15 March 2020

The fate of the ‘225’ will tell us who we are

‘The 225 +1 should go!’ This was a rallying cry not too long ago. The reference was to the then parliament and president. It was all about ‘democracy’ we were told. A couple of months down the road, the same whiners sang a different tune. And so we knew that they didn’t give two hoots for democracy. It was about party. And those who were too shy to admit the fact said it was about getting Maithripala Sirisena and the ‘Rajapaksas’ out. Closet UNPers they all were, also nameable as Kolombians, Colombots, Candlelight Ladies, Funded Voices and Born Again Democrats.

Believing fervently that the only thing that stood in the way of the UNP securing power was Ranil Wickremesinghe (and not the UNP per se) they agitated for his ouster. First things first. So they had Sajith Premadasa as presidential candidate. Turned out that Premadasa couldn’t do any better than the party did in the local government elections on February 10, 2018.

Maybe it was because Ranil controlled the party, they reasoned. First things first: either get rid of him or contest independently. That drama is still unfolding and it’s a headache for the UNP, not others. 

For all this, the battle cry had some relevance. That parliament had long lost its mandate for utter stupidity in legislative matters (the 19th Amendment for example) and disgusting behavior by one and all, the speaker included. Its legitimacy lay by the weak thread of the 19th. Whatever illusions anyone would have had about the legitimacy of the yahapalanists, never mind the 225, should have evaporated with the November 16th result. The UNP candidate was routed. 

From that moment onwards it was all about dissolution. The newly elected president had to wait until parliament completed 4.5 years. Dissolution followed. Now it’s about elections and therefore the question about who should be elected. 

There is talk of elections being postponed on account of the Corona Virus. That may or may not happen. However, sooner or later, pandemic or otherwise, the voting population will have to confront certain issues. 

It was abundantly proven during the yahapalana experiment of bipartisan government that either we should have a full fledged executive presidency or revert to the Westminster system. The last few months have confirmed the fact. Right now only one individual has the mandate to govern: Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. The 19th has tied his hands somewhat but not as tight as was the case with his predecessor; His cabinet is made of party members. 

The problem is that these party members belong to the ‘225’. They have to seek renewal of mandate at the General Election. If the people believe that the ‘225’ needs to be retired then this fact will be affirmed once the votes are counted. Technically, that’s the only way we can find out if indeed this ‘getting rid of the 225’ is something the majority of the people desire. Politicians know temper or one assumes they do. Party leaders bet on ‘winnability,’ or should. The relevant nomination lists will tell us something about how parties and their leaders think. The results will show if they were right in their assessment.

The lists are not yet out so let’s not assume too much. What we have in hand, however, is track records of all political parties in the fray. Their leaders have let their supporters down. Representatives have not represented. The 225, perhaps with the exception of Sarath Weerasekera who alone voted against the 19th, failed us.  

Now diehard SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) loyalists might say that these party, it’s leader (Mahinda Rajapaksa) and SLPP parliamentarians were in a round about way endorsed by the people who voted for the party’s presidential candidate. 

On the other hand, it would be hard to argue that Gotabhaya was some kind of proxy candidate without personality or program and was just riding the ‘mahinda sulanga.’ Indeed, he has in the past few months showed a few things that demonstrate he is no one’s proxy even though he was dependent on the party and more importantly his brother, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. The man is not about ‘show.’ He knows and has to deal with the limitations imposed illegally on his office and the general approval from all sections of the political spectrum indicate that he would be much better, even with the fetters of the 19th, if he had his own team to work with. 

We are not privy to conversations within the SLPP or those between the President and his brother. We do not know what’s being discussed. We don’t know whether Gotabhaya wanted the party to field a certain number of people absolutely aligned with his thinking on the role of a law-maker which, as of now, appears to be at odds with the thinking of the SLPP, UNP, SJB and SLFP.  And if indeed this is what he wants we don’t know how the SLPP would respond. 

Lots of unknowns here, obviously.  

Whatever the thinking is of the various parties, the lists will tell us a lot. And that’s where the people come into play. Do we vote for anyone in the ‘225’ after voting for the party of choice? Do we reject them out of hand and look for the capable and honest? 

The most important thing to look out for is not which party wins but the candidates we have chosen to represent us. I would think that if we’ve erred in favor of the ‘225’ we have erred against ourselves.  Let’s see.

This article was first published in the SUNDAY MORNING [March 15, 2020]