A mere five weeks after it was installed, the much publicized sanctity of the Yahapalanaya government was sullied by the Central Bank Bond scandal. Accusations of complicity have been leveled against the then Governor of the CB, Arjuna Mahendran and, by implication, against his political patrons as well. With that inauspicious beginning, since then the integrity of the current regime has been ruthlessly questioned in relation to a number of issues. When you assume office with moral high ground as your platform, there is no way but down, thereafter.
Recently, former Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse was summoned before court, along with three former Navy Chiefs in connection with the investigation in to the “Avant Garde” affair; in the context of ongoing investigations in to several other large scale frauds/irregularities, a perfectly routine procedure permissible within the existing legal framework.
A few days later, President Sirisena in a public address, unequivocally condemns the above procedure declaring that he was both displeased and revolted, by the ” herding” – the word he used – to court of war heroes of the calibre of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the other former services chiefs. In the course of his speech, he also accuses the, FCID, CID and CIABOC, of following politically motivated agendas in their investigations.
Despite the numerous subsequent attempts at damage control by his regime representatives and political allies, explaining to the public that the President’s comments have been, “misquoted, misunderstood, misrepresented, distorted, taken out of context”, etc. suggesting an irresponsible and mischievous media, to any sane person there can be no other inference or meaning to his statement, except that “Independent Bodies” are no longer independent. They must be accountable to their political masters for their actions, a dictum followed slavishly by so called independent bodies during the Rajapaksa regime. “War Heroes” are sacrosanct; the normal laws of the country do not apply to them, a position also taken up by the fanatically racist ” Bodu Bala Sena”, their demonstrations to influence legal proceedings against the alleged killers of Prageeth Ekneligoda being a case in point.
Even Mahinda Rajapaksae as President, a man accustomed to absolute authority who literally wielded the power of life and death over those he ruled – remember the many deaths and disappearances of dissenting voices under his watch – was less explicit in his diktats. This writer does not recall Rajapaksa making a statement so brutally direct, so threatening, so damaging to the integrity of a statutory body responsible for serious crime investigation as those made by President Sirisena.
President Sirisena declared that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and others were ” herded” in to courts. When making statements of that nature, selective amnesia is a useful affliction. Clearly, he has forgotten how General Sarath Fonseka, a genuine war hero, was physically dragged out of his office and convicted and incarcerated on spurious charges, the entire process being strategized and orchestrated by the very man whose cause the President has now espoused. Perhaps he has also been able to erase from his memory, the indecent treatment meted out to Justice Shirani Bandarnayake. President Sirisena is tainted by both those odious episodes as a then senior member of the Rajapaksa cabinet. I do not recall the then senior minister Maithripala Sirisena voicing , even by whisper or hint, his protest against those two actions although, on assuming Presidency, he hastened to make restitution in the cases of both those individuals.
With a sweeping generalization, the President condemned all the activities of those organizations, from the inception of his term. If the President had sufficient grounds to object to their modus operandi, he could have set things right by a private discussion with the officials concerned. But by a public castigation he has made it impossible for those officials to continue in office and for the organizations to function effectively. The President could not have been unaware of the possible reaction to his statements. If so, deliberately President Sirisena has violated both the mandate he received from the people and the 19th Amendment which he was instrumental in pushing through Parliament.
6.2 million people – including this writer- voted Maithripala Sirisena in to power with a single, primary objective; the restitution of the rule of the law in this country. President Sirisena’s victory was a result of the accumulated revulsion of ordinary citizens against the massive corruption that pervaded the previous government machinery, the blatant politicization of both law-givers and law enforcers and the unequal application of the rule of law which turned the country in to a safe killing ground for the politically powerful. The religious and ethnic minorities who joined in support had other issues in their agendas, more personally relevant to them.
With this unexpected, inexplicable, rant against the very organizations entrusted by the President with the task of rooting out corruption and ensuring justice for miscreants, he has let loose the spectre that the previous regime created. The systemic evil of a decade is still very much a force to be reckoned with. The man who, until now dealt precisely, supported by a reassuring depth of background information and reasoned argument, with all major issues confronting his regime, has suddenly cast aside the cloak of moderation and stands exposed as a political opportunist.
The President needs, urgently to objectively review the performance of his regime. The government and the country are in serious trouble. The economy is in absolute disarray, largely due to the lack of consistency between rhetoric and strategy, quite apart from the massive debt servicing resulting from the insane adventurism of the previous regime; the law enforcement administration will now begin to waver, a significant contribution being made by the President’s recent comments. Much of the work done so far, however slowly, has been undone in a week. The Head of CIABOC has resigned and it is natural to expect other members to follow suit.
This regime needs to deal effectively with the country-wide condemnation of the ETCA, led by strong professional bodies; it must explain to a bemused public, precisely, simplistically, the nature of development work undertaken; it must prove to the public the gains to this nation from accords with other nations and international bodies; it must address, and resolve, the issues of financial impropriety – the CB Bond issue being an outstanding example which will not go away; in the North, it must deal effectively , rationally, and speedily with Chief Minister Wigneswaran who seems bent on pursuing a course , through the seemingly peaceful marshalling of civic accord, to achieve objectives earlier articulated through terrorism by the LTTE. This is an issue which provides the opposition with massive leverage, given the infirmity of the bridge that straddles the ethnic divide and the sensitivity of the Sinhala-Buddhist psyche.
More than anything else, the President and the Prime Minister, even at this late stage, must convince the nation that despite ideological differences natural between two political parties founded on contrasting principles, that as two men who have the national interest in mind which supersedes party politics that they are indeed, working towards a common, national ideal.
This writer who has never had any particular political alignment – the voting pattern always being driven by the need of the moment – as many other millions of apolitical voters would be, is now confronted by a sense of hopelessness. In the absence of a viable alternative to the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, 6.2 million people turned to an unlikely challenger, reposing both their hopes and fears in a man who, if not for the revolting aspects of Mahinda Rajapaksa and the total lack of appeal of Ranil Wickremesinghe, would never have been remotely considered as a Presidential possibility.
The reality is that this is a country, totally bereft of leadership material with integrity. Periodically, driven by a sense of frustration and the despairing hope that a change will make things better, we vote differently from the previous time. We change the faces that are in power but the nature of the power remains opportunistic, subject to manipulation, personal agendas, expediency and is essentially corrupt.
Is it not possible for ordinary people to make a difference? What is the degree of selectivity available to the voter in choosing the people who would govern him? Do we totally give up protest, in whatever form, and resign ourselves to being led by men whom we despise, whom we hold in absolute contempt, whom we do not trust? Is it that only the inherently corrupt reach out for political power or is it power that corrupts? Were those who are now in power, and those recently deposed, decent human beings before they became powerful?
If not Maithripala Sirisena – rhetorically speaking, of course – who? Heaven forbid a resurgence of the deposed Mahinda Rajapaksa, though a few million people would violently disagree with this statement. The unappetizing Ranil Wickremesinghe is unlikely to ever win a Presidential election for a number of reasons, the least being the distressingly casual levity with which he responds to serious questions, even in Parliament. There is also no individual in any of the other parties , either in Parliament or outside, who could command an island wide mandate.
In a recent interview published in the Daily Mirror, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has in detail outlined his suitability for the Presidency. There is in this country a very potent Rajapaksa cult and whilst Mahinda has lost his gloss, there is still a membership looking for a leader, a Messiah. Given the mounting unpopularity of the present regime, and the unscrupulous articulation of the alleged threats to the Sinhala-Buddhist cause constantly kept in the forefront of public consciousness by MR, Gammanpila and Weerawansa, aided by a segment of the Buddhist clergy who, through the Bodu Bala Sena, have exposed the dark side of a doctrine of loving kindness, an amalgam of the right ingredients, at the right time could make the unthinkable a reality.
This article first appeared in The Island on October 22, 2016 http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=154229