature, which survived a three-decade-long civil war and two insurgencies, was on the brink of being superseded by a delusional and erratic Executive President. It was the judiciary that stepped up at a critical moment and saved the country from entering into a seemingly inescapable political abyss.
The year also marked the lowest ebb of President Maithripala Sirisena’s political journey, which saw its peak in January 2015 when he was elected the sixth Executive President with the promise of ushering in comprehensive reforms.
Although Sirisena will remain in office until the next Presidential election in 2020, he has already lost the moral right to occupy the post, as he irreversibly departed from the ‘January 08 mandate’ by attempting to stealthily appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister through a spate of illegal and unconstitutional acts.
The defeat of the October 26 coup and the reappointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister on December 16 caused Sirisena public embarrassment. As Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda aptly pointed out in an article, the incident has only earned him a place in history as the weakest political strategist Sri Lanka has ever seen.
Sirisena nurtures the unrealistic hope of becoming the Presidential candidate of the Rajapaksa group at the next Presidential election. Any party that is seriously considering victory at the next Presidential election will have to think twice before fielding Sirisena as a candidate. But whether he becomes a candidate or not, Sirisena, in my view, has zero chance of securing victory and he will be forced to retire after the next Presidential election.
The President will be lucky if he manages to escape prosecution after his retirement, when the shield of presidential immunity is removed, for the flagrant and willful violation of the Constitution and gross abuse of power displayed in October.
Moreover, the 51-day political standoff in 2018 also highlighted the need for abolishing the Executive Presidency—a recurring slogan at every national election since 1994. Although Sirisena was not the first Presidential candidate to promise the total abolition of Executive Presidency, he was, ironically, the one who came up with the most convincing plan to execute this promise, with an ambitious 100-day timeline.
Sirisena’s about-turn highlights the need for a more holistic approach to abolishing the Executive Presidency. All political parties that collectively reversed the October 26 coup must work towards achieving this feat in 2019, considering the total abolition of Executive Presidency as the core of the constitutional reform agenda.
It also gave Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who threw off almost every opportunity that came his way since 1994 (the year he became the leader of the United National Party) one last chance. In January 2015, many UNPers expected Wickremesinghe to be the wise statesman who would set the stage for comprehensive political and economic reforms. He threw that opportunity out of the window by surrounding himself with the likes of Arjuna Mahendran who made a mockery of good governance and transparency.
Even the results of the Local Government election, in which the UNP suffered a shocking defeat, did not alarm Wickremesinghe enough. There was hardly any change in his style of governance, even after the SLPP, the youngest political party in the country, pulled off a stunning victory at the LG polls.
In April, Wickremesinghe survived a no-confidence motion which he defeated with a healthy margin in Parliament. However, the Prime Minister failed to capitalise on this victory and consolidate the UNP’s position in the ‘unity government’.
It is against this backdrop that we have to analyze Wickremesinghe’s emergence at the end of the 51-day political standoff. Although the UNP Leader managed to come out of the political crisis unscathed by a prolonged political and legal battle, he has come under increasing pressure to deliver results within the next six months.
Should Wickremesinghe fail to cash in on this, his last chance, he will not only lose the premiership, but also the party leadership, which he has held on to since 1994. It is still a question of whether Wickremesinghe has understood how vulnerable he really is. Sadly, some of his recent Cabinet appointments and public statements on increasing the number of Cabinet portfolios have proven that Wickremesinghe is a man who will not learn from his previous mistakes.
Doom and gloom aside, 2018 also saw the brightest silver lining in terms of judicial independence. The seven-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Nalin Perera, delivered a historic ruling making the premature dissolution of Parliament null and void. The ruling set the stage for the reversal of the coup exerting pressure on Mahinda Rajapaksa and his purported government to resign from office.
It is undeniable that the ‘Good Governance Government’, over the past there and a half years, found itself in many trying situations. However, one major achievement of the UNP-led unity government was strengthening the country’s democratic institutions, which acted as a check on the all-powerful Executive Presidency.
The independent commissions appointed under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution have empowered the law enforcement mechanisms and the judiciary of the country. The Constitutional Council has prevented the President from holding sway over high-profile appointments. It was these developments that took place over the last two months of 2018 that underscored the importance of political and constitutional reforms introduced mid-2015.
Douglas / December 29, 2018
I, very directly, accuse the JVP for the BLATANT HYPOCRITICAL action taken to SCUTTLE the move to “ABOLISH” the “Presidency” from the Constitution. Why I say it? Look at he “Constitutional Amendment” they brought before the Legislature. That contained “36” clauses. In “SELLING” it to the Public, they talked so much “NONSENSE” and even reduced to the level of telling us, even MR could be the “Executive Prime Minister” Leave that aside. Did the JVP not know, that “ABOLITION” has to be very “DIRECT” & “SIMPLE”. Tow things (1) the Parliament has to pass it with a “2/3rd” majority and (2) the PEOPLE have to approve at a “REFERENDUM”. For that , do you need “36 Clauses”? Incidentally “33” were rejected by the Supreme Courts and I appreciate that decision. Why couldn’t that “RESOLUTION” be worded as: ” This House (Legislature) resolves to abolish the post of Presidency from the Constitution, and with that abolition, all powers, duties, responsibilities of that position, where ever mentioned in the Constitution, will be vested with the Cabinet of Ministers who would be responsible and accountable to the Legislature in the execution of such vested authorities”. If that does not get the “REQUIRED APPROVAL” of the Legislature, seek a “MANDATE” at an Election, with a “Specific” & “Simple” question from the PEOPLE. “DO you OR Do You NOT” agree to ABOLISH the “PRESIDENCY”. Depending on the agreement “YES” or “NO”. handle the matter at a future date. We lost a “GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY” to get rid of this “MONSTROUS, ECONOMIC DISASTER” of the country, because of the JVP. They are “ACCOUNTABLE” for this “DISASTER”.
soma / December 29, 2018
What about this argument that Executive Presidency is an absolute necessity as long as country is devided into provinces? Why doesn’t anyone propose to abolish provincial council system brought in by 13A?
Raj-UK / December 29, 2018
Agreed. Provincial Councils are stepping stones for village yobs to Parliament, which is already overcrowded & is a waste of tax payers’ money.
Janaka from Matara / December 29, 2018
Where is Sira?
Half the country is underwater, the rest is fighting back a break-out of another Muslim-Buddhist flare-up, and the country has a cabinet with their subjects being not gazetted!
This guy must surely be the best thing that ever happened to this island since its geographical breaking away from the Indian sub-continent.
Amarasiri / December 29, 2018
Janaka from Matara,
This is called Sirisena Suttara, our own Niro.
Richmond Peiris / December 29, 2018
I see a clear problem in the 19th amendment. This hurriedly drafted Amendment has complicated the supreme law on several points including the President’s responsibilities. The president mentioned that he did consult several prominent lawyers and finally made his decision which was later interpreted by the SC differently. The President on his part failed to refer this ‘complicated and complex’ matter to the SC for an opinion which could have been the best option for him at the time. If he had done so, he would not have ended up in a messy situation that he and the country experienced for the last few weeks.
Actually, we elected him in January 2015 knowing very well that he was not a lawyer, but now we act as if we did not know whom we were electing to the highest post of our country. He humbly said he was acting in good faith and many people believe him and pardon him on this particular issue.
The issue here is not about him but about those who have failed to correct the situation even after a disastrous experience. Let’s take 2 simple examples which also show the governing party’s desire to keep the constitution as ‘complex and complicated’ as possible.
1. UNP has been attempting to increase the number of cabinet minister posts for several weeks. It says it is 30+2 = 32 positions including the President and the PM. Almost everyone else says it is 30 according to the 19th A.
2. The UNP also tries to interpret the clause on National government in their favor so that they could multiply the number of cabinet posts as they wish!
Are we to go to Supreme Courts daily, and waste our time and limited resources because law makers have failed miserably to make the law correctly and in a simple and understandable manner
Mallaiyuran / December 29, 2018
Author has inability to see things deep, or behind the curtain or blinded by racism. Probably author is trying to pretend that he doesn’t know who the Sinhala Buddhists are. He is probably wishing Ranil can do anything and escape out of from Old Royals launching Modaya crowd over UNP. Further Ranil has given a promise in the election that “NO leader, No Commander, No Soldier will be prosecuted”. He is dedicating him to fulfill that promise to Sinhala Mahajan. So Ranil may not follow the path author trying to train him on.
Old Royals signed two loans contracts with China in the 52 days of illegal their government. They were working on the largest contract of Lankawe with China. China gives the loans not for the treasury’s expenditures, but only to sell its materials and labor. Harsha said yesterday that Old Royals could not raise a penny during the coup days. So they were facing virtual bankruptcy sooner or later. Author, in the background, trying to tell reappointment of Ravi is a crime. Ravi is not considering him as a criminal. In other words, he is not accepting the CB looting as a crime, with which Sinhalese are willing to associate him with. Harsha described yesterday only the 52 days’ history. But when Ravi was taking over the FM, Old Royal had run the CB on rim, no tire for 10 years. Old Royals conducted election two years earlier only after seeing they no longer were able keep it going. Ravi took the FM from there and earned the title of Asia’s best FM. There are checks written on politicians name by PTL. That cannot be hidden. But by hook or crook, Ravi put back the broken CB and treasury to function again. Author is pretending like he is not aware that New King dissolved parliament by the fear of DEW presenting the COPE report on CB.
Mallaiyuran / December 29, 2018
AAuthor wants him to be seen more Mr. Clean than Ranil by saying Ranil associated him with Mahendran and dirtied him. He could not hide his racist mind. He is advocating a theory that all Sinhala Intellectual officers are white, but the black sheep Mahendran brought down the Yahapalanaya.
The Justices gave a verdict that is congruent with all other democratic countries’ norm. We need to accept & agree on that specific circumstance, before we analyze reality. The coup was organized to save the Royals from the court cases scheduled to be taken up in the coming months, as widely reported in the local media, though it too not necessarily is true as the UNHRC sitting is coming in March. When these cases were being scheduled few months ago, four Supreme Court justices withdraw them from the case of Old Brother Prince. We need to know that out of 11 the 1/3 had proved that they are bad apples. We can’t credit the Constitutional Council for these cowards or acolytes of Old Royal Brother Prince. Eva, who was handpicked by Old King, gave a verdict in NCM case against Old Royals. She upheld the Appeal Court injunction. What kind credit CC is getting on that? Honestly Author fooling the CT readers more than politicians fools the Modaya voters in election time. Shiranee Banda was dismissed by Lemon Puff Weeraya because she went against Old King on Divi Neguma. There was only presidential council that time and Shiranee was picked up by Old King. Even the Appeal Court of that time went against that dismissal and justice Sriskandarajah was murdered for that COA mistake. What the author trying to do is pull a rabbit out of his black hat without examining the real events. There is absolutely no difference on the behaviors of SC and COA justices between the cases of Divi Neguma and October Coup.
Mallaiyuran / December 29, 2018
The racist nature of the author has completely backed out the minority parties’ contribution to restore democracy. Yes it is true; the coup was Ranil’s mistake. He has not kept any of the promises he gave in the 2015 elections. But he wants to make sure no leaders are prosecuted. He staying in that line, he refused to take any legal action on New King or Old King on their constitutional breakages. It was TNA started the case on Parliament dissolution. Other NCM case TNA wanted to go to SC. It was UNP’s the idea of quo warranto so the both Kings would not be directly accused of any crimes. Ranil was willing to give up PM position, even if the majority was established by Donkey Trading. Latter Karu followed the exact foot step of New King when firing Sampanthar from opposition party leadership _Two OPL were at one time. Karu did know well that Old King was no longer in SLFP and Slap Party did not have any MPs. He still assigned the OPL position to Old King. Then those crooks falsified the party documents to beat the constitution & prove the Old King didn’t switch parties and thus didn’t lose the MP position. This how is the SinhaLE Wildlife political parties uphold the constitution. TNA again wanted to go to court. If TNA had gone to court on that, the question of “if the Justices are respecting the constitution or making fraud taking the hands of SLFP and Slap Party” would have come out. But it is settled now out of court. Justices didn’t give alms to anybody. Upholding constitution is their job. Propagating a theory of Justices delivered judgement that would not have come under normal Lankawe court system means justices favored UNP. Probably because it has become a custom that delivering Sinhala Jury Verdict to Tamils, the Sinhala Intellectuals evaluating the Judges’ contribution on this case as favor to UNP.
Malanie perera / December 29, 2018
As an observer one has to take note of some positive things that has taken place since the crisis of October 2018.Since taking office in 2015 Ranil wickramasinghe and his ministers ran the govt at their whims and fancies totally ignoring the people who brought them to power .
I notice a change in attitude and people centric ideas that has been put forward by many newly appointed ministers in the current govt.I feel this change in attitude and open dialogue is mainly due to the issues pointed out by the president.
After re appointing Ranil wickramasinghe, President brought out many issues that has been an eye opener. For those present at the meeting.
I hope journalists will stop Sirisena and Rajapaksa bashing and move forward with the positive things that came about due to presidents actions.
Abey / December 29, 2018
Sirisena opened your eyes. What are you talking about? Were you BLIND Or DEAF? All he did was to go take a 90 degree turn and betray the 6.2 million of us. Forget Ranil who screwed up and I dont see he has learned his lesson ( as a result we will most likely see a Govt By MR gang at the next election), what happend was all about Democracy and our freedom.
nalmen / December 29, 2018
if ranil does not step aside on april 1st and hand over the leadership of the party the unp,s chances at the next elections is nil
K.Pillai / December 29, 2018
We may be the oldest democracies in Asia but our version of democracy has lost the spirit “All citizens are equal”.
We are left with having to choose one of two bad teams.
Yes, as Rasika mentions, SLPP did well at the recent LG polls. This was because Chairman Prof Peiris sermonised that there was a secret signed document between TNA and RW and that Sinhalese will be annihilated. Voters swallowed this.
Voters are a bit wiser now after the 26 October ‘removal’ and the ‘crisis’ that followed.
Will Lankans choose SLPP?
Douglas / December 29, 2018
Soma: That “13 A” was an “Enforced” Amendment to the Constitution; but every “Political Party” that contested at elections held it as a “CARROT” to capture the votes of the so called “Minority” communities who were again dominated by the “Elite” of those “Tribes”. You remember, many a times this “13 A” was enhanced to say “13 A PLUS”. Leave aside the “13 A”. We need a well established and governed “Local Government System”. The name to such a “System” could be anything. As at present, the country needs an EQUITABLE system of “DECENTRALIZATION” of the “CENTRAL” functions to meet the growing needs of economic, social and political functions that directly relate to day to day life of the people. But what have we done? Under the pretext of the need to “Decentralization”, we have created another “MEGALOMANIAC MONSTER” who has become, to tell in short an “EVIL”. To make and function a fine tuned Local Government System, we need not have an “Executive President”. It can very well be handled by a Cabinet Minister, possibly under the “Minister of Local Government”. Din’t we have that Local Government System, under Municipal, Urban, Town & Village Councils, under a Minister of Local Government, before this “13 A” “TSUNAMI”? That worked well, purely due to the “TRUE GENTLEMEN” who were elected to those Councils. We did not have the “VAGABONDS” of today – the nominees of present day Political Parties. That was how that system worked WELL and the present system has FAILED.
shoi baba / December 31, 2018
Rasika says Ranil hasn’t learnt. What else that poor buggar do when Maithripaala constantly put high tackles on him?
Chun Paan / December 31, 2018
Ok we have decided to come back giving CT another chance