The billion buck question on the nation’s lips this Sunday morn is why did President Maithripala Sirisena, having proudly claimed paternity to the 100-day programme designed to usher in a new democratic order for Sri Lanka, an order called Yahapalanaya, three and a half years ago ; having participated at its conception even before he [...]


Why did Sirisena suddenly do a ‘bulti’ and render 100-day prog fatherless?


The billion buck question on the nation’s lips this Sunday morn is why did President Maithripala Sirisena,

  • having proudly claimed paternity to the 100-day programme designed to usher in a new democratic order for Sri Lanka, an order called Yahapalanaya, three and a half years ago ;
  • having participated at its conception even before he became exalted as president;
  • having been present at its birth not merely as a curious spectator but as an active midhusband to ensure its safe delivery;
  • having attended to its growth and nourishment; and,
  • having – as it’s the wish of every fond father – savoured the joy of seeing some fruits, at least, bloom on its tender boughs, suddenly do a bulti, and pass the buck of fatherhood to another and renounce all responsibility for its conception, birth and delivery. And went, this week, to the extent of declaring that he did not even know the colour of the baby. Whether it was yellow, black, brown or white?

The question asked – and what boggles the masses’ mind – is what made him make a surprise U turn? And denounce the 100-day programme as ‘the stupidest, stupidest’ plan ever devised. He said it at a ceremony held this Wednesday at The Sri Lanka Foundation in Colombo 7 to commemorate the 75th birth anniversary of the most Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, held by all as the architect of the Yahapalana doctrine on which the 100-day programme was based; and hailed by all as the engineer of Maithripala Sirisena’s meteoric ascent to the presidency.

In his address as chief guest to the invited audience, Sirisena said: “ I really do not know who came up with the 100-day programme. How can you carry out a 100-day Programme without power in Parliament? Can someone give me an answer to that? With only 47 MPs in Parliament, they draw up a 100-day programme. The election is on January 8. On 9th January, there is the swearing in. From January 10 and 11, the 100-days programme is announced. Booklets are printed containing the programme and distributed. Among its contents is the 19th Amendment. In which country in the world is it possible to bring about constitutional amendments with only 47 MPs in Parliament wanting it?
Hold on for a sec. Does he mean he had no idea of its contents? But he continues to rant.

He says: “There is no mention of the dissolution of Parliament in the 100-day programme. Who made this programme? I like to tell those who drew up the 100-day programme, if you had the brains, you would have drawn it up so that Parliament can be dissolved after I am sworn in. That night Parliament could have been dissolved and we could have gone for an election. A 100-day programme was drawn up and Parliament could not be dissolved.”

PRESIDENT SIRISENA: Is the Yahapalana rainbow out of style now?

Er! But the 100-day plan was no legal document having legal force. Under the then existing constitution, the President could have dissolved parliament at any time of his choosing. Perhaps his advisors got it wrong to suggest to him that some handwritten document published in printed form was akin to a government gazette proclamation, promulgating a new enactment, a new amendment to the constitution which bound the president’s hands and forced him to comply and prevented him from dissolving a Parliament at the tail end of its term.

And didn’t he read the document first before he propounded it to the masses and asked them to believe in it and swore, to implement it? And if he had read it, didn’t he realise its import?

Extraordinary, isn’t it that he should have had such a dramatic radical change of mind now? When he was the ardent advocate of the 100-day plan then? ? Did the thunder and lightning accompanying the heavy South West monsoon rains that fell last week make a blip on his political antenna, coupled as it was with the lunar full moon which shone brightest on Tuesday cause this astonishing change of heart?

In the run up to the 2015 January presidential elections, the Sirisena campaign was driven by the 100-day programme. It was the turbo fuel in his Yahapalana vehicle that would speed drive him to the presidential office gates.
Then in December 2014,, a few weeks before the presidential polls, he declared at a public meeting at Polonnaruwa the following:

“Today I present to you the people a document containing a list of the things we intend to do. It contains details of the 100-day programme which we intend to implement no sooner we come to power. At this historic city of Polonnaruwa, before the Samma Sam Buddha I unequivocally swear that we, I undertake to bear the fullest responsibility to implement it and do so solidly.”

But this Wednesday, he declared that the 100-day programme was the ‘stupidest, stupidest’ plan he had seen and that he hadn’t the foggiest not only as to who drafted the 100-day programme but also hadn’t a clue as to what it contained, even though he had sworn at the historic city of Polonnaruwa, before the Samma Samm Buddha, to implement it to the full.

As he said this Wednesday, “ I really do not know who made this 100-day programme.”
And that’s not all. He also spoke on the question of who gave Mahinda Rajapaksa helicopters to fly with his family to his Tangalle home that January 9th morning. He said he was not aware as to who had authorised it and had called the Air Force Commander as to who authorised it. He had been told that someone ‘ahawala’ had used his name and done so.

However in April 2016, addressing a meeting at Moneragala he proudly proclaimed his magnanimity. He declared: “ Tell me what other government in the world would gie a defeated leader to fly home in a helicopter. It was I who gave Mahinda Rajapaksa the helicopters to fly home”.

But the question is rather academic now since Mahinda Rajapaksa shot back on Thursday and said, As far as I am aware I was still president of the country. The final result had yeat to be declared. Till the new president is sworn in I continue to be president.”

Poor Sirisena. His team of advisers seem to have been ignorant of the legal import that though an existing president may have lost the election, he still continues to be president till the president elect is sworn into office. Take the United States for instance. Where the defeated or the retiring president remains in office and enjoys all the power and privileges of presidential office till the new one attends the inaugural ceremony two and a half months later after the results are announced. For the continuity of government, it is vital. Hence, the famed British hail: The king is dead, long live the king. There can be no power vaccum, even for a second.

But lets not be too harsh on Sirisena. He was not born or bred to be a leader. To be presidential material. He was whisked out from his crows’ nest as a fledgling and with flattery and praise made into an eagle. Or raised to the status of a lion as he said so himself this Wednesday.

He said: I do not come from a radala pedigree. I do not come from a political family. I do not come from a family of wealth. But when no one came forward to dare topple the Rajapaksa Family from their pedestal of power, they chose me. Some say, well, even if they had chosen a black crow, the crow would have won. But did anyone come forth? No. For there were none. They chose me for it was only I who was willing to come forward. And I came like a lion to meet the challenge.

Maithripala is no future Maithri Buddha born today. He shares the same strengths and the same weaknesses as the rest of us. But one thing stands out for which this nation must be thankful for. That he transformed the culture of violence, eliminated the psychosis of fear that had lingered for so long under the previous regime. And for that the nation should be grateful, for all his warts and all. And as far as corruption is concerned, well it has become so institutionalized in this country for the last 13 years, it’s a hard nut to crack. One cannot expect miracles on every front.

Don’t forget to remember that unlike any other president the country had ever known, Maithripala rose from Mahinda mud but was one who bloomed unsullied. One whom not even Mahinda who claimed he had the files of all his Ministers and MPs, could cast one single stone against him.

Today the sacrifice he made risking all to take on the Mahinda Juggernaut is sadly forgotten by all. From day one Mahinda’s spectre had continued to loom over and haunt him. He and the coalition government he represented had to first deal with obstacle after obstacle that was placed in their stride before they could address their minds to the people’s problems. Its easy for armchair social media critics with their smart phones in hand to condemn both Maithripala and Ranil from the safety of their cosy drawing rooms under the cover of anonymity, squeaking like mice who had given litter to malicious rumours from their rat holes.. its quite another matter when one’s rump feels the heat seated on the hot seat.

Take a look at Maithripala today. President of Sri Lanka. But would you want to be in his shoes today? He may have been elected by the majority of the people of Lanka with over six million voting for him but his power base in Parliament is controlled by Ranil Wickremesinghe of the UNP who only won the Colombo district with 500,000 votes. And today he finds himself driven further and further to the wall, If he had been the conqueror in 2015 January, what does he see now as he surveys the scene today. Was it just a pyrrhic victory?

His troops in disarray, with many of them having fled to the enemy embankment, with those few generals still with him only waiting to follow suit. With his own right hand man, the SLDP Secretary Duminda Dissanayake condemning his procrastinations this Monday and telling his leader Maithripala, as the SUNDAY PUNCH commented on May 20th, that he should take a crash course in keeping promises from Malaysia’s Mahathir and cracking down on corruption as promised, can you but help feel sorry for the man when he damns his own 100-day programme and claims ignorance as to its source and contents. Even, if one really probes deep, he has kept nearly seventy percent of the promised listed therein,

If, as it is said, life is lonely at the top, Sirisena’s present plight epitomizes it. And through despair, his mind troubled and distraught with his advisers pandering to keep his spirits alive he ventures forth to attack his coalition partner.
Ranil Wickremesinghe advised his UNP troops not to react to President Sirisena’s unwarranted attack on the UNP. Perhaps he too in his heart of hearts know that he owes a debt of gratitude to Sirisena. For without him he would not be prime minister today, nay, de facto president as Sirisena implied in his speech when he said he does not know what is happening around him and that the sins of his presidential term must be borne by someone else – his coalition partner.
Gratitude is a great quality and Ranil must be admired for possessing it. But, then again, perhaps, being the shrewd tactician and taciturn politician he is, Ranil is merely giving rope to his strange bedfellow whom adversity compelled him to share the mattress , to hang himself with. For the principle holds: When you know your foe is committing follies, don’t go to correct him.

PS: President Sirisena, in his speech on Wednesday said that if the Ven Sobitha Thera is presently born in heaven to please shower his blessings upon his government. If the Venerable Thera is indeed reborn in the Thusitha heavens and condescends to cast his eye on the ‘naralova holman natakya’ presently being staged to packed houses in Lanka, he would, no doubt, gain immense relief that his mortal remains were cremated and not interred. For had it been buried, his earthly corpus would not only be turning but somersaulting in its grave, aghast as to what is happening in Lanka today in the name of good governance.

One small Everest step for Johann:one giant leap for the Lankan man
SUNDAY PUNCH celebrates the triumph of human endeavour
Twelve days ago Johann Peiris demonstrated that he is not merely a tonsorial artist with a frail sensitive soul bent on styling women’s’ hairdos in posh saloons but a hot blooded man of action who dares the mountainous slopes to swallow him whole in an avalanche of Himalayan snow, in his quest to reach its peak.

And that if he had failed and faltered in achieving his ambition to conquer the world’s top most peak in his first attempt, then such failure would not serve as a damper on his spirit but would give new impetus to fire his will to strive better the second time round, and prove that failures are the mountains of success.

At 5.40am on Sunday the 22nd of May whilst Lanka was stirring to rise to a rainy, cloudy, gloomy floody morning, Johann Peiris was waiting for sunrise at 5.55am Nepal time from the peak of Mount Everest. At temperatures, 20 or more degrees Celsius below zero with winds over 100 miles per hour howling around him.

Two years ago in May, he had made the same journey, scaling step by step with each small step fraught with danger and death the earth’s tallest mount which stands 8,848 m or 29,029 ft in height in a bid to reach the rooftop of the world and shiver in its cold.

That time he was not alone. He was accompanied by another Lankan mountaineer. His climbing partner, Jayanthi Kuru Utumpala. But climbing Everest was not like climbing Piduruthalagala, Lanka’s tallest mountain which stands at a diminutive height of just 2,524 m or 8,281 ft and whose ascent is akin to running up a staircase.

In 2011 they had begun the ground work necessary and climbed the 6160 m high Island Peak, they had climbed Nepal’s Island Peak – some 6,160 m high – and the dormant volcanic mount of Kilimanjaro, which at 4,877 m from its base is the highest mountain in Africa, situated in Tanzania. Those were the trials they had to run to gain the confidence to make their assault on the mighty Everest.

TWO THUMBS UP FOR TRIUMPH: Johann Peiris becomes the first Lankan man to conquer Everest

For Jayanthi climbing the tallest peak had been a childhood obsession. When she was asked as a child what she wanted to do when she grew up, the first thing that came to mind was always to say ‘ climb Everest’ but she kept her lips sealed on that score thinking her aunts and uncles would think she was potty. But though the lips were zipped, her ambition was not. And it was propitious sign when a mutual friend introduced her to Johann as a person who shared the same dedication to mountaineering with a penchant take on Everest.

For Johann, even after climbing the formidable Island Peak and the volcanic Kilimanjaro, seeing Everest for the first time from base camp, rendered him speechless. He was struck with awe. As he said two years ago, “that first glimpse of Everest does something to you. Looking up at it, you are speechless.”

But climbing Everest is no walk in the park. Many stages attend its climb. Each one a challenge. Each stage a slippery tight rope walk with no safety net but only a plunge to death.

After arriving at the foothills of the Himalayas, home to Everest, the base camp from whence every ambitious ascent begins, starts the more than 50 mile vertical journey with the first step embedded snow deep in courage; and every step thereafter dogged by the shadow of death. Once that is triumphed, you arrive at Camp One called the Valley of Silence and then to Camp Two. And thereafter its time to scale the Khumbu ice fall, considered one of the most dangerous stages on the route.

If that is not enough to tax to the utmost the resilience of the toughest, the you have to cross the Bergshrund, a large crevasse that forms where moving glacier ice separates from the stagnate ice above. This has to be scaled for more than five hours which at some places are at an angle of 90 degrees. Then if you have survived the ordeal then onto Camp Three which sits at an elevation of 23,625 feet. Another six thousand or so feet to climb. That’s more than a mile. Then to Camp Four to rest briefly on the ‘balcony’ and there to gasp stupefied at the first amazing glimpse of the roof of the world.

Two years ago on the 21st of May, Vesak Poya day, both Jayanthi and Johann are seated on this balcony. The barrier that lie before them and the peak is the hardest, most dangerous part of all. No wonder it is called the Death Zone. The cemetery of the fallen. Eight thousand metres or 26,247feet up. Here there are over 200 bodies buried in a snowy grave. Men who came to conquer Sagarmth – as the Nepalese call their mount – and died in the attempt.

Here an Indian climber Tsewang Paljor who was known for the green boots he had on, was killed in the 1996 blizzard on the mountain. And today his legs which stick out from the snow serve as his tomb stone, and climbers, on days when the snow sits lightly on Everest’s face, have to step over his protruding projectiles on this last lap to the summit. Here everyone one is – and has to be — for oneself.

At 8pm sharp, Jayanthi leaves the balcony. It is heart rending to part from Johann but the disciplines of the mountain so demands it. Both have come a long way together, both have shared the same penance the mountain extorts from all climbers, both have supped together the same stale crust of suffering’s moldy bread.

But the separation has to be effected for Johann’s time slot to begin his climb is an hour later at 9pm. That is the mountain code where everyone has to wait their turn to make the final assault, even as in life one must perforce await the allotted hour to rendezvous with death. No force can advance it. Nothing can delay it. Neither of them know nor can anyone foretell whether the morbid spectre that looms in their troubled minds now will materialize unannounced en route to the summit in the zone of death. At that moment life’s many illusions are fast melting; like the snow that lie all around them will thaw and melt if placed before the scorching heat of reality’s sun.

Neither one knows whether they will ever meet again. Each one has one’s charted course, one’s own line of destiny to inexorably follow. That is the only certainty that remains. If tears swell in Jayanthi’s eyes at that traumatic moment of parting, they will turn to ice the moment they fall upon her cheek, benumbed as they will be by cold in spite of the protective clothing worn. With one last hug of farewell, knowing full well it may be the last, she turns away and walks towards the rocky face of death to realise the stark truth of what her fate line holds in store for her. This is the last lap in the long climb; and, like a solitary monk on a lonely road, this final journey to keep one’s tryst with fate, has to be embarked alone. This is the reality of all life so strikingly brought home on a cold and desolate patch of snow nearly six miles above sea level.

Jayanthi attains the peak at dawn and becomes the first Lankan to conquer Everest. But for Johann the fates are against him. It’s just not his day. The later hour changes the weather and with the air thinning even further breathing becomes more difficult. And he has no option but to return to camp Four and await his climbing partner. The peak so near and yet so far. But it’s still a magnificent endeavour.

But though his spirits may have flagged at that bleak hour, his will to conquer remains stubborn. He has risked death once and had failed. Now, for the second time, he resolves willing to risk death again to realise his dream.
It takes him two years to plan and execute the next strike on Everest; and this time with no chaperone but on his own. To dare alone. And this 22nd of May at 5.40 Lankan time when Lankans were waking to a cloudy rain drenched day, Johann Peiris was in the clouds six miles high watching the sun rise.

Take a double bow Johann. One for not giving up, for not letting failure to bury ambition and doom the spirit but for striving to achieve your goal. An example for all to follow. And the other bow is for becoming the first Lankan man to conquer the world’s highest peak – and for striking a blow for the Lankan male ego. Congratulations. All Lanka is proud of you.

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