By Kumar David –
Is criticism of the government having a salutary effect? – We must keep unrelenting pressure on S&R
No need to get hopes too high, it could still end in a flop, but there is a need to keep relentless pressure and criticism on the government. Short of anything that helps the Joint Opposition–Rajapaksa (JO-MaRa) rotters, one must not relax vigilance of the S&R outfit. However my expectations are different from other commentators, for example Jehan Perera’s (JP) piece “More Purposeful Government in the Making” – Colombo Telegraph 28 August. He hopes that recent events, I will not summarise since he has, have galvanised the government into taking a purposeful approach to dealing with the gross malfeasance of the previous regime and curbing corruption in its own ranks. I am less sanguine on that, but my departure from JP is more fundamental. He is a good fellow but regrettably serves as a usable foil to open my piece with – sorry JP.
I do not have hopes that during the tenure of this government there will be successful prosecution of the corrupt big fish and murderers of the Rajapaksa era, nor am I hopeful that corruption in UNP-SLFP ranks will curtailed. True Ravi has been removed from the Foreign Ministry (I have no grudge against the chap, but he had to go) and firing Wijeyadasa is welcome. As 2020 approaches pressure will mount and more token actions are likely. Though this is true, I do not expect much progress on corruption related matters and I have lowered my expectations. However, there is another more important matter on which I have my fingers crossed; the Constitution.
Let me put my cards on the table. There were three priorities that motivated all who threw their weight into the 8 January 2015 movement: One, defeat the slide to dictatorship, two, enact a democratic constitution to replace JR’s infamous one and include a fair deal for the minorities, and third, prosecute crooks of the last regime and curb sleaze. The first objective has been substantially achieved, though recently, incidents of rights violation are on the rise. Since the first objective was the most urgent I am prepared to claim that the 2015 regime change has been beneficial. I said that I have given up on the third objective, but if the prayers of good Christians like JP are answered, that’s a bonus. My hopes are now pinned on an at least a half-decent Constitution. This is what I meant by saying that JP and I are shooting at different targets.
Later, I will say a few words about what might make a half-decent Constitution but before that let me grumble about S&R’s parliamentary retinue. They are blithering cowards; too scared to stand up for the Constitution. They tremble before intolerant cohorts of the sangha, they lack vertebra to face MaRa rabble, and some unfortunately are infected with chauvinism themselves. These guys hid under the bed for years when Gota’s white vans and SF’s swat squads were marauding, leaving others to face the music; they are no different today. Hence a new constitution is no done deal; it being half-decent is also uncertain. It’s an uphill battle and public mobilisation is the only weapon that might work.
Cowardice is unwarranted and misplaced; there is no need to wet jock-straps, or whatever one wears under the vawula redha. A referendum can be won. Let me use the votes that Gota may poll in a hypothetical Presidential election of the current style as a proxy. This potential Gota vote is a proxy for the “no” vote in the referendum; both represent the same provenance. Now no way will Gota poll what Mahinda did in 2015; he will poll substantially less. Some Muslims voted for Mahinda, none will for Gota; Tamils spurn both outright. Even 60% of the Sinhala-Buddhist vote is 42% nationally (0.6×0.7). Where is he, or the hypothesised referendum, going to find the other 8%? Even 65% of the S-B vote (which makes the unsustainable assumption that the UNP, Sirisen-SLFP and JVP together can muster only 35% of S-Bs) falls short of 50% by nearly 5%. So that cock won’t fight! If the ‘for-constitution’ movement mobilises it can defeat racist-religious bigotry and win the referendum. I don’t understand why S&R and their retinue of clowns are opaque to simple arithmetic. The constitutional referendum can be won – period!
I will supplement this with another observation; the uses and abuses of state power. Mahinda’s vote in 2015 was blown up by rampant manipulation of state power such as use of government vehicles and premises, police intimidation and gunny bags stuffed with cash. This time the boot is on the other foot. Emboldened that state power is on their side, pro-government toughs will not hesitate to beat up JO-MaRa thugs. I am willing to wager a litre bottle of Single Malt, Talisker 10-Year Old preferred, that the referendum will be won 55:45 or better, or two bottles of Halmila Old that it will be won better than 60:40. Challengers please contact me via the Editor.
This expectation presupposes that Provincial Council polls are deferred till after the referendum. I support the postponement though it may be disallowed by the courts; two PCs have already rejected the Twentieth Amendment. Liberal Pakiasothy Sara, indulging in moral absolutism, has taken the issue to the courts. Recently I had a row with a friend (TJ) about (his) moral relativism. Now the boot is on the other foot; I am the one claiming that there are occasions on which moral relativism is justified. Look at the options; at least one PCs up for election is a JO-MaRa stronghold. If the pro-constitution folks lose, the consequence will be a psychological setback; perhaps not fatal but why take a chance, the constitution is crucial? I am not pretending 20A is noble, nor faking excuses. I am explicitly saying that, on occasion, moral relativism is justified in pursuit of a greater good. 20A is bearable if the constitution is tabled and the referendum is held soon afterwards. Otherwise, we would all have been played for suckers – taken for a ride again! It’s a gamble; you can’t trust these bastards!
My attitude to R&S and its rag-tag parliamentary tail is that, other than the restoration of democracy, the government has fallen far short of expectations. But we have no choice but to work with this god-awful bunch. The alternative is the devil – MaRa, Gota and the hoodlums of the Joint Opposition. In such predicaments leftists console themselves by recalling Lenin’s choice in April 1917 to travel through Germany at the invitation of the German Imperial Kaiser’s in a sealed train (“Like a plague-bacillus” in Churchill’s words) to reach Russia and foment revolution.
Then in 1918 the infant revolutionary state was attacked on 17 fronts by White Russians and British, American, French, Canadian, Italian, Greek and Japanese troops, arms and money (“Bolshevism must be strangled in its cot”: Churchill). There is a report/yarn that Lenin tabled a motion in the Central Committee: “We will accept aid from the German imperialist brigands to fight the imperialist brigands attempting to destroy the revolution”. These two episodes capture the problematic of dealing with a segmented exterior polity. Though our case is not earth shaking the basic question is the same: “When and under what circumstances is moral relativism justified?” I am not asking you to delude yourself that 20A is more than a lousy but unavoidable option, as per Lenin’s choice of words.
I will sign off with a few remarks on what makes for a half-decent constitution, but before that I need to make a point. The left had no illusions that a progressive or socialist economic agenda would issue from this government. It entered the 8 January movement with eyes open to achieve the three political objectives enumerated previously. It did so without any false socio-economic expectations. How can a disciple of JR and an ideological zero form an administration dedicated at social-democratic tasks?
At a minimum, the new constitution must strip the executive presidency, if it is retained at all, of Bonapartist authority – hence a directly elected president or prime minister are out. There has to be ample devolution and avenues for removal of scoundrel politicians – that is procedures for the recall of MPs and PC, LG members. Prosecution, for graft or abuse of office, by politicians, public servants, police officers and military personnel must be easy, quick and the standards of proof must be lowered. In some places, China is one, venality of persons of high rank is a capital offence. We need it for Ministers, MPs and public officers above a certain rank. It is an imperative if Lanka is ever to rid itself of the plague of frenzied corruption. Interference with the judiciary by political leaders must entail harsh punishment. All these provisions will be enthusiastically welcomed by the public and can be box-office breaking selling points for the referendum.
Notwithstanding cussing and swearing I am no obstinate chump unwilling to compromise. I am not asking for a secular constitution (let the chapter on religion stand; the gullible need their opium); nor am I asking for chest-beating provisions on Sinhala Only and the also-ran status of other languages to be ironed out. I am not opposed to keeping Unitary in words and undermining it in content. Up to a point we have to play this game, or Lanka’s plethora of political knaves will lead the blindfolded millions down the cliff and over the precipice like Gadarene Swine.