Yahapalanaya or Subha-Yasa Palanaya?
Afriend of mine told me years ago that Sri Lankans always live in a historical perspective. I was not old enough or matured enough to understand this then. Not that I am matured now but old enough to realise what my friend meant. True, we Sri Lankans love to read and repeat our history. Being yet another Sri Lankan, I am no different. I thought I would peep into our proud history to draw some parallels. Yes, I came across an incident and wondered whether “History repeats”.
Chandha Mukaseeva was the king who ruled this blessed island for nearly 10 years from 40 AD. Mahinda Rajapaksa ( MR) was elected as President 1,965 years later and ruled for nearly 10 years. Chandha Mukaseeva’s younger brother was Yasalalaka Tissa. He was known as “Yasa”. He assassinated King Chandha Mukaseeva and became king. Mind you this was several centuries before “Imperialist British Colonials” introduced democracy in this country. At that time sword was the weapon used to overthrow a ruler. Maithri used the ballot to overthrow MR.
King Yasa had been worried that his assassinated brother would come as a ghost and overthrow him. Some parliamentarians say MR is hovering about as a ghost to recapture power. King Yasa had a gatekeeper named Subha, who had similar features as the king. King decided to play a practical joke on his ministers and people (Oh! It’s such an old habit). The king had the gatekeeper dress as the king and he himself dressed as the gatekeeper. The ministers and people paid homage to the gatekeeper believing him to be the real king. Seeing this, King Yasa (now disguised as the gatekeeper) could not stop laughing. At this point Subha asked the ministers why that gatekeeper is laughing. Ministers said, “Your Majesty, he is laughing at you”. Then Subha ordered to put Yasa to death. Subha, the gatekeeper became the king.
The drama that has unfolded over the past few weeks on the 19 Amendment to the Constitution bears some parallels to the Subha-Yasa story. The crux of the Amendment was clipping the Executive powers and the authority of the President ( Yasa) and transferring them to the Prime Minister (Subha). Fortunately for the President, the courts ruled otherwise. He will remain the king with reduced powers. Then there are others who oppose 19A and claim they are competent and qualified for consideration for the Presidency. So it appears that those who are against the Executive Presidency would not mind enjoying such privileges themselves.
Amendment 19 is the first major amendment moved to the 1978 Constitution in 37 years. There have been many broken promises and failed attempts to amend the Constitution during this period. It is a twist of fate that an Amendment is moved to remove the executive powers during the rule of President Maithri who uses his executive authority in the mildest manner. This is the first genuine effort made to amend the Constitution with regard to the powers of the executive president, but it was done with an unusual hurry and a silence. Ordinary citizens were not aware of the nature, the gravity or the impact of changes proposed. After the court ruling, some Ministers have stated that there will be consultation and participation in the Amendment process and the august assembly will convert into a Constitutional Assembly. They have become wiser, saner and sensitive after humiliated court rulings.
There was a short period when both Subha and Yasa were ruling the country by taking turns. Subha in the morning and Yasa towards the latter part of the day. Neither the Ministers nor the people knew who was in command as both of them laid claim to the throne. Today it is Maithri and Ranil. Both call the Government as my Government. People who are not familiar with concepts of Nat i o n a l Government and co- habitation are watching and waiting.
There were two words coined during last Presidential election called “good governance”. Every speaker on the stage talked of good governance. People who did not understand clapped after listening to an elaborate speech on good governance on the stage. Now some of them say we were worried that something was going to change with this good governance but luckily we hardly see any change other than the repetition of these two words in a stronger voice.
Prior to the declaration of a presidential election, there was a government. People were won- dering whether there was an opposition; they criticised that the opposition was in a slumber. There was no opposition; the leader of the opposition sips coffee with MR; Ranil had ruined the UNP; Ranil had ruined the opposition. Then with the crossover of Maithripala Sirisena to opposition ranks, a strong opposition emerged against MR’s strong autocratic Government. The opposition levelled a series of allegations against Government ranks on bribery, corruption, commissions and unlawful acts.
Elections came; a new President, a new Prime Minister and new Ministers were sworn in. But those who took the reins had forgotten that they are no longer in the opposition but in the saddle of Government. They continued their tirade of criticisms. Some are critical of the present regime while the rest is critical of the previous regime. People are clueless and lost to distinguish the Government from the opposition.
People thought the days of MR are gone and over. But he has bounced back unexpectedly and unusual to any other leader lost in any previous election. He is hitting his strong head against several rocks. He tenders a public apology that he failed to take action against culprits. He repents over some of his bad associates. Then the ex- Chief Justice is going round apologising for making a wrong judgment. They accuse themselves; at the same time they appeal for public support to come back. That is the status of our Executive and the Judiciary.
When the majority opposition tries to move a no confidence motion, the minority Government threatens to dissolve Parliament. No confidence motion is dropped; Parliament continues. The President is the head of the SLFP. UNP Cabinet Ministers chase out SLFPers who are heading statutory bodies and appoint UNPers to such positions. One ex- president gives a public lecture on how a defeated President should revert to a private life while she is very much back in the public life.
Every political party gets support of different groups during the election campaign. They may vary from socially condemned thugs to saints. After the election they act with authority. During the last election a large number of civil society organisations operating in different many f i elds j oined the Good Governance campaign. This was unprecedented. After the new President was sworn in they felt a sense of ownership. They were under the impression that they were a part of the Government. During P re s i d e n t J. R . Jayewardene’s period some thugs threatened judges with clubs and fists. Today civil society organisations do the same thing with soft methods. Remember how CJ Mohan Pieris was removed and Shirani Bandaranayake was brought in as Chief Justice. Next day she was asked to step down.
Then we read and listen over the media about corruption and misdeeds. Someone is taken in for questioning. We laymen had been told that a person until found guilty is innocent. But Police media spokesman provides details to paint a bad image of the person questioned. We laymen are ignorant to know how much of that information could be the public domain.
Subha and Yasa played their drama for a considerable period. It would have been like the 100 day programme. At the end of the Subha and Yasa drama, Subha killed Yasa and became the king. As it appears President Maithri should become the nominal Head. Someone else should become the Executive Head. Since democracy has provided us with weapons such as the ballot it could be used to dethrone the Executive President. Or someone who is not confident of becoming the Executive Head through the ballot might use other techniques such as constitutional amendments. Anyway there is a possibility to end a 100-day programme with a similar end. It may be wiser to be vigilant to check whether there is a Subha or several of them and who he or they are.
J.R. Jayewardene has won the title of “cunning fox” for his master strokes in politics. It is said his nephew Ranil inherits at least a part of JRJ’s wisdom. He is known as the master stroke man in today’s politics. Even MR who was known as Machiavelli in current Sri Lankan politics could not bear the impact of Ranil’s latest stroke in nominating the common presidential candidate. The latest talk in the town is that Ranil has this time pecked on a banana tree.
Well we are the spectators; and let us sit down and watch how the current form of Subha- Yasa drama would unfold.
( The writer can be reached on chan[email protected])