How will the papadam crumble? = Editorial (The Island )



How will the papadam crumble?

Even before the dust raised by the presidential election and the campaign which preceded it can settle, Sri Lanka will once again be on election mode. We have been promised a parliamentary election within three months and how this will play out must for the time being be an open question. Ordinary people will see the forthcoming election as an extraordinary one. How so? Will the forces that combined to make Maithripala Sirisena the president of this country stay together and ensure a government of similar composition? Given that President Sirisena is now leader of the SLFP, the party which he long served as general secretary, how will he lead the blues who worked might and main to defeat him and give Mahinda Rajapaksa an unprecedented third term, at a parliamentary election that is only weeks away? He promised to make UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe prime minister. He delivered instantly by swearing the green man in no sooner he took his own oaths. When people voted for the winning side on January 8, they voted for Sirisena to be president and Wickremesinghe to be prime minister with wide-ranging executive powers not for just three months but for a considerably longer spell. There must be delivery on that expectation. Above all, let nobody suffer the delusion that Mahinda Rajapaksa is history. He clawed his way up to the presidency and he polled many votes in the election he’s just lost. He’s a fighter and a strategist and may well have more cards up his sleeve.

Nobody expected the former president to surrender his leadership of the SLFP. He said that he did that to prevent the blue party splitting. There was a report yesterday quoting Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya saying that as far as his department is concerned, Rajapaksa is still leader of the SLFP. Nobody has informed them to the contrary although there was a media blaze that the new president had been unanimously elected leader of that party. That was not the case when (former) Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa was made Secretary of the SLFP. The Election Department was duly informed of that appointment as required. President Sirisena did say during the campaign that he remains Secretary of the SLFP as he has not been legally removed from that office. It is not likely that there will be any effort to legally enforce that claim because it no longer necessary in the context of the party’s leadership being conceded to him lock, stock and barrel. Similarly, although the SLFP has the majority in the incumbent Parliament, there was no effort whatever to challenge Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ascendancy to the prime ministry with any kind of vote of no confidence when the legislature met last week. Given the way that the papadam has been crumbling since January 8, any such attempt would have surely been futile.

There has still been no clear word on whether the forthcoming parliamentary election will be conducted under the existing law or whether we will have a mix of the present proportional representation (PR) system and the previous first-past-the-post Westminster system with MPs elected to the various electorates. MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardene chaired a Parliamentary Select Committee recommending a mixed system. But all parties represented in the incumbent House did not participate in that committee and, notably, the UNP was not a signatory. Everybody is agreed that the present district list PR is unsatisfactory with bitter wars being fought within parties for candidate preferences. But whether there is enough time before the next election to have an entirely new system in place and also educate the voter on its various requirements is most doubtful. Also, the small parties and the minorities do not favor the changes as proposed. That is why it is widely expected that the forthcoming election will be conducted under the old order.

The people expect, nay demand, that undesirable who abound in the sitting legislature will be denied nomination by the various parties when the next election is fought. Predictably, they have been trying to curry favor with the different power centers to ensure their continuity in the legislature. But it will be an imbecile leadership, of whatever political complexion, who give them more than short shrift. By electing Maithripala Sirisena, the country has given a clear message that the Mervin and Duminda Silvas of this world as well as the Sajin de Vas Gunawardenes and Muttuhettigamas etc. are persona non grata as far as the voters are concerned. Let us hope some decent people who can contribute to the promised good governance rather than enrich themselves run this time. It is possible for the major parties to use the National List to advantage in this regard, as former President Chandrika Kumaratunga did to bring Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar to Parliament. There are good people who may otherwise find it difficult to get elected or may not have the stomach for the hustings. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe also did well getting Mr. Eran Wickremeratne and Dr. Harsha de Silva to the legislature. But both of them have since been nursing electorates and may well run for election the next time round. Unfortunately, against a few good people, the National Lists of most parties are loaded with elements who contribute little.

The appointment last week of the president’s brother as the new Chairman of Sri Lanka Telecom, in which the Treasury holds the controlling shares but a Malaysian entity has around 45%, would have disappointed many who voted for the new order. We are told that the new appointee had held other senior public sector positions and is both experienced and qualified; also that he was kicked out of the last public sector job he held pronto no sooner his brother became common candidate. We freely concede that it is not easy to find the right people for the many jobs that must be filled and an element of realpolitik is a feature that exists in any democracy. Yet we do not want a situation to emerge where new flies will buzz around the same s…t. People voted for change and the new administration must ensure that the desirable changes are ensured. The president must be as lily white as the costume he wears and his action as clear and measured as his speech. President Sirisena is committed to a national government at least for the next two years, a period in which more substantial results can be possible than within a short frame of 100 days. As president of the country, elected thanks to the efforts of diverse and sometimes contrary interests, as well as leader of the SLFP, he must retain the trust of those who brought him to high office. The parliamentary election will be no easy proposition but the president must navigate a course wholly consonant with the national interest.


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