By Kumar David –
The stoutest defender of any government will grant that periodic renewal is good; universities recycle Deanships and companies CEOs. There is a reason for term limits though none can guarantee the next will be better. Term limits are imposed because fresh air brings vigour. It was good for Thatcher to go after long at the helm; I don’t like Narendra Modi but it will be good for Congress to take a back seat for a while.
It will be good for Gota–Mahinda to go. Should this team to hang on for, 18, 24 or 30 years like Robert Mugabe or Bashar al-Assad? Enough is enough of Lanka’s ruling alliance after nearly 20 years in office. Nobody can guarantee that the next person, if the Executive Presidency is not scrapped, (Ranil, Karu, Fonseka or Anura Kumara) will shine and who is best is another discussion. But now it is time for spring cleaning. This is my minimalist argument.
I will now go beyond minimalism to persuade you that, in any case, this government is bad. Looking back over the last half-century, isn’t this Gotabaya-Mahinda UPFA regime the worst in our post-independence history on many counts? Forget the Tamils; I am making this assertion on behalf of the country at large. There has always been corruption, sometimes horrific, sometimes less intense; there has always been encroachment on democratic rights by the state. But never in our history has a regime been so corrupt at all levels and across the board (Cabinet, Provincial and personal hangers on) and never has profiting from or condoning the drug trade reached so far up. Not even in two periods of state repression, 1971 and the dark days of Premadasa’s slaughter of thousands of youth, was there a purposeful attempt to lay the groundwork for dictatorship.
I have never heard a moral case against changing the Rajapake regime; what I have heard is that even if it be desirable, it is difficult to achieve given Rajapakse’s post-war approbation and Ranil’s congenital drawbacks. Let’s take it in two steps; if the argument is that Mahinda is a strong candidate (though not so strong after the PC elections), I do not contest it. If it is said that Lanka needs to get rid of this regime, but it’s a tough fight, I agree.
Graft, power abuse and nepotism
A patron-client network fans out among the people. About 10 almighty leaders, all members of the dynasty, are held up by about 3000 UPFA MPs, provincial and local councillors, and flunkeys in patronage positions. This vibrant middle-layer demands votes and cheers from the grass-roots in exchange for favours such as contracts, intercession in securing a job, fraudulently fixing a land title-deed and so on. If each middle-level flunkey can commandeer 300 persons (an MP or councillor has a bigger stooge base) we are looking at about a million clients. This is the Rajapakse base in the seven Sinhala provinces. It is this three-layered, patron-crony-client nexus that explains the degeneration of the eventual client, the public. It has rendered all society corrupt in its own image.
It is for this reason that Lanka’s people ignore abuses by state, regime and politicos, though only too well aware of it all. Fear is lesser reason, the erosion of public morals the greater, this is a point I have made several times. It is also timely to quote from the UNHRC Resolution supported by 23 countries . The three paragraphs referring to the erosion on human rights in Sri Lanka under the pernicious Gota-Mahinda regime read as follows.
Expressing deep concern at reported intimidation and retaliation against civil society members, including those who met with the High Commissioner during her visit,
Expressing serious concern at the continuing reports of violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, including sexual and gender-based violence, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as intimidation of and reprisals against human rights defenders, members of civil society and journalists, and threats to judicial independence and the rule of law,
Alarmed at the rapid rise in violence and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, particularly against members of religious minority groups in Sri Lanka, including Hindus, Muslims and Christians, etc.
I need say no more about the appalling record of this regime on human and democratic rights and the abuse of power. The world at large has spoken
International pariah status
The most recent humiliation that the Rajapakses have burdened this country with is an international pariah status that brings with it moral opprobrium and a sanctions threat. Two operative clauses, 2 and 10b, say.
Clause 2: Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to conduct an independent and credible investigation etc.
Clause 10b: (Requests the Office of the High Commissioner) to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes etc.
There is ambiguity. Is he High Commissioner’s investigation to be done if GoSL declines “to conduct an independent and credible investigation” or it is a sham, or is it to be undertaken anyway? The ambiguity is intentional. It is not easy, after a local enquiry commences, to declare it a sham and commence a probe under 10(b), but it would be simple to declare that a parallel probe was always intended. The West and the Commissioner are keeping this card up their sleeves.
The government will attempt to mobilise monks and chauvinists to dance the jig on the streets and proclaim imperialist plots from the rooftops, but it won’t deceive people who grasp international politics. And provincial elections have shown that it is less and less likely to fool the public at large either. The country’s reputation is in tatters and there is no way to start the process of renewal except by prefacing it with regime change. Let’s take a break from Gota-Mahinda and renew the democratic traditions of this country.