Sirisena, Yes or No| No secret deals, please
Sunday Times Editorials
Cartoons added from Internet
‘Muddling through’ is a phrase familiar to Constitutional studies pundits. It is mostly associated with the unwritten Constitution of the United Kingdom and how for years, the British political system has generally conducted its business by ‘muddling through’.
In more recent times, the phrase has been used to describe the UK’s muddling through on the road to devolution, particularly in respect of autonomy for Scotland. The once unitary state of the UK began devolving power for fear of separation and Independence by nationalist forces in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They even established a ‘Parliament’ in Scotland, began devolving more and more power from London’s Westminster Parliament, and now, Scotland is just one Referendum away from Independence anyway.
In a Sri Lankan context, the ‘muddling through’ seems inherent in our political culture as well, despite having a written Constitution. With 19 Amendments to the 1978-Constitution, this fact hits one starkly, nowadays even more with one section of the Government of National Unity trying to run with the ball but being tackled by their own team-mates, while their opponents are trying to trip both of them on their way to the goal-line. It is rather bizarre.
Last week’s exclusive story in this newspaper was the epitome of this ‘muddling through’. The news story said that the President’s party, or at least a group in it headed by the influential General Secretary has formally proposed – to the President himself, that the Executive Presidency which they so virulently and vehemently opposed and swore to abolish, be continued. If that took the cake, it was also topped with icing. They wanted this President, who not only promised to abolish the Executive Presidency if elected, but even once ensconced in office swore at the bier of the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera (who led the then Opposition campaign which became the platform for the ouster of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa) that he would abolish the Executive Presidency – to be the candidate for the next Presidential election.
The story was confirmed during the week by the SLFP General Secretary. The then humble General Secretary of the SLFP and Health Minister who rode to the highest office in the land on that very platform and solemn pledge does not seem to have dissented, even though he has not consented. There was no protest or a “what nonsense are you talking”. Everyone remained the whole week in animated suspension for a word. To consider that the suggestion was not inspired is unthinkable. The current Executive President who boasts that no other President in the world shed his powers voluntarily as he did through the 19th Amendment, it seems, is slowly, but surely entertaining visions of continuing with the constitutional monarchy the Sri Lankan Executive Presidency has all but become.
If this suggestion becomes rubber-stamped by the SLFP’s Central Committee, how much the move will cut across the UNP’s plans of strengthening Parliament, and consequently giving the Prime Minister more executive powers is fairly obvious. In his New Year message, the President asked that politics be cast aside and the country concentrate on development. That is not the message coming out from his party, though.
The SLFP’s intentions seem crystal clear. From this latest salvo from his party’s closest loyalists, the incumbent President is entertaining ideas of continuing beyond 2020 when his term ends, and that he wishes to be Head of State and Head of Government as he currently is; i.e. to be the jewel and the crown.
No secret deals, please
The Chinese dance sequence at what could be called the ‘soft opening’ of the ‘Sri Lanka-China Logistics and Industrial Zone’ in Hambantota was entertaining, but not as much as the local drama that was being enacted on the streets outside the VIP enclosure. Chinese theatre and opera are usually involved with happiness, but it was the violent theatrics by the local mob that grabbed the attention — worldwide.
Some felt the famous Chinese mask dance might have been more appropriate for the occasion. The Chinese ‘annexing’ of the Hambantota harbour and ‘colonising’ 15,000 acres surrounding it have their roots in the very Opposition that was the puppeteer behind the demonstration. If not for the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa bulldosing his way with an economic development plan for Hambantota — and getting sucked into unsolicited high interest projects offered by China, greased with palm oil, the Government of National Unity would not have been saddled with a debt crisis vis-a-vis an unprofitable port, and face its consequences. Having slammed the project in Opposition, they now have to defend it in Government.
The very UNP MPs who were critical of the nearby Mattala airport and were physically assaulted when they went there on an ‘inspection tour’ are now defending the assault on demonstrators outside the Hambantota port last week.
That is why this was not just a Chinese folk dance that was being performed in Sri Lanka’s politics, but a Sri Lankan ‘Kolama’, which is a traditional dance depicting high officials in a social satire. That is why politicians, MPs and Ministers cannot be given the sole privilege to enter into secretive agreements and barter away Sri Lanka’s real estate (read; sovereignty) to foreign Governments masquerading through companies.
If the Rajapaksas signed the loans that could not be repaid, they are the ones who are answerable for this debacle. Now, the present Government is preparing to sign a Concession Agreement where not only the people, but even the President was kept in the dark. This Agreement is to give a foreign company a 99-year lease on the property. It is so patently obvious that the Chinese have a global strategy and Hambantota fits in like a glove with that. They are spending billions of dollars to rule the waves expanding their ports network to secure sea lanes and establish themselves as a maritime power, and did we give Hambantotota for a pittance? How much this can be to the long-term detriment of stability not only in Sri Lanka, but the Indian Ocean are factors we do not even know were taken into consideration amidst the fog of corruption of the previous Government – and this Government.
The people, whose vote these leaders clamour for at every election, are the last to know what deals are going on behind closed doors. No one knows what the exit clauses are, if any. That is why a senior Cabinet minister who has a pulse on the people (though with his own skeletons in the cupboard), recognising the growing frustrations at the shenanigans of the political elite – on both sides, referred this week on a state television chat show to the ‘Kalakanni’ (despicable) politics that is prevalent today in this island-nation, part of which many fear, has been sold for a mess of pottage.