If the year 2018 began with a bang for Mahinda Rajapaksa when his ghost-led Pohottuwa party swept the local polls in February, the year ended for him with a whimper stuck in the sinking sands of his fluctuating political fortunes.
Whatever his royal astrologer may have predicted of the rosy things to come for Mahinda Rajapaksa — that he will realise his dream to be once more in the saddle of power late October — he may, perhaps, have forgotten to mention, at least in passing, that the planets would not be too kind to him in November; and that December would be worse, that their benevolence would turn to wrath and they would unseat him from his high horse and ground him once more in the dust.
Also good old Sumana, the old faithful star gazer who is supposed to have advised him to go to the polls well before the shelf date in January 2015 when Saturn traversed Scorpio and Jupiter took residence in Cancer, may have been a wee bit off the mark this time as well when Saturn is in Sagittarius and Jupiter is in Scorpio today.
For consider the rise and fall of Mahinda within a matter of six weeks. On October 26, the UPFA withdraws from the coalition government and Sirisena hails it as an excuse to remove Ranil Wickremesinghe from his premiership. That same night, the nation learns that Sirisena who had on many occasions said he will never appoint Mahinda as his prime minister, has anointed Mahinda as his prime minister, even though both knew that Mahinda does not have the numbers to command the confidence of the House.
It was a daring diabolical gamble which, if it had paid off, would have spelt the end of democracy in the land and the beginning of rule by dictatorial fiat.
On November 1, Mahinda is now not only Sirisena’s prime minister but Sirisena’s Finance Minister as well. On November 2, having doubts whether Rajapaksa could muster the necessary numbers in the House, Sirisena prorogues Parliament to give time for Rajapaksa to collect the scalps. But it soon becomes increasingly clear that not all the resources at Rajapaksa’s command to entice the grasshoppers from the green-green grass of the UNP turf can persuade many to take the quantum leap and fly off to the wild blue yonder, though, of course, a handful of serial hoppers do. But the expected exodus never materialises.
On November 5, Sirisena addresses a public rally and proudly claims that the UPFA has 113 members. On November 9, in yet another symptomatic burst of recurrent Friday Night Fever, the President takes the extraordinary step to dissolve Parliament itself and to call for general elections, even though the constitution does not permit him to do so till four and a half years have passed in the life of this Parliament unless Parliament has urged him to do so with a resolution signed by a two-thirds majority.
On November 11, Mahinda, though Maithri’s buddy now and his prime minister, deserts him and leaves the SLFP and becomes a member of Peiris’ Pohottuwa together with 31 other members of the Joint Opposition in a televised ceremony held at his official residence at Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo 7.
On the 12th Monday, petitions are filed against the President’s gazetted proclamation dissolving Parliament. And the following day, the Supreme Court grants a stay order preventing the dissolution of the august House.
The storm clouds gather inside the Parliamentary chamber the following day the 14th when a no-confidence motion against Mahinda Rajapaksa is passed with an overwhelming majority of 122 MPs voting for it. It clearly proves, it is conclusive evidence that Rajapaksa does not command the confidence of Parliament to be the Prime Minister as the constitution demands whatever the President’s personal opinion maybe. And, amidst the roaring din, the Speaker is forced to adjourn Parliament till the following day.
The tempest breaks in full force the next day, in violent rages of thunder with lightning hitting the Speaker’s chair causing the Speaker to seek refuge elsewhere. It rains not cats and dogs but red chilli powder. The only saving grace in that despicable downpour of virulence is that it was not a shower of acid rain.
But the violent storm wreaks havoc and sees the usurpation of the Speaker’s chair and its subsequent theft from the chamber, the damage to public property in smashing chairs, in destroying electronic equipment, in assailing the police invited by the Speaker to provide him protection, in the throwing of books containing the sacrosanct constitution and the Holy Bible as weapons to assault and batter the UNF MPs by an SLPP gang of MPs gone berserk.
It is the saddest and most degrading day in the history of Lanka’s Parliament. And it all happens whilst their leader Mahinda watches the spectacle in silence from afar, perhaps aghast, but who does naught to order his troops to the benches with the stern command to observe the decorum of the House as the people’s representatives and not to desecrate the hallowed temple where the people’s sovereign rights lie enshrined.
And it makes the watching public who witnesses the violence and the mayhem live on television to ponder in disgust whether they had elected the scum of the earth as their ‘honourable’ representatives to speak and act on their behalf; and to wonder why the nation spends billions of rupees from the public purse each year to keep them cotton-wooled in perks, privileges and luxury.
On November 23, the Sirisena-Mahinda coalition party walks out of Parliament and continues to boycott it, unable to face parliamentary reality: 122 members petition the court of Appeal seeking a stay order restraining Mahinda from acting as prime minister.
On the 28th, the UNP insists that no one else but Ranil will be the prime minister. On December 3, the Court of Appeal suspends Maithri-appointee Mahinda from functioning as prime minister and his cabinet from functioning as ministers. Mahinda appeals to the Supreme Court.
Even though the wave of public opinion, which had swelled his way and bore him on its crest till then, turned against him and ebbed and receded, he still clings on to the illegitimacy of his office until the Court of Appeal stays his hand signing as prime minister. Only when a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court though granting leave for his appeal to be heard, refuses to vacate the Court of Appeal stay order in the interim, does he realise the curtain has finally fallen on his ambitious attempt to stage a constitutional coup and gain power, in the words of his own staunch supporter Kalutara MP Kumar Welgama, shamelessly ‘through the back door when had he been patient for a few more months he could have entered with the people’s respect from the front entrance and gained victory at the polls on a platter.’
And on December 15, Mahinda Rajapaksa is forced to step down and become once again nothing more than an MP from the Kurunegala district. Exposed as the first phantom prime minister of Lanka, who, in collusion with the President, believed the constitution could not only be violated at will but also totally flouted, he resigns in ignominy.
But still the battle is not over. If the nation had two prime ministers in December, it faces the prospect of having two opposition leaders in January with Mahinda claiming the post and conveying his intention to occupy the Opposition Leader’s office down Marcus Fernando Mawatha in Colombo 7 where TNA chief presently Sampanthan occupies. Mahinda does this on the basis that he leads the largest opposition group in Parliament even though his and his members’ membership of Parliament is itself at risk after they publicly accepted membership of GL Peiris’ Pohottuwa party the 11th of November.
There, as television cameras captured and the newspapers reported, Rajapaksa accepted the membership of the SLPP from the hand of its chairman Professor G. L. Peiris. Rajapaksa then went on to distribute the membership card to 31 other members of the SLFP, which included his son Namal.
The Government-owned newspaper the Daily News which on November 12 was under the control of the Rajapaksa government heralded Rajapaksa joining the Perris Pohottuwa Party with the headline ‘PM JOINS SLPP TO FORM COMMON ALLIANCE’ and reported the historic event thus: “Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa formally joined the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) by obtaining its membership at his official residence at Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo yesterday, the SLPP said in a statement. Along with the Prime Minister, a group of Parliamentarians belonging to the Joint Opposition also joined the SLPP at this simple ceremony.”
The caption that accompanied the Daily News picture of Rajapaksa accepting membership of the SLPP from its chairman G. L. Peiris said: “Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa joined the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) by obtaining its membership from SLPP Chairman Prof. G. L. Peiris at the Prime Minister’s residence in Colombo yesterday.”
Rajapaksa seems to have made a grave miscalculation: A serious instance of misjudgment. He placed his complete faith in the President’s total belief that he, the President, had the absolute right to dissolve Parliament before its due date and do so without seeking an opinion from the Supreme Court as is his sole prerogative, let alone consulting the Attorney General for legal advice gratis in his official role as the Government’s lawyer.
In a speech given at the Pohottuwa membership ceremony, as reported by the Financial Times, Rajapaksa declared: “Everyone must read the Constitution as a whole, not just the 19th Amendment. Under the Constitution, the President has the right to dissolve Parliament and call an election immediately; it is not an anti-democratic move. We are seeking a mandate from the people. Therefore, if anyone challenges in courts the right of the people to vote, then they are going against the people.”
People are inclined to believe in what they like to believe when it adds justification to their purpose and what they seek to achieve. Rajapaksa was no exception. In his haste to have elections, he must have truly believed that the presidential proclamation dissolving parliament was valid. And once Parliament was already dissolved and elections would be held on January 5, it was time to cross the Rubicon, to the banks where he would receive the Peiris Pohottu Pottu on his forehead and be granted not only SLPP membership but its leadership.
Unfortunately for Rajapaksa, his best laid plans were disposed of by the Supreme Court when seven justices spoke in one voice and held otherwise: that the President had no right to dissolve Parliament before its time and that he stands condemned for violating the constitution.
Once again Rajapaksa had jumped the gun, rushed headlong where the patient fear to tread.
The coming days will determine whether they have infringed Article 99 (1) (13) (a) of the Constitution and thereby lost their seats in Parliament.
Article 99 (13) (a) states: When a member of parliament ceases by resignation, expulsion or otherwise to be a member of a recognised political party or independent group on whose nomination paper his name appeared at the time of his becoming such member of Parliament, his seat shall become vacant upon the expiration of a period of one month from the date of his ceasing to be such member.’
Rajapaksa, of course did not tend his letter of resignation to the SLFP or the UPFA. But doesn’t his acceptance of membership of a different party implies constructive resignation? After all, unlike one having dual citizenships of two countries, the Lankan constitution does not provide for dual membership of two parties, now does it?
TNA MP, senior attorney-at-law, Sumanthiran has no doubts about it at all. In a letter addressed to the Speaker and to President Sirisena on Thursday he stated that “Mahinda Rajapaksa and several other MPs cease to be members of Parliament by operation of Article 99 (13) (a) of the Constitution. It is public knowledge that they resigned from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and obtained membership of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). In terms of the Constitution of the SLFP and the UPFA, a person would automatically cease to be a member of the UPFA, when he or she ceases to be a member of the SLFP. The provision enabling a member to invoke the jurisdictions of the Supreme Court is only in the event of an expulsion, which is not the case here. Thus without the requirement of any further actions (such as, communication from the party General Secretary) by operation of law, the said members of the UPFA have vacated their seats in Parliament.”
If that be the case, Mahinda will find that, let alone being the leader of the opposition, he and his coterie of parliamentary members will not even have the right to sit in Parliament: that he and his MPs may have forfeited their right to sit in Parliament a month after they accepted membership of Peiris’ Pohottuwa Party and that they, since December 11, had been attending parliamentary proceedings as imposters.
From what heights fallen.
The year which started with so much promises for Mahinda, has ended not on the topmost peak of success but at the very nadir of his despair. And it paints a tragic tale of how a twice elected president who claimed sole credit for leading, as the commander in chief of the forces, his armed troops to victory in the Eelam war, should now find himself leading from the front his political band wagon to the jaws of defeat; that he , once hailed by those feudal few who adulated him as their king, should now find himself genuflecting before his former minion namely, Maithripala Sirisena who served under him as his Minister of health, merely to become a pseudo prime minister for 54 days; and, worse, that he has to accept membership of a new fangled party headed by one Peiris who acted as his porter and carried the bags for him at a Thai airport two or three years ago: and all this humiliation suffered for the sake of gaining temporal power when he could have retired in style and grace to the applause and gratitude of his people to his Medamulana home in peace and glory.
The seed of self-destruction lay embedded awaiting its hour. And the hour came on October 26th night when, motivated by ambition, spurred by the need for self-preservation, battling for survival, encouraged by a president who dangled the carrot tantalisingly before him, he took the bait and accepted the dubious seal of prime ministerial office.
It is said that everything come to he who waits. The problem was that he didn’t wait but overreached himself in undue haste to grab power at any cost. Perhaps it was done out of brotherly love for his fellow party men who now face judgment day the fates have ordained for them in the new year. And thus did Mahinda Rajapaksa end the year making a pigs’ breakfast of it.