Sri lanka: A bull, a buffalo and a cart!


N Sathiya Moorthy  17 April 2018

JVP’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake may be right in drawing the parallel: that just now, the ‘yahapalana government’ is like a “cart pulled by a bull and a water buffalo, yoked together – and pulling in two different directions”. But then, he too missed the point: where is the man keeping them all together, and riding them? Or, is there anyone at all in the driver’s seat?

A comparison, instead, with a worn-out bus may be in order, to that limited extent – a bus, where the driver does not acknowledge that he is the driver and has responsibility and accountability attaching to his position, and the ‘cleaner’ thinks and acts as if the vehicle is for him to run, control and crash. That’s if the vehicle crashes, he should be the one that should be seen at the wheel.

But then, if there is the question of accountability for the crash, then it should be the ‘driver’ who should be held ‘responsible’. Rather, between them, the ‘driver’ and the ‘cleaner’ would like the passengers on the road, and the men on the road, shouting at them to stop, alone should hold themselves responsible.

The one question remains: In the current stage of la affaire yahapalana, who between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is the ‘driver’ and who is the ‘cleaner’? It looks as if both of them want to be the ‘driver’ and the ‘cleaner’ at the same time, but neither wants to be responsible for driving the vehicle, nor held accountable when the bus keeps bumping and bouncing all the time – and keeps crashing at every turn.

There is some comfort in his ‘bus-driver-cleaner’ metaphor than in JVP Dissanayake’s allegory of the ‘bull and buffalo pulling the cart in different directions’. That’s only because the ‘bus’ imagery is at least conceivable, but not the other one. That way, yes, truth is stranger than fiction and the current state of yahapalana government is stranger than all. It was stranger from the beginning, and keeps out-beating itself at every passing step, every passing mile – and every passing day and week, month and year.

Frustration, desperation

The ‘Avurudu’ cum Tamil New Year season has traditionally been celebrated for the hope it ushers in and the prosperity that it promises. This was so through the past decades of war and violence of the LTTE kind, preceded by the mass-killings, also of the JVP variety. Both the JVP and the LTTE killed, and got killed – and also got innocents killed in their thousands.

Yet, there was no political frustration and desperation of the present kind, even in those worst days. There were eternal fears about the personal safety and security of the day’s elected ruler, more so after the ‘Premadasa assassination’ and the attack on President Chandrika-Bandaranaike, later on. They were both LTTE’s handiwork. Earlier, the militant JVP had its own share of political victims, but the President of the day, was known to have been targeted. If there are unrecorded attempts, they had been thwarted without the world getting to know about it.

That way, the ‘coup bids’ of the sixties did no physical harm to then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Before her, yes, Sirimavo’s husband and Prime Minister, S W R D, fell victim to an assassin’s bullet, writing the nation’s post-Independence history in blood and gory at every turn of the page. But at no time did anyone have any doubt about who was the ruler — and whom should they hold ‘responsible’ and ‘accountable’ for the existing state of affairs, as now.

The day after…

If at all someone thought that a victory for PM Ranil in the JO-inspired no-trust motion in Parliament would settle all matters, they have been proved wrong, once again. They were as over-optimistic as they had been at the time of voting out President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Elections-2015 elections.

Those that thought of, worked for and voted against Mahinda R wanted him out. Cornered by competing arguments, and at times their own conscience, then and now, they are happy shutting their eyes, ears and minds to ‘the day after’. It is anybody’s guess, who (all) thought why and how that ‘anyone’ in MR’s place would serve the nation’s cause well – and their own cause even better? Or, the present-day ‘duo’ actually constituted the ‘national government’ that everyone had had in mind for long – especially during the ‘JVP militancy’ and the ‘LTTE terrorism’, but could not and did not do much about it?

The question is not about replacing MR with Sirisena in 2015, or retaining PM Ranil now. After all, the ‘minorities’, constituting close to a quarter of the nation’s population, felt relatively insecure with and under the Rajapaksas then, they seem dreading their electoral return, since.

It is possible that but for the SLPP-JO sweep in the majority Sinhala areas in the 10 February LG polls, at least some of the ‘minority’ parties or MPs may have had other thoughts on the no-trust vote. It does not mean that they may have voted for the no-trust motion, but at least may have found reasons and justification, to try and convince their respective constituencies, that they abstained from voting.

More rotten than

That all ‘minority’ parties and MPs voted against the no-trust motion wholesale, despite the SLT community feeling increasingly frustrated on the war-crimes probe, missing persons and post-war political solution, and the more immediate ‘Kandy violence’ against Muslims, should show to the Rajapaksas that something is more rotten than they are ready to accept, acknowledge and act upon…

That is the problem of the Rajapaksas, the SLPP and the JO, but that of the people at large stops just now with the incumbent government, which is neither here, nor there, not even anywhere. With 16 MPs belonging to President Sirisena-led SLFP walking out of the Government, but still claiming to support it (‘from outside’?) they have made a mockery of their own vote against PM Ranil, of which they were very much a part till the very day – and even for a few more after the vote, until they ended up quitting.

If the Elections-2015 created an ambiguity that none wanted to acknowledge, the no-trust vote now has only accentuated the pain for the people under a partnership dispensation of the kind. Truth be acknowledged, every government under the ‘PR scheme’ under the Second Republican Constitution of President JRJ has been a ‘coalition government’ of sorts – but this one is with an inherent difference, an inherent weakness that the ‘founding fathers’ (?) had not bargained for.

The fact remains, there were no ‘founding fathers’ in the plural sense of the term for the present Constitution, which imposed ‘Executive Presidency’ on an unsuspecting nation. Instead, it was a ‘one-man job’, of JRJ, by himself, of himself and for himself. It may have suited his time and political environment, but his successors too measured up. The one exception was Dingiri Banda Wijetunga, but then he was not the people’s choice – but of the LTTE (?), who assassinated ‘popular’ President, Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Like Premadasa, his successors, CBK and MR, too had the same electoral reach or managed it post-election. True, MR scarcely managed it in 2005, but then proved his popular mettle only months later in the LG polls of March 2006. That the war victory gave him a big win against war-time army commander, Gen Sarath Fonseka, should not be forgotten, either – but then, the Rajapaksas seemed not to have learnt from the ‘minority mood’ then or since. Hence, the Sirisena victory, too, later.

That the LTTE may have ‘contributed’ (?) to his presidential poll victory in their own way was not impossible – at least going by rival argument that but for the ‘forced boycott’ of the polls, the Tamils of the North and the East would have voted UNP’s Ranil at the time. It is just an argument as anyone possibly winning with the ‘LTTE vote’ would have then ensured that the ‘Sinhala majority’ voted for his rival even more staunchly – given at least the nation’s divided political-mood of the time.

Incongruous and more

It is the Sirisena victory that was at the bottom of the present-day political instability, bordering on political turmoil, rocking the nation since. If it has not been quantified thus after all, it owes not because there is none, but there is one every day, but without either of the two major partners being able to get rid of the other.

The problem is that Sirisena did not have votes to call his own, then. He does not have it, now, either. Ranil may have the votes, but not the confidence that as PM he can take on the President. His party and leadership side-stepped the issue of abolishing the Executive Presidency, as promised in Sirisena’s own election manifesto, when they were framing the much-hyped 19-A. There is now the 19-A and also the ‘Executive Presidency’…

Had it not been for 19-A, Sirisena had full powers to dissolve Parliament and order fresh polls long ago. Had it not been this incongruity and worse, he might have actually patched up with the Rajapaksas, who alone, he knew had the popular Sinhala votes that were not of Ranil’s UNP. Today, his presidency (at least the current term) would have ended before the 19-A authorised presidential powers to dissolve Parliament in the last six months of its term commenced.

Sirisena’s unsure approach may have thus saved the day for Ranil and the UNP-centric government. But then the 19-A’s inability to keep the President out of daily governance means that like his predecessor with a really true popular mandate, Sirisena too heads the government and the Cabinet, and also chairs Cabinet meetings – apart from being the Head of State, which alone that his campaign had promised Sri Lanka’s voters.

Under the present scheme, there is only one way that the government could move forward, between now and the presidential polls. That is for President Sirisena, who has less of a popular mandate than PM Ranil, to ask his SLFP to quit the government – and make it a realist’s appraisal of the ground situation. The UNP could then form a government with support from ‘minority’ party MPs (including the TNA, which claims to want Ranil and UNP to stay on in power).

If the Government then collapses under its own weight, now or later, then it should be Ranil’s problem. If the SLFP collapses with some party MPs crossing over to Ranil’s camp (as is the case with any government and every party other than the TNA in the past), then again it is not Sirisena’s problem in the strict sense of the term. After all, none thought that he had won the presidency on his own steam.

Nor did anyone think that the SLFP MPs won their seats because of themselves or because of Sirisena. Instead, they won because of the Rajapaksa campaign and identification. It may be better now for Sirisena to feel ‘safe’ than feel ‘sorry’ later! That may be one way that the nation may at least have a ‘functional government’, whether it works or not should be none of Sirisena’s concern, now or ever!

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