So, it is all over. I mean the campaigning for the presidential election. As I sit down to write this it is a little past midnight Wednesday in Sri Lanka and the campaign has just ended– officially that is. But being well aware of the ingenuity of Sri Lankans to circumvent the law, one should [...]


Elections, selections and the mess we make


President Sirisena admiring the wax statue of former Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake at the Polonnaruwa wax museum. Pic by Karunaratne Gamage

So, it is all over. I mean the campaigning for the presidential election. As I sit down to write this it is a little past midnight Wednesday in Sri Lanka and the campaign has just ended– officially that is. But being well aware of the ingenuity of Sri Lankans to circumvent the law, one should not be surprised if here and there some kind of campaigning is going on. It may even be in places of worship where people go to pray not discuss the merits and demerits of our political system or the relative capabilities and the honesty of the commitments and promises made to the people by the contenders vying for the right to lead the country.

When this column appears it would be all over bar the shouting. Only scattered bottles emptied of its local brew and pieces of cutlis and pattis and remnants of “bites” would signal how the night was spent awaiting the election result.

The much more expensive foreign brands would be in the hands of Colombo’s twitterati and glitterati, especially the business types waiting to make their millions and billions, the quid pro quo for their financial donations and support for the candidate of their choice.

For still others, it would matter little who won or lost, for, most politicians are seen as appendages of the same rotten lot that has been leading the country to wrack and ruin. As the night wears on, they will break into the old ditty that has enlivened many a ‘jollification’ with a raucous rendering of “kapalla, beepalla, jolly karapalla” knowing well enough that the day’s expenses will be recovered sooner or later through the financial dexterity of friends and cronies in the right places and parties.

Talking of quid pro quo it is not just Sri Lankans who are waiting for the election result to start claiming their pound of flesh. In far away Washington DC, the US president Donald Trump has been seeking personal and political favours from his counterparts in some other countries such as Ukraine in exchange for official aid and assistance. Right now he is wallowing in trouble. The same day campaigning in Sri Lanka ended the impeachment hearings against President Trump began to be aired publicly.

Trump knows what impeachment is, for he has struggled over the last few months to block officials and US diplomats from giving evidence that exposes his perfidy. He surely knows the harm that these impeachment proceedings could cause, while he seems troubled by the Latin phrase quid pro quo.

Like Julius Caesar long before him, the over-confident and capricious Trump thought he was beyond reproach or should be. Some would recall Caesar’s words to the soothsayer reminding him haughtily that the “Ides of March have come” and the soothsayer’s reply “Aye Caesar but not gone.”

Trump sees himself as an untouchable. Some of our politicians and big businessmen suffer from the same frailty. They think they belong to society’s upper crust — I mean a lot of crumbs sticking together.

If these are the type of persons who are voted into power by a misguided electorate or creep into places of importance and influence through cliquism and camaraderie, then Sri Lanka might as well say goodbye to social-levelling, equality before the law and any hope they had of good governance.

No US president has done more than Donald Trump to trash the American legal system. One defect of that system is the opportunity to pack vacancies in the Supreme Court with friends or known party supporters so that the independence of the judiciary is subverted as those political lackeys are appointed for life.

This is something Sri Lanka must safeguard against if the rule of law and the sanctity of constitutional values are to be protected. Whoever is Sri Lanka’s next president, it must be incumbent on him to preserve that independence by appointing to the bench persons who are publicly respected and not loyalists who would taint it.

As most Sri Lankans know the country is not devoid of its own Trumps who believe they are above the law and free to act at will.

Our own president, Maithripala Sirisena, who has thankfully ended his term though he tried various means to try and stay on, had Trumpian qualities which will surely be recorded in the country’s history.  October last year he tried desperately to subvert the constitution and replace the prime minister with the very person he surreptitiously broke away from and defeated at the 2015 presidential election.

If some believe that it was a conscience wracked with guilt that made him select Mahinda Rajapaksa as the prime ministerial successor they could not be so wrong. It could well be argued that what prompted Sirisena’s choice was more his political future after ending his presidential term and not any love for Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Unfortunately Rajapaksa became involved in Sirisena’s political chicanery. Had it not been for the Supreme Court standing firm like the UK Supreme Court that taught British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, another politician who belongs to the uppish class, he too is subject to the same law.

With the parliamentary election round the corner, Johnson went to some flooded villages in rural England last week to empathise with the people there only to be heckled, the British public’s more subdued way of showing what they think of their prime minister.

Sirisena hoodwinked the Sri Lankan voters by promising “yahapalanaya” but veered towards the practice of ‘yamapalanaya’, as some described his style of governance.

Today Sirisena lackeys are writing eulogies to the man who, while preaching sermons about good governance deliberately violated the constitution like none of his predecessor’s had done, as though he descended from Olympus instead of coming from Polonnaruwa.

Talking of Polonnaruwa he promised that he would govern the country from that ancient city instead from Colombo. Another untruth as it turned to be. Not only did he abandon that pledge, he has managed somehow to have the cabinet approve a double residence for his retirement at what was former Paget Road where he lived as President. While other retiring presidents Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa had to wait several months to get themselves a residence, Sirisena, the man who promised to return to Polonnaruwa, and his family seem to have acquired a taste and fascination for life in glitzy Colombo 7.

Sirisena had another ambition — to see the world at public expense often accompanied by family and friends.

That is why to date the Presidential secretariat has avoided answering questions with regard to the cost of President Sirisena’s global travels and what benefits they brought.

In case the people of Polonnaruwa forget him, he has now opened a wax museum, his own contribution to the Madame Tussauds tradition. No doubt Sirisena’s own statue would adorn the place, if not today certainly soon.

Sirisena as president wanted to hang a few people. That he could not do because the law intervened. Well if he could not hang people, the people could at least now hang around and watch him in wax and ask who paid for the wax.

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