Everyone knows the story of the Pied Piper. The one who came to the town of Hamlin, that is. He came to get rid of the rats and he did so by luring them out of every rathole in that unhappy town. They followed his tunes to a river and as he stepped onto a boat they went on to drown themselves. The villagers refused to pay him what was promised. He duly played his pipe again. This time it was the children that followed. They were never heard of again.
It’s an analogy that’s been used often. It is applicable to Sri Lanka’s current political moment too. Maithripala Sirisena contested the Presidential Election as the Reform Candidate. He would clean things up, we were told. He would reestablish law and order. He would amend the constitution to re-empower the citizen by way of scripting in transparency and accountability into process and institution. He would take steps to make representation more meaningful. He was given the power to do so and the arithmetic and political temper of the moment together made for a lot of optimism.
Perhaps one can blame the rank and file of the SLFP as well as its Parliamentary Group and Central Committee for being naive, servile or even downright stupid for inviting the newly elected President-Without-A-Party to return to his political thimbirigeya and assume leadership. Regardless of all this, the onus was on the benefactor, Maithripala Sirisena, not to abuse position and power thus entrusted on him, especially since he pledged decency, maithree (compassion) and all things wholesome.
What was wholesome, though, about a leader of a political party excusing himself from what was to be a tough campaign in a key election? What was wholesome in the same man, after pledging to be neutral, clearly supporting ‘the other party’? What was wholesome in writing a stinker to the man who, for better or worse, was leading the campaign of his party? What was wholesome in locking up his own party’s Central Committee? What was wholesome in removing the Secretaries of his party and the coalition of which his party was the key constituent just three days before the election and getting an injunction to prevent the deposed from ‘hindering operations’ to boot?
It can be argued that had Mahinda Rajapaksa kept out of things and ‘not in effect threatened to split the SLFP and therefore forced Sirisena to give him nominations’, Sirisena could have led the SLFP-led UPFA to victory over the UNP. What’s to say, on the other hand, that Sirisena wouldn’t have let the party that vilified him after what turned out to be a temporary defection rot?
All that’s conjecture. What’s ‘fact’ is that all the SLFPers contesting under the betel leaf who were clearly supporting Sirisena (over Rajapaksa) were booted out by the voters, barring Duminda Dissanayake who came a distant fourth in Anuradhapura. Fact 2: Sirisena moves to take the SLFP out of the UPFA. Fact 3: Sirisena appoints some of the above ‘losers’ to a committee to hammer out an agreement with the UNP. Fact 4: Sirisena gets ‘his’ Secretary of the UPFA to hoof out suspected Mahinda loyalists from the UPFA’s Executive Committee. Fact 5: he has appointed 7 individuals rejected by the people to Parliament through the National List. That’s wholesome?
Perhaps Maithripala Sirisena loves the country more than his party. If that’s the case, AND if ‘the end does not justify the means’ is nothing more than a rhetorical tool, then all of the above could be tossed into a bin called ‘Necessary Inconveniences’. ‘Necessary’ because a UNP-SLFP combine is a ‘must’ to see Constitutional Amendments through. But does he really love anything more than himself and his continuing political relevance?
Sirisena played a watch-and-wait game for the most part until he moved to dissolve Parliament. He did not assert himself to get the UNP and the SLFP to see through the 19th and 20th Amendments. The 19th was passed and although the passed version was certainly far superior to the version submitted by the UNP (replacing an all powerful executive presidency with an equally powerful premiership, clearly envisaging victory in a general election a few months later) it contained several flaws. He allowed the UNP to drag its feet over the 20th and when the Bond Scam hit the political ceiling fan and showered the Government with stinky stuff, he gave them the ‘out’ of dissolution. Yes, he also removed and appointed CJs using executive powers.
Very little of all that can be called ‘for the larger good of the nation’. What is clearly apparent is that Sirisena is giving the finger to democracy. He’s putting his tongue out at everyone who voted for the UPFA. He is basically saying ‘gotcha suckers!’ That’s ‘neat’ if you supported the UNP or if you are rabidly anti-Mahinda, but let’s not forget that the man who is doing it all is still the most powerful individual in the country AND the one man the majority counted on to ‘do things the right way’. You can laugh at people’s choices and call them stupid, but that’s still some 4 million plus voters you are lifting your sarong to.
The Pied Piper of Polonnaruwa is drowning some rats, the people of Elephant Pass (Alimankada) might say (not THAT ‘Alimankada’ of course) and have a good laugh over it. He has the pipes though. He can drown other species too. There won’t be many people laughing then, however.