16 May, 2022

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A Parliament Of The People  

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

“Aujourd’hui, rien- Today nothing” That’s what the haughty and foolish Louis XVI king of France wrote in his diary on the day the Bastille was stormed.

Either the man was speechless or too shocked by the demonstration of the common people’s resolve to challenge state tyranny.

Watching parliamentary proceedings on the first day after the mass deluge I couldn’t help but recall the words of Louis XVI who may have fully comprehended the cries of the commoners only when he had to climb the steps to the guillotine.

There appears to be a sizable number of moral paupers still ready, loyal, and committed to support this circus.

Apparently, these moral paupers have not heard the young man who addressed the Khakied law enforcers minutes before the dam burst in Mirihana.

This anonymous young man explained passionately painstakingly why he was participating in the protest. He was brave. Watching him on tv, a nation was mesmerized. I thought that it was our Tiananmen square moment. I was nearly right.

No tank rolled over him. But some human hands had done what a tank would do with the cruel precession that only human cruelty could command.

The authoritarian state and morality cannot coexist. The young man had the audacity to show that he had a spine. So, his spine naturally needed some attention from the pretorian guard.

Next, we see his prostrate body lying in hospital with his neck heavily bandaged or in a neck brace.

A reconstituted cabinet will not mend that young man’s neck. I hope he will recover. But should it surprise us? It shouldn’t. The supreme lawgiver of the land pardons convicted murderers. This is Shangri-La with no shame.

The sheer brutality of the state’s response to the Mirihana protest served a very salutary purpose.

Since May 2009 we have lived with the world’s most rapacious looters who insisted that their privilege of looting the nations coffers was the price, we had to pay for being saved from the world’s most vicious terrorist outfit.

Mirihana was a turning point. People decided to rescue themselves from the rescuers.

On television I watched an ordinary lady in Anuradhapura lamenting “Yudde dinuwa kiyala me wage deval karanta puluwanda.” Can they do these things because they won the war?

The poor woman was flummoxed by the strange logic that a war winning hero should be excused for falling under spell of a sorceress in her town.

A Crisis offers opportunity wrapped in peril. I fervently hope that this popular uprising we have witnessed on the streets through the length and breadth of our forsaken land will mark the end of patronage politics.

The street protests are nuanced. They demand to be unshackled in this freakish ‘Shangri-La where the rulers are shamelessly tasteless.

A crisis offers an opportunity. But the opportunity comes wrapped in danger. It must be unwrapped with great care.

The broad national consensus that is yet to emerge is a radical democratic vision of accountable governance which demands deterrent punishment to those who plundered the commonwealth.

The people demand creative proposals on how to drain the ‘Diyawanna Swamp’.

The solution that needs to be worked out is not confined to solving the balance of payment crisis.

Naturally we are in for hard times. There needs to be a social safety net for the poor. Such measures need mass approval which can come only with greater transparency combined with effective citizen’s oversight.

Our systems are broken. They cannot be mended. They must be replaced. It must begin with the dismantling of the presidential system that was introduced in 1978.

The presidential system which was tailored to suit President J.R. Jayawardene’s Bonapartist ambitions paved way for an elitist capture of the state. As columnist S.P. Amarasingham remarked wryly the Mahaweli flowed to Trinco through FINCO.

Over the years, the system deteriorated with successive regimes focused not on good policy but on   getting ‘our people’ in to key positions. Arjun Mahendran and Nivard Cabral belonged to that magic circle of being in the list of ‘our people’ of two rival regimes.

‘Gota go home’ is an anguished cry for democratic integrity.

When I watched the startling events in Mirihana I recalled a prophecy made by the late Pieter Keuneman the flamboyant Burgher general secretary of the Ceylon Communist party.

As a reporter I had the great good fortune of knowing him well enough to be advised that a journalist cultivating a politician must remember that ‘you are the moth, and the politician is the lamp’.   ‘Get too close. You get burnt’.

The Ceylon Daily News published a special souvenir on Thursday April 29th, 1982, to commemorate the ceremonial opening of the new parliament at Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte.

Pieter Keuneman defeated at the polls in 1977 was invited to write a piece for the souvenir. He penned a brilliant essay ‘Looking back without anger.’

His concluding observations will immensely benefit all members of the present parliament and DEW Gunasekera the old fossil and my good friend who has reneged on mass struggle.

Pieter Keuneman concludes his essay with these words.

The ‘Executive President’ system and the new electoral process that masquerades as proportional representation has to my mind, effectively devalued parliament, deprived it of many of the limited powers it had, and made it more difficult for it to reflect the real and shifting trends of opinion among the people.

In this respect, the new parliamentary complex at Sri Jayewardenepura, with its sumptuousness and forbidding majesty, seems to me to typify and symbolize architecturally regrettable processes that are going on politically and socially.

The task of bringing Parliament back to the people and of making it a real instrument of the peoples will   is likely, therefore, to be settled elsewhere.”  

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