Thursday, 9 September 2010

Sri Lankan MPs opt for their own “Mugabe”

“Sri Lankan MPs have approved proposals to let President Mahinda Rajapaksa seek an unlimited number of terms, in a move critics say could lead to dictatorship”. (BBC News Online, 8 September 2010)

It is not difficult at all to understand the euphoria of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority after the army, under the presidency of Rajapaksa, ended the minority Tamil insurgency in May 2009 that ravaged the country for nearly 25 years.

Although there have been allegations of bribery and corruption, it is hard to dismiss this euphoria as the major factor behind the government securing a majority 161 votes in the parliament of 225. Only seventeen MPs voted against granting Rajapaksa an absolute control over the judiciary, police, and the civil service along with discarding the constitutional restriction of two terms in the office. In simple words, now Mr President’s second term, starting in November, will not be his last and he can contest the elections again in 2016, and if successful, can remain in power until 2022.

Rajpaksa’s efforts in providing his family a place into the exclusive club of South Asian political dynasties are not a secret. However, there are two significant aspects to this saga. The first is the lukewarm opposition to this constitutional amendment– both inside the parliament and on the streets; the second is General Sarath Fonseka’s words describing it to be “the last nail into the coffin of democracy”.

Mind you, the “wise words” are coming from the man who led the army in the operation against the Tamil rebels and subsequently contested the presidential elections against Rajapaksa. Again, it does not come as a surprise that the General eventually ended up losing both the elections and his freedom.

In Sri Lanka, the roles appear to be interchanging: The legislature does not seem to be too bothered giving away its sovereignty and the army General is shedding tears for the institution of democracy.

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