By Sarath de Alwis –
There are times when we are powerless to prevent injustice. There must never be a time when we fail to protest. At yesterday’s rally President Sirisena made a declaration that the whole world heard. Some politicians are ready to dive in to abysmal depths of depravity for political expediency while some still hold on to old world graces of minimal civility.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was on the stage, on hearing the butterfly remark put his head down, holding it with one hand and mimicked a mock laugh. In sickening contrast, a highly amused Dinesh Gunewardena emitted a bovine belly laugh that encouraged the slayer to stab deeper.
“In the time of the butterflies” is a novel by Latin American novelist Julia Alvarez.
In it she fictionalizes the lives of the ‘Mirabel sisters ‘who were tortured and slaughtered for their opposition to the voracious dictator Rafael Trujillo who pillaged his land from 1931 to 1961.
The novel is a gripping narrative of ordinary people who resist the tyranny of power strengthened only by the dictates of a conscience. The kind of thing that has compelled parliamentarian Manusha Nanayakkara to abandon his brief flirtation with perfidy.
During the last days of the Trujillo dictatorship three young women from a pious Catholic family, become committed to the revolutionary overthrow of the regime. The three girls are ambushed and assassinated while returning after visiting their jailed husbands. Thus martyred, the Mirabal sisters have become mythical figures in their country, where they are known as las mariposas – the butterflies from their underground code names.
This President Sirisena who personifies our collective folly in electing him on 8th January 2015 will never comprehend the abiding humanity contained in the adjective ‘Butterfly’ when applied to describe the simple human innocence resisting tyranny.
I recall Sarath Amunugama describing the murder of Vijaya Kumaratunga as a senseless slaughter of a butterfly. That was when he spoke truth to power. Now he speaks power to truth. I will write on his reverse metamorphosis from butterfly to caterpillar in my next essay.
First things first. The JVP, the TNA have closed ranks. The SLMC Leader Rauf Hakeem and ACMC leader Rishad Bathiudeen have reiterated their stance of opposing the appointment of a Prime Minister who does not command the support of a majority of members in Parliament.
The emerging alliance of the minorities and the marginalized in pursuit of the democratic ideal in post insurrection, post-civil war Sri Lanka, however tenuous in the context of dollar denominated horse trading is a positive outcome in these times of Butterflies and leeches as the ever outspoken Mangala Samaraweera has reminded us.
The “Rata Surakina Jana Mahimaya” – the majesty of people protecting the land was the theme of the event at the place that is called the Parliament Roundabout.
The choice of venue reflected its intent. To go around and round parliament in gay abandon until 14th November. The respite will permit the perpetrators of this dark deed of defiling democracy to buy, blackmail, bind, bag and bedevil enough parliamentarians to go past 113. The demonstrated opposition to the president’s clandestine snatch of the constitution had to be intimidated to break its ranks.
There is cruel cynicism in labeling it a ‘Jana Mahimaya’ -majesty of the people. It is classic spin, It is the technique with which language is used to propagate a biased idea.
I will not try to interpret the analogy of the butterfly. That said, I have heard of a hunch back Law Professor who operated a furtive butterfly brigade among his students. The reward of enrolment was a first class at the finals. The Professor we are told is a rare breed – the result of a cross between a butterfly and a gadfly.
The President’s harangue yesterday was coherently insincere. It was an indignant rant of clichés that the joint opposition has been hurling at his government for three long years. Everybody with an iota of a brain knew about Ranil’s neoliberal folly.
For three years, neoliberal folly of Ranil did not bother the brother of the merchant magnifico who controls the rice monopoly of this island.
That is what Mahinda did as well except that no body labeled him a neoliberal. That the neo liberal west did not consider Mahinda a bosom buddy is beside the point.
Mahinda practiced unrepentant free market economics but avoided book keeping. That is why oligarchs attending fireside chats like him.
President Sirisena the principal pirouette artist in this unfolding theatre of the comic went to Georgia in July 2018. There, he addressed the annual conclave of the Open Governance Partnership.
He addressed world leaders in Sinhala. He responded to questions in Sinhala. He assured the world that under his Presidency, Sri Lanka had made giant strides towards the ideals of the OGP the multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from national governments to promote open government, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.
In fairness to Mahinda Rajapaksa we must recognize his ingrained directness and plain talk. He promises democracy, but we know that his democracy is on his terms. Some like it some don’t.
If parliament decides to return to his democracy so be it. But first let us take the head count in parliament – the constitutionally specified venue a good two kilometers away from the point where Sirisena the President told us how he chased away butterflies.
The average intelligence quotient of the majestic attendees was apparent by their lack of curiosity. They did not ask questions. They listened. Why did S.B attempt to entice parliamentarian Range Bandara with Cabinet office?” Has Range Bandara indicated to the president that he is Lepidopterist – the term for butterfly collectors.
Why was the offer followed with a promise of an additional two million dollars?
That the taped conversation appeared long before the reluctant acknowledgement by the private TV channels is damning evidence of the oligarchic capture of our electronic media.
Sirisena the President first explained the reasons for his bizarre bamboozle of the constitution in his address to the nation. He followed it with a more picturesque and more combative explanation yesterday.
Now I must reiterate that I do not want Ranil Wickremesinghe again to muck around with his cronies. That is not the point. If the people want Mahinda back there is nothing we can do at the next general election.
But we can do a great deal to prevent his return by a hijacking, subverting the constitutional process.
The President’s address to the nation and his holier than thou, mealy mouthed, hypocritical harangue yesterday conclusively proves one pivotal fact.
When he decided to remove Ranil he never considered the issue of a parliamentary majority that validates the selection of a prime minister.
He thought in his ‘Gamarala’ reasoning that he could repeat what he did on 9th January 2015.
That he did on live TV at the Independence square at a time when a country excited by the end of the Rajapaksa monolith watched in awe. When Ranil appeared before parliament no one objected. Don’t forget, he met Mahinda at Temple Trees in the early hours of 9th January 2015. So that comparison is as preposterous as the daughters claim that she dreamt of her ‘Jandhipathi thaththa’ long before we made the mistake. Obviously, the Sinhala Buddhists do not recognize the renunciation of prince Siddhartha. They prefer the mythic version where Queen Mahamaya dreams of a white elephant calf enters her bosom.
What happened on 26th October was different. At dusk in the hours of lengthening shadows, the great Mahinda Rajapaksa hopped across from nearby Hilton.
I have often recorded my grudging but unreserved admiration for Mahinda’s inventive ability to justify the indefensible.
The hop across from the Hilton is blot on his copy book. There is a lesson for him. He must not be guided by Butterflies trained in the law with bursaries offered in memory of the colonial buccaneer Cecil Rhodes.
Sirisena the president claims the right to sack the prime minister because he is the appointing authority. Let us concede that faulty premise. Yet, the president is constrained by other provisions of the constitution.
He must be satisfied that his alternative appointee commands the confidence of the house. Sirisena the president never paid attention to that essential constitutional dictate.
Yesterday Sirisena told us why he selected Mahinda Rajapaksa. He wanted a man who could occupy the high office by toppling over the prime minister – Peralagena yana kenek – a person who could overpower the incumbent.
The Sinhala expression ‘perelagena’ is highly nuanced conveying physical power. The rally at the turn off to parliament is eloquent testimony to our tangential trek from the institutional epitome of people’s sovereignty.
This is the man who in July 2015 gave his report card to the Open Governance Partnership in Georgia. This is the man invited by the G7 countries to attend their annual tryst where the young Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walked up to our fraudster Mandela to greet him.
President wants Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to consult the Maha Nayakes and the Cardinal. You can run around all the jungles of the ‘nindagam lands’ of our monasteries with butterfly nets. You will not catch any. Our Saffron saints wallow in denial. They do not have butterflies.
The Buddha in the vinaya pitakaya deals with the subject. The cardinal is a different matter. The Good Pope Francis has acknowledged the Butterflies and is busy pining them.
Yes. Ranil Wickremesinghe should go. Once this impasse is resolved the President should call for a presidential election on 9th January 2019. 6.2 million people await the day to reclaim their lost dignity. Yesterday, Maithripala Sirisena the president demonstrated his genius. His capacity to fake sincerity is matchless on the face of this earth.