Editorial


When:
October 29, 2018 @ 2:00 am
2018-10-29T02:00:00+05:30
2018-10-29T02:15:00+05:30
Editorial

29 OCTOBER 2018

Avoidable crisis

President Sirisena’s actions have put Sri Lankan democracy in peril

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to withdraw his faction from the ruling coalition and replace Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has plunged the country into a political crisis. This was further complicated, a day later, by the President’s move to suspend Parliament till November 16. Mr. Sirisena’s fast-deteriorating relationship with Mr. Wickremesinghe was an open secret, and there were indications that he could be negotiating a possible partnership with Mr. Rajapaksa. But his sudden and secret manoeuvre caught everyone, including senior politicians, completely unawares. And before the details and implications of the political drama that was unfolding could sink in, Mr. Rajapaksa had been sworn in Prime Minister, beaming as he greeted the President, his chief rival until days ago. Mr. Wickremesinghe has termed his replacement “unconstitutional” and maintains that he remains Prime MinisterConfident of a majority, he has challenged the Rajapaksa-Sirisena combine to take a floor test in the 225-member HouseBy suspending Parliament, Mr. Sirisena is seen to have exposed his own insecurity about garnering the required strength. The next two weeks will be crucial, with attempts at horse-trading and assertions of political loyalty amid uncertainty. None of these is uncommon in Sri Lankan politics, but the circumstances, which are entirely of Mr. Sirisena’s making, have led to a political upheaval that was avoidable. All this has come at a time of economic fragility, with a plummeting rupee, soaring unemployment and rising living costs.

Mr. Sirisena’s appointment of Mr. Rajapaksa even before voting out Mr. Wickremesinghe on the floor of Parliament is nothing but blatant abuse of his executive powers. Guided by narrow political interests, the President’s actions betray an utter disregard for the parliamentary process. In resorting to these emergency measures, he has not only put democracy in serious peril but also let down Sri Lankans, including a sizeable section of the Tamil and Muslim minorities that backed him in the critical 2015 election. The best forum to test political clout in a democracy is the legislature. An extra-parliamentary power struggle, that too using illegal means, heightens the risk of political thuggery and unrest. Still recovering from the violence and bloodbath during its nearly three-decade-long civil war, and grappling with the economic and social challenges in its aftermath, Sri Lanka cannot afford to recede from the democratic space that opened up in 2015. Mr. Sirisena and Mr. Wickremesinghe had come together in an exceptional political alliance that promised to put the country back on the path of democracy, after a decade of Mr. Rajapaksa’s authoritarian rule. Leaving aside the irony of Mr. Sirisena joining hands with Mr. Rajapaksa, who he had left and subsequently unseated from office, his desire to consolidate power by hook or by crook is extremely unfortunate. Though much damage has been done already, a fair vote must be ensured when Parliament reconvenes, if possible before November 16.

More from less

The BJP is giving up seats it won in Bihar to JD(U), a strategy that is not without its risks

It is easier to reach agreements in principle than to sign up on the specifics, but both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (United) overcame a major hurdle when they decided they will contest an equal number of the 40 seats in Bihar in next year’s Lok Sabha election. There is no word yet on what that number will be, as there are two other alliance partners in the equation, the Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party of Upendra Kushwaha. In 2014, the NDA partners won 31 seats – BJP 22, LJP six, and RLSP three. The JD(U), which contested separately, won just two seats, but now wants to be treated as a senior partner of the alliance, having won about 16% of the vote in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and the 2015 Assembly election. What this means in real terms is that the BJP will have to stand in fewer seats than it won in 2014. Unless it manages to beat down the LJP’s expectations, the BJP will not be able to contest in more than 16 seats. The JD(U) has not been a reliable ally, not for the BJP, and not for the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress. To give up seats it now holds to an ally not wholly trustworthy is a gamble, but theBJP realises the situation is vastly different from what obtained in 2014. In the 2015 Assembly election, the BJP’s seat share dropped substantially in the face of a JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance that polarised votes. The BJP was unable to come to power until after the JD(U) broke away from the RJD and the Congress and re-joined the NDA. It was a hard lesson, but it was learnt well. A humbled BJP evidently thinks it wiser to be more accommodative to allies than to pursue the high-risk strategy of trying to force multi-cornered contests in the hope of coming on top in the first-past-the-post system.

If the agreement reached by BJP president Amit Shah and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar sticks, the electoral arithmetic will likely favour the NDA. But the RJD is clearly on a comeback trail, and the image of Chief Minister Kumar is much the worse for his years in power. The vote shares of the NDA constituents might not all neatly add up. In the opposing camp, the problem is not seat-sharing but putting together a winning combination. The RJD and Congress must be hoping that Mr. Kumar, after his frequent shifting of camps, will not be able to take his entire support base to the NDA. A better showing in the by-elections was a morale-booster, and the RJD and the Congress might fancy their chances as they contend with the formidable numbers of the NDA.

Leave a comment