By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“The Solution was to establish terror as a normal condition of life.” Roberto Calasso (The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony)
A fortnight after the UPFA won the 2010 parliamentary election Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa gave an interview delineating his dream-state. His ideal Sri Lanka would be a state locked in a permanent political war with its many and varied ‘enemies’; a state in which every institution must function as a weapon-of-war and concepts such as judicial independence and human rights are considered inimically alien.
That was April 2010, a time when Rajapaksa excesses were seen by most people as conjunctural rather than structural. Consequently, Mr. Rajapaksa’s interview, despite its foreboding content, went largely unnoticed. In April 2010, the 18th Amendment existed only in the minds of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and his brothers. With the term-limit provision very much in place, there was every reason to believe that the Rajapaksa grip on power would be over in seven years. After all, JR Jayewardene’s term-limit provision had effectively terminated the Bandaranaike reign in the SLFP; Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga did not want to retire from presidency or bow out of politics, but eventually the constitution compelled her to do both. In April 2010, there was no reason to believe that the same desirable fate would not befall Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Just two and a half years later, we know better. The term-limit provision is gone and, barring a miracle, Rajapaksa rule will last quite a long while. Currently we are living in a period of transition; Sri Lankais being transformed from an imperfect democracy into a patrimonial oligarchy, from within. Many recent developments, from the impeachment of the CJ and the multi-pronged attack on the judiciary to the destabilising repression unleashed on Jaffna university students, are the inevitable birth pangs of the Rajapaksa security state Gotabhaya Rajapaksa drew a word-picture of in his April 2010 interview.
In April 2010, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa identified the main challenge before post-war Sri Lankaas thwarting “a fresh attempt by separatists operating abroad to throw a lifeline to the LTTE (backed by) a section of the international community” (The Island – 17.4.2010). He advocated the launching of a total political war to defeat this ‘challenge’: “Suppressing the separatist movement and tackling its propaganda apparatus should be a major part of Sri Lanka’s strategy against the LTTE….. The new government should go all out against any local element promoting separatist sentiments regardless of political consequences” (ibid – emphasis mine).
Last week Mr. Rajapaksa identified the latest ‘local element’ which is ‘promoting separatist sentiments’ – the judiciary.
At a public function he spoke at length about “…..a conspiracy…..hatched by foreign elements to topple the Rajapaksa regime” and stated that “….the country was facing challenges similar to those that existed during the military conflict (Daily Mirror – 29.12.2012). He then animadverted on the ‘local agents’ of these ‘foreign conspirators’: “Everyone knows that school children, university students, university lecturers and trade unions were used to create trouble…. Today they are attempting to do it through the judiciary. They want to destabilise the country” (ibid; emphasis mine).
In April 2010, Mr. Rajapaksa said that his brother’s government “should go all out” against such ‘destabilising elements’ “regardless of political consequences”. Today the Rajapaksas are doing precisely that, with their inane impeachment, their efforts to fracture the Bar Association, their attempts to sabotage the annual gathering of judges and their attacks on the judiciary/legal fraternity. These moves are bound to have a shattering effect on public confidence in the Lankan state itself (the executive and the legislature at war with the judiciary is not the most inspiring sight), but the Rajapaksas do not care. Like Vellupillai Pirapaharan, they will not hesitate to kill in order to cure.
A Transition Foretold
Many of the anti-democratic moves made by the Rajapaksa administration since the parliamentary election of 2010 were foretold in Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s April 2010 interview – not because Mr. Rajapaksa is a seer but because he was articulating some of the plans being hatched by he and his brothers to create a state within a state, a ‘deep-state’ and to defend it by any means necessary.
So what would this new state, eternally at war with unending enemies, require to survive and thrive, according to Mr. Rajapaksa?
- “New laws to meet security requirements” (ibid).
- Knowing that “a section of officialdom could help the separatist cause by trying to appease foreign governments and some funding agencies” (ibid).
- Ensuring that the “the judiciary, particularly the Attorney General’s Department, support…the government’s efforts to suppress terrorism” (ibid).
- Ensuring that “Opposition political parties or constituent partners of the ruling coalition (are) not…allowed to engage in divisive politics” (ibid).
Given the Rajapaksa habit of equating themselves with the nation and their opponents with terrorists, ‘new laws to meet security requirements’ can be anything which promotes Rajapaksa rule, satiates Rajapaksa needs/desires and hounds Rajapaksa opponents. The 18th Amendment and the Expropriation Bill, though tailor-made to promote Rajapaksa interests, were presented as national security necessities; the same is being done with the equally Rajapaksa oriented Divineguma Bill. Future constitutional reforms, including downgrading/abolishing the 13th Amendment too will be presented in this disarming guise.
Preventing ‘a section of officialdom’ from helping ‘the separatist cause’ is a euphemism to destroying every last vestige of bureaucratic autonomy and making civil and military institutions of the state totally subservient to the Rajapaksas. The replacement of the democratising 17th Amendment with the despotic 18th Amendment was a pivotal great leap in this direction, as is the ‘Leadership Training Programme’. The Rajapaksas abhor and fear institutions which are not in thrall to them. Moving relentlessly to subvert/destroy those spaces which still retain a modicum of autonomy (such as the judiciary) is an important component of the Siblings’ state-building plan.
The third condition identified by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in his April 2010 interview explains the impeachment and other measures taken to replace the rule of law with the law of the rulers. The Rajapaksas need to transform the judiciary and the AG’s department into weapons in the Rajapaksa political war against Rajapaksa enemies. Within a month of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s April 2010 interview, his Presidential brother placed the AG’s Department – and the Legal Draughtsman’s Department – under his control. These two deadly moves barely caused a ripple even within the legal fraternity. This subjugation of two essential cogs of judicial independence enabled the Rajapaksas to use the AG’s Department as a rampart to protect their kith and kin and as a battering ram to hammer their enemies. It is thanks to this move that Duminda Silva remains a free man, despite repeated judicial orders for his arrest, while General Fonseka’s aged mother-in-law is being prosecuted by the state for not ratting on her fugitive grandson.
Once the Rajapaksas defeat the ‘Hulftsdorf coup’ and the judiciary becomes as much of a Rajapaksa tool as the AG’s Department, the Siblings will turn their attention to remaining democratic/anti-Rajapaksa holdouts, from those constituent parties of the UPFA which they deem insufficiently loyal/cowed to the opposition. Total control of everyone and everything is the foundation of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s dream state. And that dystopia is within reach.