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Keeping count

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As the tenth day dawned on Sri Lanka’s Constitutional crisis many speculations continue on the current status of parliament. By President Maithripala Sirsena’s count he has 113 MPs but Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe continues to insist that he has a majority. The standoff has become exhausting and provides no respite for citizens’ concerned with the state of Sri Lanka’s democracy. 

With nearly a week to go before parliament is convened the numbers game has predictably descended to the streets. Multiple rallies were held on Monday with thousands marching for both sides. President Sirisena and his Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa were seen together on stage for the first time in years with the rally having connotations of an election campaign. Both sides took pains to legitimise the move even though the critical question of who holds parliament remains unanswered. 

Both were also intent on presenting a united front, insisting that they would remain partners, despite earlier differences. It is clear that the event was presented targeting Rajapaksa’s traditional base, the references to his previous administration were hard to miss. The emphasis on patriotism, with Rajapaksa painted as the sole patriotic choice, continues to ignore and digress from the issue of parliament being prorogued. If a citizen is genuinely patriotic they would side with democracy. Parliament, as one of the main branches of power, represents the will of the people and it should not be disregarded for political ends. 

Despite the theatrics of the rally much of the public remains concerned and are unlikely to be impressed with efforts to blur the issue. Painting the changes that took place on 26 October in the same light as what happens after an election is deeply ingenuous and dismissing the strain this has been placed on the Constitution remains unconscionable. It is also unacceptable to criticise the Speaker of parliament who has just cause to call for the House to be reconvened at the earlier.   

Both leaders have already said they would move to hold provincial elections as soon as possible with general elections likely to follow. However, deflecting attention away from proroguing of parliament by intimating it would be balanced by a fresh opportunity to cast ballots does nothing to protect the mandate given by 2015, which President Sirisena is still responsible for as the term has not come to an end.  

President Sirisena also must understand that as head of State he must speak responsibly and not resort to derogatory remarks that could undermine the values and lives of an entire community. He is still the President of Sri Lanka, which is a far greater responsibility than the narrow confines of a political party or agenda. A president is a politician but he should ideally refrain from falling into populist agendas just to muster votes at an election. It is dispiriting to see someone who pledged to stand for the rights of minorities disregarding the conventions of human decency.      

Deputy Minister of Foreign Employment Manusha Nanayakkara crossing to the UNP after Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s statement that he does not recognise appointments after 26 October suggests that the numbers game is still on and likely to drag on until the last minute parliament is reconvened on 14 November. 

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