Monday, July 20, 2015

The president's colourless hue

Maithripala Sirisena knows timing. He knows when and where to declare and defend position. He knows how to mince words. How to keep to the point. That doesn't make him a statesman however. That makes him a politician. A clever and crafty one.

At present though, he's facing a problem. A big one. He isn't leading a party anymore. Doesn't appear to be. He's leading a "headless cadaver".

Gunadasa Amarasekara used that term to describe what and where the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is now. He is correct. The party is led by a man who's shown himself to be absolutely incapable of defending it.

To be fair, Sirisena has shown again and again that he can come out if pressured. That's what he did last Tuesday. To be sure, what he said about his decision to nominate his predecessor didn't sound too good. It ruffled feathers on one side and left many of his critics in the dark. As of now, however, one shouldn't worry about his stance on Mahinda Rajapaksa. There are other things. Other matters.

There's his choice of words for instance. It wasn't long ago that he made accused people of wanting to go back to slavery (under the Rajapaksas). What jarred was the accusation. It indicated bias against those who support the former president, not just the politicians but those among the 5.8 million pro-Rajapaksa voters who still rally around him.

If he accuses them of wanting to revert to the Dark Ages that's his problem. But Sirisena is not president of 6.2 million people only. He's president of the country. That includes the 5.8 million who didn't vote for him and those who supported other candidates. That also includes those who can't vote due to disability and disqualification.

Those who see green in everything seem to think he has a moral debt to pay. In certain respects, they are right. He couldn't have won without them. That this should mean unconditional obeisance to the UNP is ridiculous however. Sirisena is no puppet. He owes neither the UNP nor the SLFP, technically speaking. Favouring those who voted for him and lashing at those who didn't isn't statesmanship. That's what the Rajapaksas were once known for.

His statement on Tuesday echoed all this. Sadly. Sure, he defended the nomination of Rajapaksa by saying "for party unity". 99% (the proportion of his party he claims were with his predecessor) indicates a majority. Not to have heeded their call would have indicated anti-democratic tendencies on his part. What's interesting however is his justification for dissolving parliament. He claims it was to stop the pro-Rajapaksa motion against the Prime Minister, alleging there was a conspiracy to install his predecessor as Prime Minister through the National List.

First of all, a conspiracy is a conspiracy. Unproved and unsubstantiated. It can be alleged and targeted at someone to suit political preferences. The decision to dissolve the parliament was made on the day the COPE Report was to be released. It was also around the time the motion was to be presented. The Mahinda Faction can insinuate the former as reason for dissolution. Those who oppose them can quote the latter. Either way, the president did himself no favours by dissolving parliament after making a pledge that he'd see through the 20th Amendment. That's a blemish. On him.

Secondly, the decision to nominate the former president was taken for the sake of party unity. Laudable, but it contradicts his neutral stance. If at all, his decisions within the past six months have favoured one side over the other, "the other" being his own party! In this regard both his neutrality and his self-righteous claims about upholding party unity look like eyewash. So does his claim that he told the Prime Minister to ask Arjuna Mahendran to resign.

Sirisena is an Executive President. He calls the shots. He was quick to obtain a restraining order to stop his party convening on Wednesday night, we note. He could have acted faster with the Bond issue. He didn't. Excuses are weak, therefore. Worth a dime a dozen.

If Sirisena was so concerned about party unity and the need to maintain good governance, he should have rejected Rajapaksa and pressured the Central Bank Governor to resign. He showed himself incapable of doing both. With most of his faction in the UNP, his stance must be made clearer. Is he with the Blues, the Greens, or the front for good governance (stripped of party-colour)?

Would he really claim his government is pitch-perfect? That the Prime Minister's conduct during the past six months is accolade-worthy? That his refusal to nominate Rajapaksa as the PM candidate indicates party unity when there hasn't been any other candidate named? Besides, if he's really that neutral, why is he still the Chairman of the SLFP? Doesn't that indicate "conflict of interest"?

He needs to come out. He needs to resign from his party. And remain colourless.

Uditha Devapriya is a freelance writer who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com