By Kumar David –
Now strike while the iron is hot!
One would need to be preposterously naïve or a wacky babe in the woods to miss the obvious. A fat section of the SLFP (40 MPs), Nimal Siripala and Anura Priyadashana included and the four scumbags (Wimal, Vasu, Dinesh, Gampits) have but one objective. They care not what 19th Amendment says, nor are they concerned about electoral reform (20A); they would have damned 19A if they dared. Their long-term venture is a single minded campaign to inflict defeat on Sirisena-Ranil (R&S), bring them into ridicule, and clear the way for the return of some version of debauched despotic Rajapaksa rule. They would have defeated 19A if they could have survived the ensuing political storm.
This is not the end of the matter. Its serious defects, and contemptible last minute capitulation on the Constitutional Council notwithstanding, 19A is a step forward; but that is no longer the point. The crunch point now is carrying mobilisation in support of this albeit castrated instrument forward to defeat the pro-Mahinda pestilence floated by scumbags, SLFP conspirators, BBS and assorted racists. As 19A becomes a part of history, the chips are down and the real struggle is getting underway. The challenge now is who will control the political spaces? It is imperative to move fast; this is a second chance after the missed post 8 January opportunities; strike while the iron is hot, inflicted a decisive defeat on proto-fascism, on the streets, and in the forthcoming elections.
[The Constitutional Council (CC) which vets high appointments (Judges, IGP, AG, Elections and Bribery Commissioners, UGC and others] was to include seven persons of repute appointed by the President on the advice of PM, Leader of Opposition and political leaders. Now in a contemptible capitulation it will have seven MPs instead! This incestuous relationship between CC and Parliament destroys the balance between the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches. Do not confuse this with the US Senate’s vetting of high appointments which is different in powers and traditions – actually we have no traditions in this respect].
Before undertaking what I reckon is reasonable criticism, fairness demands that I enumerate four achievements of the government. The pall of fear, intimidation and white vans has been lifted; we breathe freer air. Second and no less important, there is less racial and religious animosity in the country since any time post-1960s. Lanka’s soiled and tarnished international image has been repaired and its good name restored. Fourth the leaders of this government are not leeches fattening on the public purse; a shameful period of statecraft has ended and the decency bar in public life has been raised. What I have not mentioned, you will observe, are abolition of the Executive Presidency as pledged, a robust drive to lock-up corrupt politicians, and notable economic achievements. These then are the debit side of the balance sheet.
Now for the not so good news
R&S, the Cabinet and the ranks of the government at one stage seemed mesmerised, dazed by events; outfoxed, they lurched around a bramble of thorn. Is this criticism fair and productive? It is fair; the government missed many opportunities. It was infuriating to watch it hurtling to suicide by holding back prosecutions and dragging the rest of us down with it. The President declared in his 100-day statement that he is not a weak leader but did not wish to overuse his powers. Excellent! But the point is that police and prosecutors have so far been reluctant to use legitimate power against high criminals of the previous regime. When they do act, remanded crooked politicos cultivate life threatening heart ailments; Durdans can profitably open an emergency cardiac unit in Hulftsdorp. Anger has been rife; President and PM have been imprudent to disregard public resentment.
Is this harsh criticism productive when the current task is to stop suicide? Well it may not be productive, but like millions of others I needed to get this off my chest. Having worked off this exasperation, the next priority is quick dissolution of parliament and denial of nomination to SLFPers who have not been 100% on board (even if they voted for 19A) and the UPFA scum (Get nomination from Mahinda!) Sirisena must stand tall, not fear crisis in the SLFP and secure electoral agreements with the UNP, TNA, SLMC and JVP. Leaders must not shrink from leading, inspiring and mobilising.
It is said of the French Revolution that before the Jacobins and their incorruptible leaders took the helm, the Girondists and moderate bourgeois feared the masses more than they feared Monarchy. Hence the rise of Jacobinism and “The Terror” completed history’s tasks; crisis is not a time for faint hearted leaders who fear the masses whose activism escapes their control. R&S must either grasp the nettle, the prickly pear of confronting proto-fascism, or be extinguished with a whimper.
July 4 1789 shook the world and its last and lasting tremors are still not past (that yarn about Chou En Lai and Henry Kissinger could well be true). It sent the Enlightenment and modernity on the bayonets of Napoleon’s soldiers all over Europe. Here in Lanka however soothsayers lead kings by the nose into a precipice; my nephew scorches his hand and burns down half the house bucketing high volatility fuel on a fire in a mumbo-jumbo Avurudhu ritual (boiling milk to spite a cow?) Folks decant water on the scalps of the new born, risking pneumonia, just to give the creature a label. (They did it to me, twice, the Catholic side and the Protestant side; no wonder I ended up like this!)
Consider its first two years (Bastille to Valmy); the Revolution abolished feudalism (4 August), adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (26 August), a Women’s March on Versailles defeated a Monarchist coup (October) and confiscated church lands (November), all in 1789, and adopted a new constitution (First Republic) in 1791. Horrified all the powers of old Europe (Holy Roman Empire) armed to crush it, but at the Battle of Valmy (September 1792) the young Republic repulsed its enemies. Ok, ok it’s more like a thousand days than 100, but the speed at which history laid the foundations for the transformation of Europe in the next 25 years is astonishing. Strike while the iron is hot, or repent. “The voyage of their life (will be) bound in shallows and in miseries”, or to be prosaic, if favourable opportunity is allowed to slip away, it will not return.
The first post-revolutionary phase had its natural and class limits. Led by the Girondists (many came from Gironde Province) who supported a republic and the abolition of the monarchy, they could not adapt to the intensity of the Montegrads (mountain), the Jacobins, who sought total change and a transformation of the state. The Jacobins mobilised Paris to repulse the monarchist backlash on the streets, abolished the monarchy, put the King on trial and chopped off his dome, and forced through extensive land reform – that is completed the agrarian revolution.
Analogy with today’s Lanka will be clear, here and there, to those who seek it, but more important is that the narrative has the advantage of historical distance. The blaze of great events animates some points that are not much different but happen in dimmer corners. R&S are constrained, they be Girondists! Our erstwhile royal family, rogues in tow, are surely a caricature Louis XVI, his court and retinue; the howling “Bring Back Mahinda” pantaloons are they not Thermidor, the counterrevolution? What’s missing? Of course, Robespierre and the Jacobins whose doppelganger shoes are too big for the JVP to fill! Never mind, thankfully we are not burdened with a mission to carry the Enlightenment message and a promise of liberty (albeit its bourgeois democratic dwarf version) across continents, nor to bequeath its piquant aroma to posterity.
Ok then let’s cut the jock-straps to fit the cloth and set the government doable tasks within its means; Ranil, we have been told, calls it “the art of the possible”. I am not ambitious; this is only a list of five very doable tasks.
What has happened to the alleged coup on January 8-9 night? The story was well publicised, PM and Foreign Minister were outspoken. And now its hush. That won’t do; if after investigation the case for prosecution is not strong, ok that’s fine. Just let the public know.
The Sri Lankan Airlines probe has shown up what has NOT been done elsewhere. The glaring and inexplicable omission is the Highways Ministry (of Mahinda Rajapaksa) and expressway projects where, I allege with the support of expert collaborators and study of such facts as outsiders can lay hands on, billions were robbed. And why no probe of the Petroleum Corporation or Foreign Service? Impending dissolution of parliament is no impediment to such investigations since the President can appoint panels to report back to him.
Continuing, yes, it is contrary to good governance to exert pressure on the police, bribery department and AG to expedite prosecution on the mountain of cases of bribery, robbery and drug peddling, if it is done for political gain. But so many cases are hanging in the air; it is obligatory for the government to provide resources for expeditious action.
The return of military occupied lands has to be expedited; up to now it has been merely a cosmetic exercise.
What about the thousands languishing in prison under the Prevention of Terrorism and similar draconian anti-democratic laws? Why can’t everybody who has been detained for more than one year be released on bail, forthwith?
This is neither a ‘dream list’ nor a revolutionary wish-list requiring Robespierren/Justian incorruptibility and Jacobin ruthlessness; why even good Girondists can do it. Maybe this is why I am reminded of a fabled African proverb: “If a mosquito settles on your testicles, learn that there are better ways to solve a problem than to resort to violence”. I make no calls for ferocity, only resolute action within the full force of the law. If Sirisena and Ranil dither again for a second time, they will be crushed by counterrevolution.