JANUARY 9, 2015: The marvel dawned in the twilight hours of Friday evening, at the auspicious time of 6.21, when Maithripala Sirisena was sworn in as the new President of Sri Lanka; and, taking her proffered hand, vowed to lead her to that Elysian Field where bloom the roses of liberty, justice and freedom to [...]


President Sirisena: The man with the knack of scoring own goals


FROM PRESIDENT TO PENSIONER; Maithripala Sirisena with his wife, two daughters and son, Lanka’s departing First Family

JANUARY 9, 2015: The marvel dawned in the twilight hours of Friday evening, at the auspicious time of 6.21, when Maithripala Sirisena was sworn in as the new President of Sri Lanka; and, taking her proffered hand, vowed to lead her to that Elysian Field where bloom the roses of liberty, justice and freedom to all, with its economic fruits served in equal measure.

At that moment in time, resolve born in the depths of a nation’s darkness saw ethereal light as the commitment to halt the nation’s slide down the slippery slope and instead charter a new course to steer her forward in the right direction, crystallised and took substantial form when the triumphant victor was enthroned in office and robed with the legal wherewithal to translate a people’s aspirations to meaningful realisation.

In that sunlit hour, it was all well and good. And the people lined up en masse to receive the elixir of Good Governance to cry freedom in unison and breathe its sweet air once again. It was the fitting climax to a nation’s determined struggle to transcend the shadow of death that had been cast upon its rights and liberties. And the masses looked forward to a pleasant journey under a sky of soothing blue. Except, it was not to be.

Nearly five years later on and, of course, armed with the benefit of hindsight, the question must be asked whether from the depths of a nation’s madness did it choose so distempered a maverick to carry the torch bearing the sacred flame of democracy?

Today, as Maithripala Sirisena leaves the Presidential Office, hopefully for good, he leaves behind him the truism that will define his presidency. The man had no Midas touch, the only touch he had was that he had mastered the magic art of alchemy and could turn gold to brass. One that could take the most exalted of concepts known to man and by trying to implement it make a real pig’s breakfast of it.

As he said in his inauguration speech: “The time is now right to introduce an enlightened political culture to the country.” The enlightened political culture chosen was ‘Yahapalanaya’ or Just and Good Governance which resided atop the three pillars of democracy, breathing Athenian air.

Though the ignorant mocked it, subjected it to ridicule and contempt and tried to make it the laughing stock of the land, the majority who knew its true import and value as the fountain from whence all justice and liberties spring, were aghast to find Sirisena’s own role in making ‘Yahapalanaya’ a dirty word, totally opposite to its original meaning, traduced, despised and flung to the gutter that not even UNP presidential candidate Premadasa would touch with a bargepole the word that symbolised the party creed not even three years ago. In Sirisena’s hands a word used to refer to Athenian ideals has turned to muck: ‘Yahapalanaya’, from such lofty climbs born, became, during his tenure, the butt end of all jokes and never failed to raise a disdainful guffaw whenever the gong rang announcing its presence.

Take the 100-day programme, launched shortly after his triumph and election to Presidential Office, but announced much earlier on his election platform as the turbo fuel as the Yahapalana vehicle then dashed a pledge that would speed drive him to the Presidential Office gates. It was the brainchild of the Ven. Sobitha Thera who was the engineer of Sirisena’s meteoric assent to high office, and who was widely regarded as being the architect of the Yahapalana doctrine, on which the 100-day programme was based.

At a public meeting in Polonnaruwa, in December 2014, Sirisena declared: “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 Samm Buddha I unequivocally swear that we, I undertake to bear the fullest responsibility to implement it and do so solidly.”

Three and a half years after he had sworn before the Samma Samm Buddha, at a ceremony held on May 30th, 2018 at the Sri Lanka Foundation in Colombo to commemorate the 75th birth anniversary of his mentor and Yahapalanaya architect the most Ven. Madduluwawe Sobitha Thera, Sirisena declares:

“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 January 9, there is the swearing in. In which country in the world is it possible to bring about constitutional amendments with only 47 MPs in Parliament wanting it?”

And to make matters worse, denies his paternity to the 100-day programme and describes it as ‘the stupidest stupidest plan ever devised’.

But May 30th, the day of his late mentor’s 75th birthday, was the day Sirisena having begotten it chose to give the last rites to Yahalapanaya and inter it as another instance where he turned the gold he held in his hands to muck.

Then take the 19th Amendment. It was the most important objective the 100-day programme was designed to achieve and, by Jove, didn’t Sirisena, against all odds, achieve it. It was a herculean task. He had to persuade two thirds of those in Parliament – many of them anti-Sirisenand pro-Rajapaksa — to say “Aye” to a constitutional amendment that would bring down the constitutional edifice Mahinda Rajapaksa had built to perpetuate his unlimited hold on power.

When Parliament voted 215 with 9 abstaining and only one against it, it was heralded as his supreme moment of achievement: his shining hour when a Lankan President kept to his election pledge to strengthen the pillars of democracy of the country, even sacrifice his own executive powers he had just been vested with in the cause of the people’s freedoms. It was the peacock feather in his presidential cap, not even his worst detractors could deny him credit. The nation stood rooted in gratitude at the spectacle of a man publicly castrating himself of his executive powers for the nation’s greater good.

Let the man speak for himself and say in his own words the sense of his achievement and the satisfaction he gained in achieving it. Speaking to the Indian newspaper, The Hindu, in November 2016 he gushed: “I am really satisfied with my performance during this time. Especially for succeeding in getting the 19th Amendment to the Constitution passed. It repealed the 18th Amendment and thereby prevented a person who had been twice elected to the post of President from contesting it again.”

“The 19th Amendment established independent commissions and a Constitutional Council to approve or veto appointments made to it. It was essential for the country to ensure [protection of] human rights, democratic rights, fundamental rights and the freedom of the people. I have ensured that people get these rights. I have succeeded in doing that as President. I have given the maximum possible media freedom. When the people made me the President, they did not ask for food, water or clothes. They wanted a society where they could live freely and happily. I have given that to the people.”

No doubt the enactment of the 19th Amendment was his highest achievement: the solitary oasis in a barren desert where Ozymandias’ shattered visage lies and round the decay of that colossal wreck of his mighty empire “boundless and bear the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Where Sirisena could have held it as his lifetime achievement award and framed and hung it to outshine all other awards, he throws it out with the rest of the junk that clutter his household peace. Instead of basking in the limelight and enjoying the accolade of introducing the 19th Amendment, he has to go and switch the lights off and blacken his own shining hour.

And this is the way the man cooked his own goose. On June 23, this year – four years and a month after the 19th Amendment had been enacted – he makes an extraordinary U-turn even by his own standards of vacillation by calling for sweeping reforms to the country’s Constitution that he introduced in 2015 to be rolled back. And condemns the 19th Amendment as the curse of Lanka.

The savior who gave the panacea for Lanka’s biggest ill now turned the misanthropist who inflicted the plague, declares: “The 19th Amendment is a curse and whoever comes to power at the next Presidential poll should abolish it, if he loves the country. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution should be scrapped because it has led to a power struggle. It has triggered instability. There is no single leader. And the 19th amendment is responsible.”

Once more he has been able to turn to trash his most singular golden award. Once more he has scored an own goal giving the winning point to the opponent and accepted gladly by Mahinda Rajapaksa when he said that President Sirisena had at last learnt that “the 19thAmendment which was brought in by his government has been a disaster.

The problem with Sirisena is that he is a born loser. Even when he wins the kudos, he can’t help but lose it.

Now take the pre-presidential poll promise to crackdown on those who had looted the public coffers and left it bare.  And in that sunlit hour the ceaseless search to bring the guilty before the Bar of Court seemed to have got off to a roaring heady start.

The carcass of the Bribery Commission was swiftly removed from cold storage, given flesh and blood and its nostrils, a burst of life reviving air. It was then released to the public domain to hunt down the vile beast who had fed without limit on the public corpus and had grown fat on it. Added to the Bribery Commission was another long-arm of the law, namely, the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID).

But when the Bribery Commission got too big for its boots and began, in 2016, roping in whales far too important to be beached in Court, Sirisena seemed to have got cold feet over the catch of the day. He flayed the Bribery boss, accusing her of playing politics.

And when he rose to speak at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute on October 11, 2016 at a ceremony held thereat, it was not to rattle off the usual excuses of the complications involved in bringing the guilty to trial and then reaffirm his unbending will to pursue the task of bringing the guilty to book no matter the obstacles.

Instead it was to give a public spanking to the FCID, the CID, and a special six of the best to the Bribery Commissioner for being too arrest-happy. He took umbrage that he was not informed beforehand of such intended actions and thus, presumably, denied the opportunity to veto it, if he so desired, in the larger interest of the nation.

The man who had once proudly boasted that there will be no selective law enforcement was now, not even two years into his presidency, openly warning the Bribery Commission and the FCID that though there were no sacred cows in the public meadow there were cows more sacred in its private pasture.

After the Bribery boss resigned over the President’s displeasure, the strong wind that had hitherto driven the anti-corruption ship in pursuit of the guilty began flagging and its progress to achieve the desired goal faltered. The flag atop its masthead that had strongly blown and fluttered now drooped, went limp and lay like a folded umbrella next to the flagpole devoid of all zest. Thereafter, there were only a few small fish caught while the larger ones roamed free in the deep. In another instance of enterprise flagged off with much Presidential ardour sank in mid sea for want of it. Once more the President had made a mockery of the anti-corruption drive he had started with so much promise.

The President’s commitment to establishing and maintaining an independent judiciary is indeed most remarkable and deserves fulsome praise. Until the appointment of the present Chief Justice, all his Chief Justices had gained that high office by virtue of their seniority. How ironic that to prove he has regained its sacrosanct independence, it had to find Sirisena guilty of violating the Constitution when it held in December last year that Sirisena had acted against the Constitution he had sworn to uphold and abide by when he dissolved Parliament in November before its statutory shelf life was over.

Though the issue was never tested in Court, it is likely that the arbitral sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would also have been held illegal as a violation of the Constitution which holds that the Prime Minister, unless he resigns or dies, can only be removed by a majority in Parliament. That guilty verdict was timely averted following the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa – 52 days after he was sworn in as Prime Minister replacing Ranil – when challenged with a writ of quo warranto made by 122 Parliamentarians.

Mahinda’s acceptance, at Sirisena’s urging, of the position of Prime Minister even though he did not command the confidence of the House as required by the Constitution, tarred him with the same brush that had tarred Sirisena, namely, that he had knowingly acted against the Constitution when he took his oaths as the new Prime Minister. He was put in the stock for passer-byers to throw rotten tomatoes at as UNP Presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa did on the 8th of this month when he told Mahinda, “I refuse to be lectured on defending our sovereignty and Constitution by a politician who only one year ago trampled our supreme law to seize power in an unconstitutional coup d’etat.”

Take Mahinda’s position as leader of the SLFP. In or around 2007, Mahinda Rajapaksa managed to get the SLFP Constitution amended so that in the event of an SLFP member becoming the President of Lanka, he or she will automatically become the Leader of the party. It was done to effectively wrest control of the party from Chandrika and as the new President of Lanka for Mahinda to be appointed as the new Leader of the SLFP.

In January 2015 having won the Presidency from Mahinda, Sirisena found much sport in hoisting the engineer with his own petard. He used the same amendment to claim SLFP leadership and wrest control of the party from Mahinda Rajapaksa. But what has four years of his leadership of the SLFP done to the party?

All the old members are still there in name but not in person having joined the SLPP in person but not in name. Only one staunch member remains in person and in name, Kumar Welgama. And he is ignored. That is the fate that has befallen this once great party that has produced three Prime Ministers and two Presidents. It’s another instance of gold, in Sirisena’s hands turning to muck.

Then take President Sirisena’s hanging mania. It started in September 2015 and the first signs that he harboured such morbid thoughts surfaced when he announced that the death penalty would be carried out in 2016 if parliament shared his views. But by the time February 2019 dawned he had decided to go it alone and the full force of his obsession to commit judicial murder by hanging broke into the open. And on February 9 this year he announced he would start hanging convicted drug dealers within the next three months. But his effort to reinvent his character, to shed the nerd look and adopt a tough guy machismo a la Duterte style image proved tougher than expected. He was thwarted at every turn in his quest to break with tradition after a moratorium of forty three years.

First to his chagrin there was no hangman and a recruitment drive had to be launched to find one and when found, possibly he or she had to be sent abroad to follow a crash course in the art of hanging.

Then it came to light that the condition of the gallows was not up to standard since it had not been used for the last forty three years. Not forgetting, of course, the need for a new noose which had to be imported.

President Sirisena declared; “Come what may I will put into practice the decision I took to implement the death penalty within the next two to three months.” And on June 26 this year, the international day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking, Sirisena signed the death warrant of four prisoners. On October 20, he renewed his vow to hang somebody before he hangs his hat and leaves the presidential house. He said that “there are cases filed against me for my decision to hang four men. But if the court gives a favourable decision I will hang at least one person before I go.” The court which heard the case against him, postponed it for another day that was beyond his term of office.

Ironical, isn’t it, now that the courts had denied him his deadly wish to see four men swing in cold blood which he has striven for so long to see, what does he go and do as his last Presidential act? He pardons Royal Park murderer and sets him free, inviting public outrage

As soon as the new president takes his oath, Maithripala’s tenure of office comes to an end and tomorrow he will be put out to grass. May he have a long and happy retirement and stay far from the madding strife.

Who will sit in the PM’s hot seat?The election of a new President does not make the Articles in the Constitution waver in the slightest. Be it Sajith or be it Gotabaya, the new President will have a new mandate but it is only a mandate to act as President according to the powers vested in his Office by the Constitution and not a mandate to alter even a comma of its terms and provisions.According to the Constitution, once the Prime Minister has been appointed only his death or resignation can cause a vacancy in the Prime Ministerial Office. But practically, a no confidence motion successfully brought against him by parliamentary members will also send him home.

On October 30th the present Prime Minister said he will continue to hold the post of the Prime Minister after the election if Sajith wins. He said Sajith Premadasa will be the President and he will be the Prime Minister. ‘’The premier will be chosen by the majority of the next parliament’’ Wickremesinghe said and added, ‘’ I will have the majority. ‘’

Ranil Wickremesinghe was, however, forced to lower his sights of retaining the position he had held six times in his parliamentary life when a few days later UNP presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa declared in a special televised message to the nation that if he were to win, it would be left to the UNP members of parliament to choose a person for the Prime Ministerial post one who has never been Prime Minister before.

If Gotabaya Rajapaksa clinches the Presidency, the Prime Minister designate will be his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa. But for Gotabaya to appoint Mahinda would mean he would have to do a Sirisena and sack Ranil first. Since the UNP has the highest number of seats in Parliament, the question is whether Mahinda can deliver the goods to show that he has the confidence of the House, a vital ingredient to get a single Bill passed?

If Mahinda fails in his task, even as he failed Sirisena last year, Gotabaya will have no option but to reappoint Ranil or risk a Constitutional crisis. Ranil will have an easier task to persuade the UNP MPs to back him unreservedly against their common fore, Rajapaksa than he would have if Sajith were to win the Presidency. Especially with Sajith insisting that his Prime Minister, chosen by his UNP MPs at his wish and command, will be a first timer.

In the event of the President dying, resigning, being incapacitated or held disqualified by the Supreme Court, the Office of the President will fall vacant. The Prime Minister at that time will automatically become President for one month. During this period, Parliament will elect a member of the House as President to serve the remainder of the previous President’s tenure.


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