66th milepost and midway blues of the Blue-Green mix

President Maithripala Sirisena and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) celebrated their 66th birthdays yesterday, amidst mid-point blues of the unity Government of the SLFP and UNP. While President Maithripala Sirisena is quite confident that the consensual Government would continue at least till

the end of his five year term, i.e. 2020, there are many in his own party and others who have their doubts. However, as President Maithripala Sirisena pointed out, whether the current government loses the majority in Parliament or not, he will still head the government as President until the end of his term.

The midpoint of the Unity Government is, however, an appropriate occasion to weigh the scale of achievements and failures.
The people of Sri Lanka decided to elect Maithripala Sirisena because they wanted a change for the better. It was indeed a tough task as Maithripala Sirisena inherited a post-conflict Sri Lanka heading dangerously towards totalitarian rule. Although he was a leading member of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, he was not a member of the influential group that ruled the country. The then President and the government administration had been constitutionally sealed in authoritarianism and there was a culture of impunity. The regimentation spread from school principals being trained as Army Colonels to discipline schools, to university students being trained in Army camps prior to academic orientation. The democratic international community watched these developments with dismay. They were toying with the idea of economic sanctions.

When evaluating the performance of the past two and a half years, the Unity Government would be quite content with the achievements in different fronts such as stabilization of the economy, strengthening of democratic institutions, laying a firm foundation for good governance with the establishment of the Constitutional Council, which gives recommendations to the President when selecting officials for the Judiciary Commission, Public Service Commission, Elections Commission, Police Commission etc.

Most Successful Step

The most successful step taken during the first 100-day programme was the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which was passed by the 225-member Parliament with 215 voting in favour on 28 April 2015. The amendment diluted many powers of the Executive Presidency, which had been in force since 1978. The political analysts are unanimous in their opinion that the 19th Amendment is the most revolutionary reform ever applied to the Constitution of Sri Lanka since J.R. Jayewardene became the first Executive President of Sri Lanka in 1978. In the past, there were several infamous Amendments like the 6th, 13th, and 18th that were enacted due to pressure from nationalists, outsiders, and personal agendas of certain individuals.

On the eve of the SLFP anniversary, Maithripala Sirisena told the media that he is totally dedicated and committed to build the SLFP as a clean, unstained, corruption free, and principled party that provides leadership to the nation through honest and dedicated politicians. “Although it is not an easy task as not only the body politics, but also the entire social fabric is diseased with corrupt practices, I am absolutely determined to fulfil this uphill task.”

President Sirisenas message

President Maithripala Sirisena said that the message he wanted to project to the nation on the 66th Anniversary of the SLFP is, “The people in the country yearn for unstained politicians and my determination is to ensure that the SLFP is a party that provides such politicians to make the people’s dream a reality.” There is enough evidence in support of the success of his anti-corruption crusade. He has established a Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) under a Deputy Inspector General of Police in order to investigate financial fraud. In May 2015, a Presidential Commission on Fraud and Corruption was created to investigate reports of corruption. The government’s Anti-Corruption Committee established an operational arm with the Anti-Corruption Secretariat (ACS). Four other coordinators were appointed as Deputy Directors, representing the Attorney General’s Office, the Police, the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), and one other representative. The investigations into corruption and related developments have already resulted in two powerful ministers losing their ministerial portfolios. That alone shows the progress of corruption probes.

Development Activities

Although many development activities have taken place during the last two years, many people who voted for Maithripala Sirisena on 8 January 2015 express disappointment over the delays in certain areas including prosecuting those who were accused of large-scale bribery and corruption. Another grievance is the delay in constitutional reform including the much-promised abolition of the Executive Presidency.

Progress in terms of Constitutional reform has been slow. That is mainly due to the extremist elements in the North and South. The Tamil politicians have failed miserably to come to a consensus on devolution demands. If there is a unified demand that could serve as the basis for discussions to find an acceptable formula that could be sold to the people in the South, the two national parties can come to an agreement. When a proposal is not forthcoming from the Tamil parties, the hard-line elements in the SLFP and UNP pile on the pressure on the leaders. This places Maithripala Sirisena, as well as UNP Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe in a most unenviable position. Although they have the desire to find a lasting solution to the vexed question of Constitutional reform and devolution, they find it extremely difficult due to the growing opposition from a section of their respective parties.

Reforms Agenda

It is true that President Maithripala Sirisena has an ambitious reforms agenda and has taken bold steps towards reconciliation, as visiting US Assistant Secretary of State, Alice Wells said in Colombo last week. She expressed appreciation over the progress made by Sri Lanka in many areas such as transitional justice, communal amity, Constitutional reforms, development, and peace and stability.

However, there is a delay in implementation. President Maithripala Sirisena pointed out that a few extreme elements in the North and South level baseless allegations against the government to take undue political advantage, but the government is determined to implement its programme for reconciliation and development undeterred. “Though the progress is slow, it is steady and stable,” he said.

Even though the progress is slow, it is evident that there has been substantial progress that has been made in the right direction.

Hence, President Maithripala Sirisena, his Unity Government, and his SLFP require an undisturbed second half in the 5-year tenure to deliver on the remaining promises.

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