There was an element of mea culpa (my fault) in the first televised address to the nation by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa after the present crises, economic, political and social hit this country. He noted that no Rajapaksa, save Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, were in the cabinet he had just sworn. That in fact was an admission that years of packing the government with Rajapaksas, placing a huge slice of the national economy in their (should we say greasy?) hands was a huge mistake. Eldest brother, Chamal, said as much when he admitted in parliament that brother, Mahinda, should have retired at the end of his second term as president. But what happened? MR changed the constitution abolishing the two-term limit on the presidency and ran for a third term suffering a stunning defeat.
GR had to finally get rid of MR after the latter tried to end the Galle Face protest by previously tried and tested methods he had employed. This led to disastrous consequences. The law and order and national security platforms on which Gotabaya Rajapaksa swept into power with 6.9 million votes, that he and his supporters never tired of talking about, were in tatters. Law enforcers were idle bystanders when the ruling political class took its worst beating ever in clearly organized and orchestrated violence which, rightly or wrongly, is now being attempted to be fathered on the extreme left.
Even as dramatic changes continued to unfold in the crisis-wracked country, a president nobody wants and a prime minister nobody elected continues to be in command. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was not prophetic when he said that things will get worse before they become better; and that is exactly what is happening. Although a new Central Bank Governor in whom those who matter have confidence is in office, several hard decisions have been taken and engagement with the IMF is nearing completion, the queues for fuel and gas in which a few people have died continue. The cost of essentials has not been reined – indeed cannot be reined – and inflation gallops not just in double digits but at an unimaginable pace with no end in sight.
The Ranil Wickremesinghe cabinet has reinstated Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) ministers, some with unsavory reputations, albeit wearing different hats. Two defectors from Sajith Premadasa’s Samagi Jana Balavegaya, swallowing much of their own vomit, have not given the new cabinet the desired ‘all party’ flavour. We are still in early days with ministerial numbers far exceeding not only the desirable dozen but also the promised 20. With a slew of state ministerial appointments due in the coming days, the country will surely be in for more of the same. Some defeated UNP faces are also on display in various committees, sometimes flanking the prime minister. He, whatever their electoral fate, no doubt has to put people he trusts into positions where they can help to tackle the formidable challenges facing the country. He himself was a loser whose preference votes were not counted because the UNP did not win a single seat in the Colombo district where he ran. But he’s ended up as prime minister!
A former public servant who served in senior capacities before he became a U.N. consultant has in a letter we publish today succinctly summed up the present situation. The country at present, he says, is confronted by two crises – one political and the other economic. Given that the economic crisis is critical to the welfare if the poor people who form the majority of our population, and they are only marginally concerned about politics and the constitution, it is imperative that the rulers come to grips with matters affecting their day to day life. But the parliamentary and perhaps media focus is elsewhere. Most of what transpires in parliament is related to politics and the economy is in second place. This is true of the media too. GR’s belated admission of sorts that his chemical fertilizer ban to make Sri Lanka’s the world’s first green economy was disastrous – he didn’t use that right word though – is not a magic wand to make everything instantly right. The farmers as well as consumers have already paid a heavy price. The course correction will take months to implement assuming that we’ll have the dollars to pay for necessary fertilizer, weedicide, pesticide, seed stock and other inputs.
New Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa made an interesting comment in Kandy last week on what can happen if the president resigns. The constitution decrees that the prime minister acts as president until parliament, by secret ballot, elects a successor from one among their number. What, he asked, if Basil Rajapaksa is elected to fill the vacancy? He is the national organizer of the SLPP, many of whose MPs are beholden to him for their parliamentary or national list seats. Both MR and BR together with Namal attended a SLPP parliamentary group meeting summoned by the president last week. The prime minister and the two SJB defectors were also there by invitation. GR appears in television bulletins nowadays showing the country that he’s still on the job despite the ‘Go Home’ demand. The Rajpaksas are emerging from the woodwork regardless of the “bad patch” Namal admitted in a television interview. Meanwhile, the suffering the people continues unabated.
Cricket, popular will and franchise
Thursday 30th November, 2023
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, launched a broadside against President Ranil Wickremesinghe for sacking Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe, who has taken on the Cricket Mafia. He said it was the first time a President without a popular mandate had stripped a popularly-elected MP of his ministerial positions. Some other Opposition MPs also inveighed against President Wickremesinghe and highlighted the fact that he had lost his seat at the last parliamentary election but entered Parliament as an appointed MP and secured the presidency with the help of 134 MPs.
Ironically, Wickremesinghe’s fortuitous ascent to the presidency happened because none of the popularly-elected MPs whom President Gotabaya Rajapaksa requested to accept the premiership had the courage to take up the challenge. They shied away from accepting that post, citing various excuses and bellowing rhetoric. It so happened that the historic task fell upon Wickremesinghe, who squared up to the unprecedented politico-economic chaos. He arrested the country’s slide into anarchy by preventing mobs from marching on Parliament and made unpopular yet crucial decisions to stabilise the economy.
The fact that the country came to be dependent on an appointed MP to regain political and economic stability, and he has, with the help of others, achieved some positive results is an indictment of the self-important elected MPs.
One cannot but agree with the Opposition MPs that ideally defeated candidates must not be brought into Parliament via the National List (NL), and only those presented as NL candidates to the public prior to a general election should be appointed as MPs. However, the practice of bringing unsuccessful candidates into Parliament as NL MPs is constitutional though it undermines the popular will in that the persons whom electors deem unfit to represent them become MPs. Article 99A of the Constitution provides for such appointments. Almost all political parties have made use of this constitutional provision to appoint unsuccessful candidates as MPs.
Now that the Opposition has made an issue of defeated candidates entering Parliament via the NL, will it take action to have the Constitution amended to put an end to that practice?
There is however a far more serious issue that all political parties have chosen to ignore. The Parliamentary Elections Act No 1 of 1981, as amended in 1988, enables the leaders of political parties to circumvent Article 99A of the Constitution and appoint virtually anyone of their choice to Parliament by engineering an NL vacancy. Although the Constitution limits NL appointments to the ‘persons whose names are included in the list submitted to the Commissioner of Elections … or in any nomination paper submitted in respect of any electoral district by such party or group at that election’, Section 64 (5) of the Parliament Elections Act provides for the appointment of ‘any member’ of a political party to fill an NL vacancy. This provision is inconsistent with Article 99A and Article 101(H) of the Constitution, according to legal experts. Worse, it is believed that Section 64 (5), introduced in 1988 as an urgent Bill, was surreptitiously altered after its ratification to provide for the appointment of ‘any member’ of a political party as an NL MP.
Thus, it is possible for anyone to become an MP, without contesting a general election or being an NL nominee, with the help of a political party entitled to NL slots, become the Prime Minister and even secure the presidency in case of the elected President ceasing to hold office. This path, which could be likened to a smuggling tunnel, has to be closed. Both the Constitution and the Parliamentary Elections Act will have to be amended to ensure that only those who successfully contest parliamentary elections and the National List nominees enter Parliament. Will the Opposition MPs who claim to be so concerned about the will of the people press for these vital amendments? Having talked the talk, they should walk the walk.
Games kleptocrats play
Wednesday 29th November, 2023
The SLPP-UNP government finds itself in the same predicament as the proverbial cat that defecated on a rock and struggled to cover the stinking mess. Having sacked Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe for taking on Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) officials and ruffling the feathers of some members of President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s kitchen Cabinet in the process, the SLPP-UNP combine is trying to justify its action to protect the corrupt responsible for ruining cricket in this country. Government propagandists are doing their darnedest to dupe the public into believing that Ranasinghe was sacked because he had violated collective responsibility.
The government has granted the beleaguered cricket administrators’ wish by sacking Ranasinghe and appointing Harin Fernando as the Sports Minister. Now that it has demonstrated it has no qualms about shielding the corrupt and defenestrating the campaigners for transparency, integrity and accountability, the newly-passed Anti-Corruption Act might as well be relegated to the wastepaper basket. There is nothing stupider than to expect a government that does not even allow a sports governing body to be cleansed to resist the lure of filthy lucre and go all out to rid the country of corruption.
The IMF, which has tied transparency, integrity and accountability to its bailout packages as conditions ought to take cognisance of the unspeakable manner in which the government of Sri Lanka is protecting the interests of the corrupt responsible for ruining cricket.
It may be recalled that in 2012, some crooks in the cricket administration sought to safeguard their interests vis-à-vis a move to oust them as part of a campaign to cleanse SLC; they urged the ICC to impose a ban on SLC so that they could use it as a bludgeon against the government, but the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa summoned the SLC officials concerned and warned them against having SLC banned; they fell in line and stepped down. But President Wickremesinghe waited until the ICC suspended the SLC to use the suspension to pressure Sports Minister Ranasinghe to dissolve the newly-appointed cricket interim committee.
The unfolding drama in Parliament reminds us of what the current strange bedfellows used to say about one another before joining forces to safeguard their own interests. One may recall that during the Yahapalana regime, the Joint Opposition (JO) consisting of the dissident UPFA MPs opposed to the UNP-SLFP unity government, and their UNP counterparts staged two dramas in Parliament.
During a stormy parliamentary session, the UNP MPs burst into a noisy protest with the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe himself asking, “Kauda hora (who is the thief)?” and others chanting in chorus, “Mahinda hora (Mahinda is the thief)”. Not to be outdone, the JO members invaded the Well of the House, with one of them asking, “Kauda hora?”, and the other Rajapaksa loyalists shouting, “Ranil hora.” (Videos of these protests are available in the digital realm.) Today, Ranil and Mahinda are savouring power, together! Interestingly, Mahinda yesterday blamed the Yahapalana government for the current economic crisis, according to a news item in today’s edition of this newspaper.
Kleptocracy is not of recent origin in this country, which has been plagued by it for decades. Last year, the people took to the streets, asking for a system change, but the SLPP-UNP combine has succeeded in hoodwinking them and perpetuating the corrupt system, which is geared to serve the interests of crooks. There is no future for a nation in the grip of a kleptocracy.
It is incumbent upon all Sri Lankans who cherish democracy and good governance and are concerned about the future of their children, most of whom the corrupt in the garb of people’s representatives are driving out of the country, to summon the courage to stand up and be counted.
Those who intrepidly stick their necks out, as Ranasinghe has done, by taking on the politically-backed crooks, must be protected at any cost.
Under the shadow of dictatorship
Tuesday 28th November, 2023
President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s plan to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to probe the affairs of the Constitutional Council (CC) has run into stiff resistance from all those who cherish democracy and are concerned about the future of this country. Speaking in Parliament, last week, the President lambasted the CC for impeding the process of making appointments to high posts including those of the IGP and judges. He went so far as to accuse some CC members of sabotage while claiming that the CC was part of the executive.
President Wickremesinghe is obviously trying to intimidate the CC into toeing his line. He expects it to endorse all his decisions blindly. As the Prime Minister of the Yahapalana government, he reduced the CC to a mere appendage of the UNP. Old habits are said to die hard.
President Wickremesinghe has overstepped his executive limits and made a mockery of his commitment to upholding the separation of powers. He has the SLPP parliamentary group on a string, lords it over the legislature and even tells the Opposition MPs to shut up during parliamentary sessions! A timid Parliament, which cannot ever so much as tame a bunch of arrogant cricket administrators, yields to his dictates. Even judicial independence is under threat. Government MPs try to summon judges before the parliamentary Committee on Privileges and Ethics for giving rulings that are not to the liking of the Executive.
The CC is not there to humour the President or any other government leader for that matter. It was created to prevent the Executive from making appointments to high posts arbitrarily and ensure, among other things, the independence of vital state institutions. It cannot be expected to rubber-stamp the President’s decisions and facilitate the ascent of misfits with political connections to top positions in the state service. As Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa told President Wickremesinghe in Parliament, the other day, the latter should not expect the CC to be as subservient as the UNP Working Committee.
President Wickremesinghe has the legislature, the Attorney General, the Cabinet and the public service under his thumb and is trying to manipulate the CC and the Election Commission (EC). He also makes decisions on matters that are before courts in what may be considered a bid to influence the judiciary. He has said the Local Government (LG) elections, which he prevented the EC from conducting by refusing to release funds, will not be held until 2025. It is the EC that should decide on such matters and the President must not usurp the powers of that institution to compass his political ends. Above all, the postponement of the LG polls is a matter pending before court.
What we are witnessing are the unmistakable signs of the country heading for a dictatorship.
Victory for the corrupt
President Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday sacked Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe, derailing the latter’s campaign against corruption in cricket. The removal of Ranasinghe from the Cabinet must have gladdened the hearts of the crooks whom he courageously took on in a bid to save cricket from their clutches.
Now, a stooge will be handpicked as Ranasinghe’s successor and made to further the interests of the Cricket Mafia. The corrupt always have the last laugh in this country.
The Auditor General has, in one of his reports, revealed serious financial irregularities in the cricket administration, and it was based on those revelations that Ranasinghe, in his capacity as the Sports Minister, sacked the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) office-bearers and appointed an interim committee. The fate that has befallen him reminds us of the judgements of legendary King Kekille, who always punished the innocent parties in cases heard before him and set the wrongdoers free.
Ranasinghe deserves praise for his efforts to cleanse SLC, and he can rest assured that all cricket lovers are on his side. President Wickremesinghe is doing more of what brought about the downfall of the Yahapalana government, which also protected the corrupt unflinchingly.
The SLPP-UNP regime has demonstrated once again that it is a government of the corrupt by the corrupt for the corrupt.
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