Our politicians act in such a way, that many examples are found of their clueless imprudent action, that is peculiar to our political leaders where otherwise well meaning people become so lost in their own self-belief that they fail to see themselves as others see them.
The recent action of President Maitripala Sirisena removing Ranil Wickramasinghe from premiership and replacing him with Mahinda Rajapakse and thereafter dissolving the Parliament is illustrative.
The President removed incumbent PM Ranil Wickramasinghe and appointed Mahinda Rajapakse as the Prime Minister on October 26. . At the swearing in ceremony, as seen in the video clips, Mahinda Rajapakse was all smiling and happily, accepted the letter of appointment. Then on 09th November 2018, the President Dissolved Parliament.
The ousted PM Ranil Wickramasinghe wasn’t prepared to give up his premiership and adamantly remained occupied in Temple Trees refusing to vacate, insisting his removal, and dissolving of Parliament was unconstitutional, and therefore illegal. He began his fight back against the President and his successor, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse in the Parliament, in the Courts of law and on the streets.
How prudent these decisions were; the first act of appointing Mahinda Rajapakse as the Prime Minister and to believe his minority government could survive in the Parliament. On his part, Mahindra Rajapakse did accept premiership and headed a minority government being aware that the opposition was commanding the majority. Of course, they were betting on engineering cross-over of MPs from other side to theirs. It was a risky bet that wasn’t fully materialized.
Before dissolving Parliament the President had the opportunity to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court; which he did in January this year, when the President sought the opinion of the Supreme Court and cleared his doubt in the question of his term in office. In this instance he didn’t. His preference was to obtain advice from legal luminaries and constitutional experts in the country (There was no mention of Attorney General giving advice) to clear his doubts. After all, the legal luminaries and constitutional experts could only argue their case before the Supreme Court. In fact, Supreme Court is the final adjudicator. In that context, the opinion of the Supreme Court was that mattered.
None didn’t realise the possible disastrous ramifications and adverse consequences of their action, which created fifty days of chaotic situation pushing the country almost to the brink of anarchy. The fight back initiated by ousted PM Ranil Wickramasinghe should have expected. The political leaders need to take more enlightened decisions rather than giving excuses when everything went wrong irreversibly. The Treasury has provisionally estimated the economic loss caused to the country during this period could exceed Rs. 102 billion according to media reports.
In this backdrop, the conduct of the people’s representatives in the Parliament was in stark difference to that of citizens in the country at large. The conduct of the Members of Parliament in this situation only displayed their indiscipline and complete lack of empathy for any cause beyond their selfish desire to grab power. They proved once more what they proved over and over again; they came to office with no understanding and appreciation for the responsibilities they inherit. It was most chilling and disgusting display of absolute indiscipline.
In stark difference to their representatives in the Parliament, the people at large were peaceful and disciplined. No lives were lost, no blood spilled and no public or private property damaged or destroyed. Our disciplined men and women in the tri-forces and the police conducted themselves with absolute discipline, worthy of salutation of the nation. The Public service officials in an uncertain situation and subjected to receiving conflicting and threatening instructions from all directions; politicians of all shades and colours, did their best to deliver services essential to the public. All of them deserve admiration and commendation of the peace loving citizens of this country.
No elected representatives of the people could feel thoroughly justified in their actions and wholly untroubled by the convention-shattering means that they employ to get their way. In fact, in the dashing of such customs, declaring they are the “voice of the people” in justification of such acts doesn’t free them of contempt they deserve and any constraint, restriction or limitation as to how they should conduct themselves. Disciplined representatives in elected offices are the need of the hour. We need people’s representatives with integrity and strength that flows from the incomparable virtues; not a bunch of illiterate rowdies who are capable of only harming the nation in the eyes of the world.
The tussle, centered on these three leaders remained unsolved for fifty days, embroiled in battling in the Parliament, legal battles in the courts of law and street demonstrations to end eventually with the intervention of the Judiciary.
The President’s act of dissolving Parliament has, now been declared by the Supreme Court, not legally appropriate and has nullified the gazette notification and declared, it has no effect in law. The President’s premise, that he did it in good faith of giving the people the opportunity to exercise their franchise has, however, not received the acceptance Supreme Court. This is what the Supreme Court says in its judgement;
“Giving effect to the franchise of the people is not achieved by the Court permitting a General Election held consequent to dissolution of Parliament which has been affected contrary to the provision of the Constitution. Such a General Election will be unlawfully held and its result will be open to question. A General Election will be valid only if it is lawfully held. Thus, a General Election held consequent to dissolution of Parliament which has been done contrary to the provisions of the Constitution will not be a true exercise of the franchise of the people.”
Why do our political leaders seem so imprudent and inconsiderate? It were such imprudent decisions that have shaped our country for the most part of the nation’s recent history. Not having great leaders to take the country forward with a clear vision is the biggest problem. This incident only confirms that our contemporary politics is in crisis. It’s not a constitutional crisis as some might fret. It’s a crisis of character. It’s Flagrant and persistent, displaying of complete absence of character in our political leaders.
The political leaders lose their head as impressive powers and privileges feed their sense of importance. It is the ethical and principled qualities that discourage those awarded enormous authority of high office from abusing that authority. The people need to remind them their discretion is not – and cannot be – regarded as boundless. They can be tempted easily into the arena of zealous. One needs only look to recent history to find those who similarly believed and brought about changes at will to benefit them.
Defending their decisions insisting them as being uniquely “For the People,” and to “benefit the people”, while doing everything against forces that challenge their impulsive desire to do whatever they want is not what the society expects from them. It only undermines those institutions we rely upon to corral and contain such excesses, most notably the Parliament and the independent judiciary.
Politics has long attracted personalities who crave power. That’s nothing new, and not all egomaniacs become tyrants or dictators. Yet, the peril of electing those who lack character is that they tend to move towards most evil. When you are disputing the authority of these institutions, it signals their hunger to operate with impunity and more unaccountably.
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