The ‘nearly new’ Cabinet of President Maithripala Sirisena got off to a reasonable start for the New Year with the hope of a ‘new beginning’ for the otherwise stuttering Cohabitation Government. The President was reportedly subdued but showed no signs of unease with Ministers from a different party, and now, none from his own. The [...]


President could play positive role in cohabitation


The ‘nearly new’ Cabinet of President Maithripala Sirisena got off to a reasonable start for the New Year with the hope of a ‘new beginning’ for the otherwise stuttering Cohabitation Government.

The President was reportedly subdued but showed no signs of unease with Ministers from a different party, and now, none from his own. The Ministers on their part conducted themselves with the political correctness due to the holder of the office of President. The only dissension had come from within the Cabinet, but that is not entirely a negative thing, as often, Cabinet papers submitted by Ministers are never read by colleagues, and the credo is; ‘You scratch my back and I will scratch yours”. Proposals are often rubber-stamped and the highfalutin’ principle of “getting Cabinet approval” to denote a studied decision taken at the highest policy and decision-making body of the Government in reality often means rubber-stamping the proposal. The only issue is that the discussions should not be instigated by malice and petty political rivalry.

Unfortunately, after the Presidential sermon following the re-induction of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the allocation of departments under the Ministers seems to have been badly handled, but again, the signs are that these matters are being resolved.

As far as the President is concerned, it was his choice to drop the National Government because events after his October 26 misadventure did not turn out the way he wanted it. The decision has only isolated him further and his own party is disintegrating before his eyes.

Given the fact that the President is bound by the Constitution to carry on with a UNP Cabinet this whole year and until February 2020 unless Parliament is constitutionally dissolved, it would be in his own best interests to allow the UNP Cabinet to ‘run the show’ as it were and hang themselves with their own rope if they fail to deliver the goods.

While the President will not want to be seen as a ‘lame duck’, neither should he be seen as an obstructionist. That means having to stomach a lot of humiliation given the sharp divide vis-a-vis the economic policies of the UNP and his own political philosophy.

The President has already provided fuel to the fire lit by anti-Executive Presidency campaigners. There is currency gaining ground that Sri Lankan politicians are incapable of handling the powers vested with an Executive President. However, this President’s actions in stepping in during the Central Bank bond fiasco is an argument in favour of the Executive President being the upper custodian intervening in what was patently a corrupt exercise, the ghost of which is going to haunt the UNP for quite some time to come.

We publish today some work the President has engaged himself in like the Moragahakanda irrigation project (page 8) and the Tripitaka National Heritage project (page 8). It would be best for him to be considered an achiever rather than a naysayer where this Government, at the end of its constitutional term, would have only made proposals that were disposed of by the President and wasted five years in the process.

When no news is good news

When the incidents at Digana off Kandy occurred last March following the usual traffic accident and an organised unleashing of mob violence on Muslim houses and business establishments, foreign Governments, NGOs and sections of the local and international media were quick to slam the Government for what happened; the majority community was tarred with the same brush.

It was a blot on the country’s image and when social media outlets were banned for spreading hate speech and fanning the flames of the violence, the Government got roasted again for restricting free speech.

Last week, a Bamiyan style vandalising of religious statues took place in Mawanella and the incidents spread to Naramwela, Katugastota and Kadugannawa. There were no repercussions; no reprisals. There was no news to report and no blame apportioned to the Government.

For one, the Government – and the Police, acted swiftly, unlike in the Digana incidents. Seven persons were arrested while some involved are absconding. For another, political, social and religious leaders in the area joined hands to douse the smouldering embers that could have flared into a major ethnic fire.

Another crisis so soon after the Constitutional crisis the country had just emerged from, was the last thing the country needed. Socio-religious extremism in a multi-ethnic country is a veritable tinder-box and interested parties, both local and abroad with agendas of their own are waiting to exploit just such a situation.

Sri Lanka has so far fortunately escaped the ramifications of the global Islamic sectarian strife that the West has deftly exploited and which has seen West Asia torn apart. Western countries have benefited from the split in the Islamic world. But it does not mean that the countries espousing, and exporting their beliefs and ideologies, largely from the monies accruing from oil and gas under their desert sands, have left Sri Lanka entirely alone.

A greater identification with the religion has caught on among sections of the local Islamic community. Still, the larger segment of the community live within the framework of the interwoven Lankan social fabric. The incidents at Mawanella and its surroundings indicate that extremist schools exist. The Eastern Province is a reservoir for infiltration through indoctrination. Financial inducements grease the process.

Many felt that with the ethnic extremism in the North having been quelled with a heavy hand, religious extremism in the South and the rest of the country could raise its ugly head. The incidents earlier in Beruwela and Dharga Town gave rise to these fears.

There appears to be pressure groups at work urging the President to set free those who were behind these tensions starting in the South. The courts have dealt with matters according to the law of the land, and recently even the President was reminded that no one is above the law.

This week, the country mourned the death of an American priest who dedicated his life to the upliftment of people in a part of the world far removed from his own birthplace. He battled against extremist forces during the North-East insurgency, a shining example that men of the cloth of whichever religious denomination must not exploit their ‘robe’ in the pursuit of violence.

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