Post-Vesak politics: Dual Citizens and Cabinet shake up

Post-Vesak politics: Dual Citizens and Cabinet shake up

The rivalry of politics is pushed to the rear to some extent as the country celebrates the Vesak festival with the added importance,

as the host country for the 14th United Nations International Vesak Festival. The presence of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the President of Nepal Bidhya Devi Bandari at the events of the UN Vesak Festival, along with nearly 70 other foreign representatives, indicate the significance of this special Vesak event, in a country so closely associated with Buddhism and its spread in the world for more than 2300 years.

The presence of these two national leaders of neighbouring countries are of special significance as they are the leaders of the land where Siddhartha Gautama, who became the Buddha after Enlightenment, preached the message of the Dhamma; the Buddhist teaching, about which there is growing interest among peoples and societies, concerned by the increasing divisions caused by globalization and the political and economic, as well as racial and religious differences that prevail in the world.

As the country celebrates Vesak with its international recognition through the UN, it is necessary to remember that the UN’s recognition of Vesak as an international day of religion was due to the efforts of Sri Lanka’s former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar who carried on a strong and determined campaign to have the UN recognize the special religious holiday, which has thus been celebrated since 1999.

The theme of the International Vesak Festival - Buddhist Teachings for Social Justice and Sustainable Peace – has much importance today in the context o the differences that prevail in the world, that affect both internal relations among societies within countries and international relations, too. It also has special relevance for Sri Lanka, with its long history of Buddhism, its significant position on the spread of Theravada Buddhism, and the impact of Buddhism on current aspects of social development.

President Maithripala Sirisena in his message on this Vesak said: “The key condition for social justice is equality. The Buddhist teachings also give prominence to the universal concept of equality. The equality which is demanded by the contemporary world, had been taken into discussion during the period of the Buddha 2561 years ago. The Buddha said peace, which is the key factor of the existence of human beings can only be built in a healthy society where equality has been established.”

This underscores the importance of Buddhism, and its core values, for the progress of Sri Lankan society, especially in the context of a nation resurgent after a prolonged war with terror, and the necessity to build a lasting peace through reconciliation among peoples and communities. The discussions on the theme of the UN Vesak Festival that will take place in Sri Lanka, and the rituals, cultural and other activities related this event, should hopefully help Sri Lankan society move forward in keeping with the true teachings of the Buddha; and avoid the distortions of these valuable teachings that are noticeable today, and at times pose dangers to the proper progress of this society.

Beyond the Geetha duality

The decision of the Court of Appeal that Geetha Kumarasinghe, who was elected as a UPFA member of parliament from the Galle District in the August 2015 General Election, is disqualified from being an MP, as a dual citizen, and the consequential action by the Parliamentary Secretariat to inform the Elections Commission of this, has led to new frothing of politics. The Joint Opposition was quick to accuse Parliament of acting at the behest of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration. The JO position is that Parliament’s rush to act on Geetha Kumarasinghe’s ouster by the Court of Appeal judgement, was due to her being a loyal supporter of the JO leader Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Not surprisingly, the charge against Parliament was made by the JO spokesman, and leader of the SLPP, Prof. GL Peiris, who never hesitates to rush to various politically sensitive or incorrect statements. No doubt Parliament will give its own answer to the professor. It is now reported that Geetha K has since appealed to the Supreme Court against the Court of Appeal order of her status as an elected member of parliament, while being a dual citizen. It is now to be seen what the Supreme Court decides with that petition for a revision of the Court of Appeal order. Geetha K’s action does question the JO position, as stated by Prof Peiris, that she has been denied the constitutional right to move Sri Lanka’s highest court against a lower court.

The JO, with all its buoyancy after the Galle Face May Day crowd, is certainly angry at the loss of one member of its political pack through the dual citizen issue. The analyses of the dual citizen issue by many commentators must certainly give cause for worry to the JO, because it is now found that the 19th Amendment has prevented those holding dual citizenship from contesting any election held for State office in the country. This holds a danger to other key personalities, backed by the JO and the SLPP, who have been identified and promoted by JO-bound academics as possible future national leaders, even holding the office of Executive President. This brings in a whole new area of political developments that had been hardly thought of in the political debates about the future leadership of the country.

In another twist to the Geetha duality issue, there is that other frequent joker of the JO, Bandula Gunawardena, who is calling for the demonetizing of the Rs. 5,000 and other currencies signed by the former Governor of the Central Bank Arjuna Mahendran, on the ground that he is a dual citizen. It will be interesting how this matter is handled, if and who it is raised in Parliament, as Bandula says he would, giving an indication of post-Vesak politics in the country. Present CB Governor, Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy, has told the media that as he understands there is no reason why a foreign citizen cannot become the Governor of the CBSL in this country, that it was the President who made the related appointment, and there were no plans to cancel the currency notes that Mahendran had signed.

Another matter of interest will be the response that JO’s other loud and often hollow voice, Udaya Gammanpila, receives from the Controller of Immigration and Emigration on the names of any other MPs who hold dual citizenship. With JO’s Gammanpila raising the question, it is likely the hopes are that the list would involve MPs in the government. Whoever it is, with the initial story break involving Geetha K, the public would no doubt be interested in knowing how many other dual citizens MPs there are today, and look forward to the constitutional process being properly applied to deal with them, if the need arises.

The Cabinet shake up

Vesak is over and the time has come for the much promised Cabinet reshuffle. After all the delay involved in what is considered a necessary move in government, the indications are that when it does take place, definitely at the correct astrological hour, it will not be the major event it was once expected to be. The current reports are that here will be no change of the parties – UNP and SLFP - in this shake up. Heads on the same side would move here and there, with the Greens and Blues keeping their own sides intact, but with a few changes of faces in ministerial positions. One will have to see how effective these changes will be for the better functioning of government, and also in meeting the increased public criticism of the slow pace of government, as well as the failure to address key issues such as corruption in the current administration, and the increasing issues of favouritism in key areas of governance.

In this context, the Cabinet shake up when completed will not help very much to reduce the differences between the UNP and SLFP within government. The divisions within the SLFP, as best seen on May Day, could well lead to a more increased rivalry between the parties of the ruling coalition; thrusting bigger loads on the President and Prime Minster to keep the coalition unity intact.

In an important post-May Day scenario is the Cabinet decision to expedite and better pursue the probes on allegations of corruption on the members of the Rajapaksa Regime, particularly, those in the Rajapaksa family itself. If carried out as the Cabinet has decided earlier this week, it could well help in changing the increasing public frustration at the failure of government to carry on its pledge to fight corruption that was a key item in the January 8 agenda. This will certainly need a new and higher level of unity with the coalition of national unity.

Such unity will certainly have to overcome the new issue of having three Cabinet Spokespersons – one from the UNP, one from the Ministry of Information, and the next from the SLFP. A post-Cabinet Media Briefing will be certainly more interesting, but how informative? (Daily News)

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