Representative democracy, at last!

DR UPUL WIJAYAWARDHANA (Island)

Mercifully, it is over: the charade that hoodwinked the voters of Sri Lanka in the guise of ‘good governance’, Yahapalanaya is dead as a dodo! The architects of the project are at loggerheads whilst the midwives are silent and the voters are left with ‘nostalgia’ for a period of extreme political greed with attempts at cover-ups of mega-corruption. Not that nothing was achieved. Admirers will continue to sing hosannas glorifying the little achieved but, then, some good can come from even the worst. After all, even Hitler did some good; he produced the people’s car, Volkswagen! Of course, those who want to portray Hitler as total evil will say that Volkswagen cheated millions of diesel car owners around the world, but that is another story.

Considering the twists and turns in politics over the last few months, when unimaginable seemed to be the norm, I delayed writing this piece till consolidation occurred. It looks as if, at least for the next few months, Maithripala will be the President, Ranil will be the Prime Minister and Mahinda, the Leader of the Opposition. They all can claim legitimacy and representative democracy seems to have been established, at last!

However, for this to occur, the country had to go through a period of political turmoil and the real winners are the voters, who protested, when needed, in the most democratic manner; not with violence. But, whilst the politicians got richer, bankrupt political parties got flushed with funds, unfortunately, the economy has nose-dived and the Rupee continues to be in free-fall making everyone, except the richest, suffer immensely.

Some political commentators will, no doubt, argue that this was a golden age when the two major parties decided to get together and worked together. It would have been so, had this union produced results, but did it? Why did the two parties that did not come together even at the height of the national emergency, do so? In fact, the UNP belittled the war effort instead of supporting the government. No need to delve into the insults some parliamentarians of the UNP made about our security forces, as these are far too well known but, funnily enough, UNP decided to field the Army Commander, they ridiculed not fit enough to be the leader of even the Salvation Army, as their presidential candidate. His loss was rewarded by elevation to the position of Field Marshall. When the voters rejected him at the 2015 election, backdoor entry was facilitated through the UNP national list and he was made a minister! Proponents of good governance acquiesced with their silence. Disappointed he is not in the new Cabinet, he is planning to seek judicial intervention, it seems.

I am with the many who believe that the Yahapalana union was not an act of patriotism but simply one of self-interest; having more ministers, state ministers and deputy ministers to enjoy the perks. Of course, nothing much was done by these ministers and they can, very conveniently, pass the buck for misdeeds to each other!

Worst was the day-light robbery of the Central Bank, not once but twice and the culprits are still at large! I read with interest the moving piece, written by the father of Arjuna Mahendran (AM) who is absconding, it was published by ‘The Island’ some time ago. My sympathies are with the father, who served our country in many capacities but, unfortunately, the defence he had made for his son is not convincing. As a good Sri Lankan father, I may have done the same, even at the risk of going against my conscience, to support my son had I been in that position.

If AM is innocent, as the father claims, why is he in hiding? The contention that he will not get justice rings hollow, when our Supreme Court has demonstrated clearly that it can stand up even to the elected, executive, President of the country. Anyway, the UNP that appointed AM is now in power, albeit with TNA prop-up, and it should be able to guarantee justice.

Ranil, whose stars were in the wane, has got rejuvenation thanks to the ill-judged actions of the President. The only thing consistent about the President is his inconsistency. The person who solemnly pledged that he will not go for a second term, at his inauguration, is now doing his damnedest to go for a second term. It is said that he had appointed those from minority groupings, over more senior and qualified, for key positions, in the hope of getting ‘minority’ votes. Mind you, he is not the first or the only one to do so. It is the nature of Sri Lankan politics, unfortunately!

We had a period when there was a voiceless opposition, far outnumbering the official opposition which acted as an appendage of Yahapalanaya. The leader of a ‘minority’ party was the official Leader of the Opposition. Proponents of good governance did not protest about this gross violation of representative democracy. May be their concept of good governance is simply keeping Mahinda Rajapaksa away, by hook or by crook.

Mahinda, who continues to be one of the most powerful politicians in the country, if not the most, has undergone a complete retrogression. He was the Leader of Opposition from March 2002, till he became Prime Minister in April 2004. He won the Presidential election in November 2005 and got re-elected in 2010. In spite of losing the 2015 Presidential election, he remained in active politics and may even have been the Prime Minister in August 2015, had Maithripala not worked against his own party and Mahinda. Paradoxically, Maithripala decided to get rid of Ranil and appoint Mahinda as Prime Minister in October 2018, when the grand-coalition came to its inevitable end. Though this was not challenged in the Supreme Court, the subsequent dissolution of the Parliament was reversed by the Supreme Court.

The TNA did everything possible to prevent Mahinda being appointed the Leader of the Opposition, but in vain. After all, who wants to lose perks? They have not stopped yet, continuing to agitate in parliament but, fortunately, the Speaker has overruled their objections.

At last, Mahinda has assumed the role of the Leader of the Opposition. Though it is a welcome restoration of representative democracy, an unintended consequence of Maithripala’s actions, it is the completion of retrogression for Mahinda. The million-dollar question is: Has he opted for this out of love for the country or simply because he is just another politician addicted to power? Only time will tell!

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