August Editorial

August 11, 2007

Sri Lanka is worse off than when Mahinda Rajapaksa entered power. Poorer, deader and more isolated from the world and each other. In Colombo you can perceive it in the ubiquitous police presence, abductions in our midst, and disruptive VIP convoys. In the North and East it is obvious in that over 600,000 are displaced, living cheek to jowl in IDP camps, having their women changing in front of strangers and their children using overcrowded latrines. Sri Lankans also have less money in their pockets than when Mahinda entered office. The Colombo Consumer Price Index (inflationary measure) is up by 25%, meaning that the same wages buy you less food. The war that demands this sacrifice has limited support with those supporting a military solution declining from 35.1% to 27.9% among the Sinhala population (CPA Peace Confidence Index). Finally, the Rajapaksa corruption ranges even to deal with the LTTE, offensive to everyone. In the face of all this bad news, how does this government stand?

One can point to the ineptitude of the Opposition, or the moral bankruptcy of crossover MPs like Milinda Moragoda or G.L. Peiris. However, the answer is more obvious. Sri Lanka is a democracy with a constitution. No matter how many people assemble in Hyde Park, the next presidential election is in 2011 and the next parliamentary election is in 2010 – unless Mahinda snaps his fingers on the latter.

Ranil Wickremesinghe continues to make quixotic tilts at the Presidency, but after 13 failures at the polls, it’s almost pathetic. His shambolic UNP was only stirred awake by Mangala Samaraweera, who Ranil has promised another constitutional impossibility – a deputy premiership. The man has nothing on earth, so he promises the moon. In reality, despite all the tension on the ground, there are only two viable ways to change this country.

Theoretically, two thirds of the parasites in Parliament could briefly stop sucking petrol from the government teat, blink their eyes and take a principled vote. Under one condition. If it is true that Mahinda gave money to the LTTE to disenfranchise Sri Lankan citizens in the North and East, then he should certainly be impeached. Of course impeaching a President in Sri Lanka would be a long and lengthy process. But that is a big ‘if.’ Mangala and Sripathi Sooriyarachchi have yet to produce any documentation of this alleged fraud, and it is unclear why Mahinda would let them out of the fold if they did. By far the most likely option is, Mahinda will remain President until 2011. Perhaps even get voted back. In this period there is much the people can and should do to participate, but Sri Lankan checks and balances are woefully weak. Mahinda has completed the corruption of Parliament by making almost every member of the government a minister or deputy.

Sri Lanka has 108 ministers for 19 million people. The monthly salary of a cabinet minister is Rs. 65,000. The monthly salary of a non cabinet minister – Rs.63,500. In the words of Sir Winston Churchill…. “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as though nothing had happened.”

Or perhaps the Sri Lanka Tourist Board slogan, “Sri Lanka – A land like no other,” is more apt.

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