Balance of power | Sunday Observer

Balance of power

President Maithripala Sirisena last week strongly criticised the current functioning of certain government institutions that are key to the fulfilment of the National Unity Government’s electoral mandate. These are institutions that are at the forefront of the fight against corruption of all kinds in the public sector, namely the Criminal Investigation Department of the Police (CID), the Financial Crimes Investigation Department, also of the Police (FCID) and, the Bribery Commission.

The gist of the President’s criticism seems to focus on two aspects of these agencies current operations: the manner very senior defence services officers have been arraigned before courts and, the fact that he had not been sufficiently consulted or informed prior to action being taken against such senior officers.

The fact that direct political control over these investigating agencies lay with government ministries while the President, as the commander-in-chief of the defence services, was responsible for those top military personnel now under investigation, gave an impression that two vital arms of the State, namely the Presidency and the Government, were not quite coordinated, at least in the anti-corruption drive.

The immediate reaction by some citizens’ watchdog bodies was the concern that institutions tasked to probe misdemeanours in the State sector – with politicians’ actions also falling within their ambit – were now coming under pressure from the politicians themselves. Statements have been made by some civil society bodies expressing exactly that worry. Some of these groups actively supported the current National Unity coalition’s ascent to power in the last presidential and parliamentary elections and, fighting rampant corruption and nepotism was an important policy plank they had supported. Naturally, these groups wondered whether that policy, now well into implementation, would be affected by this seeming political intervention.

Others – including political enemies of the government - wondered whether the sharp remarks by the President signalled a drifting apart of the coalition itself.

The President, however, took the reassuring step of quickly convening a meeting of the coalition’s top political leadership from the main partners to thrash out the issues. The Prime Minister and other senior ministers from the several political forces in the coalition, held a serious discussion with the President, the main outcome of which was the assurance that the National Unity coalition was not just intact but moving forward in all areas of governance, including the corruption probes.

What is at stake here are two vital aspects of governance and stability of democracy. One aspect is the uprooting of the forest of corruption that has undermined the fabric of the State itself during the decade of the past regime. This is an important ‘repair job’ about which the whole nation is concerned, especially those citizens who had specifically wanted this coalition to come to power to undertake.

The other aspect is the repair of the State system itself after the corroding effect of the corruption and rampant abuse of power.

It was the experience of the corrosion of the State that prompted some citizens’ groups to fear the possibility of a slide backwards to the past regime of wanton political manipulations of State institutions.

The overriding priority should be the continuity of this finely balanced coalition of political forces who came together in 2015 to save the country from collapse - administrative, political, economic, social and even moral. The compulsions of political competition are such that, in a multi-party coalition as the current regime, there must be constant exercising of restraint: restraint from overly competing for every part of the governmental cake at every turn.

Thus, while each political party sees itself in competition with the others in the field, the demands of a national coalition must supersede the competitive dynamic to the extent that political collaboration will ensure comprehensive and smooth implementation of governmental initiatives. At the same time, it is only a continued equilibrium in the balance of power between coalition partners that will restrain any one party’s desire to overcome the others – at least for the duration of Unity coalition’s term.

The Maldives

Our second closest neighbour nation, the archipelago of The Maldives, surprised the world last week with the announcement that it was withdrawing from membership in the Commonwealth of Nations, a world grouping of which Sri Lanka is also a member.

The immediate context in which this withdrawal was announced should be familiar with Sri Lankans. After all, during the past decade, this country came under scrutiny and criticism by not only the Commonwealth but by many other inter-governmental and non-governmental bodies, for the scale of social violence, racism and other forms of discrimination, the violation of human rights, and the deterioration of the democratic system as a whole. The problems in The Maldives are nowhere near the scale we faced.

In recent years, especially after the controversial overturning of the last government in Male and the assumption of power of the current regime, The Maldives has had to meet numerous challenges in the practice of democratic governance. That religious hardline groups are raising their heads only adds to the pressures on Male.

Sri Lanka is geographically and culturally very close to the archipelago. Divehi, the Maldivian language originated largely from medieval Sinhala while Buddhism was the religion of the early civilisation there.

Colombo will do well to lend a helping hand to our little neighbour to overcome its political difficulties - as we did ours - and regain its due place in the world community. At the same time, while our good offices should be extended to all sides of the Maldivian political divide, we should be alert that extremist elements in both countries do not get opportunities to converge in their disruptive activities.