16 April, 2024

Blog

Cockiness; What Price? 

By Sarath de Alwis –

Sarath de Alwis

Sudden, unexpected elevation to lofty heights is a dangerous predicament.  It can invest the cleverest of people with a large dose of hubris. Hubris is really a Greek idea. Hubris is not pride or arrogance. It is really what we call cockiness. Ancient Greeks believed that hubris invited the wrath of gods. When in power, leaders with hubris tend to rely on their instincts and abilities of one-upmanship instead of objective information and realistic analysis. 

Seduced by their success and constant praise of those who surround them, they come to believe that they alone know what is best. 

They stop seeking, listening, and learning. They start pushing their point of view down everybody’s throats.  

In a democratic context such conduct is described as autocratic. It hardens the arteries of the autocrat and from then on it is my way or the highway. 

When ‘power’ is deaf to public opinion, citizenry must ask ‘power’ five essential questions.  

What power have you got?

Where did you get it from?

In whose interests do you use it?

To whom are you accountable?

How do we get rid of you?” 

Following his recent statement in parliament on what next after the first tranche from the IMF, we must ask President Ranil Wickremesinghe these essential questions.  

When Richard Nixon’s unelected successor Gerald Ford assumed the presidency, he famously told the American people – our constitution works – our nation’s long nightmare is over. 

When Gotabaya Rajapakse resigned our constitution too worked with meticulous precession. But to my simple mind it seems it has marked the beginning of a long nightmare.  

Subjecting him to these questions would be a reasonable start to measure the true state of our democracy. Our current democratic deficit seems to far exceed the consequences of our debt default and insolvency. 

These five questions were framed by that colorful British parliamentarian Tony Benn the iconic democrat and socialist who captured the imagination of my generation in the sixties and seventies. 

Listening to our accidental President’s homily (‘Bana Talking’ is the apt Sinhala term) on how to recover from Sovereign default I couldn’t help but recall Tony Benn’s incisive questions on making political power accountable to the ‘people.’  

The way I see it, the President’s latest statement was not about economic recovery. It was about reinforcing his political base within the ‘Pohottuwa’ while offering an insight in to how he plans to contain the opposition that is growing increasingly restless by the hour.  

From the perspective of a politician who has no mass appeal his statement made eminent sense. 

 Once you are in power, never forget those who put you in power. Deal decisively with those upstarts who dare to suggest that they can do better.   

What are the key takeaways of the president’s statement?  

* The agreement with the IMF is the indisputable prerequisite to restore the economy. 

* Holding meetings and holding protests is not a problem. But if agitators disrupt this program, the government will act strongly on it.

* He is grateful to the armed forces and the police who acted to uphold peace in the country. As a result of their efforts, we have fuel and electricity today.

* Before long dollars will be available. Therefore, he will not allow sinister forces to destabilize this program.

* The opposition should join his government to stabilize the country’s economy.

* After accomplishing this, we can decide on holding the presidential election and general election.

His statement was an intimidatory ultimatum. That shouldn’t surprise anybody. 

He is totally dependent on the repressive state apparatus. His political survival is at the whim and fancy of a parliamentary majority that hasn’t a hope in hell of ever surviving another election.

They don’t like the idea of elections. Neither does the President who failed to get elected on the direct vote at the last general election. 

They don’t like protests. That’s their problem. Democracy is about dialogue. Pretest is how people initiate dialogue with elected power. Now, if you are not elected that is a different ball game all together.  

Though firmly entrenched in the seat of power, the President is terribly mistaken. He will fail disastrously and so will all of us trapped in this constitutional warp.    

If you make people fear you, or resent you, the last thing the people would offer will be their support. Throughout human history repression has only strengthened and solidified the oppressed and the repressed.  

Fear is the driving force relied upon by every tin pot autocrat who presumed that he and he alone was the repository of all wisdom in social engineering and institutional restructuring.   

As emeritus professor of political science Jayadeva Uyangoda has observed the ‘overall political context is defined by a new polarization of our society. There is the large majority who seek to defend human dignity and democratic order as opposed to an influential minority of political elites who want less or no democracy. 

The ‘Ranilist elite’ are convinced that the voiceless majority are not accustomed to have three meals a day. They condescendingly believe that the poor are so weary of existence , they will be content with two meals and that they will be even more grateful if assured of one meal per day. 

A good example is the Chief of Staff who thinks the poor man’s staple ‘Roti’ is boiled and not baked. 

This oligarchic class is totally impervious to the sufferings of nearly seven million of our people trapped in misery and hunger .  Rather than trusting the government international donor agencies now prefer to deal with these communities direct. 

The regime has convinced itself that the poor are somehow immune to deficiency and suffering unlike their own kind anxious and impatient for Ranil to bring about better days of borrowing again.

“Dollars will be available soon ‘was his promise to them.   

The political economists who call for strong leadership believe in top-down directives by the government. Citizen’s compliance is assumed as a given through coercion under the guise of law enforcement. 

The question is often asked if not Ranil who?  It is a sad commentary of the times we live in. What we need is a leadership that can create an environment where great ideas can happen. 

Trust is essential in managing this political and economic crisis. Citizens and the government must strive for a trusting relationship wherein the role of the individual is recognized. 

It is a bottom-up process that is anathema to the elite class that supports the Wickremesinghe presidency.  

This presidency is trapped in an Orwellian world where the ‘Big Brother’ tells you to shut up,  sit-down and comply.  

No body is searching for the truth. Not Sajith Premadasa. Not Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

They both hold that to concede that an opponent may be right, that the opponent may be honest, and the opponent may be  more intelligent is an unthinkable proposition. 

Their collective uncertainty as to what is really happening is a comfortable sanctuary for their reckless bickering.  

Privileged people don’t march and protest; their world is safe and clean and governed by laws designed to keep them happy.

We cannot blame President Ranil Wickremesinghe for not knowing the language of the poor. The poor man’s language is dictated by hunger. As the fiercely anti-fascist philosopher Theodore Adorno said, ‘the poor chew words to fill their bellies.’

We should also understand why the interim president doesn’t like protest. 

Protesting is never a disturbance of the peace. Corruption, injustice, and intimidation are the real and tangible disturbances of the peace.

Logic of street protest is beyond the capacity of the President.  

Postscript:

A very ordinary street drama.

He: I heard there was a riot.’

She: ‘There was a demonstration. It was peaceful until it was interrupted.’

‘What sort of demonstration?’

‘Hmm… A new kind. At first, it looked more poetical. Then some Black uniformed people appeared. It became very political ‘ 

Strumming her guitar she croons ” ආදරේ දියව් වීදියෙ විරුවන්ට..”

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Latest comments

  • 5
    2

    Those “FIVE” questions the writer is proposing are for the PEOPLE to ask Ranil W.

    I propose Ranil W asks himself ONE question, and that is>

    WHO I AM? Or WHO AM I?

    Or, if Ranil W wants to know himself further, he could ask: WHO IS THIS “I”?

    • 3
      1

      I finally had time to read Sarath’s article/piece. …….. Like 99.99% of us here, he is not an Economist ……. like most of us, he has given a laymen’s assessment of the situation ….. and I can’t fault it. There is truth in it: a lot of truth.

      As for what will happen to the economy …….. if Gamini’s utterances below is any indication, it seems even Ranil doesn’t know! …….. It’s just a hope and a prayer


      Should we be dancing in the streets cause we got a few dollars from the IMF? ….. If the solution to our problems is the IMF ……. what about the 16 times before that we have been to the IMF? Did that solve any of our problems?

      It’s all about control baby! If the USA wanted, they could’ve just given us the paltry 90 billion at 0 interest (look how much they are giving Ukraine just to blow up!) to sort ourselves out. Instead of trying to control us through the IMF.

      The bottom line …… the powers that be don’t want us to solve our problems and escape dependence.

      And our leaders have done and are doing a swell job ……. keeping us dependent.

    • 3
      1

      It’s not Ranil or any other personality ……. it’s simply about right and wrong.

      Don’t forget …… many here fought to reinstate Ranil as the PM ……… I’m not sure if it was the principle …….. but it sure was about what’s right ………. and what’s not right.

  • 7
    3

    How easily ye guys forget history? Now, even less than 2 weeks, eh?

    Leading up to the late 80s, the great threat for America was not China – China was not even on the horizon. China was America’s friend to counter the Soviet Union: after Nixon’s visit to China – but Japan. Japan was on the verge of overtaking America as the no 1 economy – this was before the Information Revolution, which even America, did not see coming. If they saw it coming, all America had to do was just wait; Japan would have just disappeared in to the background. But America went ahead and screwed up Japan’s economy anyway. Read up on Plaza Accords and Bushs’ man James Baker how it was achieved. Japan has not still recovered from 1989! Japan had no choice; Japan is a vassal state of America after Hiroshima and the surrender. America could just dictate to Japan.

    Now the threat is China. The Chinese are a lot smarter and America can’t dictate to them. America has ganged up with India, Japan and few others and trying to screw up China. India is going along with America to mess up China but supports Russia/Putin in Ukraine. They all have their own agendas.

    • 7
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      continued

      White will never let non-White to become preeminent nation in the world. They will always try to screw them if they can – at times, even while pretending to be their friend. Like Native, I’m White and that’s the way we want it; be thankful we let out the secret just for ye guys.

      Ranil with his secret dealings behind the scenes, is making Sri Lanka a pawn in this power-game. I have no time to write ……. but understand just this, Ranil is 74 years old and will do anything to prolong his stay as president: he doesn’t care what happens to the country/people after that. Will do Just anything! Just observe what he is doing!! All his actions are not about what’s best for the country and the 22 million citizens. But what will keep him in the seat as long as possible.

      Any of you game to bet, once/after Ranil is through, if the country will be better? Even a simple, Yes? ……Native, under the bed? In the closet?

      Thank Buddha for Lasantha Pethiyagoda: that’s one rare Lankan who gets it! …….. Buddha has not still abandon his chosen people ……. hanging by a thread …… 75 years and counting … everyday slipping little by little

    • 4
      1

      Nimal, in general I agree with your opinion about the U.S. But let me ask you this “hypothetically say if U.S was just like one of it’s Latin American counterpart, without much power, do you think today’s Xi and Putin would have not tried the same ????

      • 3
        2

        chiv,

        My observations are always about human-nature: that’s the only way we can get to the truth (if we are ever capable of it :)) ) …….. America is only a representation of that. At this moment in time it’s the preeminent “force” trying to set the agenda for “the rest.”

        Could you please elaborate this; it’s sounds very interesting and worth a discussion but I don’t fully get what you mean …… ” “hypothetically say if U.S was just like one of it’s Latin American counterpart, without much power, do you think today’s Xi and Putin would have not tried the same ???? “

        • 0
          0

          Nimal, all I said was , if U.S didn’t become a “preeminent force trying to set the agenda for the rest”, Putin or Xi would have pushed their countries to be, that alternate force. In that scenario, what do you think will be their agenda for the rest ??? I do not have the knowledge to say what went wrong with SVB and Signature Bank, NY, is that a mistake of Banks, Markets or some thing else ???

          • 3
            0

            chiv,

            If we cut through the whole cockamamie name-game and discard imperialism/socialism/capitalism/communism shindig ……. humans, at times, can be superficially very nice (like I’m to Native :)) ) but when their interests are threatened can be very very nasty. The main interest of most humans is to avoid hard-work and obtain ease-of-life/luxuries easily. They will never say it’s their goal: they just can’t afford to ……. so, gotta resort to all sorts of claptrap to cover-up to deceive.

            If you travel ……. you can observe first-hand, the devastation caused in Latin America by America, most times with the connivance of their own leaders. You can see the devastation caused by Russia in their former vassal states/countries. Although the girls are beautiful, most Russians are not nice people – they have had hard lives and the roughness is in the open: there is no hypocrisy like in America where people can be superficially very nice. Like someone’s niceness in Pittsburgh leading OC up the garden-path! :)))

            I read somewhere that China has never attacked another country to take over: don’t know what happened with Tibet. We have travelled extensively in China but I can’t still fathom the people. They are very careful and cagey in expressing themselves. But I like them: girls, most of all!

            • 3
              0

              continued

              Each to their own …… after all the cockamamie claptrap is said and done ……. and however imperfect they are ……… I’m glad that at this point in time, of all the brutes, America is the preeminent country so even diehard Commies like Kumar can go there for surgery. :)) ……… And that Britain was the preeminent power before that …….. so however much we hate and criticize them …… we can be proud of the qualifications we have gained from their educational institutions and be proud of our English. Good ol’ Sinhala_Man makes basic mistakes in the Sinhala language with utmost gusto and pride ….. but is terrified of and will kill himself if he makes a mistake in English.

              We spend all our waking hours mimicking them.

              And we cover it all up by calling them imperialists ……. and the rest of the names!

              I tell you, humans are very strange creatures.

            • 3
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              Fully agree with your observation. Funny that you mentioned about avoiding hard work. After my travel to different parts of world, I kind of felt the same. I will not defend the blunders caused by the U.S , based on their distorted foreign policies. But those blunders are exploited by few to make others look saints. I rarely hear people complaining of the wrongs committed by China/ Russia. When they do, they still scapegoat U.S to justify the sins committed by China / Russia. How convenient ??? Isn’t it the same Lankans, have been doing for years, with their own BS. It’s time, they cut through the whole cockamamie, name-game and discard. (Imperialism, Colonialism).

      • 3
        1

        chiv,

        You’ll find this interesting ……… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vU1g7ZUQkWI

        What they are saying is ……. the bank took depositors money and kept them in the safest assets: long term bonds. When the interest rates more than doubled, the value of those assets nearly halved. The short-sellers saw the vulnerability and started shorting. Depositors who were “in tune” saw the danger and started pulling out their money/deposits …….. and the stampede for the exit began.


        From the comments,

        ” “There was nothing wrong with this bank. This bank failed because they didn’t fully understand the implications of the FEDs actions..!” – There is everything wrong about being in a business that you don’t fully understand and can’t handle 5% rates! Years of free money spoiled the brats. ” :))

      • 1
        1

        What twisted logic to defend an imperialism that is about top meet its Waterloo!

        • 1
          2

          …an imperialism that is about to meet its Waterloo!

          • 3
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            … an imperialism that is about to meet its Waterloo! Heard it all, from soothing soothsayers. Fact is, previous Warsaw members (communism ) are determined to keep a distance from Putin’s Russia. Some have gone to the extent of getting NATO’S assistance.

    • 2
      0

      Nimal,
      “America has ganged up with India, Japan and few others and trying to screw up China. India is going along with America to mess up China but supports Russia/Putin in Ukraine”
      I don’t suppose you want to bet on the chances of India being the next target? Watch out for the first restrictions on Indian CEOs.

  • 8
    3

    Sarath, thanks for describing our Lankaness. “First it was poetic later became very political” Regardless of hunger, pain , misery, hopelessness/ helplessness, it has to be political. According to last report almost 60 % is facing some degree of food scarcity. The rest 40 % is discussing matters in media and parliament and “The Circus must go on.”

    • 8
      4

      Cockiness, at what cost ? I’m puzzled with the same question and will like to hear from OC. I believe Ranil , should have never allowed the topic of local elections any further, instead of allowing to pay deposits and then tell “there was never an election”. He has not only provided opportunity but provided sticks to opposition, to unite and beat him as their common enemy.

      • 4
        0

        Chiv,
        “He has not only provided opportunity but provided sticks to opposition, to unite and beat him as their common enemy.”
        They haven’t exactly united. The SJB and JVP keep insulting each other. Weerawansa, Weerasekara & Co. have no takers for their Sinhala Buddhist ideology. Without a dog to ride, the fleas don’t get very far. Ranil has removed the Pohottuwa dog.
        The guy is a master of distraction.
        The man has always been cocky, because he thinks all his ideas are right. He doesn’t listen to others. Gota had only other people’s ideas, but the people he trusted were idiots. Months before he imploded, you could see in his body language that he had had enough. Nothing like that with Ranil.

        • 1
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          OC , for Ranil’s sake I hope you are right on this.

          • 1
            0

            A soft corner for Ranil survives it seems!

  • 4
    13

    Sarath De Alwis and many other Critics of Ranil Wickremasinghe who berates him, it is best for them to wait and see, without displaying their verbosity, what Ranil Wickremasinghe will deliver next year in 2024, what he was prevented by these very forces for the last 40 yrs.

    • 8
      5

      Gamini
      His rivals and their supporters are concerned that he may deliver what they cannot. Thus, much effort goes into personalizing politics.
      Why would the rivals not spell out what they intend to deliver instead. If it is an IMF bailout that they too want, given the chance they too will carry out the command of the IMF, slightly differently but as clumsily if not more.
      *
      What should seriously concern all of us is what he is in the process of delivering.

      • 2
        0

        SJ,
        There were some who predicted that the IMF deal wouldn’t be pulled off. Now they ask how long 3 billion USD will last.

    • 6
      10

      What arrant nonsense!
      .
      Anonymous Gamini,
      .
      Troll away! I know that you will never have the courage to state all that with responsibility and accountability to the citizens.

      Why not ask us to wait until this usurper declares himself “Emperor”?

      • 4
        1

        Onymous Sinhala_Man, RW is not an usurper, he was appointed by Parliament under the existing law. You must wait for the next Presidential election to get rid of him.

  • 8
    2

    The question people should ask themselves now are:
    Are you better off now than before?
    Is the country’s debt level is lower than before or increased now?
    Is it easy to get employment now than before?
    Are you happy now than before?

    • 8
      4

      A
      Let is be clear about what your before means. Before RW was made President? Before the Aragalya? Before GR was elected?….
      Let us be serious: Can one expect economic miracles delivered in a matter of weeks or months?
      Let us study the trends and see where the IMF bailout will lead us to.

      • 5
        4

        SJ,
        No one expected economic miracles to happen within weeks or months or years. It is impossible to study the impact of IMF or China or India or any other country separately in our country. The most important common factor is our people who should assess themselves . People have made elected both UNP and SLFP alternative and nothing changed but the debt gone up,col increased .

        • 4
          3

          If that is so, what were you complaining about with this before and after comparisons?

          • 3
            1

            It is not complaining but to make it to understand and not to fall into the false promises and forecasts to cheat people that we have found a god and we are near to reaching paradise.

            • 0
              0

              Your comparisons show not the slightest hint of this purpose.

  • 10
    12

    Bernard Madoff ran a shrewd Ponzi scheme for more than 30 years fooling many sophisticated investors in USA.

    For this Ranil chap fooling a few Sri Lankans who think they are very smart is easy.To start with they hate the opposition , Chandrika, Mahinda ,Premadasa, Anura K etc.To sustan their hate they need an alternative. Since Ranil became leader of UNP he had to be that alternative.

    Another aspect of this is that these so called clever fellows are equating their English or their mercantile job with being clever. They know in truth compared to the rest of the world they amount to very little. But this pretence of knowing much must be kept going.

    Ranil’s act of cockiness also makes them believe he is a know all. Like a doctor who acts irritated, the nervous patients are intimidated and think the doctor is super smart !

    In truth Ranil is man without any sense of shame or self-respect and does not deserve any respect. Remember how Sirisena scowled him like a pickpocket when he went to take his oath as PM( Ranil’s wife was also there) Just refer the ridicule that Dinesh Gunawardena and other PM minsters have heaped on him one time!

  • 10
    9

    Because this country is so small and our culture so limited we get everything wrong. DR Wijewardena for instance is spoken of as if he started the print press and invented ink. ! In India during the British era there were many hundred similar newspapers started. Wijewardena family lives luxury lives off the hard work of thousands of journalists and poor workers who are paid subsistence salaries.

    Ranils father openly bribed government MPs to topple Mrs Bandaranayake government in 1964.

    Only a half-baked guy like Ranil will be cocky, a truly learned person will be humble because he understands the complexities of the subject. Ranil looks at the surface and thinks he knows it all and becomes cocky . He keeps failing, but since he has no integrity or shame he never goes home !

    • 7
      3

      deepthi Desperate silva

      “Ranils father openly bribed government MPs to topple Mrs Bandaranayake government in 1964.”

      How did she become world’s first female prime minister?
      Elected by voters first time?

      He should have done it much earlier.
      Damage to the island could have been reduced.

      “…….. a truly learned person will be humble because he understands the complexities of the subject.”

      You mean Gota, WImal, Gnanasara, Mervyn Silva PhD, …… ?

      “He keeps failing, but since he has no integrity or shame he never goes home !”

      You didn’t mean Mahinda Rajapaksa did you? He is desperately trying to be appointed Prime minister. He should have been put in prison for sending 3000 thugs from Temple Trees to Gallface green. If anything he should share the cell with you.

      ” Wijewardena family lives luxury lives off the hard work of thousands of journalists and poor workers who are paid subsistence salaries.”

      Thousands of journalists? You mean 1000s of journalists, gosh. All at the same time?

  • 5
    10

    Dear Sarath,
    Handling the matters in this complicated scenario is not that easy for any leader. Ranil has however undertaken this very delicate job and as promissed making things better day by day in Sri Lanka. There is no alternative other than going to IMF at this critical junture, and almost every body in Sri Lanka have accepted it except the JVP which has no solid plans but only anti corruption slogans. Very soon, not only because of Ranil but also because of the scientifiic approach of the central bank governor, the country will very soon start to move towards the economic level that existed in 2019. Do you want Ranil to be a weak leader and allow the so called protestors to enter the president’s palace or prime minister’s ofice and put the country in turmoil again? How many protests were peaceful? Do you know any country where the governments allow protestors to destroy valuable state property? We need a strong leader today. He clearly told in the parliament that only protestors who use violence will be dealt severely. We must support Ranil who has the knowledge and courage (Not cockiness as you mentioned) to bring prosperity to the nation.

  • 6
    10

    Unfortunately Mr S DeA is not capable of making a sustained economic analysis.
    He can only hurl invective and insult.
    The chips may fall however in a way that he does not foresee.
    Benedict

    • 3
      3

      Kumar
      But, he hurls invective and insult to cheer quite a few people here, and that does not need any analytical skills.

  • 2
    0

    The people of this nation will be more inclined to accept the hardships and challenges to tide over this crisis, ONLY IF those SCOUNDRELS who looted our national wealth and literally stole the poor man’s lunch are prosecuted for their crimes.

    There is more than enough evidence on a number of fronts to convict them, jail them and throw the keys away. Why is this not happening?

    Instead, these criminals are laughing from their backsides, enjoying publicly funded security and luxurious lifestyles, while the President without-a-mandate remains in their thrall.

    This is the crux of what we face today.

    • 0
      0

      ES, Your argument is the solution, to convict and jail them. Please remember you are also dealing with murderers who do what it takes to keep their corrupt families alive.

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