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Sri Lankan President has acted for narrow interests, endangering democracy

Sirisena has now shown an extraordinary level of lack of statesmanship by creating this constitutional crisis and, in the process, destabilizing the smooth democratic process in Sri Lanka. If Sirisena had developed differences with Wickremesinghe, the obvious course of action for him was to dissolve the parliament and call for national elections, writes N.S.Venkataraman for South Asia Monitor.

Nov 4, 2018
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s sudden decision to sack Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and induct the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister has left people wondering what motivated Sirisena and whether he has acted responsibly, with the country’s interest in mind.
 
Sirisena’s move has not only created a constitutional crisis in the country but has also caused considerable damage to the reputation of Sri Lanka globally as a country with traditionally healthy democratic practices. Many suspect that Sirisena has been solely guided by his personal interest in holding on to the position of President, rather than the long term interest of protecting the fabric of Sri Lankan democracy.
 
In the last national election, Sirisena’s party and Wickremesinghe’s party contested the election together, opposing Rajapaksa. During the election process, Rajapaksa was harshly criticized by Sirisena, even though he served under Rajapaksa as President. Sirisena’s departure from the Rajapaksa government was viewed as back stabbing by the former and both remained bitter adversaries.
 
Sirisena received a mandate for a joint coalition government with Wickramasinghe and the verdict also reflected the rejection of Rajapaksa by the majority of the voters.
 
Now, by sacking Wickremesinghe and aligning himself with Rajapaksa, Sirisena has treated the people’s mandate with contempt.
 
After decades of bloody civil war, Sri Lanka was returning to normalcy. What is needed now is a sustained effort to rebuild the country’s economy with long term vision, which would be possible only by ensuring smooth governance. Sirisena was given the mandate by the people, but has negated it.
 
While credit for defeating the LTTE separatists and restoring the sovereignty of Sri Lanka after a protracted civil war belongs to Rajapaksa, he was voted out in the last election mainly due to the fact that he made the governance of Sri Lanka a family enterprise. He brought his nearest relatives to government, gave them plum posts and people claim corruption and nepotism were the order of the day.
 
The people showed maturity in exercising their franchise and asserted that the country wanted clean governance.
 
Sirisena has now shown an extraordinary level of lack of statesmanship by creating this constitutional crisis and, in the process, destabilizing the smooth democratic process in Sri Lanka. If Sirisena had developed differences with Wickremesinghe, the obvious course of action for him was to dissolve the parliament and call for national elections. However, when the politician becomes President but still conducts himself like an average politician, then the structure and stability of democracy in the country suffers heavily. This is what is happening in Sri Lanka now
 
Sirisena has caused a setback to the spirit of democracy in Sri Lanka by sacking a person who was his partner until recently and joining hands with his adversary, which is against the mandate given by the people. It is surprising that a seasoned person like Sirisena cannot see beyond himself, even as he remains President of Sri Lanka, with responsibility for ensuring that the country forges ahead. Sri Lankan citizens deserve better.
 
(The author is with the Chennai-based NGO Nandini Voice for the Deprived. He can be contacted at nsvenkatchennai@gmail.com)

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