‘Innocent till proven guilty’ sham rogue defence blastedThe United People’s Freedom Alliance’s shocking decision to nominate an island reconvicted criminal as a fit and proper person to contest the forthcoming election was revealed last Thursday by UNP heavyweight John Amaratunga, shattering to smithereens the UPFA facade that whilst nominations would be given to those having criminal allegations against them for they had not been proved guilty, the line would be drawn at giving nominations to those who had been.
With regard to the many allegations of corruption and plunder of the national coffers levelled against some of its members, the Rajapaksa rebels’ straight-laced stance had been that till such time when a court confirms the truth of the allegations and pronounces guilt, the swing doors of the UPFA salon bar will be open to all comers, however condemned they maybe with credible accusations of the criminal kind.
But last week’s revelation confirmed the extent to which the present Rajapaksa-rebel-hijacked-UPFA train would go to embrace corruption without qualm when it accommodated in its nomination list even a serial financial fraudster repeatedly found guilty in Lankan criminal courts and who had compulsorily vacationed in Lankan jails.
It also demonstrated that corruption charges made against its members no longer revolt the sensibilities of its senior members but are accepted almost as a natural facet in the motley makeup of a present day party politician. Isn’t this inclination, fast becoming commonplace in the UPFA mindset, to accept every sordid transgression as a mere peccadillo, proved beyond reasonable doubt when the evidence show that UPFA does not stop short of court convictions when it comes to granting nominations to even noted IRCs?
The parliamentary candidate in question had been convicted thrice in 2003, 2004 and 2006 over a case of forgery and two cases of financial fraud. However, the Court of Appeal, it is said, directed that his name be removed from the IRC list in 2012. But, old habits die hard, and the IRC had been included again in the IRC manifest after he was found guilty of financial fraud again. But all this seems to have been a mere trifle to UPFA’s nomination board, as something that could easily be dispensed with and dispensation was accordingly granted.
The only concern expressed so far by the UPFA over the inclusion of an IRC in its nomination list is whether such an inclusion would invalidate the entire UPFA candidates’ list for that district. But UPFA supporters need have no fears. UPFA candidate Prasanna Ranatunga, himself under a cloud of accusations and facing even arrest, declared that the inclusion of an IRC would not affect the entire list. If at all, it would only apply to that person’, he said.
The question is not whether a person who is an island reconvicted criminal is qualified to be elected to parliament or to sit and vote in parliament. That matter is dealt by Articles 89, 90 and 91 of the Constitution and, according to the Articles, his eligibility will depend on the duration of the minimum sentence imposed, the amount of time served out of the sentence and the number of years that have lapsed since the date of conviction.
What matters here is not whether a convict is qualified to sit in parliament but the conviction itself since the UPFA’s stated position up to now has been that even a barrage of accusations levelled against a person supported with a substantial and convincing dossier of evidence, will have no bearing when it comes to giving nominations, if those allegations have not been proved in court; and that only a conviction for corruption or for some such related offense will prevent the UPFA from granting nomination,
But as can be seen, even a court conviction, in the UPFA’s eye, is no longer a ground that demands disqualification. Not even repeated convictions by a competent criminal court in Lanka can stop the UPFA from going the extra mile to advance the interest and better the fortunes of the convicted corrupt.
Attack as the best form of defence has been the chosen strategy assiduously adopted from the start by the Rajapaksa rebels to ward off the manifold corruption charges levelled against them and declare themselves as eligible suitors to place their grease smeared lips on the nation’s hand at the forthcoming general election.
Though still dripping with the mud of credible corruption claims that had indelibly soiled the Rajapaksa regime beyond purification, some had shamelessly stood on political stages with the sin of robbing the people’s wealth writ large on every aspect of their countenance and yet, have had the impudence to audaciously plead the doctrine of presumption of innocence; and to hold themselves as honourable men of the highest moral rectitude unless otherwise proved in court beyond any reasonable doubt.
But for political parties to entertain notorious crooks, fraudster, embezzlers, rapists, thugs, child molesters, bookies, drug dealers, casino operators, forgers, paedophiles and pimps and other such unsavoury characters and now, even reconvicted criminals in their nomination lists; and offer them as the chosen candidates to fill the limited nomination slots, to present them to the electorate as the people’s potential representatives in Parliament destined perhaps to take their seats as honourable members of that august and hallowed House, is a gross affront to the voters’ moral sensitivities and an abject denial of their freedom of choice. Elections may be free and fair in Lanka but what is the value of the franchise if it is confined to choosing between the bad, the worse, and the downright ugly?
When UPFA secretary Susil Premajayantha and SLFP Secretary Anura Priyadhashana Yapa signed their party’s nomination list last month, didn’t they both remember the silent pledge they made to themselves and the expressed oath they swore to the nation four months ago as they signed PAFFREL’s March 12th Declaration which laid down eight principles for political parties to adhere as the basic criteria in deciding on the grant of nomination to candidates.
Five of the eight criterion contained in the document were that nominations should only be given to those who were free of abuse and corruption, to those free of anti-social trades, to those who free of abusing authority, to those who were free of abusive financial constraints; and to those were not criminals, let alone reconvicted criminals.
Didn’t the two party secretaries take studious note when they solemnly signed the March 12th Declaration at the much publicised and hailed ceremony held at the BMICH, that the all important declaration did not call for a conviction, did not require alleged guilt of bribery and corruption or indulgence in anti-social trades or abusing authority or dealing in abusive financial contracts to be proved beyond reasonable doubt for a political party to be placed under a moral duty to deny granting nomination to any prospective candidate with a questionable track record?.
In the old glory days of the Roman Empire, the standard set for a Caesar was that his wife had not only to be not under any suspicion for any crime at any time but also above suspicion at all times. The Roman legal maxim “Proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies” which led to the doctrine of the presumption of innocence where a man was presumed innocent until proved guilty, did not apply to Rome’s Caesar. He could not avail himself of that defence available to all his subjects. What was demanded of the Emperor of Rome was far higher. His actions were to be conducted on a moral plain so high that no stone of calumny hurled from below could reach or touch him. If it did his end was nigh. In olden Rome, one could smell a rat a mile away.
This nation does not expect this Rajapaksa rebel gang to meet the same standards of moral rectitude as Rome set for a Caesar and for a Caesar’s wife. But is it unreasonable of the Lankan public to have expected from both the UPFA and the SLFP a freshly chosen set of men and women who possessed some sinew of moral fibre, some element of decency and honesty, some notion of justice and equality, some ethical standard of behaviour; men and women who would have so conducted themselves in public affairs in so becoming a manner that would not invite the allegations of fraud and corruption that have visited the members of the tainted Rajapaksa regime in droves?
|UPFA guarantees the future, but will tomorrow ever come?
Mahinda promises ‘mother of all promises’ in promised land
Eat your heart out, Ranil. If its promises the Lankan people want, Mahinda Rajapaksa revealed on Tuesday there was no one worthy of his mettle who could hold a torch to his innate political genius to deliver promises by the container load than himself.Waking to life from his six months semi-retirement of wishful thinking, he promised the Lankan public everything but the sun, moon and stars and those were left out, no doubt, only because the people already had it free. Everything else was on the UPFA manifesto that he unveiled at the Henry Pedris Grounds this week; unveiled according to the best caricatured image of the consummate politician signing the blank promissory note in return for the nation’s vote.And if that wasn’t enough to warm the cockles of the nation’s heart, he avowed sans a blush to give the people a ‘guarantee for the future’, the title and new slogan of the latest UPFA manifesto, having summarily discarded to the dustbin of the past, the two week old slogan “let’s start afresh” as not containing enough bluster and promise to seduce the masses.
Doling out his promises galore in the swank arcade where springs the fount of eternal hope, former president now UPFA parliamentary candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose own uncertain future lies in his irreversible past, smoothly sought to balm the thousand and one fears for the future every human breast doth harbour by issuing the solemn pledge, ‘don’t stress over the future for we give the UPFA guarantee for the tomorrow that never comes.’
From the merry Christmassy manifesto of his promises, he promises Rs. 50,000 for every 18-year-old voter who fails the Advanced Level exam to pursue ‘human resources educational development’. He promises to increase the Mahapola Scholarship by Rs. 6,000 for every student. He promises a Rs. 25,000 basic wage for all State sector employees. He promises an increment Rs. 3,000 to all private sector workers. He promises a house for every Lankan. He promises every couple who marries after August 17 Rs. 200,000 to go forth and multiply.
He promises to restart 58,000 development projects which he claimed had been stopped by the present government. He promises to immediately reinstate 1.5 million people who, he claimed, have lost their jobs as a result of the stoppages these last since months. He promises to bring about national unity. He promises to achieve permanent reconciliation. He promises to eliminate corruption, even as he had grandly promised to eliminate it in his much vaunted Mahinda Chinthana manifesto for a “Brighter Future” at the 2010 Presidential Election.
Then, on the threshold of his second term as president, he had solemnly sworn: “I will address this social decline and establish high values and ethics by eliminating fraud, corruption and malpractices which have engulfed our society for a long time, and will take whatever measures necessary to eradicate criminal activities. I will appoint an independent board comprising independent and politically unbiased intellectuals under a new constitutional amendment, to eliminate all forms of corruption, fraud and malpractices. As the first Act of Parliament, I will introduce a special act to eliminate fraud and corruption, malpractices and violation of tender procedures in government corporations, boards and financial institutions.”
He promises to protect the rule of law which he claims has suffered under the UNP government these last six months. He promises to rebuild mosques that have been destroyed. He promises to introduce broadband Wi-Fi connections to every household, unaware perhaps that on that same day Ranil Wickremesinghe had signed an agreement with the vice president of Google to make high speed Wi-Fi available island-wide by March next year.
Want more? If that isn’t enough promises for one day to fill the nation’s larder of hope and see the hungry winter through, he also promises to bring a new constitution within six months of victory. After having refused to hear the clamour for constitutional reforms during the last four years of his rule when he had a comfortable two-thirds majority in parliament to change the much discredited 1977 Constitution without having to tolerate the degrading spectacle of MPs holding ‘bring and drink’ midnight feasts in the Well of the House, here he is promising to change it now when the widely held view is that no political party will be able to muster a simple majority in Parliament this August, let alone bag a whopping two-thirds majority.
The difference between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mahinda Rajapaksa is not as simple as the difference between salmon and tuna or prawn and shrimp. When Ranil Wickremesinghe promises to introduce a new constitution he does so in his capacity as the UNP’s official prime ministerial candidate and as the leader of his party. Having never enjoyed presidential powers nor possessed a two-thirds majority in Parliament to introduce a new constitution and see it passed, he can be excused for harbouring even a faint hope that finally he will be in a position to achieve his goal and keep his promise.
On the other hand Mahinda Rajapaksa makes his grandiose promises, including the all-important one to introduce a new constitution, merely in his present capacity as just another aspiring parliamentary candidate. He is not the chairman of the UPFA. That position belongs to his declared opponent, President Maithripala Sirisena, whose avowed wish as bluntly stated to the nation on July 14 is to see Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated at the forthcoming election.
Neither is Mahinda Rajapaksa the party’s official prime ministerial candidate. Only a self appointed one. Furthermore, President Sirisena who has the last word on the matter constitutionally speaking has publicly sworn he would never appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister. Thus for Mahinda Rajapaksa to be in a position to even glimpse the prospect of his promises twinkling in the distant sky, he has many miles to go, many rivers to cross, many hurdles to jump and many battles to win before he can lay claim to any meaningful victory and unsheathe his Sword of Excalibur.
Technically he is skating on thin ice. As to what will happen practically in the future, well, not even Maithripala Sirisena will be able to guarantee the result. As far as the promise of introducing a new constitution goes, Rajapaksa’s credibility is in question for having had the two-thirds parliamentary majority in his pocket for over four years to bring about the necessary reforms he neatly kept his hands out of it and declined to pull out his constitutional rabbit.
But who knows? Even miracles may finally happen. And even Mahinda Rajapaksa may ride on his promises to power and deliver his mother of all promises to guarantee the future which no prophet, messiah, sage or religious leader could ever do. But then again, the former president’s solid sterling ‘Guarantee for the Future’ maybe coming with the prediction proof certificate issued by the former royal astrologer with the Sumana seal of approval firmly stamped on it.