By Kumar David –
Never in my recollection has a PM or President evoked such diverse expectations. Some say Gotabaya Rajapaksa is motivated and has achievements to show, albeit at the microlevel of enforcing discipline and stimulating errant staff in government departments to pull up their socks. Others say he is taking a series of steps that undermine civil liberties and democratic rights and manipulating the prosecution of military and police personnel and Paksa family types who have brazenly violated the law. A third contingent, at this moment this columnist alone, holds that he is a pragmatic-opportunist which means that he has no particular ideology, perspective or ‘line’ that regulates his decision making. He will at each step do whatever seems most useful to meet challenges facing him politically and personally. This marks him off from two disreputable siblings; one rides on Sinhala-Buddhist populism, the other, better known as Mr Ten-Percent, has lived up to his moniker. I have said, and I continue to say that there is no direct evidence that Gota is financially corrupt or that he is a racist. He is of course morally accountable for state war-crimes during his tenure as defence supremo but that does not make him a racist any more than countless Generals, Brigadiers, Colonels and soldiers who are just as morally guilty. I refer here, since it is relevant, only to state war-crimes not the war-crimes of the LTTE.
This uncertainty about what direction Gota may go colours every political conversation. No intelligent person, I don’t waste time with the unintelligent or respond to the invective of dumb commentators, is prepared to slap his hand down on the table and declare “Gota is without doubt going to deliver the goods even if somewhat short of economic and social nirvana”. Conversely, no sensible person can be certain that the Gota regime will surely turn into naked dictatorship. Simple my dear Watson, the answer to all this is still blowing in the wind, it belongs to the realm of known-unknowns. That does not mean that we should not read the tea leaves or count the pressures pulling this way and that at any time. So here goes.
There is acclamation of micro-level (I do not intend to be disparaging) initiatives that the President has taken. I do not have department by department and an institution by institution balance sheets but some interventions must have had beneficial effects. His determination to cut out pomp and fanfare, talk to the point, trim pecuniary fat that Ministers gorge on, and his simple dress code are laudable. But more important they send out a message that his Ministers will find hard to swallow: “Cut out bull-shit and self-aggrandisement, stop stealing, or back your bags I will kick you out after the elections”. Still I am a pessimist on this score since these rogues are powerful inheritances from the Mahinda Era and Gota will find it hard to push out all the loka horu from the Cabinet after April 25. I already hear sounds of vedak naha when I inquire at the handiya or from three-wheeler chaps. But will it affect next month’s voting? Unlikely.
The down-side of Gota’s regime is more worrying in the long-term. I am not allowed an unlimited word-count to enumerate the numerous interferences with the CID and placing it under military surveillance, meddling with court processes, shielding military and family miscreants from prosecution and alarming extensions of the military into civilian life. CT has highlighted instances. Such actions which if undefeated point to authoritarianism if not military rule. The best I can do is quote Human Rights Watch which is less timid than Colombo based reporters and editors; “(T)he government is rapidly putting civilian state agencies under military control and intelligence agencies are increasing their surveillance and intimidation of victims’ families, human rights activists and journalists”. If the GR-MR SLPP wins the elections as seems likely, this assessment which I believe is correct, augers a dark future for Lanka. The GR presidency is a potential dictatorship.
The best that the electorate can do now, having unwisely thrown its Sinhala-Buddhist hulk behind Gota in a tidal wave last November, is to undertake a sensible course correction. That is ensure that the MR-GR-SLPP is denied a two-thirds majority to fix and frame a constitutional hangman’s noose. Though the crowning idiots in UNP/SJB leadership will make chutney on the right, their combined parliamentary representation may not decline much thanks to crafty JR’s proportional representation system. On the Left it remains to be seen if the JVP led NPP alliance shows tactical wisdom. The Tamils will be ignored, as usual, by all, and the Muslims exploited again like shuttlecocks.