Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brazen boast that he had the Midas touch to turn the country’s economy around and turn, through his own personal designer brand of alchemy, Lanka’s copper to gold is, it seems, now in peril of being proved false.
Four weeks after he had been surreptitiously sworn in as Lanka’s new Prime Minister in the twilight hours of October 26 by President Sirisena, ousting, in the process, the incumbent legitimate Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in a dramatic constitutional coup which took all by surprise, it is apparent now that the state of the Lankan economy has gone from bad to worse; and revealed to the country that not even the Mahinda mystique can resurrect the putrefying corpse by breathing life to it.
In fact, if there had ever existed even the slightest glimmer of faint light at the end of the long tunnel, these last four short weeks of political chaos have only served to banish it and to hasten the nation’s inevitable economic doom. For can there be economic development without political stability?
Especially when the democratically elected government has been ignominiously booted out, when political stability has recklessly been rocked at the very top, when the nation’s Parliament has been needlessly turned to a House of Pandemonium, when its constitution has been blatantly violated as the Supreme Court ruled last week, when it granted a stay order on the dissolution of Parliament; and when the President-appointed cabinet and its prime minister refuse, point blank, to read the message and bow out with dignity when it is crystal clear to them and to the nation that they do not have the majority to command the confidence of Parliament to be the legitimate government?
Not even after two ‘voice votes’ — last Thursday and Friday — and one electronic vote taken this Friday confirmed beyond question that the Wickremesinghe-led UNF together with the TNA and the JVP which had joined hands to safeguard democracy in this country commanded 121 votes out of a total of 225 seats, the Rajapaksa regime still opts to stay put.
And this Sunday morning as Mahinda Rajapaksa stares at his reflection in the mirror whilst he brushes his ivory, the questions that he must be asking himself and which must irk him most are whether the heavens in their malice had granted him his ambition’s prayers? Whether his undue haste to come through the backdoor to usurp power has backfired? Whether one month of being seated, not on the purple throne, but on the creaky termite-ridden rocking chair Sirisena has ensconced him in has only succeeded in turning, in the eyes of his people, his golden image into common brass?
Power that would have been on his platter and would have been his for the taking, had he bided his time and watched with patience the Maithri-Ranil coalition crumble and fall further like a crusty hopper into flaky crumbs, now seems to have given him the cold shoulder and fled to pristine ozone zones where it hovers poised undecided upon whose deserving head to bestow the Lankan crown.
Last Friday on November 16th – minutes before members of his party unleashed mayhem in the House — when Rajapaksa addressed parliament, he had this to say: “I had the choice of either accepting that invitation or declining it. I could have simply said that it was best to allow the UNP government to continue in office for the remaining one year or so. However, we were the main opposition force in the country. We are the largest political party in the country. When the President hands the country over to us in order to prevent a major catastrophe from taking place, it is our duty to accept that responsibility. I accepted the responsibility of running the country on that basis.”
But, alas, he failed to pause for a moment and consider the possibility whether the President had the constitutional right to hand over the plum prime ministerial post to him on a presidential platter merely to achieve some secret political purpose none knows of.
Not only did Rajapaksa fail to pay attention to the legal basis of his new found prime ministerial position and on what sinking legal sand it was based on; not only did he ignore whether he had the numbers in Parliament to command the confidence of the House as the Constitution required; and that the presidential gift of premiership doled out to him on presidential whim and fancy without any grounding in law or tradition, could, at any moment without notice, again on presidential whim and favour, be summarily revoked and handed over to someone else — he further failed. Perhaps, he was blinded by an inexorable power lust, to realise he was being anointed to be the new Sirisena scapehorse to drive the chariot of state power with the carrot of prime ministerial position enticingly dangled as incentive bait to turn the trot to a gallop by charioteer Sirisena holding the presidential reins and shouting ‘drive on you Jade of Lanka’ in a mad dash to flee from the follies shadowing him in hot pursuit.
Now the economic burdens of sin inherited from the previous regime which Ranil bore for long have once more boomeranged onto Mahinda’s back out of his own volition. And he is forced to carry the load, playing second fiddle to skipper Sirisena who, like Pontius Pilate, continues to reside on a high moral mount and blithely washes his hands of every blooming sin feigning ignorance.
So how has the Rajapaksa’s third coming benefitted the nation economically, politically and internationally? What does the one month term report show?
To his credit, he appears to have been a Santa Clause come before Christmas. With one stroke of his pen, he slashed fuel prices by around ten bucks signalling his intention to grant relief to the masses. This week he also announced tax cuts in the agriculture and hotel sectors.
What does the flipside reveal?
- That the Sri Lankan Rupee has plunged even further to stand at Rs 180 against the dollar.
- That the IMF loan worth US$ 250 million has been put on hold.
- That the US$ 480 million grant for transport sector development has been suspended by Millennium Challenge Cooperation.
- That the US$ 1.7 billion loan granted at a mere 0.1% interest by Japan for the light rail project has also been put on hold.
- That the EU nations are considering the removal of the GSP Plus which if done will once more imperil the garment industry already struggling to make ends meet in the face of stiff competition.
- That the United States and other Western nations are contemplating the imposition of sanctions.
- That the UNCHR probe into alleged war crimes committed during the last years of the Eelam War which during these last three years plodded on maybe revived on a more aggressive basis and may invite even more sanctions if not attended to.
- That foreign aid presently flowing maybe stopped with immediate effect since no foreign government will be willing to extend its largesse to a regime proved in parliament not to possess the required majority and thus the legal or moral right to govern and to receive and be the legal custodian of aid.
- That Moody’s has downgraded Lanka from B1 status to B2 and posted negative credit outlook.
- That hotel booking cancellations by tourists have been taking place following travel advisories, warning those travelling to Sri Lanka.
As German Ambassador Jörn Rohde put it in a nutshell this week:
- “I had a phone conference with a German bank. They wanted to come here. I asked them to postpone their visit due to current uncertainty.
- I had talks with German investors. Because of the present political circumstances, there is a complete paralysis of all the Ministries.
- German Development law was given to the Health Ministry. That is to build a maternity hospital in Galle. Loan disbursement is delayed.
- We are also financing a vocational training centre in the south. Everything is put on hold.
- In Matara, it is about 11 million Euros. For the development of the hospital, it is 42 million Euros. This is a loan.
- The delay costs the Sri Lankan tax payers. It is very unfortunate that decisions cannot be taken at this moment.
- Unfortunately, we have to advise the investors to wait until this situation subsides.
- Travel advisories by us and other countries have been updated. This also affects tourism.”
This is just the tip of the iceberg that the Lankan ship of state will soon hit one dark night in the near future whilst the UPFA orchestra continues playing the Rajapaksa symphony.
Well if that is the bleak prospect that looms on the international front, what’s the bad news on the domestic turf?
For starters, despite the Rajapaksa promise to give relief to the people with him waving his magic wand, vegetable prices continue to soar. The Sri Lankan psyche has been shocked at the sudden turn of events and jolted to see the sacrosanct shrine where the people’s sovereign rights lie enthroned denigrated by the behaviour of Rajapaksa supporters last Friday; and irrespective of partisan politics, question why Mahinda looked askance whilst the brawl went on and ask why he didn’t intervene to put an end to it instead of remaining in his pew. And worst of all, the nation stands divided, some pro-Mahinda, some pro-Ranil without realising this is not a battle of personalities but a war to be waged in the name of democracy and rule of law.
Not to forget, of course, that the Maithri-Mahinda regime today stands accused of ordering a group of Buddhist monks who came to the vicinity of the Presidential Secretariat to hand over an appeal to the President to release their boss, the monk Gnanasara, presently serving a six-year sentence for contempt of court, from jail. Of course, President Sirisena denied that he knew what was happening on his own doorstep: Merely saying that he was not notified of the incident.
And how much Mahinda must rue the day today last month for having listened to the Wimal Gamman coterie rather than heeding the advice of one of his staunchest supporters, Kumar Welgama who refused to follow the pack and join the hosanna singing choir but stood alone to express his displeasure at the way Mahinda went through the backdoor to covet the premiership.
Shortly after Mahinda was appointed by the President and the appointment of cabinet ministers had begun, Welgama declared he strongly disapproved the way his idol had gained prime ministerial office. “Why did he have to go through the backdoor when he could have waited another year and come through the front entrance. Even if I am offered a cabinet portfolio, I will not accept it,” he declared to the media, adding that “while I remain a staunch Mahinda supporter, I cannot wear a cloth and sit on the same cabinet ranks.”
In an interview with the Daily Mirror published this Thursday, he further expanded on the subject and said: “Then there have been discussions to appoint Mahinda with Basil and Chamal Rajapaksa at Prof. G. L. Peiris’ residence to see the possibility of appointing Rajapaksa as PM. Chamal was opposed to this decision and we knew that Sirisena had a hidden agenda. He’s cunning that way. Otherwise, he wouldn’t just appoint MR as PM. Ministers such as Keheliya Rambukwella and Mahindananda Aluthgamage who supported this decision thought it will be a good opportunity to put a stop to the privatisation of various ventures. While I immediately opposed this decision, I also said that I will support Mahinda to get a majority and if he wanted a 2/3rds majority as in the Constitution I will vote in favour of him as well.”
“The events that followed from proroguing Parliament to the chaotic parliamentary sessions have put a black mark on the country. Is it good for elected representatives to behave in this manner? We now face a crisis. The country has two prime ministers; one at Temple Trees and the other at the PM’s office,” Welgama said.
But now with Welgama’s words proved true and the UNF claim confirmed that it, with the support of the TNA and the JVP, had the majority in the House, where does it leave His Excellency the President, the chief protagonist of this tragic Grecian drama where the hero for all his strengths and prowess, has one tragic flaw in his getup that brings about his downfall. With Othello, it was jealousy. With Hamlet it was procrastination.
On the same subject what was the tragic flaw of his counterpart Mahinda? Was it, like Macbeth, unchecked ambition? Or like King Lear who not only had one but three, namely, arrogance, ignorance and misjudgement? Only a Shakespeare can delineate their characters and only a Nostradamus can foretell the future that awaits them both.
But one thing is certain. Rajapaksa can walk away from the mess created and look east for the sun to rise and await dawn to break. Perhaps his stratagem was to force Parliament to render the two-thirds majority to hold a general election in the belief that although he did not command the majority in the House he had the support of the majority in the land. But even that must be put to the test. Especially when the whole exercise has rejuvenated the UNP, awoken the dormant elephant and turned it to a charging bull elephant in musth trumpeting for democracy.
But, alas, for Sirisena, what now for him? Hardly had he appointed Mahinda Prime Minister, Mahinda led the exodus and joined Peiris’ Pohottuwa party, the vehicle for his future ride to power. And he did not go alone either but took with him the great majority of the SLFP members thus decimating even further Maithri’s power base. No wonder Maithripala feels desolate and all alone. He can only look west at the setting sun.
Even as he ponders over this weekend whether to revert to the status quo that existed before October 26 and have Ranil Wickremesinghe in the saddle again as his prime minister to save the day, he must also be giving thought to the presidential proclamation he made two weeks ago: “If Ranil becomes prime minister again I will resign within the hour.”
And that must give him pause. And double his trouble.
|Sirisena’s good character certificate to MPs
President Sirisena issued a good character certificate to the UPFA members who had raised hell last Friday but who maintained their cool and calm during the brief ten minute Parliamentary session this Monday when the Deputy Speaker adjourned sittings and declared Parliament would meet on Friday.He tweeted Trump style: ‘“I thank all the Party Leaders and Parliamentarians for adopting a peaceful and consensual course of action at the Parliament today, following my meeting with the Party Leaders last evening.”Good. Awesome. Good behaviour must be praised at all times. What a pity Sirisena failed to condemn the atrocious behaviour of his own UPFA MPs in parliament last Friday which witnessed a hooligan mob of UPFA members preventing the Speaker from occupying his rightful seat, of the newly appointed Minister of Christian Affairs Johnston, a Catholic, throwing the Holy Bible in the direction of the Speaker and was caught on camera sabotaging electronic devices belonging to the public, some throwing chilli powder mixed with water at the police and at the opposition MPs, Johnston again in chair breaking and chair throwing, another slapping the police and obstructing them in the course of their duties, some dragging the Speaker’s chair away. And Thursday saw, amidst great mayhem, UPFA MP Ranaweera, in a bid to convey that the Speaker had suffered a bout of incontinence in the melee, acting as lavatory coolie and pouring water on the Speaker’s chair to clean up the mess.Praising the Good is good but condemning the Bad and the Ugly is vital. And should be on the Order Paper every day.
If proof is needed, here it is in simple arithmetic
Parliament met this Friday morn at 10.30 to decide on the composition of the new Parliamentary Select Committee. UPFA demanded that they be given seven seats on the basis they were the government and that they, as Mahinda Samarasinghe had boasted the day earlier, commanded the majority of the seats.
But Speaker Karu Jayasuriya thought otherwise. And in fairness to all, granted UPFA five seats, the UNF five seats and the TNA and the JVP a seat each. This was to be put to a vote but before it, the entire UPFA group walked out in protest. The vote took place and the UNF, together with the TNA and the JVP voted with an overwhelming 121 out of the total of 225 seats. Thus proving for the third time that the UNF and its new found partners fighting for democracy, held the majority; and the bogus regime did not command the confidence of the House and was a sham government whatever the President, in his opinion might seem or care to think.
If proof was needed, here it was spelt out in calculus: In plain simple arithmetic. Or for those MPs unable to count one that could be arrived at on a Chinese abacus or a cheap calculator. If anyone had doubts as to whether the voice votes had proved that the UNF had the majority, here it was taken name by name. But Dinesh Gunawardena refused to accept the verdict and declared at a press conference held on Friday that UPFA had decided to boycott parliamentary sessions until Speaker Karu Jayasuriya acted according to the Constitution, Standing Orders and parliamentary tradition.
The Lone Wolf
By Don Manu
The owl’s hoot resounds