Lawyers protesting outside the Supreme Court
Today is a day of many alarms and few surprises. There is no doubt that Mahinda will pass the 18th amendment, allowing him to run in and control elections (via the Elections and Police Commissions). Despite the protests (pro and con) in Colombo and the rump UNP marching on Parliament, the bill will be passed in Parliament. This whole thing has been like watching a car crash in slow motion. It’s not like Mahinda didn’t give the opposition time. This was run through two elections and interminable rounds of cross overs. Its only the final passage that has been too fast. Ranil could have stopped this at any time by stepping down, by giving opposition MPs some hope of one day getting out of opposition. He didn’t. His protest to Parliament is now empty. He should be walking alone.
To sum the situation, the 18th amendment will remove whatever (theoretical) checks and balances remained on the Sri Lankan Presidency. The President can now appoint almost anyone and can run indefinitely. In Sri Lanka, sitting Presidents almost never lose. They have the full force of the state behind them and don’t hesitate to use state money, buses, properties and violence to win. The only stopgap has been term limits, which Mahinda is now lifting. That is the rub.
The burn is that everyone has seen this coming. Ranil lost to Mahinda in 2005 and didn’t step down. Instead his party has been slowly losing MPs, generally whenever Mahinda wanted to pass something. By maintaining a stagnant opposition Ranil has allowed Mahinda to simply buy votes whenever he wants. When the UNP had their worst showing almost ever in the 2010 Parliamentary elections, Ranil still remained and fed the party faithful only internal committees and meetings. Indeed, his is simply sitting out the debate on this issue, just as he sat out the last Presidential election. Someone should tell him, however, that he’s sitting on our heads.
An opposition has to have some hope of some day being in power, and Ranil has blocked that hope. This is the political climate that has made Rajapaksa’s coup possible. It is sadly now only possible to remove him through coup or massive protest, because this amendment effectively makes the democratic option untenable. The last guy who tried – General Sarath Fonseka – was put in jail, but this only because he’s actually democratically dangerous. The guy who doesn’t try (Ranil) will forever allowed to run free, because it is he who made this amendment possible.
It is not what the people decide, indeed it is rarely what the people decide. This is a pure political play, made possible by how little we control our politicians. Ranil could have stopped this at any time by resigning and actually allowing his party to heal from successive defeats. Mahinda could have stopped this at any time by restraining his greed for power and dynasty. Instead we get this hideous creation, the 18th amendment, fathered by Mahinda and mothered by Ranil. It is not so dangerous now, but wait till it grows up.