IGNORE THE PEOPLE’S VOICE AT YOUR OWN PERIL | Sunday Observer

IGNORE THE PEOPLE’S VOICE AT YOUR OWN PERIL

It takes a strange sort of political animal to forget the vox populi — the people’s voice — when protesting at the drop of a hat, while gnashing teeth for democracy.

The voice of the people, is the voice of God. So said the Romans. In February of this year, this voice was heard in the heartlands and borderlands alike in this country.

40.7 per cent voted for the Mahinda Rajapaksa led Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). 12.10 per cent voted for the UPFA led by the President at Local Government elections.

It means a majority — a real, calculable majority in numbers — have voted for the new government headed by newly appointed premier Rajapaksa. If that is not the vox populi, what is?

A breed of nihilists don’t like the reality though. At best, they think reality is what they think is right. When confronted with the numbers, they take the weasel option. It was only a Local Government election, they say. ‘Nothing like a mandate’.

They’d have to remember that the SLPP, the youngest political party that fielded candidates at that particular election, fought the local poll as a referendum on the Yp (Yahapalana) rule of the Wickremesinghe government. The SLPP gained control of 71 per cent of the LG institutions, sending the government on a course correction that ended in a car crash.

Those who faced rejection serially, are now confronted with the popular sentiment on the ground. A majority of the people, 52 per cent, to repeat, prefer the progressive forces of the SLPP and the SLFP led UPFA. Considering that UNF, the coalition of the governing Wickremesinghe led forces ended up with a mere 29 per cent of the vote, the result was a shellacking of the right royal variety.

But yet, the UNP led forces have had a bizarre reaction to the results.

Such an upsurge in public sentiment for the Rajapaksa led SLPP, and what did the UNP do? The party, and its immediate allies, proceeded to promptly lose the plot.

A humiliating defeat — the words of Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, almost a joined at the hip ally of the governing forces — was spun out of shape, to be presented as a victory for the anti Rajapaksa forces, as it was said that ‘the cumulative vote against the Rajapaksa led SLPP was larger.’

That fig leaf is no more, with 52 per cent to be counted for the SLPP UPF alliance anyway.

THE GALLOPING DECLINE AFTER THE DEFEAT

Post humiliating defeat, the UNP led forces gave a textbook example of how not to engage in course correction.

The beast has been wounded, and was now lurching about the woods, lost, angry and snarling.

Having wrongly interpreted numbers, UNP leaders seemed to fall into the trap of believing their own falsehoods, in a bizarre display of hubris.

The voice of the people was drowned out in a litany of late night TV assertions about a still existing mandate. If this was a lie to justify their continuity, that would have been excusable, but it appears they gradually began to believe their own untruths. The wounded beast was going from slightly crazed, to stark raving mad.

This turn of events is tied to the previous reference to vox populi. The voice of the people was not a factor for the defeated UNP, and it is in doubt that it ever was.

The fish, as it always does, began rotting from the top. From the Premier downward, the top tier ignored every signal of mass discontent. The caricature for that, was how UNP Finance Minister Samaraweera held up a signboard with the fuel price formula at a press briefing, and made it a cause for a good rollicking belly laugh.

The shocking indifference though, seemed to come from deep within. These folk really didn’t seem to care a two cent for the voter.

For one, they were too firmly caught up in the hubris of being in power after a long drought. For another, they were probably just plain callous — maybe born callous.

How else could they have ignored the crushing cost of living burden, the resentment against the ever mounting persecution of war heroes, the complete malaise in the business sector, the accumulating cases of corruption within the Cabinet being exposed, etc., all at the same time, and make a joke of it all?

‘Fiddling while Rome burned’, ‘let them eat cake’, any of these metaphors would fit the Ranil Wickremesinghe prototype for governance, whose method was to be imperially aloof, and make a long running joke of the common man’s concerns.

THE REACTION WHEN THE GAME WAS UP

When the removal came, it was swifter and more sudden than the

the pre presidential election plot against President Rajapaksa himself.

Every hawker on the pavement, every kotthu maker, is a constitutional law expert these days, but what is the bare bones reality behind the events of last week?

People have been given the rationale. The objectors say it’s unconstitutional for the President to remove the Prime Minister, but the backers of the move say the Cabinet ceased to exist after President Sirisena ejected the UPFA from the so called National Government.

The issues are clearest if broken down into these parts.

1. Can the President appoint a new Prime Minister when one is already in office.?

2. Can a President remove a Prime Minister from office?

3. Are the Cabinet appointments legal?

The fist issue is one that has to be explained within context.

The aforementioned hubris of the Wickremesinghe UNP administration (that’s what it essentially was despite the label of National Government) led it to commit a series of constitutional violations going against both the letter and spirit of the constitution.

Here is a list. 1) Local Government and Provincial Council elections were postponed for years at a time, prompting the GermanAmbassador here to finally blurt out in exasperation that elections in democracies are meant to be held on time 2) The partisan Speaker ensured that the Joint Opposition, which was easily the largest single political agglomeration in Parliament, was not given main opposition status. The Leader of the Opposition was appointed from the 16 member TNA. 3) The Chief Justice, despite his predecessor being removed under a Constitutional process, however controversial, was removed with a stroke of the pen, citing some bizarre logic about his appointment being null and void. A Chief Justice for very good reasons, cannot be removed on command, and has to be ejected constitutionally by a process of Impeachment in Parliament. 4) Allotment of speaking time was denied to Joint Opposition members of Parliament regularly, citing the spurious reason that a leader of a party had not asked the Speaker for time. 5) Over a dozen MPs who had lost elections were smuggled into Parliament through the National List, making a total mockery of the electoral process. 6) Immediately following a General Election, the support of some 40 plus members from the UPFA were enlisted to form the so called National Government. The voters who elected these representatives voted for the exact opposite platform of the UNP led government, emphatically rejecting its politics, but their vote was made a mockery of with the formation of the so called National Government, with MPs from the UPFA. 7) Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed over the head of the incumbent premier D M Jayaratne, despite the latter not being removed from his post in any way, shape or form.

The last of these reasons mentioned here, in particular, indicates that there can be no straight faced protest against the President’s appointment of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister in a newly formed government. A Prime Minister had been appointed earlier while another was in office. Despite legal challenges that were mounted against that appointment at that time, the new Prime Minister continued in office with such challenges being rejected.

It is settled law, therefore, that a Prime Minister can be appointed by a President while an incumbent is still in office, if the President in his opinion decides that a particular appointee can show a majority in Parliament.

This position has nothing to do with the 19th Amendment, but has everything to do with precedent.

It has been reasoned by protestors that though the National Government ends when its major partner leaves, that this still does not give the President specific powers in the Constitution to remove the Prime Minister.

When the Cabinet ceases to exist, the Prime Minister is considered already removed, by operation of law, as experts have pointed out.

This in effect makes removal by the President redundant. Besides that, legal experts argue that the Interpretation Ordinance makes it clear that it is the appointing authority that enjoys the right of removal in any appointment.

The most anyone who still does not stubbornly accept this position could do is to maintain that Ranil Wickremesinghe is also a contender, as there can be absolutely no argument that the President can appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, as has been confirmed in settled law in the D. M. Jayaratne case. It seems, when Wickremesinghe was appointed over the head of the incumbent D M Jayaratne on January 9, 2015, the UNP led forces made their bed. They have to now lie in it.

Any person who feels Wickremesinghe continues to be a contender for Premiership could await a showdown in Parliament to consider who holds a majority, and therefore, there can be no legitimate protest against the current reality, prorogation of the House being the legal prerogative of the President. The fact of course is that Wickremesinghe has already been cast out. That, as stated above, is legal as well.

THEY DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH

‘They doth protest too much, methinks’ — Shakespeare (Hamlet)

The legal reality above makes more practical political sense when seen against the backdrop of the enormous amount of constitutional and ethical violations that the Wickremesinghe led Yahapalanites have been responsible for.

The convenient network of political forces going combustible over the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, forget that it is morally indefensible for those who condoned such an enormous number of violations to wake up suddenly to see a glitch in a palpably legal appointment, that could be put to the test in Parliament anyway.

Protesting for the sake of the fact that your man is not IN ignores the vox populi and does it rather dangerously at that. The people’s desire for the return of a Rajapaksa led regime has to be given voice to, if anybody has the slightest concern for democracy— as democracy is made a farce, if it ignores the will of the people.

All clean suited protests are hollow if such protests gloss over the above realities, and amount to nothing more than protecting the partisans’ own turf, tribe and parochial interests. The word ‘democracy’ cannot be prostituted to promote the abomination of ignoring the people.

Democracy, as is the freedom of speech, is for everyone. All of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s purported backers, be they in the country or from across our shores, did not say a word when a vast array of violations of the Constitution, as listed above, benefited their man, and were in effect carried out to victimize the Rajapaksa led forces.

Those who bring a relatively few people to Colombo — so few that it looked as though a daytime musical show happened at a cinema car park — have to look over their shoulders.

There is a massive, much larger crowd behind your knee-jerk, car park crowd. Theirs is the voice of the disenfranchised, who have not been given their due right of representation in the past three years due to postponed elections and stultifying machinations in Parliament, which reduced their opposition to a mere whimper.

This crowd has a right to be angry. But yet, this crowd has been patient. Above all, this crowd is huge. So huge that it has been finally heard despite all the efforts of the Wickremesinghe led coterie of Colombo’s privileged people and their handpicked allies, to smother it.

Continued efforts to stifle this voice with a tissue of lies is to assume that privilege entitles people do anything, even subvert the truth.

THE FUTURE

Contrary to unverified news, the situation in the country has been extremely calm and would probably remain so. Apart from the incident that saw former Minister Arjuna Ranatunge’s bodyguards discharging a firearm and killing one person, and some fisticuffs at Temple Trees, the overall prognosis for peace and stability in the country has been extremely good.

The Stock Market picked up, and more importantly people have been getting the relief they wanted. Prices of fuel and some essential commodities have already come down, and some of the most obscene taxes have been removed. There is more to come by way of consumer relief, obviously.

High taxes seem to have pleased the former Finance Minister and his immediate cabal of fellow traveller and nobody else. They were a heavy burden, especially, the telecommunications levies so called, that were a slap on the face of the ordinary folk who had been promised ‘free wi fi.’

Now, it’s a new arraying of forces taking place, and this includes so called ‘hard line elements’ on both sides of the political divide. TNA MPs are joining the new government, and that bodes well for a fractured society.

If there is one thing the UNP succeeded in doing, it was proving that empty rhetoric and no results alienated everybody. Hubris and malaise of the UNP brand, seem to have brought everyone together in opposition.

A word has to be said about Ranil Wickremesinghe’s monumental failure to deliver on the economic front.

His lack of policy awareness was trumped only by his inability to inspire any sort of confidence. Those particularly in the international community so called, who condemn the recent moves to appoint former President Rajapaksa as PM fail to heed the vox populi in Sri Lanka, but almost as important is that, for them, the people’s lot is irrelevant.

They have to consider changing their tack, and applauding the new agglomeration of forces that is taking shape.

There is much to be accomplished by the representatives of the North and the South getting together. One TNA MP has, at the time of writing joined the new government. More are expected.

Core principles need not be sacrificed, when the priority is the people.

The long suffering mass of ordinary folk, await economic redress.

They do not have time any more for canards that vilify the Rajapaksa group, or vilify, for that matter the TNA, or any other political entity that wishes to work together with the Rajapaksa administration.

They do not have time for canards about the ‘purchase of MPs for hard cash.’

Palitha Ranga Bandara, UNP MP, said, he has been offered some 50 million rupees to cross over. The fitting retort is that nobody is going to spare fifty cents or less to have him.

Those who throw in their lot with the new Rajapaksa-Sirisena regime know where the political zeitgeist is. That’s why they are crossing over. They are aware that the people are watching, that voters don’t like spent forces, that they do like redress, especially, when the taxes are obscene, and all they are being fed is a daily diet of made up stories about ‘how bad the Rajapaksas were’.

Those canards have had their time. Those who spread them, are now so deeply unpopular with the people.

There isn’t the need to name names here. People are aware of these inimical forces.

They are obscurantist. And they are so yesterday.

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