Four years in the hot seat | Daily News

Four years in the hot seat

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the election of President Maithripala Sirisena as the sixth Executive President of the country. Celebrations, no doubt, would be mute following the recent developments on the political front triggered by the exit of the SLFP/UPFA component from the Unity Government and the President’s estrangement with the UNF, the key partner in the alliance. However the mandate of the President is still valid. He spearheaded a campaign to establish good governance in the country following virtual family rule that was not accountable to the public, and to dislodge a government mired in unprecedented corruption, gross violation of human rights and general maladministration. The President who presented himself as the Common Candidate pledged to cleanse the body politic of the serious malaise that had infested it and restore a clean and transparent administration. In this endeavour he received the fullest backing of a wide range of civil society groups and civic organizations, artistes, professionals, intellectuals and all those clamouring for good governance led by the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera and his National Movement for Social Justice.

The President lost no time in living up to the ideals espoused by the Ven. Sobitha and his followers, upon being elected. He divested himself of much of the Presidential powers that was abused by his predecessors and transferred these powers to Parliament. Independent commissions were set up to ensure justice and fair treatment to public servants.

Unity Government

For the first time in the country’s post Independence history, a Unity Government comprising arch rivals, the UNP and SLFP, was formed with the intention of working for the common good of the public and achieving the long term goals of the nation.

Of course, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Much need to be achieved yet in terms of the pledges made. There certainly has been tardiness in the implementation of the main pledge of bringing to book those involved in massive corruption under the former regime. The President also had to contend with other issues that have largely being of his own making. Chief among these is his sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on October 26 last year and the installation of his abortive bid to appoint his onetime bete noire Mahinda Rajapaksa as Premier. However the fallout of that misadventure is still being felt, with the President and the Government at odds with each other on certain vital issues. However the President, as a mature politician, no doubt will act with responsibility not allowing political rivalry stand in the way of the welfare of the country.

It is incumbent therefore on the part of the President to set aside political differences and strive to fulfill his mandate in the remaining period of his tenure. As head of state, he owes that much to the voting public who look upon him to steer the ship of state through genuine leadership. The people expect President Sirisena to make the cohabitation arrangement work until such time elections are held.

Laurels

However there are plenty of positives that the President could certainly be happy about, going into the final lap of his Presidency, the most significant being the climate of peace he has ushered in and the elimination of the once all pervasive fear psychosis.

There is today complete independence of the Judiciary which was manifest by adverse rulings given against the Executive no less. The Attorney General’s Department has been totally freed from government interference. Sri Lanka, which was virtually in the dog house, internationally, has today won back the goodwill of foreign nations in good measure albeit the outlook slightly being dented as result of the recent events. World leaders and dignitaries who gave this country a wide berth in the not too distant past today started visiting this country on a regular basis with the election of President Sirisena. For the first time in nearly four decades, a US Foreign Secretary paid an official visit to Sri Lanka, shortly after the election of President Sirisena. The GSP Plus facility which was withdrawn by the EU due to human rights violations was restored, giving our exports to EU countries, particularly garments, a tremendous boost. President Sirisena could certainly take pride in being the chief architect of the country’s largest multi-purpose irrigation project Moragahakanda which would now be a massive boon to the Rajarata farmers while augmenting the hydropower generating capacity in the country

Reconciliation

On the ethnic front, the President has endeavoured to remove all irritants that stand in the way of reconciliation between the two major communities. The government is gradually handing over civilian land occupied by the army to their original owners and the process has gathered pace recently, with more and more lands being released.

He makes frequent visits to the North and continues to interact with the northern population who overwhelmingly voted for him on January 8. A constitutional process aimed at meaningful power devolution has been embarked upon with the participation of all stakeholders. Violence directed at religious minorities which was a frequent occurrence in the past has been contained, with the President maintaining cordial relations with all religious heads.

Going into his final lap, there are mounting challenges the President will have to confront, both, political and the socio-economic front.

The rupee has hit an all time low against the dollar and investors are fighting shy in coming to the country, given the uncertain political climate. The President would do well to dispel these doubts and anxieties so that the country is able to rise and live up to its potential .It is not clear yet if President Sirisena hopes to run for a second term.

In any event 2019 has been declared an election year and in such an event there is bound to be the usual babel in the political market place in which the President too is bound to be caught up in.

It is therefore incumbent for the President to assume a neutral posture and level headed approach in dealing with the challenges without being swept into the vortex of the political whirlpool.

This is time for the President to display his credentials as a statesman by being above politics in the matter of steering the affairs of the state.

He certainly is placed in an unenviable situation. On the one hand, as the leader of the SLFP, he has to work in the interest of his party. On the other hand, he is left with little alternative but continue with the present arrangement in the name of stability.

Whatever it is, the Sri Lankan public will be in for interesting times as the political denouement unravels in the New Year. 


 

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