Legendary Yaha Palanaya (Subha – Yasa) Palanaya


Chandrasena Maliyadde,
Retired Ministry Secretary

The last meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers of Yaha Palanaya Government was held on Monday November 11. One newspaper reported that "Old hostilities were set aside yesterday as President Maithripala Sirisena presided over his last cabinet meeting, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and other Ministers thanking him for restoring democracy."  News item goes on to say "President Sirisena, for his part, took time to explain to Cabinet the reasons for his decision to grant a pardon to Jude Shramantha Jayamaha…..".

When I read this piece of news what struck my mind was How Yaha Palanaya Government commenced and how it ended five years later.  In fact, if we fill all what happened between the two ends one would get a full picture of Yaha Palanaya Government.

I wrote an article in April 2015 under the title of Yaha Palanaya or (Subha)Yasa Palanaya. I ended up the article stating: "Well we are the spectators, and let us sit down and watch how the current form of Subha-Yasa drama would unfold".

We have been sitting down and watching how the drama was unfolding. Now the drama is over and it’s time to stand up from our chairs and look back.  Yaha Palanaya Government commenced with restoring the impeached Chief Justice and ended up with pardoning a murder suspect who was convicted by the Chief Justice. It commenced with the pledge made by the President that he would not seek a second term but ended up after exploring every possible way to get a second term. Very same people who crowned him in 2015 denied him the crown in 2019. It commenced with defeating the then President after the famous hopper dinner and ended up with joining hands with the defeated President last October.

One of the pledges made during the election in 2015 was to clip the wings of the President. Amendment 19 A was introduced with that intention. Some of the powers vested with the President were transferred to the Prime Minister. Some powers were withdrawn. Most of the people including some senior leaders except the constitutional experts were clueless of the shifting of power. This negligence was staring at us during the infamous 54-day saga that commenced with the sacking of the then Prime Minister in October 2018.   

The acid test of the Yaha Palanaya regime was this comedy played by all key players of the Yaha Palanaya. President sacked the then Prime Minister and appointed another as PM. One PM was operating from Temple Trees while the other operated from Prime Minister’s Office. The country was ‘blessed’ with two Prime Ministers as if one was not enough. Then the President and the two PMs were campaigning and canvassing to establish allegiance of the majority in Parliament. Once the MR faction failed, the President dissolved Parliament. Then Speaker came out and protested. He did not agree with the act of the President. This led to a controversy between the President and the Parliament over supremacy. A tussle between the independent supreme Parliament vs independent supreme President emerged. Parliamentarians proved that they are true representatives of people by exchanging fisticuffs and hurling eggs and chilli powder. The tussle was then taken to the judiciary. A full bench of the Supreme Court held aginst the action of the Executive President.

Many independent institutions, commissions, structures were created under Yaha Palanaya. Central Bank (CBSL) was one such Institution that was made independent with a non-political governor. CBSL was keen on pursuing action to ensure economic stability as mandated to it, but without being sensitive to the economic, social and political reality. Stabilization policy of the Central Bank was prioritized and this led to stalling the economy rather than stabilizing it. Credit flow was stalled making industries cash trapped. CBSL is hailing its act and taking the credit for it but the incumbent Government had to close its shop. In fact, once a senior officer mentioned that Central Bank Governor will get a medal from the IMF but by then the Government will cease to be in power.

In addition to CBSL, many other independent actors started to pop up in many areas. National Audit Commission, National Police Commission, Right to Information Commission, Public Service Commission. National Procurement Commission, Human Rights Commission, Bribery Commission are all independent Commissions appointed by the Constitutional Council under Yaha Palanaya with good intentions. But what happened was that every Commission danced on its own within its mandate. No integration; no consistency; leading to chaos, indecision and inaction. No public officer was willing to stick his/her neck out and make a decision. Every officer was passing the buck up or down.

Before the Yaha Palanaya was established, the Executive President was all-powerful. You may recall the day after the presidential election 2015, the newly elected President rushed to Independence Square and took oaths as Sri Lanka’s sixth President. His very first act was ordaining the then leader of the opposition as the Prime Minister when another Prime Minister with the confidence of the majority of the Parliament was sitting. But this act went unchallenged. No cry in the Parliament; no judicial ruling; no social protest; no civil society uprising.

First Presidential election after Yaha Palanaya was established was held on November 16. The Executive President took five days to appoint a new Prime Minister. Look at the sequential unraveling of events. Sitting PM joined the oaths taking ceremony of the new President held in Anuradhapura. He stated that he has a constitutional rights to continue until the next general election. Then he said that he is considering resignation. Then he was discussing with the President on co-habitation. Then a statement was made announcing consultation with the parties aligned to the Democratic National Front. Then a discussion with Cabinet colleagues was held. Next, an announcement was made that the PM is considering the next step. This was followed by a news item that PM has decided to step down. PM announces that he will tender his resignation to President tomorrow. Then he resigned and left Temple Trees after five days of the election. This symbolizes the delay caused by Yaha Palanaya arrangements,

No one including those who are in control knows who is in control. Suicide bombers struck on The Easter Sunday. Several Churches were destroyed. Some hotels were closed. Several innocent victims were caught in the attack. Some died, others were crippled. The tourism industry crashed. The blame game between independent pillars started. President appointed one Committee. Parliament appointed another Committee. Judicial proceedings are taking place independently.  Fingers are being pointed. Senior Officers are under arrest. Muslim extremists are suspected but more Sinhalese are being questioned, accused and behind the bar.

Reconciliation between different ethnic groups and religions was one of the priorities of the Yaha Palanaya. Yaha Palanaya Government won the confidence of the minority and lost the confidence of the majority. It won the international community and lost the rural community. It promised one million jobs and imported labor from Nepal and Myanmar. It vouched to investigate politicians who robbed public assets and wealth and questioned the public officials who signed vouchers. It created a special unit (FCID) to investigate fraudulent culprits and the head of the unit is being hunted for fraud. He was running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.

Yaha Palanaya regime claims that it provided many benefits to the public sector employees but more than two thirds of them and their families voted against it. It created new institutions; revamped the existing institutions. But efficiency, coordination and integration were lost.

Two main opposing factions contested Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in 2015 before the introduction of Yaha Palanaya.  One faction was led by United National Party with the Elephant symbol while the other faction was led by the Sri Lanka Freedom party of which the symbol was open Hand. There was a strong presence of these two parties in the village. At the election held in 2019 at the end of Yaha Palanaya regime, both parties lost their rural base.

Yaha Palanaya regime restored and established democracy, reconciliation and good governance as promised during the election. But people expected tangible socio-economic benefits rather than intangible virtues of Yaha Palanaya. This is the message conveyed by the electorate during the election concluded on November 16.  

The writer can be reached on chandra.maliyadde@gmail.com

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