By S. Sivathasan –
Can hopes of better times and thoughts of the worst subsist? Prospects for a good life were wished for and openly expressed in Sri Lanka. But ever since a good consensual opposition candidate was announced fears that were latent among the powers that be, surfaced and stalked the land. They have now reached desperate proportions. What sparked them? The possibility of a regime change becoming more real after a winnable candidate in Maithripala Sirisena came to the fore. With multi party endorsement he is on the threshold of victory. A realignment of forces is seen as spelling disaster to those entrenched for long.
Office is an Opportunity
In a healthy democracy an electoral victory is an opportunity for serving the country. A second win was a doubling of opportunity for the incumbent President. Retirement thereafter was what the framers of the constitution in their wisdom prescribed. The limitation after the second was to save the people from having more of the same or worse in the third. This limitation in the US remains untouched over the centuries. Chile has laid down a single term for the President. In Sri Lanka the first term was uneventful as the national question was never resolved. Destruction unlimited visited upon one ethnic entity pleased the other. In the wake of that pleasure and accompanying euphoria a second term came the President’s way. How did the need for a third term arise?
In the two terms making nine years, the people in their mass have encountered and experienced everything unbecoming of a President. Voters of every political hue and from all ethnicities were and are resolved on regime change. Growing disillusionment in the first term has turned into uncompromising antipathy. Complete alienation of Tamils in the first instance, now pervades the whole of the polity. What originated years back has escalated to illimitable proportions. When a rule becomes unrighteous it takes tyrannical forms. In this country it has assumed all the features of a well riveted sordid hand. Hence the people’s resolve to overthrow it. But the UPFA seeks asininely to entrench itself further.
In the years of ill management, among the earliest to disappear was the nexus between the ruler and the ruled. The aspirations they had, continued to lose their appeal with the ruler. Family rule displaced democratic governance. Popular perception was that benefits which were rightfully theirs were getting funneled into familial coffers. To them it was a vulgar usurpation, a violation of the Social Contract. Stopping this course is the only way to restore people’s confidence. But such measures are never in the mind of misrule. Neither able to move forward nor to trace its steps backward, the incumbent regime is caught up in a muddle and a dilemma. Changing the regime itself has become the option for the people. Subverting the effort is now the agenda of the government,
Longest 40 Days
However noble the objective may be, however determined the people are on change, every step of the government needs to be studied, the sinister motives discerned, the people alerted and counter moves laid out. A central Think Tank and hundreds countrywide to take the message and to give a feed-back will be indispensable. In 1969, To keep a tab on creeping JVP activity, an administrative network reaching to the last village was in place. It was scrapped with the same single stroke – “we will not continue with UNP policies”, followed from mid-1970. The bill came for settlement in April 1971. It is good for the Opposition to be forearmed. By stuffing the coming days with unconventional strategies and intense activity it can make the period ‘Longest 40 Days’ in recent times.
In the first half of the 20th century there were quite a few instances when opportunities at seizing power were lost in Europe for want of anticipation, absence of unity and lack of decisiveness. The losers were generally of the Left. The Right won with its custody of the military apparatus in addition to its tradition of organization as an incumbent government. In Russia the military stood weak and frayed. Lenin made the difference to score victory for communism. In Germany the Right won. The Left was divided and the Right was indecisive. A charismatic Hitler forced his way making a difference. States that floundered went through turbulence. Decisive leaderships won.
Bright Spots in Sri Lanka’s Resoluteness
The attempted coup of 1962 in Sri Lanka was a wash out. “It failed because of the irresoluteness of the leaders”. So declared Dr. NM Perera in Parliament. What an exact description! The government had a clear headed and firm leadership in Sirimavo and Felix Dias who acted decisively. The second one was in the 1971 insurgency when the same two at the top stood steadfast. Power went a begging for a week, but the legal and the legitimate prevailed. Another occasion came in May 2003, when the President was assassinated. Sometime earlier JR Jajewardene clarifying a certain constitutional point said, when the President dies the government falls. But no such thing happened. Within hours Ranil and the higher bureaucracy met I believe with DB Wijethunga, a smooth succession arrangement was worked out and a possible calamity averted.
There is quite a change now. There is no ethnic war and there is no insurgency. The military and the Police are much larger and well equipped. Divested of the pressures of war they can contain a situation without much difficulty. If the natural course of history seeks an aberrant path they can make a difference. But all that only if an ethical and moral ballast maintains their mental balance. There are besides illegal orders that a government can palm off under a veneer of legality. The task of the defence establishment now is to steer clear and to stand steadfast by the law and the constitution. These are far greater responsibilities where loyalty and probity are called for. These are too much to hope for and in times of stress a great dream to entertain.
The people in their millions without being idealistic have to appreciate all the worldly pulls and mercenary pressures that a government can exert. Taking nothing for granted and not leaving anything to chance, hoping for the best of times and yet bargaining for the worst of happenings, they have to be constantly alert. Vigilance by the minute is the need of the hour. That will make the 40 days longest in our time.
High Visibility Peoples’ Power
Vigilance alerts the democratic forces to plots and dangers that are cooking. Even red high alert can do nothing besides. It is the wrath of the people rolled up in the mass and spilling into the streets and the public square that makes a high visibility impact. It is this impact which makes the trigger dysfunctional. Makes the bomber bypass the demonstration. It is the potency of this unarmed power that stops a well-armed military in its tracks. Is such a power in the making? Does it take much time to make? Time will tell all too early.
The image above represents 10,000. A peaceful demonstration 15 times the size will be unnerving to the forces of suppression. All the parties acting as one can make it happen, in the name of a new regime.