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Conduct unbecoming


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The fracas that was played out in Parliament for the third straight day has seen the third week of the Constitutional crisis close on possibly the darkest moment for Sri Lanka’s democracy. Sri Lanka is currently without a prime minister, cabinet or government and faces a daunting deadlock that can scarcely be contemplated. 

Following a meeting with party leaders, President Sirisena released a statement on Thursday night allowing for a fresh vote on the earlier no confidence motion, provided that it removed the first point, which said the Gazette notification issued by Sirisena on 26 October appointing MP Mahinda Rajapaksa to the role of prime minister was invalid. 

Accordingly, when the House convened on Friday, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya entered the Chamber surrounded by Police. It was the first time in the history of Sri Lanka’s democracy that the Speaker had to be escorted in such a way. Police had chilli powder flung at them, were assaulted and had to hold a cushion over the Speaker’s head so that projectiles, which included pieces of a broken chair, were flung at him by Parliamentarians loyal to Rajapaksa. 

The actions of these Parliamentarians have horrified and deeply disgusted moderate citizens who were shocked by the spectacle. Not only were the benchmarks of democracy destroyed but so were the standards of common human decency. Never has the rest of the world had to witness such behaviour from the lawmakers of Sri Lanka to the extent that spoof videos have gone viral. If the Rajapaksa camp believes that anything other than their absolute desperation was on show to everyone in Parliament, they are very much mistaken. This was not an effort to stand for the people. This was an effort to undermine Parliament and its powers. 

MP Rajapaksa at one point in time was arguably the most revered politician in modern Sri Lankan politics. He was lauded for his role in ending the conflict and Sri Lankans looked upon him hopefully to be a unifying force. Less than a decade down the line that has reversed and he has become the instrument of destroying one of Sri Lanka’s most important institutions. President Sirisena, rather than using his Executive powers to protect and uphold democracy, has become the mastermind of its destruction. Together they unlashed the thugs and buffoons in Parliament. Even though he has ruled out proroguing Parliament, there is little relief as the deadlock in Parliament appears unbreakable.

If ever there was a time for a post-war leader to emerge, now would be that time. Sri Lanka needs a government, it needs a cabinet and it needs a prime minister. There are larger issues at stake here. Sri Lanka’s economy is heading into high debt repayments next year, which are likely to last till 2022. According to numbers released by rating agencies, Sri Lanka has to repay an estimated $ 12 billion during this period. External challenges including the appreciation of the dollar and a possibly messy Brexit deal are not making the situation any easier. 

Sri Lanka still does not have a Budget for 2019. If the current political turmoil continues, not only will investors shy away more, but the Central Bank will find it harder to go to international capital markets to raise funding to repay debt. This was the worst time for political shenanigans to be unleased but a change of fortune seems unlikely.


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