President Maithripala Sirisena created a record this week. He is the first political party president in this country to have taken his own party to court. There have been numerous instances in which party deputies have gone to court against the leadership – J.R. Jayewardene (UNP), Maithripala Senanayake (SLFP) a few decades ago and some [...]


President down but not out


President Maithripala Sirisena created a record this week. He is the first political party president in this country to have taken his own party to court. There have been numerous instances in which party deputies have gone to court against the leadership – J.R. Jayewardene (UNP), Maithripala Senanayake (SLFP) a few decades ago and some more recent examples where party leaders were made respondents in actions filed by dissidents in the party, but subject to correction.Here is a party president, who admitted obliquely that he had lost control of his own party.

His nationally broadcast address on Tuesday was the immediate cause for the President having to go to court through a proxy. Our Political Editor gives the details, but the upshot of it is that he has lost control of the SLFP, the party he is president of as plans were afoot to depose him from the chair of party president. The way he was lambasted at the first political rally of the UPFA coalition at Anuradhapura on Friday showed his standing, or more precisely the lack of it, within his party.

In his address to the nation, President Sirisena made it as clear could be that he did not favour Mahinda Rajapaksa’sreturn to politics after his defeat on January 8 this year, nor his political agenda. The President was adamant he would stand by those who supported his ‘silent revolution’ of January 8. The irony is that it is the UNP coalition – now renamed the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) that has pledged to consolidate the gains of the Jan. 8 elections – not the SLFP.

There are mixed responses to the President’s address. He seemed to pour his heart out, lamenting his frustrations at trying to gain control of his party and venting his frustrations at being seen as the “great betrayer”. He gave a cogent explanation as to why he held on to the SLFP presidency during the past seven months. There was no ambiguity in his dislike for Mr. Rajapaksa and for good measure, he took a swipe at his own minority UNP Government also.

Unfortunately, the President’s deafening silence during the weeks that led to this crisis, which has now seemingly led to the parting of ways between him and his own party, which was one of the main reasons for rumours to float unchecked and leave the citizens in confusion. His public relations apparatus was just not up to it as he tried to fix his problems behind closed doors.

Quite rightly, he asked what happened to the Right to Information Act that would give the citizen the right to access Government information and the National Audit Act that would seek to regularise Government tenders -these being solemn promises made by those who asked the people to vote for Mr. Sirisena on January 8. These bills were drafted and ready for passage to law but for some inexorable reasons, they were not presented in Parliament. The people can though, ask the President to turn the searchlight inside. They are justified in asking why he did not push for these laws, like he did for the 19th Amendment. He is the Head of the Government. Waving his manifesto, the President was talking of its contents; the key word being “Yahapalanaya” or good governance but while he spoke of the chilling effect on media practitioners, for instance, during the tenure of his predecessor and promised media freedom, he has gone and done exactly the opposite by re-introducing the Press Council that gives his appointees the powers to jail journalists and publishers.

Through his recent actions, he has revealed that he is only human, and subject to the same human frailties of people in power, more than others, are subjected to. He might be a little more benevolent than some, but then, he’s only been at the helm of this country for seven months. It would have been more prudent if he stayed neutral after nominations closed, but his virulent attack on his predecessor has made him the villain of his own party.

Only a fortnight ago we said in an editorial that we thought he would fall between two stools – as he tried to balance himself. Eventually he did fall, slammed as he was for betraying those who voted for him at the January 8 presidential elections by giving nominations to the man he ousted from office, and slammed for betraying his own party by making adverse comments about his predecessor to the advantage of his opposing party, the SLFP’s rival – the UNP. From his pedestal he has alas, fallen, but he must pick himself up. He is the President of the country and in him there remains great hope as a moderate leader who can take his people to a better future. If he can only stick to his own manifesto – in letter and in spirit. He must read it every night before going to bed and he wakes up in the morning.

Moderation, Mr. Chief Minister
Under the cloud cover of an election campaign, the Chief Minister of the Northern Province went on what can be dubbed as a ‘semi-official’ visit though officially termed a ‘private visit’ to Britain and the United States. In Britain he was hosted to a formal dinner by a Minister of State and in the US he was met by officials of the World Bank and the US State Department.

He took with him project proposals from his provincial ministers, some just two pages, and so badly drafted that it would be a surprise if he gets a dollar for them. In his address to the Tamil American Diaspora he asked for their dollars to be invested in his otherwise impoverished peninsula that still relies on the largesse of the Central Government for its sustenance.

He should consider himself a lucky man if he gets a nickel from them too. There is, what is commonly referred to in Jaffna circles as the ‘Talking Diaspora’ and the ‘Doing Diaspora’. The former are the ones who get the headlines for lobbying congressmen and issuing thundering statements from Western capitals they live in about the plight of the people living in the Northern Province. They have long pockets and short hands and simply don’t walk the talk.

The ‘Doing Diaspora’are the ones who have rolled up their sleeves and arrived in the North to contribute their skills and their finances. That category is, regrettably, a minority among the minority. That the Chief Minister stuck to protocol by obtaining the President’s permission before embarking on his visit, and also called for briefing reports from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is creditworthy. The incumbent Government of Sri Lanka has no qualms in interacting with the Diaspora and engaging it in a broad-minded way to unify the country.

The clear message the Chief Minister received from the US State Department was to drop his genocide rhetoric and stick to rehabilitation and reconstruction of his province and that the best opportunity for him and the people of his province is to work together with the current central Government. That message must ring in his ears.
But did he have to go that distance to hear the obvious? The US was clearly talking to the Diaspora through the Chief Minister. There is none so deaf as those who refuse to hear.

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