24 May 2018

The real fears of the Yahapalanists



Minister Mangala Samaraweera, speaking to the media at the Finance Ministry on Tuesday (May 22) stated that knowing well the crimes committed by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, he in fact is frightened of the former Defence Secretary.  That’s political-speak, obviously. Mangala, after all, was never scared of the LTTE, was never scared of Chandrika Kumaratunga and certainly not of Ranil Wickremesinghe, even though all these individuals were directly or indirectly involved in all kinds of terrible crimes.  

Moreover, someone who didn’t think twice of unleashing a kurundu-polu attack on supporters of his own party and is a prominent member of a corrupt and inept government can’t afford to talk about such fears.  

The truth is that Mangala is fearful for his political future as that of his party and the Yahapalana regime. The same goes for those in the UNP and in the Yahapalana regime — ministers, MPs and backers.  It’s not a gota-baya (fear of Gota) but a pana-baya on account of clearly sliding fortunes.  And barring a highly unlikely turnaround in approval ratings, these people would be scared of anyone, not just Gota. In other words any candidate picked by the Joint Opposition to go against Ranil Wickremesinghe or Maithripala Sirisena or both has excellent chances of becoming the next president.  

The problem is not Gotabhaya but the corruption, nepotism and other abuses of this regime. The Yahapalanists have effectively taken the oomph out of all the slogans used by them in the run up to the January 2015 Presidential Election. Most importantly, claims that Gotabhaya’s program is a carbon copy of the UNP’s vision for the future, are easily dealt with.  If it’s the same program then the only issue at hand is how can deliver. The UNP has proved beyond all reasonable doubt that it is not only a won’t-do-party but more ominously, a can’t-do-party.  In fact, just as it can be argued that no one helped Maithripala Sirisena’s cause than Mahinda Rajapaksa, it’s the Yahapalanists who are giving Gotabhaya’s campaign the biggest boost.  Mangala may believe his fear-mongering would awaken the despondent UNP activist from slumber, but it may very well have the opposite effect: make him/her roll over and sleep longer.  

There’s a simple question which brings us to the real source of fear: why is this government not holding provincial council election?  

The entire country saw how the Yahapalanists were scared out of their wits over facing the voter at the local level. They went to court to subvert this basic exercise in democracy. When the Elections Commission pointed out that objections raised did not apply to as many as 93 local government bodies, they got another set of proxies to object to the original objections. All that had to happen before elections were held.  Both major parties in the ruling coalition were routed.  

Having ‘fixed’ the local government elections act to make a mockery of the much bragged about ‘mixed system’ and still going on to lose, the Yahapalanists started getting nostalgic about proportional representation.  The old foot-dragging card ‘delimitation’ was once again drawn from the pack of limited options.  Faizer Mustapha who played a particularly pernicious role in the courtroom drama regarding local government elections is sitting on relevant legislation.  

The elections for the Eastern, North Central and Sabaraguma Provincial Councils were held on September 8, 2012. The relevant terms ended, therefore, in September 2017.  Elections for the North, Central and North Western Provincial Councils were held on September 21, 2013. The terms are to end four months from now.  

Now if the Yahapalanists and other Devolutionazis were to concede, as they should, that these Provincial Councils are white elephants and that whether or not they exist makes little difference, it would make some sense. They are not ready to do that. If so, the most basic way of affirming political convictions would be to have them function. For this, elections need to be held. They are not being held.

What can we conclude under these circumstances?  We have to assume that the reluctance to hold provincial council elections is not about lacking confidence in the concept. It has to be, then, about fear of losing.  

Those parties currently represented in Parliament don’t seem to be interesting in ‘small elections’.  Mangala’s tirades are about a presidential election.  The President is making noises of a second term. The Joint Opposition or rather the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna seems to think that they’ve got the grassroots (following good showing at the local government elections) and therefore there’s no need to test waters; they are impatient to get the big prize. 

Now, whether or not one is ideologically committed to devolution, provincial councils and such, whether or not one is committed to the defeat of Devolutionazis and the abolition of the 13th Amendment and provincial councils, one has to acknowledge that the 13th Amendment still stands. One has to acknowledge that provincial councils exist. Thus, constitutionally and therefore legally, they need to be functional.  Their functionality is dependent on one thing and one thing alone: elections!  

The onus is on the Government to hold elections. Faizer Mustapha, the subject minister, appears to have gone into one of his sporadic long-naps on the matter. The Elections Commission is mandated to follow the relevant rule book.  The Elections Commissioner has to ask the relevant questions from the Government and if necessary seek clarification from court regarding the matter.  

Mangala can fear Gotabhaya. Mangala can fear about his own political future. All Yahapalana politicians can be terrified about going before the people after what happened on February 10, 2018. The Elections Commission need not be scared. It has a job to do.  In fact, one might say that in a context where politicians are scared or pretending to be asleep, the only hope for those who want the relevant constitutional provisions affirmed, is the Elections Commission. 

Mr Mahinda Deshapriya, Sir, how about a media conference to clarify to the general public the status of provincial council elections? 

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Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. malindasenevi@gmail.com
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