Presidency – Parliament and political garbage

Daily Mirror

The LG elections is an utter waste of Rs. 4 bn and would cost the taxpayer another Rs. 178.4 mn every month to maintain the elected

These “empowered” women will have to endorse Victorian puritanical restrictions re imposed on them by this President-PM led government

The Bond Commission (PCoI) Report that led to many political frictions is now out in the public domain in the English language only. It was this report that led to PM’s theatrics in parliament, the social media swallowed in bellyfull and then switched to President Sirisena on his outburst at the Cabinet meeting last Tuesday. His accusation that some UNP parliamentarians including Minister Harin Fernando have slandered him on election platforms, does not allow him to work with the UNP and his claim that he cannot work with the corrupt were both appreciated and ridiculed equally in social media. 

This Report and the presence of MR have led to many interesting episodes in the Local Government elections. Today Mahinda Rajapaksa’s photo is being used by some candidates contesting from President Sirisena’s SLFP/UPFA. Interestingly the implied message is, their leader cannot harness votes like Rajapaksa does. Only time in history a candidate used a photo of an opposing politician to his/her advantage was when UNP candidate Milinda Moragoda used Samasamaja stalwart Bernard Soyza’s photo to promote “decent politics”. That had a different undertone with electorates in Colombo having a caste advantage more than “decent” politics.  

This LG elections have made President Sirisena resort to executive powers he vowed to completely abolish and go home after the first term. Asserting his powers as President he even had Budget proposals adopted in parliament, changed. Projecting himself as the sole custodian of this hybrid “Yahapalana” government. He is making an attempt to impress upon the SLFP voter that this government is controlled by him and not by the UNP. He then asked the Supreme Court if he could continue for one more year as President and had been told he cannot. It would have been far wiser for him and more dignified had he said, “It’s the 19AI honour and would leave after 05 years”. He is already set for a second term though.  

This LG elections have made President Sirisena resort to executive powers he vowed to completely abolish and go home after the first term 

He forgets he is projecting a “powerful” image and lamented at an election meeting during the weekend he only came to know through the media about a gazette notification issued by Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera that extended business hours of restaurants and pubs and also removed the barrier against women purchasing liquor. Donning his much fancied feudal garb of a “Sinhala-Buddhist Patriarch” he said the PM agreed to have that gazette revoked to “save families from ruin”. After loud protests in a misogynist Cabinet, FM Samaraweera was compelled to withdraw his gazette notification. In all this drama,what is interesting is that two opposing political party leaders, one from the Sinhala rural patriarchy and the other from elite urban liberal society, agreed to continue with 19th Century Victorian puritanical taboos influenced by Christianity, to win over 21st Century Sinhala Buddhist vote.  

These same leaders yet claim they empowered women by enacting amendments to guarantee 25 per cent women’s representation in LG bodies. These “empowered” women will have to endorse Victorian puritanical restrictions re imposed on them by this President-PM led government. The UNP Mayoral candidate Ms. Rosie Senanayake, who would represent the most urbane of the women’s population in Colombo to Alexandrina in Kotagala, Sindhuja in Batticoloa and Sabeena in Hambantota, all will have to continue with Victorian taboos feeling more “empowered” contesting elections with a 25 per cent quota.   

Even new political re-alignments that could emerge post LG elections, cannot clean the present parliament and make it sane 

More importantly, President Sirisena’s anti-corruption campaign with puritanical Victorian morality is now his political platform in his bid to overrun all others for the now decided presidential election in 2020. This façade looks very much a fake with corrupt and criminal elements appointed by him as electoral organisers and as candidates for the LG elections. It would also be fun to ask him to name ministers who are “clean” and without allegations of corruption and fraud. More fun it would be to ask him, if he could publicly say how publicly owned spectrum can be sold to Maharajas without any tender procedure through the TRC under him. Anti-corruption rhetoric does not answer rotten, inefficiency; inability to have fertiliser in time, shortage of fuel and in importing rice and coconut that again is wired to corruption somewhere in his administration.  

President Sirisena has nevertheless effectively driven PM Wickremesignhe and the UNP into defensive gear with his statement on the Bond Scam report. This provoked a backlash from UNP parliamentarians that reached the Cabinet and would not end there as election campaigns gain heat. For those who stand for “slash and burn” neo-liberal economics, it is an overwhelming task to win votes by promising development and employment. People, even the die-hard UNP voter has lost confidence in this government’s economic performance. The Census and Statistics Department in their first “Labour Demand Survey – 2017” reveals “sewing machine operators” have been on the decline since 2015 with 297,627 going down to 240,688 in 2016 and to 188,117 by June 2017. That in a very profitable apparel sector now benefiting from EU GSP “Plus” and has grown by 11.3 per cent during the first 09 months of 2017 with a 1.6 billion US dollar gain.  

In short, all political parties are wholly corrupt and don’t make any effort to know what society needs

It is not that Sri Lanka is short of labour. It is that employment created with foreign investments despite huge profits do not provide decent, reasonably paid employment for rural youth who seek employment. Therefore 39,394 women had left employment as sewing machine operators in 2016 and in the first 06 months of 2017 that number was 23,886. This sector alone was left with77,189 vacancies by mid 2017. These are jobs the ILO terms as underpaid “precarious” labour. Most therefore do not want to slog in them.They instead migrate to Middle East as house maids. Other than blaming Rajapaksa, the UNP campaign has hardly anything to showcase as successes during the past 03 years. That is also reason for President Sirisena to distance himself from the UNP.  

Even new political re-alignments that could emerge post LG elections, cannot clean the present parliament and make it sane.  

It is therefore ridiculously insane for the ITAK leadership of TNA to tell Tamil people the “on going Constitutional process” would get derailed if they do not vote TNA. It is also extremely saddening to read R. Sampanthan, the most senior politician in the country with over 57 years of active politics behind him, reiterating his popular ‘mantram’ wishing a “heartiest Thaipongal” for all Tamil people with “a New Constitution (that) will be framed without any further delay in the new year, which will uphold the dignity, self respect and justice on the basis of equality amongst all citizens of Sri Lanka….” as both Leader of Opposition and leader of TNA.   

His honesty apart, can the Tamil people expec this Thaipongal wish to ever come right under this Yahapalana government? Can the Tamil believe these government leaders would respect and honour “dignity, self respect and justice on the basis of equality” to Tamil people, though Sampanthan and Sumanthiran believe? What hope could remain when this government doesn’t even release Tamil youth held in detention for long years without any charges, ignores protesting mothers and widows who demand answers for involuntary disappearances of family members and then the protesters in Keppapilavu, who dared to continue agitating in front of a military camp for 300 days demanding return of their own private land held by the military? This again is a government that has conveniently trashed its co-sponsored UNHRC resolution and now says there will be no investigations against “war heroes” on war crimes.  

For ITAK leaders to demand the Tamil vote with veiled threats promising a “Constitution making process” is shameless lying to their own people. Onethere is no valid Constitution making process though there is “an interim report of the Steering Committee”. That is no serious intervention as far as Southern Sinhala politics is concerned. Two –  this LG elections would further cement the Sinhala ideology and make this Yahapalana government wholly incapable of even considering “Tamil aspirations”. Sadly ITAK leaders don’t want to accept they are on a wild goose chase with this Yahapalana government.  

In short, all political parties are wholly corrupt and don’t make any effort to know what society needs. It is these political parties and not the voter who control elections from nominations to representation. Thus to tell the people to pick “good” candidates to vote is an utter farce. From professors to professionals and lawyers to the illiterate, every parliamentarian has been corrupt and rowdy over decades. This LG elections therefore is an utter waste of 04 billion rupees and would cost the taxpayer another 178.4 million every month to maintain the elected. This will not help resurrect a rotten system decaying and degenerating like the Meethotamulla garbage dump. It is therefore time to rethink whether our vote needs to be crossed for a political party or crossed right across the ballot paper. A protest if you wish to make.