By Kumar David –
Gota has attracted praise for his handling of the Covid-19 crisis. A largely hortatory outpouring is Sarath de Alwis said: “Although I have written plenty opposing his politics and quest for the presidency, I (am) happy he (is) president in this hour of peril”. He makes a valid point that had cockless Ranil been in charge the nation would be at sixes and sevens and clueless Sira would not know the difference between a virus, a viper and a windscreen wiper. But whether it was latent in SdeA’s message or not (probably not) there is a feeling doing the rounds that Lanka needs a strong man with an authoritarian appetite, who like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, can take the nation by the fetlock and deliver order, efficiency, financial integrity and economic nirvana. Felix Dias Bandaranaike’s “A little bit of dictatorship is a good thing”.
This is incorrect, not because of personality defects in Gotabaya Rajapaksa but the predicament and political environment in which he finds himself. I am not an admirer of LKY, he was not a liberty-loving democrat, but he did not flout the law though he did craft it harshly. I will leave that to one side and enumerate LKY’s achievements. He built strong, law driven, impartial institutions. The Singapore judiciary is admired and the city state is a sought-after venue to settle international commercial disputes. It is unimaginable that LKY would hide CID files, transfer officers to prevent them giving evidence before court or interfere with the Attorney General. Singapore is renowned for the competence and efficiency of its public service, a great institution building achievement. The supremacy of the civilian state, PM and parliament over the armed services and police is total, absolute and unquestioned. There is zero tolerance of corruption. If a public servant or a police-military officer is found guilty of graft or human rights violation, heaven help him. In Sri Lanka we have a legacy of the opposite type.
Then there is LKY’s determined advocacy of ethnic equality. Racial, religious and linguistic prejudice is dealt with sternly. The mad yellow-robed mobs inciting Sinhala-Buddhist extremism would, in Singapore, be rounded up and locked up as soon as they start ranting. Singapore did have a head start in pluralism because of its small size, compact society and quickness in adopting English as its lingua franca. But this latter did not come easily; there was a period of struggle, dispute, prevarication and reform before its education system became preeminent in Asia. Furthermore, Singapore society is meritocratic, ours is nepotistic and founded on cronyism. Gota does not have the will or the ability to reverse this.
There is not a chance in heaven or hell that Gota can achieve anything like this. I do not intend to take the micky out of him personally. Even if one imagines he is a damn fine fellow, he can’t. The cards are stacked too heavily against replicating similar institutional feats in the politically opportunist, ethnically charged, financially corrupt and religious extremist milieu that constitutes our society. Let me name three of the challenges: Will Gota be able to kick out the corrupt rogues all around him and install a Cabinet free of rogues inherited from the Mahinda era? Will Gota be able to tame Sinhala-Buddhist extremism to which he is under obligation for placing him in power? And third, if you grant even for arguments sake that some top military people should be indicted and prosecuted for human rights violations, can Gota cut off his right hand?
Even with the best will in the world the LKY experience cannot be replicated in Lanka without cleaning out the Augean Stable of our body-politic. The fight has to be joined mainly in the mass political domain, not within the domain of statecraft. This is the principal domain, issues within government and state are of a supporting nature. There are five political outfits in the majority Sinhala South; GR-SLPP, MR-SLPP, Ranil-UNP, Sajith-SJB and JVP-NPP. This is no time for shilly-shallying; you gotta throw your weight behind one and only one. To my mind it is crystal clear that it has to be the JVP-NPP. The other four are part of the problem, not the solution, and are in cahoots with each other. For example, the MR and GR regimes and yahapalana, that is three governments, have made no progress in convicting the murderers of Lasantha, Ekneligoda, Thuddeen, the students on Trinco beach and the aid workers. Why? These four leaderships are all in cahoots with each other.