19 November, 2018

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Killing Tuskers & Culling Hopes

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Where should we go after the last border? Where should birds fly after the last sky?” ~ Mahmoud Darwish (Earth Presses against Us)

“I just passed a polling place and it’s crowded. There’s no parking… There’s an electricity. It’s exciting.”[i] That was American activist Lecia Brooks (of the Southern Poverty Law Centre), referring to the mood at the Alabama special senate election. So things were in Sri Lanka, during the presidential election of 2015 – the long lines, the quiet excitement and the hope not just for any change but a change for the better.

In 2015, millions of Lankans regarded ‘Good Governance’ not as a catchy slogan, but as a solemn pledge and a programme of action. They voted not to replace one government of deplorables with another government of deplorable but for a government that is at least halfway honest, halfway decent, halfway just, a government capable of righting the wrongs of the past rather than adding to them.

Almost three years on, that hope of positive change is almost dead. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has lost its moorings and its bearings. Mr. Wickremesinghe seems willing to sacrifice the party to save alleged bond-scammers while Mr. Sirisena was willing to forge an alliance with the Rajapaksas to save himself from an electoral drubbing. The government doesn’t realise how cringe-worthy its conduct has become because it has locked itself inside an echo chamber, one lined with mirrors, its own audio-visual universe where it sees nothing but its own reflection and hears nothing but its own words. The government doesn’t realise how cringe-worthy its conduct has become because it has locked itself inside an echo chamber, one lined with mirrors, its own audio-visual universe where it sees nothing but its own reflection and hears nothing but its own words.

A successful government has to stand for something more than mere self-interest. What does the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration stands for, today?

The government couldn’t have implemented all its promises. No government can. But it need not have departed so decisively from the path it pledged to take. There was nothing inevitable about its failure. That failure is rooted not in insurmountable objective barriers but in a disastrous absence of courage, decency, sense and memory.

The brutal killing of Dala-pootuwa, the iconic blind elephant with crossed tusks, is a potent symbol of the government’s descent into an avoidable-mire.

If Sri Lanka takes her Buddhism seriously, she should impose a total ban on ivory, with the full blessings of the Sangha. Unfortunately, such a ban is unlikely to happen anytime soon, because it would be resisted tooth and nail precisely by Sinhala-Buddhists, both the ordained and the laity. But the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration’s pledge to protect elephants and bring elephant-killers to justice was an implementable one. After a promising start consisting of rescuing several abducted elephant calves and destroying a consignment of blood ivory (Mahinda Rajapaksa had wanted it to be gifted to the Temple of the Tooth), nothing happened. The minister responsible for wildlife conservation sank into a complacent torpor.

The murder of Dala-pootuwa, initially revealed not by the minister or his officials but by the media, caused a public outrage. Prodded into wakefulness and action, the government handed over the investigation to the CID and the prosecution to the AG’s Department.

The demand for ivory from Asian elephants is reportedly increasing. Poaching is on the rise, and Sri Lanka has been warned that her tuskers are in danger (only about 50 tuskers remain in the wild; in short our wild tuskers are an endangered species facing extinction). Had the government taken notice of these warnings, had it taken action against elephant killers early, the tragedy of Dala-pootuwa could have been prevented.

Why didn’t the government?

Death by self-mutilation?

The Rajapaksa regime protected elephant-killers/abductors. During the Rajapaksa years possessing an elephant became a status symbol amongst the politically connected new rich. President Rajapaksa was liberal in ‘gifting’ elephant calves of questionable origin to kith and kin. Around 2011/12, “environmentalists and animal welfare activists in Sri Lanka started noticing an inconsistency in the number of elephant calves in captivity. The number of captive calves seemed to increase despite a very low number of captive births. A year later a regulation book on all captive elephants in Sri Lanka maintained by the Department of Wildlife Conservation mysteriously went missing…. To exacerbate the dubious registration process of captive elephants the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation in Sri Lanka declared a controversial amnesty. According to the amnesty people illegally owning elephants could simply pay one million rupees to legitimize their ownership…”[ii]

Though there are rumours of a deputy minister trying to save a monk implicated in the killing of Dala-pootuwa, there is no high-level official complicity between the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration and elephant killers. The government didn’t protect elephant-killers/abductors. Neither did it crack down on poaching. It did nothing. The new Animal Welfare Bill got lost in the Bermuda Triangle of the state, another broken promise. The government’s indifference created a permissive climate in which the poachers thrived.

The real failure of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration is made up of promises which were broken not because implementing them would have meant facing existential threats or overcoming insurmountable odds, but because the government just didn’t care enough to look beyond narrow self-interest of its members and supporters.

Forget politically complicated tasks such as 13+ or withdrawing the military from the North and the East. The government is yet to build the promised 50,000 houses in the North, because it is wedded to the idea of prefab structures totally unsuited to local conditions and therefore opposed by local people. Had the construction of proper houses commenced in early 2015, it would have been over by now. 50,000 families would have been provided with a home of their own. What a tremendous achievement that would have been. The government deprived itself of this success for no good or acceptable reason.

Today the government is in crisis not because of the Rajapaksas and their ragtag opposition. The government is in crisis because it has not done what it promised to do and done what it promised not to do.

An opposition which had the courage to take on the might of the Rajapaksas (Mr Sirisena was not exaggerating when he said that had he lost, he wouldn’t have been allowed to live) has become a government too timorous to stand up to the rich, the powerful and the fanatical. An opposition which won by appealing to what was best in the people has turned into a government that survives by pandering to the worst in politicians. An opposition which understood and addressed the hopes of Lankans in all their diversity has turned into a government that is deaf and blind to the growing plight of the very same people. An opposition which occupied the moral high-ground has turned into a government that wallows in the moral-mire.

The irony is inescapable, tragic. Had the government implemented the basic promises of 2015, so much good would have been done, and so much harm avoided. Whenever the government did implement its promises, the results were positive, like the restoration of judicial independence, or the 19th Amendment or the Right to Information Bill. The ultimate beneficiaries of such constancy to the pledge of good governance would have been the government itself, the SLFP and the UNP, the President and the PM. They could have shared victory at the LG election, leaving the Rajapaksas to compete with the JVP for third place.

A Politico-electoral Cul-de-sac

When the first round of nominations for the upcoming local government elections ended, the largest number of rejections belonged not to the UNP or the SLFP but to the SLPP, the political party created for the sole purpose of returning the Rajapaksas to power. Six of their nomination lists were rejected (including in winnable places like Maharagama) compared to two of the SLFP. This gives the lie to the organisational genius of Basil Rajapaksa. It is also symbolic of a larger reality. The Rajapaksas are not as strong as they would have us believe.

The Rajapaksas are master illusionists. They know how to inflate strengths and conceal weaknesses. But such illusion-mongering is harder to sustain in election times. The first cracks are already visible in the JO/SLPP edifice. Wimal Weerawansa’s party is in tatters. Dinesh Gunwardena and the MEP are being accused of sabotaging the SLPP nominations in Maharagama (the charge is serious enough for Mr. Gunawardena to deal with it in the Sunday Divaina). The problems are likely to exacerbate as the election campaign gets going.

The fall of Robert Mugabe and the plight of India’s once great Congress Party demonstrate the limits of familial politics. The agenda of the joint opposition can be summoned in one sentence: restore Rajapaksa power. That is all the party stands for. This family-centrism is not an election winning formula, especially with new voters, most of whom are likely to regard JO/SLPP as an anachronism, amusing, entertaining but essentially irrelevant. Time is thus the enemy of the Rajapaksas. Or it would have been, if the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration had not been so intent on self-mutilation.

The greatest damage to the government has been done by the government itself. Instead of ending corruption, the UNP and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have expended most of their political capital on protecting alleged bond-scammers. Living costs are higher than ever; since the president’s brother is a gargantuan player in the rice market, he cannot avoid the charges of complicity. Not only is the Colombo port city forging ahead; China has been given the Hambantota port as well, plus a huge expanse of land in an environmentally vulnerable province for a special industrial zone (this will further worsen the human-elephant conflict and increase the number of elephant deaths). To compensate, India will be given the Mattala airport, placing Sri Lanka in the crosshairs of Sino-Indian rivalry. Having failed to forge an alliance with the Rajapaksas, President Sirisena is busy rewarding crossovers with ministerial posts at public expense. The government is either stagnating or crawling in Rajapaksa footsteps.

In 2015, a majority of Lankans voted to make a clear break with the past. That hope caused voter turnout to reach an unprecedented high. Three years on, those hopes have been culled by the government’s actions and inactions. The resultant hopelessness is likely to depress voter turnout at the upcoming local government election. This will limit the UNP’s victories and hit the official SLFP hard. It won’t enable the Rajapaksas to become the biggest vote-getter island-wide, but it will enable them to come second, probably a close second. Such a performance can ignite a political crisis which, if mishandled, will bring down the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration.

The crisis is exacerbated by the absence of a better alternative. The only available alternative is the Rajapaksas, who, in their three years in the opposition, have learned nothing. They have not admitted to any mistakes, nor made any changes for the better. They are still as extremist, still as willing to ignite a racial or religious conflagration to gain a political advantage, still as undemocratic and illiberal and family-centric as ever. If there’s anything worse than the present lot, it is the previous lot.

Just one vignette from the past: the assault of then High Commissioner Chris Nonis by Rajapaksa favourite Sajin Vaas Gunawardena. When the story broke out, the Rajapaksa Foreign Ministry held an inquiry. Its verdict was that no one laid a finger on Chris Nonis. He imbibed too liberally and fell off a stool in his inebriety. Twenty eight fellow-guests, all of them Lankan politicians, officials and hangers-on, said so; and they gave the evidence in writing[iii].

That was Rajapaksa justice; that was Rajapaksa rule. That is not a past any sane person would want to return to. So the question remains and will have to be answered before 2020. Where do we go from here?


[i] https://www.newyorker.com/current/alabama-senate-race-roy-moore-doug-jones#CharlesBethead3ef8e

[ii][ii] [ii][ii] http://news.mongabay.com/2014/05/epidemic-of-elephant-calf-kidnapping-hits-sri-lanka-say-conservationists/

[iii] http://www.ceylontoday.lk/51-76324-news-detail-report-leaks.html

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Latest comments

  • 6
    1

    I hope dayan reads this
    an excellent analysis compared to the tripe he writes
    tissaranee is without a doubt sri lankas best journalist
    pity we do not have more like her

    • 1
      0

      JVP is the alternative Thisaranee, dear Wake up!

      The bourgoise of Colombo are still unable to see that the JVP is better than the Jarapassa regime or Bondscam Ranil W. who should be impeached for Grand Larceny at CB.

    • 3
      0

      In a country own citizens regardless of which part of the island they came from were murdered down … made dissapeared under the orders of barbaric Rajapakshe and their henchmen, talking about destroying elephants for tusks is a joke.

      I think even today, very same high criminals earn people s power, since MEDIA prostitutes have not stopped dancing to the tone of Rajapkashe and their henshmen.

      Not many would believe that the harm being made by Rajapakshes are that huge, even if the new govt came in.

      So long media would not realize the gravity of the problems made by Rajapaskehs to its own nation and state, grass eaters would not stop rally round to Rajapakshe men:
      The kind of indifference is common to sinhalaya folks than any other races in this country.

    • 2
      0

      It is wrong to name this nation as a buddhist dominated nation.

      Because most of the people are no buddhists by their behaviours.

      Just listen to every second what they ve been talking about. I hate to see the trend has been turning to more non-buddhist than buddhist.

      Buddhagama has become the outer cover while the contents have been only cruelties. This is valid for masses across the country.
      No truths but untruths have been given a place in the society… with media men spread lies without any responsible for what they have been spreading.
      Coutnrys TV channels have become the leading hand of the country today.
      They would do anything please or dividing folks further.
      This country s media freedom should be redefined according to them.
      New laws should be implemented if not today when ?
      Poor gulliable mind set who ve been the majority have been targeted by abusive media men.
      I can bring names of them next comment.

  • 3
    0

    Poltiicans got it wrong all mega projects in Sri Lanka?
    Now Kadawatta is second capital?

    Why they are making Kadawatta as second capital of Sri Lanka?
    What is benefits in this ?
    Why not Kandy?.
    Why not Kurumagala?
    Why not Anuradapura?
    How many miles from Colombo to Kadawatta?..
    I think what we need to do is disperse government departments into many cities .
    So that Colombo traffic and congestion can be ease.
    Move ID; PASSTPORT OFFICE and other some government department into some other cities so people easy access to public service .
    Why should keep all in Colombo. It gives public hard time

    • 1
      0

      If you have an ounce of brain, there are even better places than Hambantota to improve.

      What is Galle?

      What is Matara?

      All these areas are today connected with high ways.
      So there will be no whatsoever problems with transportation.

  • 4
    1

    Reading this article, I sense the frustrations of the writer, and may be rightly so. I wish to provide some food for thought.

    1) Where was this country at prior to Jan 8, 2015 in terms of Democracy, Freedom of Speech, Independence of the Judiciary, Corruption. Nepotism, Social Justice, Foreign
    Service, Government Institutions, Defence Forces, Police etc. etc.
    2) Was the country heading towards Dictatorship under the previous regime and was there a ‘Robert Mugabe’ in the making in Sri Lanka?
    3) Was there a gradual Politicisation of almost all spheres of activities in Sri Lanka
    4) Were there manipulations / rigging of elections (holding of staggered Local Government elections) to ensure power was solidified within one family / group / party
    5) Was there an attempt to change the Constitution so one person / family could rule the land with an iron fist for generations to come
    6) Were those who opposed the then Government or staged protests, murdered, intimidated or made to disappear or flee the country out of fear
    7) What was the Debt burden of the Country in Jan 2015 and were there white Elephants created during that time just to satisfy the ego of one individual / family and / or derive personal benefits
    8) Just because the Despot was deposed does that mean all the networks /alliances that were created in the previous 10 years suddenly dissipated / melted away
    9) Have there been any changes made since 8 January, 2015, to ameliorate the above

    It was in this scenario that People in their wisdom chased away/ deposed the Despot on Jan 8, 2015. What a relief! How easy is it to turn a Country around from such a low position? Furthermore, what is in place is a Unity Government (a new experience in Sri Lanka). Indeed not too many People understand this concept still and appreciate how it works. Out of necessity, decision making is slower as there is more Democracy within Government for differing views to be aired, heard and discussed.

    • 2
      0

      cont..

      There are many instances where this Government can be accused, criticised, blamed and ridiculed due to its actions / inactions / performances. That must be done with vigour and responsibility to hold the Government to Account. The Government in turn must learn to listen and correct its ways.

      The saving grace is that Democracy has been strengthened since January 2015, with the establishment of Independent Commissions etc. (as promised). So we the Public, can expect to have the opportunity to vote to change the Government, if need be, in a couple of years’ time in a fairer Elections. Such Elections can be expected to be conducted more fairly where even the ruling Party will be prevented from breaking the ‘Laws’ unlike what MR and his henchmen brazenly did during the last Presidential Elections.
      This Government did not promise to fulfil its promises in 2+ years, rather its promise was to build a new Nation in 60 months. At the end of that period, the voters will be provided the opportunity to give its Verdict. That’s Democracy.
      President Barack Obama, when taking over Office in USA said ‘yes we can’ and also said he was elected for ‘Change’. But he advised the People that perhaps that ‘Change’ will not be visible and seen during his period in Office. Why did he say that? Because such changes generally occur at a slow pace over a long period of time due to the inherent mechanisms within the Democratic Processes. Sri Lanka is also not a Dictatorship but a vibrant Democracy.

      • 2
        0

        Final Comment that was missed out:

        It is an irony that the writer is commenting/complaining about the killing of a Tusker (where I believe a CID investigation has begun to identify and apprehend the Offender/s ?) whereas under the previous regime precious human beings such as Opponents, Protesters, those critical (Institutions such as Media outlets and Persons) were abducted, killed, made to disappear (white vanned), intimidated, fire bombed, attacked and made to flee the Land with fear for their own lives. What a contrast!

  • 3
    1

    Tisaranee, at present there’s no better political analyst than you, (wish the Prez and PM reads them) it’s a pity that your advice goes unheeded by the govt.

    • 0
      0

      One politician who helped killing tuskers are said to one with good CARPENTRY. Prrobably, he is not aminister but he has some connections to Pitabeddara. H”e may be related to Phillip gunawardane too.

  • 1
    0

    Credit must go to MR. He was sure the corrupt structure built is robust and MS/RW will not be able to dislodge a stone. MS/RW knew that too and instead of defeating that they joined it.
    There is a silver lining in the tusker episode. Media exposed it and the Wimal explanation ‘The tusker shot itself’ is not to be seen.
    The bitter truth is the Lankan Police and armed services are a law unto themselves and take orders from GoSL.
    By the way Mugabe fell because Emmerson controlled the Zimbabwean army.
    Tisaranee’s angst ~ “A successful government has to stand for something more than self-interest”.
    Governments the world over have a tinge of self-interest and lobbying has become a recognised industry. But successive GoSL have had self-interest as the sole motive. It is getting clear that the language/religion-divide was used for this purpose.
    “Who will protect Buddhism?” will continue to be used as the hard currency in elections.

  • 1
    1

    Tisaranee
    Excellent ! Well analysed. Please keep writing as often as possible.

  • 0
    2

    Both Sirisena and Ranil are deaf and blind. They simply have no clue about the frustrations of the people.

    None of the promised reforms have been done since they also value power and politics and not the country at heart.

    1 pension reforms not done.
    2 private medical education at a stand still
    3 never ending strikes by essential services such as electricity, transport and medical services
    4 The 50,000 promised houses in the North not done.
    5 indirect taxes on the rise and almost 80% now
    6 promised to stop issuing of car permits but not done.
    7 fertilizer subsidy reforms not done
    8 corrupt politicians not charged in courts
    9 etc

    The only good thing is that this combination is better than the MARA politicians.

  • 0
    0

    I agree whole heartedly with you. I heard there won’t be any prosecution to the Killing of TUSKERS as the cabinet ministers and MPs are involved. The amazing question both the President and PM are protecting the eggs they laid. I am wondering why an embassy appointed a legal adviser are they fear of a some colour revolution. In my opinion, Sri lanka needs outside the 225, some one trust worthy, to take over the govt. I prefer forces taking over if they can change this system and hand over it to some good people. I don’t think the govt has any prominent politicians who can not be jailed because they did not steal from public.

  • 0
    0

    I heard, those tusks were sent to the most democratic country in the world. Because Gaja muthu can not be valued.

  • 0
    1

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  • 0
    0

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  • 0
    0

    Madam where we go from here is point of no return, [Edited out]

  • 0
    0

    The guys lying down on the beds in the Angoda Hospital may to talk more connected than this essay. They say in Tamil as “Throw up of a beggar”. That where anything and everything comes out with no connection.

    Probably, Tisaranee Gunasekara wasted all her point in January, 2015. Sad but true. Sampanthar is still holding on to his Secret Solution. But Tisaranee Gunasekara completely out!
    In January, 2015 we wrote here “A war criminal is war Criminal”. We questioned about the promise of “No Leader, No Commander, No Soldier” impunity prosecution and restoring Law and Order. One doesn’t give kiss to another one with Trukkai Waal.

    This is still a very quick enlightenment. Only Three years took to confess what they were doing in 2015.

    Now we all can start all over again. We all can rally behind the Great Hero who wiped out Pirapaharan by giving him bribe. That is only a small deviation from January 2015 Slogan. Last time we said Old King gave bribe to Pirapaharan and won, so we have to defeat him. This time we can say Old King gave bribe to Pirapaharan and defeated so he has to win. That’s all!

  • 0
    0

    An excellent analysis which, as usual, brings out the same idiots pretending to intelligence, who feel they need to give of their “erudition” in contradicting Tisaranee who is, without doubt, not only the finest political commentator in Sri Lanka but one who has displayed the cojones that are so obviously missing from the males of the species writing for publication.
    Thank you, madam.

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