Governance by Blackmail
Posted on March 17th, 2017
The most potent governance tool of Sri Lanka is blackmail. Presidents use it extensively to buy compliance from friend and foe alike. President Sirisena sits on at least nine (9) investigation reports. The president doesn’t seem to care about punishing the corrupt. He is not at all interested in the massive drain of state coffers due to the Central Bank bond fraud of 2015. His only intention is to use these reports to blackmail his friends and foes if they turn against him.
His aim is the 2019 and 2020 elections. If UNP leader Ranil contests the presidential election against Sirisena in 2019, corruption reports and a judicial process will commence to sling mud, defame and prosecute Ranil for this alleged offences. Similarly, reports on alleged corruption by the Rajapaksas are also with him. He will use these in 2019 and 2020 elections to get the Rajapaksas toe the line. As feudal politics rules Sri Lanka, his strategy is a perfect one to give him an unfair political advantage.
President Sirisena has already used blackmail to steady his ship. Most of his ministers have allegations of corruption, misuse of power or other crimes including murder. Fearing the fate of Weerawansa (or worse) they toe the line. The Joint Opposition has been prevented from leaving the SLFP thereby weakening it by the use of blackmail. If the JO forms a new registered party with its MPs, these MPs will face corruption and abuse of power charges and end up in jail.
Sirisena is not an exception as all Sri Lankan Presidents have used this tactic. A former president publicly declared that he had personal files of all those who opposed him at the presidential election. Old details of a former army commander and a chief justice emerged after they failed to toe the government line. These were obviously known well before but were kept in personal files only to be put out when needed.
There are many problems with governance by blackmail. It lets off criminals if they comply. On the other hand it makes corruption, murder and other offences a valuable qualification for ministers and public officials. A president would fear appointing a clean minister or an official as the president will be unable to reign in the official in the absence of skeletons in the closest. This is the main reason why known criminals are appointed to responsible positions.
At times in leads to a series of tragicomedies. Within just months after a politician was blames as a narcotics peddler by Sirisena himself, he was made a district organizer by the president. A perpetual minister since 1994 was blamed for immoral violence against dissidents before the January 2015 election. However, he was appointed a senior minister by the very same people that blamed him. A number of Tamil terrorist war criminals were pardoned of their sins and crimes when they politically aligned with political leaders. Even infamous drug dealers and money launderers.
Misfortune introduces us to strange bedfellows. Since the President appointed a high-powered commission to inquire into the Central Bank bond fraud, Ranil has met Mahinda in Singapore to plan out a counter to the president’s blackmail game. Both are victims of Sirisena’s blackmail game plan. Ranil’s UNP has 106 MPs and Mahinda’s JO has 51. Together, they have 157 MPs (or the required two thirds) of parliament necessary to effect constitutional change and/or impeach the president. They may use this to impeach the president or abolish executive presidency.
However, Sirisena seems to have thought about this as well in 2015. UNP’s 106 seats include non-UNP MPs who are more loyal to Sirisena than to the UNP. They include Rajitha, Fonseka, Hirunika, Wijedasa, Venerable Rathana Thero, Arjuna, Patali and a few others. They will not support the UNP-JO plan and it will collapse for want of two thirds. President Sirisena has also caused the fracturing of the Joint Opposition by splitting the NFF of Weerawansa with five MPs.
All in all, the nation is in a political quagmire. It distracts the leaders from attending to people’s problems. Political bickering at the expense of the nation continues.
Since governance is intrinsically connected to corruption and blackmail, people should not have any hope of reducing corruption, ever. Corruption is the essence of governance in Sri Lanka. No president or government has survived in Sri Lanka without corruption and blackmail. Unless the Constitution is changed to abolish the executive presidency, make it an offence to use blackmail by politicians and give teeth to anti-corruption agencies, the future will be worse.