When it comes to political promises, there appears to be a sucker born every minute among Sri Lankan voters. Yes, we have become a nation of pathetic pushovers, who take top prize for gullibility. Sure, we have heard them all before. The most preposterous promises have ranged from importing ‘rice from the moon’ to ‘a chicken in every pot!’
We all know the familiar refrains: “If it seems too good to be true … it probably is.” Even though we know these statements are true, it is amazing how often people will disregard the warnings. And, when they do, what do they find? Of course, that they should have known all along and heeded the warnings. But they never do.
‘Money,’ famously observed some politician in another time and another place, ‘is the mother’s milk of politics.’ To expand upon and embellish that apt metaphor, Maithripala Sirisena had to indulge in more than a mere bit of horse-trading to win the presidential race because he lacked sufficient political lactose.
For sure, he had to depend largely on the long languishing UNP opposition as a launch pad to ensure his victory. And while the conspiracy was being hatched, he naturally had to agree to various deals with several peripheral parties. Obviously, Sirisena was aware that without a formidable party behind him, he would have been a very long-shot as a dark horse against ousting the formidable Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Sirisena campaigned on an ambitious platform that pledged to root out the rot in a nation plagued by corruption, nepotism and heightened authoritarianism. However, Sirisena was sworn into office more than four months ago, and the most important pledges in his 100-day plan remain unaccomplished
Any poll entails a huge logistics operation including thousands of support staff, funding, cavalcades of vehicles, and all the razzmatazz that goes into a full-scale campaign. And the only way a seemingly insignificant lone defector such as Sirisena would have stood a ghost of a chance in the race would be to harness himself with the main opposition United National Party.
Sirisena had pledged that the widespread call for the abolition of the Executive Presidency would be placed before Parliament, once a National Unity Alliance Government was formed within 100 days of his election. It would come as a package with the reintroduction of all the independent commissions which were abolished by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, electoral reforms and the enactment of Right to Information Act being among its key features.
Sirisena campaigned on an ambitious platform that pledged to root out the rot in a nation plagued by corruption, nepotism and heightened authoritarianism. However, Sirisena was sworn into office more than four months ago, and the most important pledges in his 100-day plan remain unaccomplished.
Surely, Sirisena and his newly-formed coalition would have been aware at the time that constitutional and electoral reforms require a two-thirds majority in the Parliament, and that all-encompassing changes cannot occur overnight. Even so, there is a heck of lot that the new administration could have achieved almost immediately.
Many contend that the administration simply needs more time to fulfil its pledges. They caution that it would be sensible to wait another couple of months and see how things turn out before passing judgement on the new ad hoc administration. But on the whole, apart from the lack of advancement in general, the administration appears to have taken several steps in the wrong direction.
Many maintain that Sirisena actually believed he could pull off his main pledges with the co-operation of his newly-formed coalition with Ranil Wickremesinghe as his point man. Wickremesinghe, obviously, had been conferred with the title of prime minister only because Sirisena had kept to his pre-presidential poll bargain of using his constitutional powers to elevate him to that exalted position.
Yet, that type of appreciation although commendable from a gentleman’s point of view certainly does not appear to be doing the jumbled coalition nor the nation any good. Particularly so, when it seems so darn obvious that the prime minister has commandeered so much of the decision-making powers to himself.
Sri Lankans have become all too familiar with the country’s pyrotechnic politics in which the constitutional crisis emerges with menacing regularity. The political fireworks which have been surfacing as a result have degenerated into an impasse that is threatening the very pillars of society and all the conventions of democracy.
And the politicians are not making it easier for the ordinary citizens with several of them talking on so many levels, often with inconsistent fervour that it might take a week, a month or even a year to understand the full impact of their nit-picking interpretations on this burning issue. As naturally expected, there are many differences of definition and nuance
If the sorry drama plays out the way some observers predict it would, it could spell still more political and economic chaos for our unfortunate nation. The Government too, rather than working to try and lift the nation out of the slump, has been putting much of its energy into clinging to power. This type of confrontational politics has been carrying on far too long and has often been continuing when the country has been caught up in some of the worst crises in its history.
Many analysts assert that a good deal of compromise is necessary to avert a bloody showdown. They insist that government leaders and the President should sit down and talk. Certainly, it is time saner deliberation prevailed to defuse any further crisis before it comes to a head. They must, at all costs, forget about the politics of personal glory, desist from petty contradictory politics and prove that they are intent on pursuing real reform rather than stabilising their own tenures.
Someone must be able to stop the partisan gerrymandering and force both the executive and legislature to end the game of constitutional brinkmanship and step back from the political precipice.