Prabath Sahabandu, Chief Editor of The Island, where this item appeared on 31 October 2021, with the title “Sri Lanka: Mandates Stupidity“
A popular mandate is not a licence for a leader to do as he or she pleases. Instead, it is the authority the people confer on a political leader to act as their representative and serve them.
It has been reported that the Rajapaksa brothers saw red when one of the SLPP coalition leaders, at a recent meeting, expressed his displeasure at the appointment of Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara as the head of the so-called one-country-one-law presidential task force. They reportedly demanded to know what right the dissenting leader had to question the decision of a President who had received a mandate from 6.9 million people. Their line of reasoning defies comprehension. Do they think the mandate they are crowing about has made the President infallible?
A popular mandate is not a licence for a leader to do as he or she pleases. Instead, it is the authority the people confer on a political leader to act as their representative and serve them. It does not deprive dissenters of their right to question the actions or policies of a leader in power. Otherwise, a mandate will serve as a passport to dictatorship; the same goes for parliamentary majorities, which politicians consider a source of unbridled power, and act accordingly. This is exactly what Hitler did in the early 1930s, after mustering a two-thirds majority in the German legislature. He also flaunted and abused his party’s majority, and secured the passage of the draconian Enabling Act before suppressing democracy for years to come and causing the destruction of millions of lives. Mandates some politicians and/or political parties obtain could become as dangerous as cut-throat razors in the hands of mad monkeys. This is why politicians and political parties in power must be kept in check.
If the SLPP leaders believe that the incumbent President’s decisions and actions cannot be questioned or challenged simply because of his mandate, then they will have to explain why they protested against what the late Presidents J. R. Jayewardene and R. Premadasa did. They held street protests, filed court cases, and carried out malicious propaganda onslaughts against those leaders. They even went to Geneva against President Premadasa. They also campaigned against President Maithripala Sirisena and tried to oust him in spite of his mandate, didn’t they?
Following the 2010 presidential election, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa also thought he could act according to his whims and fancies because the people had given him a huge mandate. He even amended the Constitution to do away with the presidential term limit, among other things, in a bid to secure a third term. He laboured under the delusion that his mandate would help justify his actions, and the sky was the limit. That the people did not approve of the manner in which he and his cronies exercised power became evident when he was beaten by a dark horse, as it were, in the 2015 presidential race.
It is being argued in some quarters that Gnanasara Thera’s appointment at issue is unprecedented. But we believe that it is similar in most respects to the appointment by President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Mervyn Silva as the Deputy Minister of Media, in 2010, despite the latter’s history of attacking journalists, and media institutions. Protests, however, brought Mahinda to his senses, and he removed Silva from that post soon afterwards. If he had cared to banish the boot-licking political dreg from politics, he would have been able to prevent public opinion from turning against him to a considerable extent.
A leader is known by the persons he/she appoints to key positions.
The SLPP leaders, who use their mandates as a Roman testudo in situations where they draw fire for their bad policies, wrong decisions and deplorable actions, will see the public assessment of their conduct and performance if a midterm election is held.
The yahapalana government was scared of elections. It postponed the Provincial Council elections, but had to face the Local Government polls, where its constituents suffered an ignominious defeat. Whether the people who gave the incumbent leaders mandates in 2019 and 2020 are still on their side will be seen if the delayed PC polls are held.
Prabath Sahabandu is the Chief Editor of The Island, a Colombo based daily where this piece first appeared. Michael
Michael Roberts: “Mahinda Rajaakse: Chakravarti Images and Populist Processes,” 28 January 2012, http://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2012/01/28/mahinda-rajapaksa-cakravarti-imagery-and-populist-processes/