A new trend in politics was seen by what President Maithripala Sirisena said at the meeting of electorate and district organizers of the SLFP at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute earlier this week, and later emphasized in his first meeting with newspaper editors and media heads at the Janadhipathi Mandiraya, on Wednesday.
The trend is one of unquestioned leadership in the politics of the SLFP and its allies in the UPFA, as well as the declaration of his firm commitment to the principle of a limited National Government given to the people that saw his election on January 8, and to a larger and continued National Government after the next general election.
His meeting with the media saw President Sirisena face up to the reality of the rapid passage of the 100 days, that many consider a policy by itself, instead of being an important political slogan of the presidential poll campaign.
Politicians, the public and the media who appear to have taken the 100 days as a solemn political undertaking, were clearly shown that what is important about that period are the constitutional changes, the opening up to democracy, the move towards reconciliation and the battle against corruption, and not the number of days.
Considering the fact that the January 8 poll had as its main issue the abolition of the Executive Presidency and ensuring transparency, accountability and good governance in a genuine democratic process, President Sirisena was very clear that the most important aspect of the 100 day promise had now been met with the publication of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution for public consideration.
In his own statement, and fielding questions from the media, he made many important points that required clarification for some time, with a clear position of political leadership, which is bound to make an important resonance in the political debate from this day on. The first matter on which he laid emphasis was that of the coming general election.
Acknowledging the role played by the UNP in his election as president, for which he expressed his continuing gratitude, he was very clear that what was more important now is to ensure the passage of the constitutional changes found in the draft 19th Amendment, and any amendments that may have to be made to that, to make it more relevant to the widening of the democratic process.
No doubt awareness of the current debate in political circles and the media about the timing of the next general election, the various political threats being made about any possible postponement of the dissolution of Parliament from April 23, and the many other related issues of political debate, President Sirisena was very clear that the election will have to be under new legislation, and after the necessary constitutional changes.
He left no doubt that the current "manaapey" or preferential vote system under proportional representation had to be changed, and saw the necessity of a new system that would be a combination of the first-past-the-post system for electorates and proportional representation at district level, and some nominated members.
He was clear that this would need careful study, to work out the best possible system, which would meet the needs of genuine democracy and good people's representation in Parliament.
He was clearly not in favour of rushing in with the present "manaapey porey", or preferential fight that had led to a major decline of the principle of representative democracy, but seems to be in favour by those demanding April 23 dissolution of Parliament.
He was also left with no doubt that the entire principle of "appointed MPs" had to be carefully studied and changed to ensure that the best people, be they academics, professionals or the best possible politicians, would enter Parliament through this means, and not the favourites of political party leaders, as has been happening to this date, which included candidates defeated at the elections. What he saw was the need for a change in political culture in the selection of all candidates for election and appointment.
He recalled that what the country needed from appointed MPs were people of the calibre of the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, who would not have had the time to contest elections, but did serve the country with great distinction.
There was little doubt that these statements from the position of political leadership were aimed both at his own party and those who remained with it, in whatever capacity they may be, to those in the official Opposition, or as part of the government itself.
His statements were the opening of a new debate in politics that was necessary with what seemed to be an obsession with the 100 day programme, and the important issue of party leadership itself.
President Sirisena did not mince his words in stating that there were obstructions to his functioning as leader of the SLFP today.
The public is well aware of how sections of the SLFP and those of the UPFA who are "aligned" with it have been carrying on a campaign, through political rallies, and of late through the use of religious fervour and blessings for a defeated leader, to make a new diversion in the political trends that emerged after January 8.
Moral low ground
He had taken note of public concern about the moral low ground in politics, to which these campaigners for the defeated candidate in the national presidential poll have declined. This is best seen by the bussing of hundreds of supporters, with plenty of food and free flowing spirits, to make up the public readily labeled as "massive crowds" at these meetings; just as hundreds of thousands were brought to build the crowd image for the Rajapaksa candidacy in the presidential poll.
Addressing the issue of SLFP leadership, he exposed the current reality by comparing the situation when two previous Executive Presidents gave up the office. He recalled how former President JR Jayewardene had refused to be drawn into or interfere in the dispute within the UNP when his successor, President Ranasinghe Premadasa, had major disputes with the late Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali. He had made it clear that was a matter for Mr. Premadasa to resolve. He also explained how former President Chandrika Kumaratunga had kept completely away from party politics once she had left the office of President and handed over the SLFP leadership to Mahinda Rajapaksa. There was little effort by President Sirisena to hide the fact of obstructions to his functioning as the leader of the SLFP, a position which he had not sought but was given to him by the party.
With the examples from the past that he presented, he was evidently sending an important message to those in the SLFP, and any of the allies clinging to it through necessity, as to the position that is expected of them in matters of party leadership and support for the chosen leader of the party, who is also the elected leader of the country. "I have been entrusted with the leadership of the party, without even seeking it. Therefore, they should allow me to conduct its affairs," the President said. He said there were some meetings being conducted that moved away from this practice of non-interference in party leadership, and urged party organizers to think rationally, and according to their conscience about the objective behind these attempts. President Sirisena was proud that since taking over the SLFP leadership, internal party democracy has been restored. He pointed out that the party office bearers and members today have begun to speak freely after a long period of silence. He saw this as good. "For the first time in history, I saw party members challenging the leader openly through the media. Such open discussion within party ranks augurs well for the SLFP's progress. But MPs should vote in Parliament on party affiliations", he said.
Reins of leadership
As the end of the 100 day challenge draws closer, we are now witnessing a new aspect in the political spectrum, as the leader of the SLFP moves to the necessary role of political leadership, demonstrating his readiness to take the reins of the party as the next general election approaches. He will not guide it to the polls when others, even allies in politics, wish to have it; but only when he thinks it is necessary after the constitutional changes that he promised the country and people as the common presidential candidate. The events of this week clearly show moves towards the Maithripala Sirisena imprint in politics. It is a new trend that can make a dramatic change in the whirlwind of politics, much to the surprise of those who believed that "Yaha Paalanaya" did not have the courage of political activism and determination.