Legitimacy and power

16 July, 2022

Every effort is being made to keep the next regime within the bounds of Parliament. Fealty to constitutional process is paramount they say. But more important now is the fact that time is of essence, and nobody seems to care about that aspect at all.

The earlier two regimes — that of Gotabhaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa, and of Gotabaya and Ranil Wickremesinghe were not seen to be morally legitimate to tide the country over this period of dangerous economic meltdown. At the time of writing, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is still President, but by all accounts he was to hand in his resignation.

The Prime Minister at the time of writing is Ranil Wickremesinghe and he is due to hand in his resignation as well. If these two events have come to pass by the time you see this article in print, the question is, would the next regime be an all-party Government as the country has been told?

The people are fully cognizant of the fact that there ought to be a proper regime if the country is to get back on track. It is no trifling matter. The bailout is needed fast as there is so much that the people can endure. However, despite this fact, an all-party regime will not necessarily inspire confidence.

Parliamentarians even today, after everything that has happened — a determined revolution no less — are still not willing, it seems to disabuse themselves of the notion that they have to play politics. They are still jockeying for positions and petty advantage, and it seems they will never learn a thing.


It’s precisely for these reasons that the people have by and large lost faith in Members of Parliament. Even an all-party Government is seen as an unsatisfactory arrangement though better than the fiasco that obtained previously with two regimes that could not pass the test of morality that’s needed to govern in these exceptionally trying times.

Besides all that, the presidency at the time of writing, seems also destined to be decided on party lines. The Speaker it is said, will be President for a few weeks as the Constitution stipulates that arrangement. But a new President — elected from among the members of Parliament — would have to succeed the Speaker.

That too would be decided on party lines, or at least the likely outcome is that. If that is the case this party-line denouement to the current national drama would not really be to the liking of many persons.

It is argued that this is the type of Government that’s needed due to the time constraint. It is also argued that this arrangement would be for something like a maximum of six months before the ‘country can afford a general election.’

There is absolutely no doubt that a stable Government is necessary, but the more problems that remain unsolved — such as the fuel shortage and the shortages of other essentials — the more people would be impatient with any dispensation that is seen not to deliver.

In that likely eventuality, any Government that is not seen to have the ‘moral fiber to govern’ would be unpopular, and people are bound to call for its ouster. But by that time it would be also somewhat clear that changing Governments would not necessarily help as the situation is too far gone for that.

Essentially, even though technically one Government makes way for another, there is a tremendous power vacuum in the country. It’s not one that is easily filled. It’s in this context that the earliest demand from the protestors should receive some consideration.

Should there be an apolitical Cabinet of Ministers of subject experts and others who have no experience in politics, but enjoy public trust? The problem with facilitating such an arrangement is that it will take time. Under the current conditions time is of essence, and it is unfortunately not the best solution in terms of time to come up with a solution of this sort. Besides, such a move would require an enormous amount of consensus to make sure that parties agree to release their national list nominees and get them to resign, to make way for apolitical experts to come into Parliament and join the Cabinet.

However, though this task seems cumbersome the fact remains that any other Government may not last for that long either. It’s for the simple reason that it’s too far gone now for any Government to deliver fuel and other essentials in a hurry. So whatever Government is power would soon become unpopular, and lose moral legitimacy.

In contrast an apolitical Cabinet however cumbersome and idealistic that sounds, would have moral legitimacy. But it would be difficult for any such regime to deliver the goods in a hurry as well — nobody can work miracles.

But perhaps an apolitical dispensation would have the moral legitimacy to govern in the long haul. But there should be enormous amounts of political will to arrive at a consensus because all political actors must agree on the apolitical subject experts that would form the interim Cabinet.


Such a situation would sound absurdly idealist under normal circumstances. But in the current situation nothing would seem inappropriate if it goes some way in assuaging the feelings of mistrust that ordinary people harbour about politicians.

In any event a so-called all-party Government would undoubtedly have the benefit of the majority that the SLPP commands in Parliament. For instance if there is an election for President within the Legislature, it would be very probable that the person who wins that contest would be from the SLPP.

That could be read to mean that the ghosts of the Rajapaksas would linger. If Ranil Wickremesinghe also in some way influences events or at least hangs onto power through some sleight of hand, the new dispensation — whatever it is — would be seen to be as bad as the old dispensation.


However, some would say that the country does not have the luxury to choose which administration would govern because any Government is better than none at all because a regime in place is necessary to negotiate with the IMF. It’s absolutely true that the country cannot be caught up in ‘internecine conflict’ while the economy is on life support.

But, what’s wrong with an ad hoc morally untenable regime is that just because they are in place these regimes do not last. At least a case can be made for an apolitical subject-expert Cabinet to be given a chance — because it would have moral legitimacy. It would not have ‘political taint,’ period.

Though such an administration would sound pie in the sky and may take some time to hammer out in detail, it may be better than regimes that last temporarily and are out the moment the people protest, because such regimes are run by political hacks whose sell-by date are long past.

What politicians seem to realise is that the tactics of the past such as ‘spin’ and seeking to pull the wool over people’s eyes are not tenable any more. The only way a Government can hope to acquire a shred of legitimacy and durability is by delivering the goods — fuel, gas, fertiliser, and the lot.

Most Governments would not be able to do this in a hurry these days but a Government that’s seen to be in some way an extension of the previous Gotabaya regime — if he has resigned that is, when this appears in print — would have to do exceptionally well to win the trust of the people.

They are bar none, all of them, in some way are damaged goods, those 225 in Parliament … or at least they are seen as such. But just because there is a need to negotiate with the IMF, there are some situations that the people will not tolerate at all, and this is not just a Rajapaksa regime, but many other combinations that pass off for regimes, as well. 

– Sunday Observer Sri Lanka

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