Bond scam – doubts that will not down
While nobody would have been surprised by the Nugegoda turnout on Friday, very large numbers of ordinary people were inconvenienced by the rally’s disruptive effects on traffic movement and the deafening sound of firecrackers. Those who owe allegiance to the former president and the Joint Opposition would no doubt exult at the crowd their organizers were able to attract/bus-in to the rally. Equally certainly there would have been at least a few butterflies in the tummies of those who draw patronage and sustenance from the current administration and its leaders. Rallies such as Friday’s provide entertainment and nourish the thinking (apart from the egos of the organizers) of those suffering the travails of making ends meet in the face of an ever increasing cost of living. Most people tend to lay their grievances at the door of the government, whoever is in power. Whether those gridlocked in traffic or waiting interminably for a bus would nonetheless cheer the performance of the rally organizers must necessarily be an open question.
That said, thinking people must heave a sigh of relief that the cost of this rally did not come out of their pockets. Reports of the various ongoing investigations, whether cast iron proof necessary in a court of law for conviction is found or not, indicate that state resources were freely used to secure former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s re-election. Those responsible for that, cocksure that their candidate would romp home comfortably, did not dream that they would be called to account. Hopefully they will be made to pay for their sins but it’ll be months and years before we learn how that papadam will crumble. It is hard, if not impossible, to refute the Churchillian dictum that “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried out from time to time.” Voters know that they can vote out those they elected when the next election comes around. But that is some years down the road as electors in Sri Lanka are painfully aware. Apart from the long-postponed local elections, we have had the experience of Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike extending her 1970 government by two years (to compensate for time lost by the JVP’s 1971 insurrection, she said) and JRJ’s infamous referendum that enabled him to retain his five sixths majority of 1977 for six more years. How the ‘lamp’ won that referendum signifying the people’s consent for “rolling up the electoral map” (if we may borrow the then president’s language) is another story.
Cartoon from Divayna
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is making no bones about his intention of toppling the present government sooner than later. This statement of intent drew raucous cheers when it was re-stated on Friday. While a general election is some years away according to the prevailing Constitution, with the president’s hands tied on dissolving parliament until four years pass since the last poll, there are other ways of obtaining desired objectives. Elections are not the only means of toppling governments. Engineering defections is one method, declaring trade union war is another. Let us not forget that Mahinda Rajapaksa got the two thirds parliamentary majority by which he, among other things, abolished the two-term limit on the presidency (and cooked his goose two years earlier than he might have) thanks to defections. While the Constitution has provisions to deprive defectors of their seats, most of them have sat tight due to jilmaats of one kind or another. Whether the present government will have a go at pulling the carpet from under the feet of Ven. Athureliye Ratana who came to this Parliament on the UNP National List courtesy the JHU only time will tell.
The so-called bond scam debate in parliament last week, the incessant statements pouring in that regard, the president’s statement (or boast?) that it was he and no other who replaced Mr. Arjuna Mahendran as Governor of the Central Bank with Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy, the appointment of a three-member Presidential Commission to probe the bond matter and the general certainty in the country that a lot of things are badly wrong in the whole business which hangs like an albatross round the prime minister’s neck. The mere fact that the matter is being investigated, with the COPE report referred to the Attorney General and the CID is also making its own inquires, will not take the subject off the public agenda. Nobody will be able to wish it away. The mega bucks earned by Perpetual, the conflict of interest of the son-in-law of the Governor being a primary dealer and a whole host of other matters including EPF bond purchases from the secondary market have created doubts that will not down. There was no vote at the end of last week’s parliamentary debate. The president has laid down a three-month time frame for the commission to complete its work although one of his ministers has already indicated that a short extension is possible. Hopefully the trained legal minds of two serving Supreme Court judges and the experience of a retired Deputy Auditor General will be able to get to the bottom on that matter. But whether their determination will satisfy the hawks – political, public interest and dirt-seeking – is another matter.
Meanwhile we can expect the Joint Opposition to ratchet up their campaign seeking to topple the government. Whether this will include strategies to win over Sirisena loyalists in the SLFP or even UNPers looking for dividends in the event of a change in the power structure remains to be seen. What the average Lankan with national welfare at heart will wish most is that the jostling for power will not cost the country or its people who are getting increasingly cynical about their rulers of all political complexions. Instability is always expensive.