24 August, 2019

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Hypocrisy Comes With A Capital “H”

By Uditha Devapriya

“I knew nothing.” – Ravi Karunanayake

Uditha Devapriya

Politics does strange things to civil society. This, despite the fact that civil society is supposed to be independent. But then we are political animals. We do not want to be independent. We can’t be independent. We have certain preferred outcomes and these we want to promote, one way or the other, regardless of those notions of democracy and freedom we bandy about day after day. In other words, it’s all about seeing your favourite horses running the country and telling others how to run themselves.

The backlash against the (temporary?) caretaker government stems from three different groups. The first, obviously, are those who were humiliated at seeing the leader of the UNP being ousted, for the second time after a space of 10 years, from the prime minister’s chair. These are the kepuwath kola types. The second are those who raved over the government’s reformist program but ranted against its pro-privatisation economic program. These are the (spent) old leftists.

Regardless of their motives, both of them support a return to the status quo, which is why even someone like Kumar David, despite his leftist credentials and critiques of IMF austerity measures, terms the Sirisena-Mahinda combination a “putsch” much less preferable to the government the likes of him were critiquing.

Both these groups, however, are unapologetic about where their loyalties lie, even if they sweep those loyalties under the carpet of good governance. It is the third group that interests me. They are a mishmash of the first two, yet exude a (deceptive) neutral stance. Broadly entailing civil society, they include those outfits (in the media, online, and everywhere else) which have been promoting the very same good governance the government they support played and tampered with, these last three years.

If the Rajapaksas, who have no moral right over the UNP or their allies, want to pick on the hypocrisy of the previous government, they don’t have to look further than the hypocrisy of this civil society (which, as a friend of mine recently commented, tongue in cheek, is as “civil” as the international community is “international”). They would need to point at two distinct incidents which transpired during the yahapalana years, both of which that civil society feigned silence at. Let’s list them out, shall we?

The first was the Bond scandal. The “independent” media wasn’t exactly quick to catch up on it, even when it was spreading like wildfire through informal channels, and when they did catch up on it, certain commentators did, and wrote, everything they could do absolve the not-so-immediate wrongdoers.

I remember a particularly unsavoury piece, written by an anonymous “Roving Editor” and published in a prominent Sunday newspaper, prompting the politicians to stop focusing on the scandal and move on to “bigger issues confronting this country.” The best summing up of the magnitude of THIS issue came from former deputy governor of the Central Bank, W.A. Wijewardena, whose political inclinations are hardly with the Rajapaksas: that the bid placements caused a “far worse damage” to the Bank than the 1996 LTTE bomb attack.

Outrage against the Bond auction came from, I can attest quite strongly, a broad section of the population, both for and against the Rajapaksa regime. Outrage from the Rajapaksa camp was directed less at the reality of the scandal than at the “If-we-were-not-there-it-wouldn’t-have-happened” rhetoric. But that was a minority. The anger of the people, as a whole, was less partisan and more representative of the country (more representative, certainly, than the crowd that went out to the streets two weeks ago, since the money the Central Bank “lost” belonged to all of us). “Civil society” would have had a field day championing their cause, to the country, if not the world.

And yet, no protest erupted. None of those freedom loving activists came out. Where were they? Singing the Internationale with the old leftists?

EconomyNext, a website I otherwise respect immensely, failed to offer a single report on the bond auction in 2015, and did so only after the scandal hit the ceiling in 2016. The likes of Asanga Welikala and Razeen Sally, who delivered lectures on the role of the state as a night watchman, failed to condemn the role THIS state had taken on: as  daylight robber. Welikala in particular had no problem titling his anti-Rajapaksa rant “Paradise Lost?”, hinting that Rajapaksa’s appointment signalled an end to some paradise that was supposed to have existed until then. Deluded, much?

And it’s not just the Bond scandal. Malinda Seneviratne, in his piece “Selective tear-shedding in seasons of demagoguery”, asks the following question: 

“When Sirisena gave nomination to Mahinda Rajapaksa and immediately thereafter stood with Wickremesinghe, did they whimper about ‘the spirit of democracy’? When he sacked and replaced the General Secretaries of the SLFP and UPFA, going as far as obtaining an interim court order so the Central Committees of these political entities could not function, did they protest?”

I don’t remember the US Embassy, the British High Commission, the European Union, or the United Nations propounding their concerns over these anti-democratic moves. But there was a more reprehensible anti-democratic move engineered by the president. No one talked about it, and far from condemning it, many of those who are now denouncing the “loss of democracy” celebrated it.

This was the decision of the president to usher in defeated candidates through the National List. It wasn’t about the National List per se. It was about the legitimacy behind the decision to take in those who had clearly lost the trust of the people. DEW. Gunasekara, together with Nagananda Kodithuwakku, filed a petition against it, contending that the appointment of rejected candidates (as opposed to pre-selected appointees) through the List amounted to “a violation of the people’s sovereign right to elect political representatives of their choice”, since the clause inserted in the 1978 Constitution, Article 99A, the 14th Amendment, had not been enacted through the mandate of the people (obtained preferably via a referendum).

The petition was made in 2015. Then it got postponed. Then the Chief Justice, K. Sripavan, withdrew from the case. Then it got postponed again. Then he argued that it was a not a matter of general or public importance. Then DEW Gunasekera tried to take the case to Geneva. Then the Chief Justice rapped Kodithuwakku for obstructing justice (read, “persisting with the issue”). Then the case returned to the Supreme Court after Kodithuwakku filed a separate petition. Then it got delayed again.

Forget the US Embassy. Forget the British High Commission. Forget the European Union. Forget the United Nations. Where was Civil Society? They had championed parliamentary legitimacy. They had facilitated a shift in the polity from state to the legislature. The appointment of failed candidates was clearly not right, then. Article 99A required a campaign against it, if at all because it was as much a violation of the people’s sovereign right as the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

And yet, no one spoke. No one hummed.

Was it because if someone did hum, the Rajapaksas and their cohorts would have returned to the parliament (they did, but not as ministers). Perhaps. Revolutions, after all, even the most facile revolutions (like the one we witnessed from 2015 to 2018), thrive on expedience, and on tactics that lie outside the parameters of constitutional legitimacy. They are crafted by politicians first, and only then by policymakers.

But then, that’s the exact same argument the Rajapaksas are using. Now. Whether or not they intended it, the former government handed over the fuel and the gunpowder to this government. “You did it to us then, we’ll do it to you now!” is the gist, the bare essence, of what the likes of Keheliya Rambukwelle are spouting.

But that’s another story.

If those protesting outside, on the streets, are shedding crocodile tears over the plight of the people, they have only to remind themselves that the people they are fighting for were left virtually voiceless, and paralysed, over these last three years. Where were these democracy lovers, we can ask, when the Central Bank went down in flames over those bids, the president sacked the General Secretaries of the SLFP and UPFA, and candidates roundly defeated in a General Election were appointed without as much as a by-your-leave as ministers? Nowhere to be found.

Should we stand by them now? Ideally, yes. Are they for democracy? Perhaps. Do they idealise political outcomes which negate their calls for a movement that is NOT about Ranil? Definitely. Is this hypocrisy with a capital “H”? You bet.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    4

    Lets not forget how Ranil was appointed PM in 2015. Was that keeping with the constitution? Ranil pompously accepted the appointment, be damned the constitution.

    What about calling the Mohan Pieris appointment illegitimate but his rulings were not? Was that keeping with the constitution?

    What about the dissolving of the Parliament just before the COPE report on the Bond scam?

    What about not having elections with flimsy excuses?

    Where was the US, UK, EU, UN then?

    Jayampathy Wickramaratne talked about the illegality of proroguing Parliament. Of course he is the one who formulated the 19th Amendment to fit the needs of the UNP and Ranil so Ranil could do as the West demands. Not to forget changing bills midway through to delay/prevent elections.

    Sarath Wijesuriya just apologized for being the architect of the Yahapalanaya Government. But he is yet to apologize for the misdeeds of the Yahapalanay Government until October 26th. He is the biggest hack of them all. The country has been ruined by these selfish politicians and the uncivil society. Its time to have a fresh Parliamentary election.

    • 7
      1

      “Lets not forget how Ranil was appointed PM in 2015.”

      What a load of poppycock!

      The parliament was functioning (not prorogued) …….and if they wanted they could have easily brought a no-confidence motion and ousted Ranil.

      The fact that Ranil’s 19th amendment passed with only 1 vote against and 224 for (even Mahinda) shows the parliment/MPs had accepted Ranil as the legitimate PM who could command the majority.

      Just call the parliament and see if Mahinda has the numbers ………. simple as that!

      • 5
        1

        nimal fernando

        Without killing your perceived opponents, could you tell us what this wonder boy Uditha Devapriya is on about.
        -.
        Is he saying don’t look at the wider long term picture, forget what had happened between 500 BC and 2015 AD, just look at Ranil, Bondscam, ……………….. and support crooks, war criminals, those with Fascist Tendencies, Sinhala/Buddhist champions, patriots, smart patriots, liars, ………………….?

        • 5
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          Oh boy! Native ………….If I could figure out how Lankan “intellectual’s” minds work I’ll be a trillionaire! ……… and figure out the missing pieces and plug the holes in The Unified Field Theory!

        • 3
          1

          Uditha,
          You do much better as a literary critic than as a political commentator or economist.
          You go on and on about the “bond scam” but it is clear you have no idea what it was.
          ” since the money the Central Bank “lost” belonged to all of us). “Civil society” would have had a field day championing their cause, to the country, if not the world.”
          You are simply regurgitating sensationalist rubbish spewed out by interested parties. Would you kindly provide figures as to how much was lost, and compare that to the loss from Sri Lankan Airlines in just one year? I will not even mention the cost of building useless airports or ports. If you can’t provide figures, you would be well advised to stop advertising your ignorance.
          An ability to use language does not mean that you know everything, young man. You have many more years to learn that.

      • 5
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        Uditha, Nimal Fernando has slayed you swiftly. This is what it is all about. Parliament should decide who the PM is or who is not. If Sirisena was justified in choosing a new PM then he must not be afraid to send him in to parliament immediately after he was sworn in.
        As he did with RW. Like your friend Malinda you write a load of crap. Both of you should stick to FB where you are acknowledged by your coterie of back slappers. CT is a robust and feisty forum where we dont hesitate to call a spade a spade. Your content is always boring.

  • 7
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    There is no more ‘left’ and ‘right’ in today’s globalized world with increasing economic integration. You may analyze endlessly with all your fancy theories. But in practice all what you can aim for is to cut deals with the foreign players with the least harm to your country’s democracy, sovereignty and the environment. No country can conduct its politics or run its economy in isolation from the rest of the world on purely ideological grounds. Pretty cynical, ha? … … That’s the way the ball bounces. Maithri-Mahinda government’s (assuming it does take off) economic policy is not going to be much different from that of Ranil-Mangala. Poor people are in for another round of disappointment.

  • 5
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    Uditha,
    Can you please follow this golden rule when writing?
    1) state briefly your conclusion first
    2) Expand on your conclusion providing supporting evidence /argument for your conclusion
    3) Reiterate on your conclusion and expand a bit further if it is logical to do so.
    I think you are writing for the sake of writing and go on rattling. You are going in a tangent and a big bore. All your writings bear this trend – Bored Reader

  • 3
    1

    Uditha, even what you write on music and films are superficial and shows that you are just using crumbs of information that falls from the table of the elite! Looks like you don’t reader comments or damn thick
    about it. Bored reader again

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