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Respect the House

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Parliament is to be convened today with the country waiting tensely for a resolution to a constitutional crisis that is now over three weeks old. The disappointing and unforgivable behaviour of parliamentarians, especially belonging to the MP Mahinda Rajapaksa camp, and the clear reluctance by both him and President Maithripala Sirisena to rein them in has pushed respect for Parliament to a historic low. Sri Lanka needs a Prime Minister, a Cabinet and Government to move forward.

It is critical that the parties and politicians on different sides of the divide find a way to resolve this, and the sooner the better. The fight for Sri Lanka’s democracy has been framed in existential terms by some but it is hard to move away from the reality that this situation was created by three key actors: President Maithripala Sirisena, MP Mahinda Rajapaksa and MP Ranil Wickremesinghe; and the solution also lies with them. Yet the true value of democracy is not defined by these three individuals alone.

Democracy extends beyond individual politicians. Democracy gives the masses a chance to rule themselves, opportunity to participate in decisions made on their behalf, a right to stand for public interest, a chance for everyone to live by the same set of laws, and the right to justice. Even with all the problems before Sri Lanka, its people should not depreciate democracy. It is not defined by one person. It is defined by the people; by how they safeguard, live by and uphold democracy.

Democracy is ultimately about people and not politicians. As Sri Lanka’s long suffering public readies for what is shaping up to be a long battle, they will have to dig deep and hold onto this fundamental belief if the country is ever to emerge out of this predicament with at least some part of its democracy intact. The people must hold the line. Hope lies in the people.

As the latest party leaders meeting ended in yet another stalemate, one possible light at the end of the tunnel is the Supreme Court decision that is due on 7 December. Even if brawls become a daily event till then, all democracy-minded Sri Lankans will be hoping that the tussle between the Executive and Parliament will find some way forward when the Supreme Court decision is delivered. From the perspective of the United National Party (UNP), a continuation of this present Parliament and presidential elections as planned at the end of next year would be the best outcome. For President Sirisena, either a general election or a presidential one will come with a set of challenges that could try him sorely.          

For the average person, 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 more investors shy away, 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 unleashed and it is high time that President Sirisena remembers his duty to the public. 


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