Sri Lanka’s voters did to Mahinda Rajapaksa what the British voters did to Winston Churchill 70 years ago. In fact the Sri Lankan voters went one better. They defeated Mahinda Rajapaksa twice — in January and August this year. Churchill was celebrated for leading a struggling Britain through its finest hour as he fought to [...]


Yahapalanaya fails to make the national list


Sri Lanka’s voters did to Mahinda Rajapaksa what the British voters did to Winston Churchill 70 years ago. In fact the Sri Lankan voters went one better. They defeated Mahinda Rajapaksa twice — in January and August this year.

Churchill was celebrated for leading a struggling Britain through its finest hour as he fought to protect the country from the Hitlerite juggernaut. When the war ended in 1945 Churchill’s popularity that stood in the high seventies since 1940 had soared to a little over 83 percent.

Yet a few months later in the same year the Conservative Party led by Churchill the war hero was decisively defeated by Clement Atlee. The lesson was clear enough. Churchill was an indefatigable war-time leader. Peace time required a different kind of leader, one who could rebuild the country and set it on course for a different era and face the inevitable social problems of post-war reconstruction.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was received by the populace as one who gave political leadership to the country to defeat a vicious enemy and achieved that end. He was Sri Lanka’s Churchill, a war hero. That public perception of Rajapaksa persisted longer than Churchill’s did. He won the presidential election held shortly after crushing the LTTE and then led the UPFA to victory in the parliamentary elections bringing him a two-thirds majority.

If Churchill was undone because of a wartime mindset that was unsuitable for peacetime rebuilding, Rajapaksa was undone by those near and dear to him who dressed him in a resplendent mantle they thought would shine forever and camouflage the sins they were prone to commit.

But like the little boy in the fictional tale of the emperor and his clothes, the Sri Lankan public eventually saw not the glittering garb they were cajoled and coerced to accept but those who for personal gain were intent on continuing with this charade.
Those who had most to gain from pushing Rajapaksa to the fore were the Weerawansas, Gammampilas, Dinesh Gunawardenas and the Vasudevas, the tattered remnants of barely-existent parties who piggybacked on the former president to get a foothold in parliament. Without him they would today have been unceremoniously deposited in the dustbins of history.

In rejecting Rajapaksa and his followers in the SLFP-UPFA, the voting public kept faith with the pledges made by the collective led by Maithripala Sirisena to cleanse the country of authoritarianism, corruption and cronyism and create a new political culture based on good governance.

The claims made by the UNP-led United National Front for Good Governance appealed sufficiently to the electorate to return the forces that won the presidential election in order to buttress the promises made in January.Unfortunately the post-parliamentary election scenario that has unfolded does seem to undermine the promise of good and healthy governance the public voted for, at least as far as entry to parliament via the national lists are concerned.

The UNP, true to its word, and Ranil Wickremesinghe’s commitment not to sneak into parliament through the back door party faithfuls rejected by the electorate has been kept. The credit for this must go Wickremesinghe. If the UNP list does contain a defeated candidate it seems to be to accommodate one from a constituent party.

The National List has often been a convenient means to pay back those who have served the party or leadership faithfully though this was not the intended purpose of this constitutional mechanism. It was said at the time the real intention was to bring into the legislature professionals, academics and others who have distinguished themselves in varied ways and could make a worthwhile contribution but they were reluctant or disinclined to engage in the hustle and bustle of elections.

Had those sent to parliament through the national lists all been persons who have distinguished themselves one way or another there could be no quarrel. It provides an opportunity to make use of their multiple talents on behalf of the country.
So it was a lamentable surprise when the UPFA national list contained names of several politicians who had only a few days earlier been ignominiously rejected by the people.

The irony is that MPs are said to be the elected representatives of the people. When the majority of voters cast their ballots against a contestant signifying in no uncertain terms that they have rejected him/her as their representative, it behoves our leaders to respect the verdict of the people.

Admittedly the constitution permits defeated candidates to be appointed as MPs through the national list. But the fact that such entry into the legislature is legally permissible does not make it morally justifiable because the concerned constituents do not want him.

This is not a case of one or two defeated candidates but several. If the people are sovereign and sovereignty lies with the people then surely the decision of the people must be respected. The entire purpose of holding elections is to permit the sovereign people to exercise their franchise and elect those who they think should represent them.

If those who have promised to install clean and good governance breach that pledge and send to parliament those the people have rejected it is to cock a snook at the very people who believed these pledges would be honoured. Some of the names in the UPFA national list include not only those who the people rejected only a few days earlier but also some whose conduct as ministers and parliamentarians are being officially inquired into or otherwise queried and still others whose language used to deride leaders they once faithfully served seemed to have originated in the gutter.

Are these the best our leadership can find to send to the supreme legislature? Civil society that helped the present leaders gain power have gone public criticising some of those who have been named in the UPFA national list. Prominent among the critics is the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, whose organisation played a frontline role in mobilising public support for those who promised to abide by the norms of civilised political conduct.

So why has President Sirisena who preached from the political pulpit about cleaning up politics and respect people’s wishes suddenly embraced political rejects who hardly had a good word to say for the new order that came to power last January when they were on the other side of barricades?

Has he sacrificed — for the moment at least — those very principles he promised to uphold, for political expediency? His intention appears to be to gradually isolate Rajapaksa by gnawing at the Rajapaksa support base and wean away his loyalists with offers of perks and something of the power they once enjoyed, despite the public’s clear mandate to dump some of them in the garbage bin.

The public might decry this situation but it seems this is President Sirisena’s modus operandi to gain control of the SLFP and eject Rajapaksa from the political scene. If that is his chosen objective then it might not be surprising if at the end of two years of national government he feels strong enough to form an SLFP-led government and keep faith with the party he has represented for nearly five decades.

Would the UNP then have to say, to adapt the words of Julius Caesar, “Et tu Siri?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.