Was President right in removing Ranil?



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By Ruwan Rajapakse


Masquerading behind the so-called "constitutional crisis" is an incompetent UNP leadership


There is a popular belief in Sri Lanka that is well supported by a kind of postmodern pseudo-intelligentsia, that "all politicians are rogues". This fascinating meme – a viral idea that fits snugly in our consciences – is an intellectually vacuous concept. Yet time and time again it is craftily touted by people with vested interests, who often are on the losing side of a major political struggle, and wish to detract support for the winners. Aside from the ostentatious and hypocritical nature of this presumption (especially when politicians themselves speak to it), there are good practical reasons for caring citizens to steer clear of this type of shallow, counterproductive analysis.


How on earth can we improve over time if we are unwilling to spot subtle differences in the choices that are made available to us? Sociologists tell us that progress is made through consistent, small wins. Like in nature, where tiny genetic mutations aggregate over many generations to produce entire new life forms, it is the seemingly small differences in the attitudes and skills of our representatives which ultimately amount to vast sociopolitical progress (or regress) over time.


The transition from a chaotic, war-torn country into a peaceful and more prosperous one is an excellent example from our own country’s recent past. This transition was led by an administrative team that was explicitly chosen by some of us; a team that succeeded where others had failed miserably for over three decades. They clearly had something better in them that suited the purpose, that some of us saw. So we absolutely must pay close attention and make definitive choices, or risk drifting into some clandestine political agenda that has little to do with mainstream interests like economic development.


In the present context of the so-called constitutional crisis, the better administrative team would be the one that has a clearer top-level agenda for responsible and purposeful government producing practical results, and not metaphysical rhetoric. Facilitation of economic growth and individual financial autonomy, skilled defense of an economy against global churn or downturn, liberalization of human values and improvements to the system of justice, prevention of terrorism, the enhancement of public services and utilities, and the facilitation of better lifelong education are obvious competency areas to watch out for amongst the two factions. Proof of even a marginal difference between the two factions is worthy of decisive support in favor of one side over the other.


The RW-led Yahapalanaya government performed abysmally in this regard, in comparison with the previous MR one. To put it plainly, they won on a deceitful ticket of dubious merit – the cry of "rogues, rogues", a political gambit that appeals to the downtrodden, who observe the rich and powerful strutting their stuff with envy, and pity themselves. They did little except to weaken government and bestow undue power on their otherwise apathetic leader, whilst allowing their cronies to embezzle over 10 billion rupees from the state coffers on the side. The only serious charge that was substantiated through the Yahapalanaya government’s infamous "campaign against corruption", was that of the reallocation of some state funds outside of financial regulations (FR) by the previous MR government, as a grant for prayer cloths for Buddhist devotees! This is after operating a special police taskforce for over three years to bring to justice those involved in supposed major financial crimes. Mind you, this "special" taskforce operated with brazen political bias under the direction of the Prime Minister, arresting or questioning all and sundry from the previous government on a daily basis, alas to no avail.


Let us come to the crux of the dilemma facing us today. Let’s be generous, and steel man the case for a so-called "constitutional crisis". President MS, after working closely with, or rather attempting to work closely with the RW team for years, found himself to be increasingly irrelevant, and witnessing a rogue political agenda that was derailing Lanka’s economic progress. Worse, he found himself to be the target of a plausible assassination plot with high government connections, and made a quick decision to use his political clout to kick RW and his team out and restore some semblance of controlled, purposeful government. He consulted his legal advisors, and finding a loophole in the constitution that would serve him well in explanations later on, sent RW his dismissal note, and appointed his more capable former ally MR as the new Prime Minister.


Here is my key point. The same pundits who touted the "all are rogues" theory (like the JVP for instance) are screaming that due process is sacrosanct, and if process breaks down, all hell breaks loose. Who says? Why, if there weren’t revolutions in human society, we’d be stuck in a tribal, Neolithic world. Constitutions are drawn up (and amended) to uphold values and good practices as best understood at a given time in history. They however are ultimately just a means to an end, which is the overall wellbeing of the people at large. Means do not always supersede ends (just as ends do not always supersede means), especially if the means are preventing us from stopping a calamity like bloodshed or economic regression in this case.


We create due process to help us preserve human wellbeing based on existing knowledge, and when we discover a novel situation that needs urgent action outside of previous precedent, we first break the coded rules in the interest of time, and then amend them for future benefit. That’s why there have been hundreds of unconstitutional Executive Orders and Acts of Congress with sweeping consequences in American history, why the Australian Prime Minister was sacked unconstitutionally by the Governor General in 1975, and how Abraham Lincoln emancipated slaves. President MS’s little constitutional coup is not such a remarkable action. So he exploited a loophole in the 19thAmendment to sack a grossly underperforming Prime Minister. The Supreme Court is the final authority to decide on the constitutionality of this action. Perhaps RW knows in his legal mind that MS was technically correct, since there doesn’t appear to be any move so far to clarify the matter with the Supreme Court. In any case MS did it to right a pretty bad situation. The rupee was in freefall, the Prime Minister was covering up the bond scam against a mountain of evidence, there appeared to be no purposeful moves to defend and strengthen the economy, taxation was rising with no corresponding increase in available public utilities or benefits for the disadvantaged. In fact, benefits to the disadvantaged were being taxed, agriculture was neglected, infrastructure development was neglected, and there was evidence of a plot to murder The President. So all in all a good political move! Strongman-ish perhaps in nature but bloodless and easily democratized through parliament within the next few days. The President struck when the iron was hot, to the chagrin of his incompetent opponents who were trusting precedent and loyalty – two worthless values in the face of real problems.


A couple of other points for us to ponder on the present political situation. We now see yet another red herring being tossed up in the air, to distract us ordinary folks from the core issue of the failure of RW to perform sensibly. It is once again a version of the pitiful cry of "rogues, rogues", this time taking the form of financial inducement for taking up ministerial posts. Listening to the first three audio recordings of MP Ranga Bandara’s phone conversations and his subsequent analysis of them, it is plainly apparent that Bandara is the one who is stitching three different conversations with three different people together, with his own unsubstantiated explanation of what is going on. The first conversation sounds like a credible one between him and a government minister. In summary, the minister was urging him to cross over and join the new government, before the 30 available Cabinet positions are taken up by others. A perfectly reasonable and ethical conversation, that a minister from the new government would have with a UNP MP, to canvass support against RW, whose leadership they (the new government) consider as an active obstacle to the nation’s progress. The second and third conversations, which are suggestive of inducement, are between Bandara and two perfectly unknown persons, one of whom claims to be a minister and the other whom Bandara claims to be an agent of a member of the Rajapaksa family. Where is the evidence that a minister offered money to Bandara, or that these two unknown people are in fact agents of the new government? Any pickpocket can be hired from the street to discuss a bribe over the phone, claiming to represent someone else. I wouldn’t fret over this red herring, unless we can find evidence that clearly shows these two people acted on a minister’s instructions. Transparency international has submitted this "evidence" to a court this morning, let’s see what the legal experts have to say.


The other more general point was that, for the umpteenth time, the RW camp is trying its level best to turn away our attention from administrative performance towards abstract morality. Getting the speaker to voice his personal displeasure over the "immorality" of RW’s sacking and the prorogation of parliament, the talk of bribes, the talk of dictatorships and unconstitutional government, prostration in front of foreign emissaries etc., are all part of a clever yet (unfortunately) regressive political campaign to gain sympathy and rekindle the nonperforming Yahapalanaya government. I urge all well-meaning representatives and citizens to not get lost in these dubious details, but to stay focused on the big picture and act accordingly.


Was there not a gross failure in the administration of our country over the past three years, and didn’t the President make the right move to change the administrative leadership? Sift through the evidence and come to your own conclusions, ladies and gents.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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