21 May, 2019

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A Concordant UPFA, A Discordant Opposition? Not Quite!

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

A concordant UPFA, a discordant Opposition? Not quite! The Cabinet: Lanka’s longest gravy train

There is a superficial view that the government is a concordant gathering of the like minded while the opposition is all hither and thither and unable to get its act together. Superficial observations are not entirely without merit as sycophants and bootlickers line up on both side of the Cabinet table and parliament, echoing their masters’ voices (note plural in honour of the siblings), reciting “Yes Sir! No Sir! Three bags full Sir”. It is also true that the political opposition is failing to realize the minimum it can, while trade unions, civil society and professional bodies are doing better.

First let’s look at the constituents of government and opposition. The UPFA consists of nine parties with the SLFP, the principal party of the Lankan bourgeoisie (remember this dubious honour no longer belongs to the UNP), at the helm. The other important UPFA entity is the party of monks and Sinhala chauvinists, the JHU. These two stamp on the UPFA its ideological character, while the Rajapakse siblings set an authoritarian bearing towards an autocratic future. The anti Rauf Hakeem Muslim party too sports a base and parliamentary strength. The rest are appendages, parasites, chaff not critical to the survival of the regime; Weerawansa’s ultra-racists, the three decrepit relicts of the Dead Left (LSSP, CP and DLF), Dinesh’s MEP, and the Douglas and Pilleyan circuses. A menagerie, not a concordant gathering!

The parliamentary group includes three other formations, each more influential than all the chaff put together – the UNP cross-overs, a bunch of political trash, SLMC money making hucksters, and the CWC whose leader fritters away what his father built over decades. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the rot, these three have an electoral base, they can bring three or four (or in the case of the SLMC more) members to parliament with minimal support from the SLFP or UNP. They are epiphytes, not parasites. The count of entities in government has reached twelve if my reckoning is correct. Interestingly, much as they hate each other like Ali Baba’s forty thieves, they still hang together; a phenomenon I will return to after enumerating the opposition.

The opposition consists of fewer entities; the UNP, TNA-ITAK, JVP and the Pertugami (Frontline Socialists, JVP breakaway party). Then, though relatively smaller in size but capable of winning seats in parliament, are Mano Ganesan’s DPF and General Fonseka’s outfit. Finally there are four very small parties on the sectarian left; Siritunga’s USP, Bahu’s NSSP, the Maoists and Socialist Equity. Their following is insignificant, but they have long ideological histories and influence beyond their numbers – I am glad. In summary the opposition is intrinsically less discordant than the pro-government amalgam. The foremost discord in the ranks of the opposition is not between parties, but the insane civil war inside the UNP.

The forty (or eighty) thieves

The cement that binds the UPFA and the Government Parliamentary Group is bribery. I do not mean that every Cabinet Minister and Deputy Minister is taking baksheesh from local and foreign companies, bribes from the public, favours in kind like women, or kickbacks from the drug trade, though more than we know of are likely on the take. What I do mean is that every Cabinet and Deputy Minister is on a gravy train at the expense of the public exchequer. The President retains power by bribing the Cabinet since a Cabinet post is essentially a bribe given to forty persons (or 80 if you count Deputies) as a retainer for their support. The President bribes Ministers using public funds and lets them run wild; they in turn allow the regime to get away with murder, metaphorically and literally. That’s why the Cabinet needs to be so large, that’s the deal, that’s the binding cement.

Do not underestimate the benefits of Ministership. First come status and prestige – in our obsequious society a buffoon in national garb and an amathithuma title is held in demigod esteem that would embarrass a president of the United States. However, it is the perks that are corrosive and corrupting. I am referring not merely to state accommodation, cars, drivers, petrol and allowances, but to the numerous sycophants Ministers appoint. The number ranges from less than 20 in a small ministry to over 50 in a large one. Hangers-on are appointed as private, press, coordinating and all manner of secretaries, with salaries, petrol allowances and perks. It is having this small army of publicly paid slime-balls that makes the carrot of a Cabinet post really attractive. You may say Dead Left ministers, or GL, or maybe a few others are not on-the-take for bribes and kickbacks, but I say: “Ok that’s true, but they are all on the publicly funded gravy train that I have described”.

My purpose in this recounting is not a moral one; I am not on a crusade to expose graft, direct or indirect, among Ministers. My purpose is political; my intention to show that skin-deep concord in the government has its foundation in the shared pay-off that ministerial posts offer. There is no ideological, economic policy, devolution related or programmatic cohesion in government. Ask ministers what they think of Gothabaya and militarization, ask SLFPers about Mervyn or Duminda. Want to find out who is on the drug money circuit? A rival UPFA MP is the best source. The point is this, the government-side is patching over more divergences and differences than the opposition-side; however, it is not dysfunctional, because like the forty thieves in that delectable Arabian Nights fairytale, they are all in on a publicly funded gravy train.

Can the opposition unite?

They say it takes a heart attack to change your ways; the UNP has had it, and if it cannot still overcome its internal lunacy it deserves to die. As an outsider I have no axe to grind on behalf of any of the contenders, but I do have an interest in the UNP playing its role to rid Lanka of the Executive Presidency (EP), the fetid source of putrefaction in public life. General Fonseka must be congratulated for firing up a movement and getting a mass campaign against EP off the ground.

Is there some principle because of which some party in the opposition wishes to retain EP? Not that I am aware of. There was a time when Tamils clung to the misguided view that EP was a safety net, but no more. They have learnt the hard way that hoping to be kingmaker between SLFP and UNP is a misbegotten illusion; so the TNA has come on board against EP. The nigger in the woodpile is Ranil who can’t get a hold on his own party but covets the presidency. If he impairs an alliance any longer, those who say “Off with his head” deserve to win the day.

It is clear that the slovenliness of the opposition in campaigning in unison is subjective. Short-sighted leaders are unable to grow up, so it’s up to the public to drive these blinkered incompetents in united action.

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Latest comments

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    David:

    There are no secular states anywhere in the world. You, just like many people, have this fancy idea of a secular state, which does not exist. I cannot believe that you got a Ph.D in science and still keep believe in these western propaganda. For your information, just google under the heading of secular state–theory and practice and you will find that these five star democracies that you want Sri Lanka to emulate, the secularism means that they do not support or accept the practices of non-judeo-Christian religions, but all the Christian practices, rituals and symbols are thoroughly embedded into their constitutions and many of their states functions. Perhaps, if Sri Lanka too is a Christian state you would not make these rubbish suggestion, but for you, unfortunately, SL happened to be a Buddhist country that recognizes all the other religions. For your information, the provincial government of Quebec in Canada is currently trying to ban all the other religious symbols in public life of Canadians except Christian symbols. In fact in the provincial legislature there is a huge crucifix–just above the seat of the Speaker of the assembly. Some municipalities begin their sessions with a prayer! These are only a few example and I do not want to do research for you, if you want to write about a subject of this sensitivity you should at least do some basic research.

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    It is imperative that this circus must end if the country is to survive. First the ring master must go. There is no doubt that it is the executive presidiency is running amok.

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    Quite right Kumar it is up to the public to organize for impeachment of Rajapassa, regime change and abolition of the EP.

    Meanwhile the Geneva oriented Colombo NGOs must make clear to Britain and that useless Commonwealth Organization that they are not welcome in Lanka in 2013 and must BOYCOTT THE RAJAPASSA DICTATORSHIP and shift the Commonwealth heads of state meeting out of Colombo.

    The useless Commonwealth Organization must stop legitimizing and supporting dictators. To boycott of the Rajapassa dictatorship and not participate in the Commonwealth Heads Circus in 2013 is to support the people of Lanka in their struggle against dictatorship.

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    RW is also benefitting from the gravy train. So he does not care. This fellow has to have a heart attack!

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    what a analysis of modern political situations in sri lanka……
    i am v glad about this article, itself its contity

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    I always enjoy reading Prof Kumar David’s articles whether it is on Z-Score or on the Executive Presidency(EP). I had a very high regard of him even during my time at Peradeniya University although I was not an student in the engineering faculty. What he has written in this article, an article that no one else would dare to write, gives a very clear picture of the exact pathetic, disgusting situation in our country at present. One point that I do not agree though is whether we should congratulate General Fonseka for firing up a movement against EP because I have doubts about his sincerity.

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    Prof David,
    We all know about the gravy train and how Rajapaksa is keeping his greedy foot soldiers in line. What we want to know Is how to derail it and save the country from the disaster that is around the corner. Economic collapse is a sure way of turning the masses against the regime but when that happens the regime will be well entrenched with absolute power to put down any opposition. The future is very bleak indeed for the people and the country.

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