Recognizing the yahapalanaya party
Posted on March 19th, 2017

by Malinda Seneviratne

Arjuna Mahendran, the former Governor of the Central Bank, is reported to have transferred out some 500 members of his staff.  The Government is all set to demarcate specific areas for protests.  The Government got some egg on its face with the appointment and removal of judges.  There’s the bond issue scandal.  The big boys in the Government ranted and raved about Port City and the Hambantota Port when in power, and all but showed the middle finger to China while campaigning to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa.  Today the very same worthies are crawling on all fours before China and appear to be brain-faded about the aforementioned projects.

Just imagine!

What if all of the above could be placed at the Responsibility Door of Mahinda Rajapaksa?  What if it was the USA and not China?  How would the champions of yahapalanaya have responded?  Well, we are not hearing any shrieks of horror. We are not seeing any terse comments from the US State Department or the British Foreign Secretary.  The yahapalana apologists for this Government have all gone quiet.  Well, not all of them.  Jehan Perera has been reduced to quoting Otto von Bismarck: “politics is the art of the possible”.  Bismarck, interestingly, also observed, “The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions but by iron and blood.”

Let none of this surprise anyone.  It’s not about right or wrong.  It’s not about ethics.  It’s not about doing things right or better.  It’s not about good governance.  It’s all about power and those whose faces you prefer to see and those you despise for whatever reason.  This is best demonstrated by the parliamentary machinations we have seen courtesy the yahapalanists.

Maithripala Sirisena, leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), sacked the Secretary of his party and the Secretary of the coalition his party led (the UPFA) days before the General Election and moved to stop the respective central committees from convening.  Did the good governance advocates mutter ‘tut-tut’?  Nope.  That’s yahapalana democracy, the ‘politics of the possible,’ and decisions by iron (we are yet to get to ‘blood’ but don’t be surprised if we do). The end, so to say, always justified means.

Just the other day Speaker Karu Jayasuriya stated that the National Freedom Front (NFF) led by Wimal Weerawansa could not be accepted as a separate party in Parliament as it was not gazetted as one that contested at the last general election.

Fine.  Now let’s rewind to a moment in late 2015, i.e. just after the General Election.  This was when a coalition government was formed.  It was misnamed ‘national government’, a deliberate slip which we will revisit presently.  It was a coalition made of which parties, does anyone remember.  Pause for a moment.  Remember the names of the parties?  Write them down.  Did you write ‘SLFP and UNP (United National Party)?’  Are you sure?  Yes?

Let’s go back to the election.  The UNP, which made a big do of a ‘grand coalition’ with other parties and political groups and called itself publicly ‘United National Front for Good Governance’ secured 106 seats.  Another party secured 95 seats.  Was it the SLFP?  No.  It was the UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance).  The SLFP did not contest!

And yet, this government was formed (as per provisions in the 19th Amendment we were told) following an agreement signed between the UNP and the SLFP, and the latter, let us repeat, did not even contest the election.  The Speaker, in delivering his decision on the NPP has said that he was not concerned over the internal agreements entered into among parties within those which officially contested and found representation in Parliament.

It’s that trivial, folks.  The point is that the numbers and composition are of utmost importance in parliamentary affair including composition of committees, representation in party leaders’ meetings, time allocation in parliamentary debates etc.

It’s a classic case of doing the convenient as per political preferences and quite unbecoming of the Speaker who happens to be a man noted to uphold principles in a manner uncommon among his contemporaries.

Again, why should anyone be surprised?  Well, the lack of comment from all those lovely people who would shout and scream at the slightest transgression on ‘democratic practice’ by the previous regime, is by now understandable.  Forget them, few eyebrows were raised when the 19th came into effect.  No one seemed to mind the vagueness deliberately scripted in with respect to the notion of a ‘national government’.  Let’s revisit.

Here’s Article 46 (5) defines ‘National Government’: “A Government formed by the recognized political party or the independent group which obtains the highest number of seats in Parliament together with the other recognized political parties or the independent groups”.

It does not say ‘any other’, which would have made this Cabinet legitimate.  Of course neither does it say ‘all other’ (which would have made this Cabinet illegitimate).  The wording is vague and shows carelessness and incompetence.  Well, we should actually use the word ‘pernicious’ here.

So we have the UNP as the party obtaining the highest number of seats.  Nothing wrong there.  Then we have other recognized political parties.  What’s the ‘recognized’ political party in this national government, so-called?  The SLFP?  Well, the Speaker would say if he was asked politely that the SLFP did not contest the election and perforce he cannot recognize it.  And yet, we have a UNP-SLFP ‘national’ government!

Just so we know what this is all about, the ‘national government’ clause has little to do with nation.  It’s about ministerial posts and a neat method of subverting both election promise and the article relevant to the maximum number of portfolios.  Thirty, they said.  Thirty, they wrote into the constitution.  But Article 46(4) allows Parliament to approve a number beyond the ’30’ legislated under 46(1)a and 46(1)b.  ‘Beyond’ goes against the spirit of limitation because theoretically all those parliamentarians who are members of the political parties and independent groups that make the ‘national government’ can be appointed to the cabinet of ministers.  Quite ‘yaha’ in the ‘palana’ sense, what!

So, what should we take out of all this?  We should first and foremost stop being shocked about what was done with the Central Bank bond issue, about the self-righteousness and subsequent silence on Port City and the Hambantota Port, about nepotism and corruption and other things that don’t really sit well with the notion of ‘good governance’ (in word and deed).

If this is yahapalanaya at the age of two years, it would be prudent to extrapolate to what the baby would have grow up to come 2020 or even earlier.   We have to conclude, ‘politicians will be politicians’.  More importantly, we have to understand that their approvers and in fact all those who uttered notions such as good governance with sober faces and in grave tones during the Rajapaksas are essentially a bunch of hypocrites.

As for parties and their recognition, it’s probably best to go with the commonsense definition: a social gathering of invited guests, typically involving eating, drinking, and entertainment.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com.  Twitter: malindasene.  Blog: www.malindawords.blogspot.com.

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