Day of reckoning
The Presidential election campaign has entered its last lap. The day
of reckoning is drawing near. It is opportune to sum up the developments
so far. First of all it should be remembered that the election is held
two years ahead of schedule. The President using his Constitutional
prerogative signed the proclamation of the election voluntarily
curtailing his term of Office.
In an interview with editors he gave his rationale for advancing the
election. It was to give an opportunity to the Northern voters to elect
their President. Earlier they were denied that opportunity by Velupillai
Prabhakaran. During the Presidential election of 2005 they were ordered
to boycott it.
Internally Displaced Persons
As the LTTE held sway in the area it was largely obeyed. The country
was fully liberated from terrorism last May. It is noteworthy that the
President had thought it fit to go before the people just six or seven
months immediately following the victory. This is even before resettling
all the Internally Displaced Persons.
It shows the democratic credentials of the President. The Opposition,
however, alleged that the election was advanced by the incumbent
President fearing that he would be defeated if it was held at the end of
his term of Office. Whether this allegation is true or not could be
verified on January 26.
Vote for a leader who has a clear vision. File photo
At the onset of the election period the Opposition claimed that they
would contest on a one point agenda - the abolition of the Executive
Presidency. For that purpose they actually put in place a disjointed
coalition of political parties that hold disparate views and found the
retired Army Commander as their common candidate. It later transpired
that the Commander had been in contact with the Opposition long before
his retirement and had harboured ambitions of challenging the incumbent
President at elections. Whether it was ethical or proper as a public
servant is another matter. Surely, the decision to run for Presidency
could not have been taken on the spur of the moment, as he would want
the voters to believe.
As the campaign proceeded both the General and his supporters sang
quite different songs. Having earlier declared his pious desire to
vacate the Executive President post in two months after victory he later
retracted his words by saying he would not like to be a ceremonial
President as William Gopallawa. As the campaign proceeded he was talking
of several years in Office. Towards the latter stage of the campaign the
topic was completely shelved. The UNP at the onset spoke of an Executive
Prime Minister post for its Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Fonseka’s job
was to win the election and hand over executive powers to Ranil.
Then came Sarath N Silva, the former Chief Justice who took upon
himself the role of legal and Constitutional advisor for Fonseka. He
point blank said the abolition of the Executive Presidency was
impossible and not contemplated. What is contemplated is a reform of the
institution. Now only the JVP is singing the old tune and has found them
out of step with the rest in the Opposition alliance.
A realistic proposal in this regard has come from only President
Mahinda Rajapaksa. Though not much noticed the President told the
editors even before nominations that he is for a system of governance
where the Executive President would be answerable to Parliament. He even
told in lighter vein that no one would be more interested personally in
abolishing the institution than him as at the end of the second term he
would not be eligible to contest again.
Now his proposals for revising the institution is in his manifesto
Mahinda Chintana Idiri Dekma. Moreover, he proposes far reaching other
proposals to strengthen democracy such as the establishment of a Second
Chamber or a Senate. He also proposes that Parliament should sit as a
State Assembly to revise or replace the existing Constitution.
Incidentally, it was the UNP that instituted the Executive
Presidency. Having won a five-sixth majority in Parliament in the 1977
General Election J. R. Jayewardene introduced the new Constitution
establishing the Executive Presidential system without consulting the
people. He had no mandate at the election to do so. It is an irony of
history that the UNP is now calling for its abolition.
The second major plank in the Opposition campaign was good
governance. For this purpose they call for the implementation of the
17th Amendment, a hurriedly passed piece of legislation.
They say that all evils of the administration stem from the
non-Constitution of the Constitutional Council. It became on the death
of a member and there was no provision in the Constitution for it to
continue functioning without full membership, besides it is not
apolitical or non-political as claimed for nominees were from political
parties. Many gentlemen who were proposed to it were leading members of
Asking politicians to nominate people not affiliated to political
organisations is a joke in the Sri Lankan context. It is time to think
beyond the 17th Amendment in seeking to establish good governance and
enhance democracy. Actually this amendment is a fetter that prevents
timely executive action.
A widely discussed topic in the campaign was corruption. The
Opposition using the popular perception of widespread corruption used it
to sling mud at the incumbent President and his immediate family.
However, they failed to produce evidence to prove their allegations.
Wild rumours were circulated relating to alleged purchases of real
estate and other properties by the President’s siblings.
Both State owned and privately owned property were cited as belonging
to the Rajapaksa family. A case in point was the Lanka Hospitals Ltd,
whose ownership was transferred to the government following a Supreme
Court ruling against the privatization of the Sri Lanka Insurance
Corporation which held the majority of shares in the Apollo Hospitals,
now renamed the Lanka Hospitals. The allegations were so widespread and
aired over the electronic media repeatedly that actual owners of the
properties alleged to be bought by the Rajapaksa brothers had to put up
public notices on their property stating that they are the legal owners.
The corruption charge, however, boomeranged on the General following
evidence of unethical dealings by a company belonging to his son-in-law
with regard to supplying military equipment to the Sri Lanka Army.
The whole campaign of vilification was busted by the brilliant
exposure of an attempt to buy over a Member of Parliament from the
Government side to the Fonseka camp by offering a bribe of Rs 30 million
reminding the General and his allies of the wisdom of the old adage
those living in glass houses should not throw stones at others or its
modern version that those living in such houses should not undress
The President, on the other hand, did not shy away from the
criticism. He challenged them to prove their allegations. Incidentally
much of the allegations such as those exposed in the Parliamentary COPE
report referred to corruption during the Ranil Wickremesinghe
administration. By now even the Supreme Court has annulled several
privatization deals that were executed then due to corruption and fraud.
The President has vowed to take corruption head on during his second
term. Understandably he said that he was more occupied with ending the
war and saving country’s territorial integrity. Now that the war is over
he promised to fight corruption with vigour.
As the campaign progressed it became conspicuous that certain
external forces are working in collusion with local counterparts to
influence the outcome of the elections. Just examine the following
sequence of events.
The United States long before nominations prepared charges of
genocide against the government and the Armed Forces for alleged human
rights violations, particularly during the latter part of the war
against the LTTE. This was a sequel to the refusal of the President to
heed calls for a halt in the military operations by certain powers,
notably the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Then there was
an attempt to interrogate the former Army Commander in an attempt to
frame charges against the Defence Secretary.
Then came the allegations of Sarath Fonseka against the Defence
Secretary claiming that he has ordered the shooting of those
surrendering. Soon the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra judicial killings
Philip Alston called explanations from the Government regarding the same
Then followed the infamous interview of the General to the Sunday
Leader. What followed is common knowledge where the Editor maintained
that it was authentic despite half-hearted denials by the General.
Subsequently Philip Alston made a statement indicting Sri Lanka on war
crimes at a Press Conference in New York. All these are timed to
coincide with the election campaign. It gives room for anyone with a
knowledge of international affairs to conclude collaboration of local
and these overseas forces to favour the General at the election. This
poses a threat to the sovereignty of the country, a factor to be
recognized by the voters.
The last phase of the campaign began with the publication of the
manifestos of the candidates. It is here the political immaturity of the
NDF candidate and the maturity and experience of the UPFA candidate is
clearly manifested. While the former has spelt out a document resembling
an essay of a Grade Two student, the latter has put up a comprehensive
program that is both pragmatic and visionary. Unfortunately the latter
Manifesto has so far not attracted the attention it deserves.
In his Manifesto President Mahinda Rajapaksa clearly mentioned his
resolve to evolve a solution to the National Question within the
framework of a Unitary State. As he has told at a recent interview he is
going to put forward his solution for discussion among all interested
parties. He has pledged to implement it following the widest possible
consensus on it. Unlike the NDF candidate he has not left a single issue
Of course, the General has a problem. That is to seek agreement with
the disparate forces that have surrounded him. Whether it is economic
policy or political program the UNP and the JVP do not see eye to eye.
While the General leans more towards the UNP he is not ready to
antagonise his JVP friends. That is why he has openly stated that he
would not allow both of them to be disunited in the future. Whether he
could succeed, however, is a moot point.
What is apparent is even in the unlikely event of him winning the
election these disparate groups would put forward and agitate for
opposing demands that make the country ungovernable. It is here that the
military upbringing would tempt the General to go it alone.
His whole campaign shows his military inclination. Even the theme
slogan of his campaign is in military parlance Deveni Meheuma. Even his
form of addressing opponents in derogatory terms, kalavedda (pole cat),
paaharaya (uncultured fellow) etc. betray this inclination. They are
words unbecoming of a President in the making.
The decision on January 26 will decide whether there will be
continuity in development or an interruption, whether the country would
enter a period of continued stability or whether it would be plunged
into a period of anarchy. The decision is with the voter who for once
would become the kingmaker on that day.