Three years ago this week, Maithripala Sirisena fled the ramparts of the Rajapaksa Temple Tree citadel to furtively emerge the following day at the New Town Hall to announce his decision to play David to Mahinda’s Goliath.
Only three days earlier, on November 18th 2014, he had attended President Rajapaksa’s 69th birthday celebrations and had been entrusted with the task and honoured with utmost trust to bear, like the Maligawe tusker Raja, sacred relics of Arahants and to place the casket before the congregation of monks invited to chant pirith and invoke the blessings of the Triple Gem and the Gods upon the birthday boy who had announced three weeks earlier on November 2nd, his intention to seek a fresh third mandate from the people. He had proclaimed the date: January 8th 2015, nearly two years before his allotted presidential term ran out.
He had surveyed the course: found it wanting a worthy foe to match his steel and spur, his temper and fire; and knew it would be a one horse race once again, with him in the winning enclosure. The only challenge seemed to be that favourite loser wearing green astride his loyal ass; and, though some rich backers had placed their bets on the jockey, with the same whimsical belief the pragmatic servant Sancho Pancha had placed upon and followed his master Don Quixote as he challenged windmills on his bony old knackered horse Rosinante, Mahinda knew donkeys do not win the Derby.
But Mahinda hadn’t bargained for the dark horse that had been born, bred and groomed in his own stables, silently but impatiently stomping its hooves, waiting for the trap door to spring open to break free and make a dash to the finishing post and there reveal the corrupt dirt in the Rajapaksa Medamulana barn that had piled for over ten long years; and would tax the labours of Hercules to give it a thorough new spring cleaning with a new Yahapalana designer broom. And present the sprightly stable to the nation as a charwoman’s job transparently well done.
Of course, Mahinda had not ordered the starter’s whistle to blow two years before its scheduled time for a spiffing takeoff based on his belief that there’s providence in the fall of a sparrow or in the rise of a president. Though much blame had been heaped upon soothsayer Sumanadasa’s sense of starry ill-timing and much scorn had been piled upon the art of astrological predictions, the former president astutely knew that his fate lay not in the stars, not even in himself, but found its natural province, thousands of miles away in Geneva’s UNHRC office.
He sniffed the cold wind set to blow from those alpine peaks and sensed the avalanche poised to descend upon the people of Lanka and knew how the snow fallout would engulf his hopes of dynastic ambitions and bury in its aftermath perpetual Rajapaksa rule.
For his refusal to honour his promise to the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to work towards reconciliation with the minority communities and his steadfast refusal to subject himself and others to a United Nation’s War Crimes probe; for his reluctance to implement his own Truth and Reconciliation Committees’ recommendations to heal the wounds of war, his political antenna may have twittered warnings that the country faced a US, a European, an Indian embargo on all imports to and exports from Lanka, including oil. That not even Godfather China would be able to help him and Lanka with their UN Security Council veto to place a total UN ban.
And that he desperately needed an indispensable fresh mandate from the masses to reinforce his legitimacy of representing the people’s will before March 2015 UN deadline. And show the world that though the Unlisted States Government had publicly called for a regime change and his ouster, the sovereign people of Lanka had endorsed him to further rule and not condemned him as stale bread well past his five year shelf life. It was January or never.
And as he pedaled his push cycle last Thursday to Parliament to demonstrate his protest at the petrol shortage caused by the rejection of one oil shipment and the public’s furious outburst of anger against the government for one miserable week of inconvenience, perhaps he congratulated himself for his foresight and for the wisdom of his judgment to call for an early election.
Forewarned as he surely would have been by his topmost officials to the grim reality of what the western world and big bro India had in store for the people and for him – due to his intransigent refusal to bend the knee in fear of a chauvinistic backlash – he may, perhaps, have contemplated as he pedaled his cycle a few yards to Parliament last Thursday, how two years of shortages – of food, fuel, medicine and other essentials brought about by a world embargo – would have condemned the entire nation to use pedal power on an empty stomach; and how it would have wrecked any hope he may have had of winning an election in such a bleak climate. If January 2015 was a calculated gamble, then November 2016 would have been a case of suicide confirmed.
For Maithripala Sirisena, however, it was no calculated risk but more a lethal game of Russian roulette: not one bullet in a barrel of six but five in the pistol with only one chamber empty. And with his rival’s finger on the trigger.
And on that momentous day of 21st November when Sirisena arrived at New Town Hall to take his place on the dais and declare his departure from the Rajapaksa encampment to face an uncertain future, he, perhaps, may have felt he was striding up the scaffolding’s steps where the gallows were awaiting his arrival to hang him high till the last breath had expired from his body if he were to lose his life and death wager.
The night before he had dined at Temple Trees at the invitation of its incumbent and together with the host had continued with poker face to break hoppers knowing full well in his heart that he would turncoat at high noon in the coming day. But Temple Trees was no Garden of Gethsemane and Mahinda was no Messiah even as Maithri was no Judas. And the price was not thirty silvers either. It was at the cost of his life, with his neck on the line. Not only his but the necks of his entire family.
And the reward? The welfare of the people of Lanka. The rest is history and need no retelling. He pledged that day to abolish the executive presidency within hundred days of taking office and to bring in a new constitution. Three years after, the question is, has kept his promises? Well, yes and, well, no.
On the positive side, he somehow or other managed to repeal Rajapaksa’s 18th amendment and replace it with his 19th amendment against all odds in a Parliament still dominated by a Rajapaksa majority. Last year he introduced the Right of Information Act. He has started the process of bringing in a new constitution, a draft of which was presented to Parliament for discussion last month. On the negative side, the economic boom promised is still to materialize. The crackdown on those mega corrupt politicos is proceeding at snail’s pace. Corruption still exists even in the present coalition ranks.
But perhaps his greatest feat is to have introduced the word Yahapalanaya to Lanka’ lexicon. But ever since its advent, it has been the subject of mockery by those amongst us who remain ignorant of its ideals and meaning. While they clamour for democracy they debunk Yahapalanaya without realising that both are one and the same. Merely because Maithri coined the Sinhala word, it does not give him exclusive trademark rights.
Accountability, transparency, the guarantee of human rights,
In January this year, President Sirisena said: “When you take the current government, some people look at it and say ‘Yahapalanaya’ with pride while some say it with ridicule, Having completed two years in office, the people in this country now have some measure of how much of good governance the President, the Prime Minister and the ministers have adhered to.
To implement the concept of Good Governance in a society which has gone far beyond it is no easy task. To implement this within a society which functioned under politics, ways of thinking and alternative pathways to that of good governance is a challenge.”
Under the Rajapaksa regime it was its leader’s chinthanaya, philosophy that was hailed to be the political philosophy of the nation. Under the present regime, Yahapalanaya, just governance, the political philosophy of all democratic nations, that is hailed as the political philosophy of Lanka too. Therein lies the difference between dictatorship and democracy.
What many still do not seem to fathom is Yahapalana is not Maithri’s gift to Lanka’s mankind. It embodies the ideals of democracy born of Greece, which others paid with their lives and shed with blood to gain Paine’s Rights of Man and to preserve and protect and make it a sacrosanct way of life. As the Buddha said all evil is born out of ignorance and as Jesus said on the cross, “father forgive them, for they do not understand’ is what leads many of Lanka’s masses to mock, scorn and pile ridicule upon it. It is the gross failure to realise its not some washing machine bought on hire purchase with a five year warranty card to cleanse the transgressions of society, but one which each and every Lankan is responsible to wean and worm and nurture for life to see its proper growth until it becomes part and parcel of the nation’s life. As it has been said ‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’.
Corruption will always be there in some form or another under any government here in Lanka or anywhere else abroad. That is not the yardstick to measure a government’s performance. The yardstick is how the government reacts to instances of corruption.
If it was otherwise, and the people suffered the belief that a Maithripala promised Yahapalanaya was a magic wand and could be waved and, hey presto, banish corruption to the netherworld, we might as well throw the Bribery Act to the fire and shut down the Bribery Commission. It’s not the existence of corruption but a government’s response to it. A society’s strength stems from its willingness to recognize corruption’s existence and take steps to mend the error of its way.
One mega example of corruption happened early. In the first watch of the Yahapalanaya dawn, The Central Bank Bond February bond issue turned scandalous when it became known that a major block of treasury bills had been given to the son in law of the governor of the bank. Early this year the president appointed a Commission of inquiry to probe the scandal Even before the commission has concluded its sittings and forwarded its report, its proceedings alone has led to the resignation of the former finance minister. Tomorrow morning the prime minister of the country is to appear before it to give evidence.
That alone does not mean that all is well. But at least it’s a milestone reached. The Sirisena administration still has many promises to keep and many miles to go before it can sleep. But it shows Lanka has come a long way though it still has a long way to go.