By Vishnuguptha –
“Cracks especially, you have to be careful of the cracks. Sometimes they are disguised as something else. A doorway, or a smile or even a winking eye. And if you fall through them, you never know where you will end up.” ~ Isobelle Carmody
On April 17, 2014, this writer wrote thus: “Surrounded by the grandeur of corruption, nepotism and lies, this government, it seems, could be starved to death only by the austerity of truth. One stark example of that truth was shown most glaringly in the recently concluded elections for the Western and Southern Provinces. The monolith that has been withstanding many storms and tempests seems to be eventually showing mild signs of vulnerability. The Emperor’s clothes are beginning to fall.”
But that observation was made particularly in relation to the decrease in the votes that were cast for the candidates put forward by the United People’s Freedom Front (UPFA) at the recently-concluded elections in the Western and Southern Provinces. It was patently evident that the UPFA suffered a minor setback electorally for the first time since the cessation of the armed conflict between the security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE). Nevertheless, the quasi-humiliation the Governing coalition had to endure inside the House of Parliament last week, one might surmise, is a knee-jerk reaction by some self-appointed guardians of the Sinhala-Buddhist culture and traditional values- not necessarily a conscious and deliberate political response- to the seemingly eroding mighty powerbase. This knee-jerk reaction or deliberate attempt to distance themselves from ‘UnBuddhist’-sounding policies of the Government occurred when the machinery of the Rajapaksa regime tried to clear the final hurdle for the establishment of what they call three different ‘integrated resorts’ to be set up at a total cost of US$ 1.4 billion (in excess of Rs 180 billion).
If the Government thought that it could get away by issuing licenses to a world-renowned operator of gambling and casino businesses, for the establishment of ‘integrated resorts’ that would have escaped the scrupulous attention of our religious clergy at any time- in war or peacetime- then they are sadly mistaken. With the attempt of the Government to circumvent a potential explosion or implosion by sugar-coating a piece of legislation with an innocent-sounding title is unforgivably cynical and deserves unequivocal condemnation by every citizen of this country. The virulent attempts by the ruling clique to hoodwink the masses would be bared open sooner than later. The people’s patience will not run for ever nor would they be fooled by nonchalant second-tier leaders of the same coalition for any considerable period of time.
The action- refraining from voting by absenting themselves from Parliament- adopted by some fifty plus MPs, amongst whom happened to be some senior Cabinet Ministers, must have sent a very clear signal to the country. Rajapaksas’ preoccupation these days must be the apparent display of fissures in their fabric. It’s no more solid; it’s not resistant to wear and tear anymore. The vulnerability of the man, however slight it might be, is showing. Those who have got accustomed to unlimited power and enormous wealth do not like to see their possessions fall by the wayside. Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines did not want to leave office even after he was de-elected by the country’s electorate. Even our own Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was hesitant in the first few days to hand over her letter of resignation to the then Governor General after suffering an electoral defeat at the 1965 General Elections. The beguilement of power of office is so overbearing to those who have enjoyed it to the full; its charm is intoxicating and mesmerizing to an almost-nauseating altitude. Then when a minor fissure appears in their neatly woven drapery of lies, deceit and hypocrisy, their initial reaction is invariably from the bowels and not from their heads which anyway are more cynical than balanced, rational or well-meaning.
The cynicism is even more evident in the case of some of the kith and kin of the family not voting, saving the shame for a later development so that he or they could say sometime in the future that they didn’t vote for such and such. Now that could be either sheer cowardice or conspiracy of collusion. Whichever way one looks at it, it won’t satisfy the masses if they only pay some scanty attention to detail and nuanced politics of the modern age. Yet numbers are important. Fifty plus is no small number under any circumstances. And when a precedent like the one just established in Parliament last week is set, it takes root. The bravery and daring on the part of ordinary Parliamentarians who are sick and petrified of the draconian rule under which they are being harassed and patronized coupled with the condescending attitude of the ruling circle might make things even harder. That is the inherent nature of power. Its very power of hardening minds and hearts would eventually take its own toll.
As usual it was the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP, M A Sumanthiran who stole the show, once again in the Chambers. Quoting chapter and verse from Singalowada Sutra of Buddhism, Rig Veda of Hinduism and the Quran of Islam, Sumanthiran, a Christian in his own faith, treated the House with a masterly oration, rich in diction and substance and the challenges he threw at those ‘fifty plus’ group of Government parliamentarians who were conspicuous by their absence, was daunting and weighty. One wonders as to what would have been the atmosphere inside the House of Parliament, had there been the likes of Dudley Senanayake, J R Jayewardene, N M Perera, Colvin R de Silva of an era gone by and Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and Anura Bandaranaike of the more recent past. They would have shredded these pieces of legislation to pieces, beyond recognition.
Finally the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) found its place, among the ‘no’ votes and for the same reason some relations of the rulers abstained from voting- they don’t want this vote to be hanging over their heads one day as the Sword of Damocles. For the first time since they came to power for the second time in 2010, the Government could not muster an absolute majority for two of the orders that were finally passed in Parliament.
This turmoil brewing in the Government circles is accompanied by a new vigor that the Opposition has managed to gather thanks mainly to the idiotic way the Government handled the UNP Parliamentarians’ visit to the Hambantota Harbor and Mattala Airport. Unleashing local thugs against a peaceful mission undertaken by fellow legislators has not come under criticism by any member of the Government. The JHU is conspicuously silent about it and a growing unease in an otherwise quiet populace is not yet apparent but when one engages in a friendly conversation with a three-wheeler driver or a wayside boutique keeper, a lot is revealed that did not dare come out a few months ago.
In such a chaotic scenario, the Opposition is in a frenzy to find a ‘common candidate’. Before they find a common candidate, they must find a common platform, a common issue or issues that they think the Government is most vulnerable on. If they fail in that mission, no common candidate will emerge. Instead of trying to be intelligent at a very elementary level, these pundits and their client-politicos are holding the stick by the wrong end. Whoever the common candidate is, they must realize that if there is no commonality among the parties, Mahinda Rajapaksa emerging victorious quite handsomely at the next Presidential Elections is beyond any argument. The cracks would disappear and the fabric would be re-sewn.