Ya­ha­palanaya or Subha-Yasa Palanaya?

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - COMMENT - By C. Maliyadde, For­mer Sec­re­tary, Min­istry of Plan Im­ple­men­ta­tion

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])

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