Dec 10, 2018

Where are the PEOPLE ?

Hectic behind-the-scene manipulations, manoeuvrings, scheming and negotiations taking place

Searching for ‘truth’ is not searching for what you like-Albert Camus

Sri Lanka now lives with two temporary Stay Orders from the Judiciary; the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court. Sri Lanka now lives with a Parliament that is dysfunctional and in chaos every time it meets.

It is now without a proper elected Government with a cabinet of Ministers. This would drag on for a few more days at least, with speculations as to what the outcome of the presently deliberated FR petitions in the Supreme Court would be. It is now expected the Supreme Court would provide a final answer within the “Constitution”, early next week, perhaps on Monday.Meanwhile, hectic behind-the-scene manipulations, manoeuvrings, scheming and negotiations take place as never heard of, in post independent Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.

The crisis or rather the political brawl erupted is over the Premiership that President Sirisena changed from Wickramasinghe to Rajapaksa on 26 of October.The first such tussle for Premiership in post independent Ceylon emerged within the UNP after the untimely death of Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake in March 1952.

With Bandaranaike out of running having left the UNP in July 1951, Sir John Kotalawala was a strong contender to the PM post.
That saw many deals being bargained and negotiated by Senator and Minister of Home Affairs and Rural Development Sir Oliver Goonatilleke, a formidable figure among elites in Colombo politics and a strong and an efficient negotiator, the diminutive General Secretary of the UNP, Sir Ukwatte Jayasundera QC.

They were obliged to honour the request made by DS to have his son Dudley as PM.
The deals were done and over within a few days and Dudley was sworn in as PM in a week. A crisis around appointing a new PM, never felt by the people, never stalled the Parliament and the need of judicial intervention never arising nor even thought of.

Those were good old days where politicians were far more civilised than now and political parties behaved with decency.
Today, with a group of people’s representatives that can teach how street brawls should be fought, this conflict over who the constitutionally and rightfully appointed PM is, have gone out of the Legislature into the Judiciary, it keeps the ExecutivePresident working right round the clock and political leaders split hairs working out their Plan B in case things go out of their hands.
In this rush, perhaps for the first time in independent Sri Lanka, most saintly and honourable public personalities had their respected images exposed in public.The soft but emotional public speaker Sirisena, who came as the Common Candidate against President Rajapaksa and was voted as President in 2015 January, was then hugged by the Colombo middleclass as the Asian reincarnation of Mandela.

Today he is left ridiculed and detested by the very same urban middleclass.

PM Wickremesinghe was the trusted political leader, the Western allies wanted in charge of the Government and was dubbed Mr. Clean.Today he is with a heavy baggage accused of mega corruption beginning with the CBSL Bond Scam and is accused of a badly run economy fast on the decline.The conflicts between the two main partners in a Government that was installed to keep Rajapaksa permanently at bay, has failed in every aspect of governing (2017 GDP growth slumped to an all time low in a decade to 3.7%) and has bred frustration among people.
The two leaders that came together on a rainbow revolution are thus responsible for Rajapaksa’s return to centre stage.The return of Rajapaksa to the main stage, exposes the few Western diplomats, who advise Sri Lanka as friends to behave democratically.
In this post WW II world, many countries they walked through are living with bleeding tragedies despite their preaching on democracy.
With no lack of funds, the Colombo civil society is on the streets, also demanding democracy but does not want Parliament dissolved, denying the people of their sovereign right to elect a Government of their choice.

As argued in these pages before, this political brawl for power that allows access to everything profitable in this open market economy, cannot be resolved to a finish through constitutional and legal processes.
The Constitution itself is flawed, more after the much venerated 19A, and is reflected in how the two parties in this political brawl use different Articles and Clauses from the same Constitution.Despite such contradictions and confusions over who is right and what is right, the whole conflict is yet restricted to higher judicial forums and to a wild and corrupt parliament that no more represents the People.
The Supreme Court (SC) decision is the most important decision awaited for on Monday and can only be one of two; accept the November 09 Gazette Notification dissolving Parliament as valid, or ruling it unconstitutional, on whatever grounds the seven-member bench reads as right and justifiable.

It could even be a divided decision, but the majority ruling goes as the SC decision when read out in open Court.

While one could only keep guessing what their decision could be, on a hypothetical note, if the SC decides “the Gazette is invalid and is unconstitutional”, then the ‘status quo’ that has to be accepted is that of November 08, the day before the Gazette was issued.
That brings back Rajapaksa as PM and the Cabinet of Ministers sworn in after the October 26 Gazette that appointed him as PM.
In fact, that Gazette has not been challenged in any Court of Law and also moving two “No Confidence Motions” against PM Rajapaksa meant the UNP, the TNA and the JVP accepted him as PM, they only argued had no majority in Parliament.
Yet, there are two more hurdles Rajapaksa has to clear, before he emerges as the constitutionally accepted head of government in such political scenario.His appeal to the SC against the temporary stay order issued by the Appeal Court on a Quo Warranto writ application and the hearing of the same writ application on 12 December in the Appeal Court, if the SC leaves the decision for the Appeal Court to decide.A Quo Warranto is one exclusively used to test a person’s legal right to hold a public office.

In this case, what is tested is the post of Prime Minister and posts of Cabinet Ministers. The interpretation of a Public Officer in Article 170 of the Constitution, says, “Public officer means a person who holds any paid office under the Republic other than a judicial officer, but does not include – (a) the President (b) the Prime Minister (c) the Speaker (d) a Minister (e) a Deputy Minister (f) a Member of Parliament” and also all members of the Constitutional Council and members of independent Commissions.
Be that as it may, whatever decisions the judiciary finally reach, this parliament cannot get back to decent and civilised handling of business, unless there is a sound compromise between the two main contenders, the UNP leadership and Rajapaksa. The only possibility of a compromise now lies with Wickramasinghe publicly saying, the UNP would agree to a Parliamentary election under a legitimate Government.

What he basically says is, he would agree to an election if he is allowed to head the Government as PM, with his Cabinet of Ministers.There no doubt is a barrier for now. President Sirisena with his illogical and angry statements made against Wickremesinghe remains to be tamed for a compromise. Sirisena’s empty and angry statements apart, there is no reason why Rajapaksa cannot and should not agree to Wickremesinghe’s offer with a public statement.

If an election is what Rajapaksa and his SLPP wants, who heads the Government is not one that should scare him from compromising with Wickremesinghe.Elections are held under the National Elections Commission (NEC) and not under any Government.Rajapaksa did face the 2018 February LG elections held by the NEC with a UNP government in office headed by Wickramasinghe as PM and President Sirisena also against his SLPP. One only needs an immediate Resolution in Parliament presented by Wickramasinghe as PM to dissolve itself and hold elections in three months for a compromise to take effect.Bottom line is, as I have previously argued in these pages, people who were completely left out of this political brawl, should be brought back as the final Decision Makers at an election for some stability and civility to be achieved in a new parliament.

Whatever the outcome of judicial interventions would be next week, whatever placards the funded democracy activists in Colombo may raise, it is Wickremesinghe’s offer for an election under his Government that should be compromised upon for sanity to prevail and personal egos to die.

Wish Rajapaksa and his SLPP would seize that opportunity to end this ugly political brawl.

Kusal perera