07 July 2015

Maithripala, Mahinda and the SLFP’s democracy-deficits

So Maithripala Sirisena blinked first.  The merits and demerits will no doubt be debated at length. Neither is it a done deal.  He who blinks and also open eyes.  Sirisena is no less seasoned than Mahinda Rajapaksa when it comes to playing the end game of political chess.  But  what is interesting and perhaps of lasting relevance would be the arguments put forward by Mahinda Rajapaksa's detractors to convince the President to drop the man.  

Maithripala Sirisena is the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and as such even if he should not have the last word on everything, given the ‘democratic’ claims of party and man, he does have a say.  A big one.  Especially when it comes to nominations.  His ‘say’ will naturally say much about that party and its democratic pretensions as it does about him.  And HIS democratic pretensions, one might add.  

The issue at hand is whether or not the SLFP or a coalition led by the SLFP should allow Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest on the party/coalition ticket.  

There are arguments of course for shedding Rajapaksa.  He was the defeated candidate.  A reject.  He was accused of all manner of wrongdoing by the man who defeated him including dictatorial ways, corruption and nepotism.  Having lost, Mahinda wants to make a come-back.  That’s greedy of him, it is argued.  Correct. He’s a bad egg, to put it mildly.  So why should Maithripala or the SLFP accommodate the man?  Yes, it is a legitimate argument.   

The problem with these kinds of objections is that they have legitimacy only if the arguments are pressed equally on other aspirants and if the debaters are willing to apply them to everyone, including those in parties other than the SLFP.  

Mahinda lost.  If defeat disqualifies, then Ranil Wickremesinghe should not contest either.  If defeat disqualifies, then the UNP should close shop as should the JVP.  Since the SLFP has also been defeated before that party should also fold up.  If the defeated seeking return is evidence of greed, then no one is as greedy as Ranil Wickremesinghe.  The ‘defeat disqualifies’ argument is full of holes therefore.  

Mahinda secured 5.8 million votes.  That’s more votes than Ranil has ever polled.  Mahinda may have lost but if after six months his base has been decimated, that would still amount to almost 600,000 votes.  No party can ignore this reality and certainly not the SLFP given that it is not in the driving seat anymore, never mind the fact that its leader is the Executive President. This kind of reasoning seems to have won the day.  

But numbers make just one part of the story.  A principled party with democratic pretensions can legitimately say so.  So what of principle and what of democracy when it comes to the SLFP and the UPFA under Maithripala Sirisena and what too of party discipline and loyalty?

Maithripala doesn’t get a high score on any of these things.  He betrayed the party. Sure, in the name of the people, democracy, good governance and what not, but he’s back-tracked on some and subverted others hasn’t he?  Yahapaalanaya went down the tube when he allowed Ranil Wickremesinghe to cover up the Central Bank bond scam and bailed the Prime Minister and the UNP from likely censure through the COPE report on the matter.  He has in the past six months acted more as lackey of the UNP than leader of the SLFP.  With respect to Mahinda’s would be comeback, he’s ‘democratically’ asked the party to decide and when the party had decided, used ‘veto powers’.  If that was the intention why act as though he would let the party decide?  

The corruption charges against Mahinda are serious. The ones about nepotism need no proof.  Whether or not the corruption charges can be proved we do not know. We know that Ranil Wickremesinghe deliberately indulged in foot dragging with respect to possible prosecution for the obvious purpose of obtaining the time required for the SLFP’s internal crisis to mature.  That’s politics.  He cannot be blamed. He has been at the receiving end of such moves for years and at the hands of Mahinda to boot.  He didn’t pledge compassion, Maithripala did.  Maithriya aside, Maithripala pledged clean-up.  He didn’t push Ranil to do the needful.  Once again, he played into the hands of the UNP.  His party, the SLFP, naturally suffered.  That’s either a violation of discipline or loyalty or both.  It could also be downright incompetence, in which can Maithripala doesn’t deserve to call the shots or lead the party.  

Let's return to this ‘Mahinda is a bad man’ thing.  Can Maithripala or anyone else say that all candidate considered for nomination by all parties are better, more competent, more honorable, more disciplined, more humane and cleaner than Mahinda Rajapaksa?  The answer is no. We are not a country made of arahats.  This does not mean we have to suffer all crooks, murderers, racketeers and nincompoops of course.  In this regard it is pertinent that Maithripala did nothing whatsoever to get the much talked of Code of Conduct for MPs drafted.  That, along with the Right to Information Act and Electoral Reform went into the ‘Promises not Kept’ (Promises Intended to be Broken) column.  The point is, Mahinda has as good a claim as say, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Ravi Karunanayake, Rajitha Senaratne, S.B. Dissanayake or Anura Kumara Dissanayake (the JVP is also not made of saints, let’s not forget) to run for election.  

Sure, it was up to the SLFP leadership to decide whether or not he should be accommodated and decide they have.  It is upto them to take into account the fact that Mahinda led the party to consecutive victories at all levels, that they all benefited from his leadership, etc.  That does not make Mahinda deserving of a blank check of course, but the issue was most certainly crippling Sirisena’s fast diminishing moral stature. He may have just saved himself here. 

Mahinda didn’t pay lip service to good governance and his governance was hardly describable as ‘good’.  The ‘good’ was Sirisena’s preserve, by choice.  He had to come good on it or else acknowledge that none of this is about decency and that vengeance, fear, insecurity and downright inability.  Well, he would not acknowledge, but it would certainly have been concluded by others.  It’s was the SLFP’s problem of course in the main, but it was also everyone’s problem simply because Maithripala Sirisena is the President of all citizens, those who voted for him and those who didn’t, those who identify with the SLFP and those who oppose it for whatever reason.  He’s the executive. Powerful.  He could have ended painting himself as 'Pitiful'.  He still has time for a lot can happen between one announcement and the next.  We've seen that.