By Gamini Weerakoon
It may be good times for some people and bad times for others. But, undeniably, it is interesting times for most of us watching antics of politicians though not necessarily a blessing.
Close on the heels of the rowdy Sri Lankan parliamentary ‘comedies’ that brought this island into focus in the international media, followed a news report on Boxing Day which made a Sri Lankan wag to define a Sri Lankan Ambassador as ‘one who sells off his embassy’.
This was a cynical way of looking at a deal that could have a perfectly good explanation, it was pointed out by a Pohottuwa supporter who argued that ambassadors the world over have been defined as ‘those who lie abroad for their country’ or even as ‘those who sell their country’ – for reasons such as promotion of tourism. So what’s wrong in selling the embassy… never mind the exact objective, he held.
These days our diplomats, like our politicians, seem to be breaking out into new ground such as selling off embassies or even selling armaments—gun running and buying fighter planes. This maybe in keeping with the line of thought that our diplomats should be engaged in doing business for the country and not wasting time on high faluting foreign policy matters. Others may claim that the Foreign Service is sticking to orthodox traditions of diplomacy and only political appointees are doing business quite often not for the country but for themselves.
Perhaps these are phases of evolution of Sri Lankan politics and diplomacy.
Maithripala Sirisena and Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa did not get physically involved in those vulgar displays of muscle and voice power though they were at the root cause. Ranil Wickremesinghe did not contribute at all, maintaining grim dour looks and being passive throughout. He can’t be blamed for not feeling jolly, being sacked for wrong reasons!
Sri Lanka, undoubtedly, reached new heights in the practice of parliamentary democracy — some say idiocy — and appears to continue in this train even after. Has there been any parliament, anywhere, which has had two prime ministers for fifty days? Some sanity was infused by the Supreme Court and the issue was settled only for another constitutional freak to emerge: Two Leaders of the Opposition in one Parliament and this unique constitutional problem left to be resolved only in the coming year!
It becomes fruitier and nuttier as we go along. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the political veteran for 48 years, who has been MP, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and elected twice President, appears to be unable to declare which political party he belongs to – the UPFA or the newly formed Flower Bud or Pohottuwa party. Is this another case of political amnesia? Not so, says a Rajapaksa faithful accusing us of attempting to sling mud at his leader. Rajapaksa, he says, entered parliament from the Kurunegala District on the UPFA ticket.
However, he has given leadership to the Pohottuwa party to sweep the ‘Pradeshiya Sabha’ elections in March. He has no option but to be a de jure member of the UPFA member to remain as an MP and also be the Leader of the Opposition. He could only be a de facto member of the Pohottuwa. He has applied for membership in the Pohottuwa but has not been issued with a membership card. Why the learned Professor G. L. Peris, Chairman of the Pohottuwa, has not issued membership card to his mighty boss, defeats human understanding.
This begs the question: Is Rajapaksa a de jure member of the UPFA and a de facto member of the Pohottuwa party? Can an MP have dual membership like dual citizenship that some Rajapaksa siblings have in the United States and Lanka?
Can a septuagenarian political leader claim ignorance about the party he belongs to? Never mind, we are living in interesting times. More fun and games keep following.
The two new buddy-buddies, Rajapaksa and Sirisena having got together after parting of ways following that historic egg hopper feed is another ‘believe it or not’ story. The high voltage sparks that crackled after Sirisena and Rajapaksa parted ways and challenged each other at the presidential election was best described by Sirisena himself after elections: “Had I not won, I would have been six feet below the ground.” Sirisena, however, has been on terra firma for three years after that, but apparently does not believe that the ground on which he stands with Wickremesinghe is that solid.
Thus, does he think that Rajapaksa will let him run for presidency and support him with the forces of Pohottuwa to win an election? Meanwhile, Rajapaksa is attracting Sirisena’s SLFP-UPFA supporters by droves, leaving him isolated. Does Sirisena think Rajapaksa has let bygones be bygones and that Rajapaksa is a true democrat and be willing to work with him on top as the president? Has he forgotten about his own past comments on the Rajapaksa political foundation being solidly nepotistic and that there will be no room for interlopers?
Right now Sirisena may not be having time and space to look ahead to the future, all his fury being vented at Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who is running the government. This is another unique feature of Sri Lanka’s parliamentary democracy. Some supporters of the UNP say that the head of state is hand-in-glove with the Leader of the Opposition (Rajapaksa) in thwarting proposals and policies of his own government of which he is the head of the Cabinet! This allegation seems justified because Sirisena and Rajapaksa say they are working towards an alliance to oppose the UNP at any election that is to be held.
Sri Lanka’s system of governance in recent times appears to have ignored the usual practices, conventions, laws and even the constitution with vital decisions taken on political expediency and personal emotions. It went into crisis mode following such decisions and has come out of it but there are indications of going back to the crisis mode. The UNP, the Grand Old Party of Lanka, is just out of the ICU but now appears to be alive and kicking. It has to resolve the leadership problem with 69-year-old Wickremesinghe having led the party for 24 years but not being able to win a presidential election though winning two parliamentary elections.
Finally, to the question what of the future of this Resplendent Isle? Can either of the two packs with the same set of worn of kings, queens and jokers make Sri Lanka an Asian Tiger? Is it time for the enlightened masses to stop bawling, “My party leader, right or wrong” and change it to “my country, right or wrong?”