Veeragathy Thanabalasingham, of The Daily Express in News-in-Asia, 12 May 2018, with the title “Lanka’s Good Governance regime has turned out to be old wine in a new bottle”
President Maithripala Sirisena in his speeches on two separate occasions early this week made two politically important pronouncements. Addressing the May Day rally of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and its ally United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in the Eastern town of Chengalady near Batticaloa last Monday (May 7) he declared that he would not retire from politics in 2020 when his current term of office ends; that he has a mission and a vision for the people and the country beyond 2020, and that would retire only after accomplishing them.
The next day, while delivering his policy statement at the ceremonial inauguration of the second session of the Eighth Parliament, the President said that the National Unity Government (NUG) has failed to attain political maturity since it was appointed three years ago, resulting in discord being sowed between parties in the ruling coalition.
He further said that the two main political parties in the government are yet to reach a consensus on sustaining the national government and that a consensual political culture has provided the base for many successful states in modern times. But it seems that it is still very much alien to Sri Lankans.
It is important to note that the President’s pronouncements came at a time when his National Unity government is at the tail end of its five year term. We cannot find fault with anybody who interprets his speeches as a confession of failure to deliver on his promise of good governance in the past three years of his administration.
The people of this country won’t have forgotten the declaration made by Maithripala Sirisena immediately after being sworn in as the new President of Sri Lanka on January 9, 2015 at the Colombo Independence Square, that he would not contest another Presidential election.
That was viewed as an honest demonstration of his determination to abolish the Executive Presidency, the main pledge made during the campaign. But, his approach and actions thereafter, have been contrary to the promise and the expectations of the people who voted for him.
After more than three years in office, Sirisena is leading a party that has become an ardent advocate of the retention of the Executive Presidency.
During the deliberations of the constitution making process, the SLFP took up the position that the abolition of the Executive Presidency is not prudent. At the same time a President who came to power having the abolition of the Executive Presidency as his main pledge, has been maintaining a stoic silence on this important issue.
Again Sirisena continued to keep silent when several ministers and senior politicians from the SLFP came out with statements that he will be the party’s Presidential candidate in the 2020 Presidential election.
in the fluid political situation that emerged after the local government polls three months ago, it would be unrealistic to hope that the stalled constitutional reform process would be revived and a consensus reached regarding the future of the Executive Presidency.
All signs confirm that Executive Presidency, post 19 th amendment to the constitution, will continue for the time being.
It is in this context one must see the declaration of President Sirisena that he is not going to retire in 2020 and will continue to be in politics until he accomplishes his mission and vision for the people and the country.
One may wonder whether the people of this country will find any meaning in the President’s claim that he has a vision for the country, if the last three years of his administration is anything to go by. Surely, at the end of his political career he will be remembered as one of the Presidents who did not make good his promises to the people.
By reneging on the pledge that the Executive Presidency would be abolished, Sirisena is now going to join the list of Presidents who came to power after promising to abolish the Executive Presidency and later forgetting about it.
One is reminded of a saying by Machiavelli that the promises given were a necessity of the past; and the breaking of that promise is a necessity of the present.
When it comes to the Presidential lament that the National Unity Government has failed to attain political maturity and the failure of the Sri Lankan society to grasp the importance of consensual political culture in this modern times; surely we have a pertinent question to ask him: “Is he of the opinion that it is because of the failure to attain political maturity, that discord has been sowed between the parties in the ruling coalition ?. And if so, what has been his contribution to nurturing a consensual political culture?”
Like many of the ministers and leaders of his party, Sirisena is also contributing tremendously to strengthening partisan politics. This process went to the extreme during the recent local polls campaign where President Sirisena’s speeches were unbecoming of a Head of State leading to an unprecedented crisis in the coalition government.
This writer wishes to remind readers of Sirisena’s comment in this column a few months ago that the unprecedented coming together of the two main parties to form a government, for the first time in the country’s post independence history, was initially a good opportunity to explore ways and means to find solutions to the country’s problems including the ethnic problem. But all too soon, it began to appear as though the leaders of the two parties were trying a bizarre experiment on how best to push party politics to the fore, while being partners in a government.
After all this, in his statement made in the House, President Sirisena called upon partners in the national government to give up their struggle for power and the ruling coalition and the Opposition should end competing for supremacy, in a joint effort contribute to overcoming the challenges which the country is facing today.
While all the main parties, including his terribly weakened SLFP, are preparing to face the next Presidential election due in less than 18 months, and are in the process of selecting their prospective Presidential candidate, President Siriena is talking about parties giving up the power struggle.
Further the main parties are also talking of forming a government on their own in the future. In the background of the intensifying political and economic crises, it is doubtful if the National Unity Government will be able to continue till 2020.
To put it succinctly the ‘yahapalanaya’ arrangement is now past its shelf life.
The featured image at the top shows Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena at the right and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe