The middle path

Thursday, 6 December 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Politicians, especially those appointed to the highest positions in the land, are done so by the people so that they can work in the best interests of the public. But there is a caveat, which is, they need to work within the law. The events since 26 October has alarmed and disappointed scores of Sri Lankans because not only have questionable decisions been made regarding the Constitution, but because there are serious concerns of whether these decisions were made in the public’s interest. 

Politicians can have personal views, preferences and ideals. They are, after all, only human. But these cannot spill over completely into their political lives and dominate their decisions. President Maithripala Sirisena, speaking at a special convention organised by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) yesterday, made some worrying comments about his former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who he removed from power more than a month ago, triggering a constitutional deadlock that is slowly suffocating the country’s governance system. 

Sirisena vehemently blamed Wickremesinghe for the shortcomings of the administration that existed before 26 October, and charged that the country was “destroyed” by him. Sirisena was also critical of neoliberal economic policies followed by Wickremesinghe and claimed he was a man who had no connection with the masses. During an extensive speech, Sirisena insisted that even if all 225 members of Parliament requested to reinstate Wickremesinghe, he would not reappoint the United National Party (UNP) leader to the premier post.  

These statements by President Sirisena are worrying because it significantly reduces space for compromise and worsens the rift between the Executive and Parliament. The Executive, Parliament, and Judiciary form the three arms of Government in Sri Lanka, and the system works best when all three cooperate with each other. The checks and balances that are critical to a democracy can only function when each branch of Government works with the others towards a common goal. 

Therefore, the Executive openly refusing to cooperate with Parliament is a serious problem that undermines the effectiveness of democratic institutions. Even though Sirisena, during his speech, insisted that his actions since 26 October were in the best interests of democracy, his refusal to accept the stance of Parliament denotes otherwise. If the President refuses any conciliatory measure and deliberately reduces room for compromise, then that risks worsening the present constitutional standoff, which the country can ill afford. 

Escalating rhetoric between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe is concerning to moderate members of the public awaiting the Supreme Court decision. The fate of the Interim Order given by the Appeal Court as well as larger economic and governance concerns, such as the absence of a Budget and downgrading of Sri Lanka’s credit rating by all three rating agencies, need to be dealt with. President Sirisena’s statements downplaying the consequences of his actions are irresponsible and disappointing to many who voted for him. 

During his address, President Sirisena mentioned Buddhist principles and patriotism multiple times. It is perhaps time for him to recall that Buddhism is a religion that promotes moderation and patience. Patriotism is about putting the country before one’s own personal needs. The public will be hoping that he aspires to these goals so that Sri Lanka can move back from the edge it is poised on.