Interesting times
Posted on January 16th, 2018

Editorial The Island

The Supreme Court (SC) has decided that the length of President Maithripala Sirisena’s term is five years. Why the President ever sought an opinion from the apex court on that non-issue is baffling. Any layman with a nodding acquaintance with the 19-A would have told him he had lost one year of his term and he had to come to terms with that fact. President Sirisena’s right to consult the SC cannot be questioned, but it certainly was a mistake for him to be seen to be desirous of holding office for six years in spite of his boastful claim that he had voluntarily forgone one year of his term. After all, he said no other head of state in the world had done so. No longer can he claim the credit for shortening his term. His critics can now argue that he made a desperate effort to serve a six-year term, but the SC put paid to it.

It was not out of any love for Sirisena that the masterminds of the 2015 regime change handpicked him as the common presidential candidate. Their plan was to weaken the Rajapaksa government from within by engineering crossovers and carry out a frontal attack from without. After luring Sirisena into defecting together with some other prominent SLFPers, they used him as a battering ram against that administration. Their battle plan was clear; they wanted him to lie low after being elected, letting the UNP run the show and bow out at the end of his first term. They, however, took precautions and put him in a constitutional straitjacket aka the 19th Amendment, which restricted his powers and reduced his term by one year. Their strategy reached fruition, but they made two big miscalculations. They underestimated Sirisena’s political acumen and ambitions and never expected the defeated President Mahinda Rajapaksa to attempt a Revenant-style comeback. They apparently thought Sirisena would resign himself to being a single-term, lame-duck President and Rajapaksa would retire.

The UNP must be jubilant. It is obviously smarting from the presidential commission investigation into the bond scams and the disclosure of some of the commission’s findings and recommendations, especially in the run-up to a crucial election. It must be rejoicing at the SC decision.

President Sirisena has crossed the Rubicon in battling against his arch-enemies who are led by his former boss and there is no way he can give up power soon. On the one hand, he has to retain his hold on the SLFP vis-à-vis determined efforts being made by his rivals to grab its leadership and, on the other, he has to prevent the UNP from undermining his position in the government. Worse, he has to steer the SLFP to victory at the forthcoming local government polls if he is to hold the party dissidents at bay. An electoral debacle will render him more vulnerable on both fronts. How he will overcome this problem remains to be seen.

It is being argued in some quarters that the only way President Sirisena can wriggle out of this situation is to take on both SLFP dissidents and the UNP simultaneously and seek a second term. But, it is a tall order. He is now left with only part of the SLFP vote bank. There is no guarantee that the UNP will throw in its lot with him at the next presidential election if it succeeds in outperforming both the SLFP and the Joint Opposition (JO) at the local government polls next month. It is capable of forming a government on its own by engineering a few defections from the UPFA in such an eventuality.

President Sirisena, however, hasn’t yet run out of ammunition. The bond commission probe report has sent the UNP reeling and he is apparently trying to employ the same method to tame the JO. He has declared that he will have alleged frauds involving SriLankan and Mihin Air probed by a presidential commission of inquiry. An all-out anti-corruption drive may help him shore up public support and gain political traction.

Nothing is so certain as the unexpected in politics. It ain’t over until the fat lady sings, as the saying goes. ‘May you live in interesting times!’ is believed to be a Chinese curse. We are already living in interesting times.

2 Responses to “Interesting times”

  1. Hiranthe Says:

    Good one, exposing the truth while its sister paper praises Sirisena for some reason.

  2. Ratanapala Says:

    President Sirisena having lost one year and a 5-year term now confirmed by the Supreme Court is now trying a different tack. He says he wants to end all corruption in Sri Lanka before he can retire. Any realistic person will know this alludes to staying in power indefinitely. However, there is no way educating this simpleton of a President that his days are numbered before he goes into history as the most ineffectual, lackluster, spineless Sri Lankan leader ever! Under his Jadapalanaya corruption reached its zenith in the form of the Central Bank Bond Scam!

    The days of Angunakola Pelessa Lion are coming to a close fast!

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