18 January, 2022


Let’s Rate The Rajapakse Regime

By Kumar David

Is this the worst of all possible regimes? Let’s rate the Rajapakse Regime

Prof. Kumar David

What I do not want this to be is an occasion for venting my spleen at the Rajapakse Regime (RR); I have many openings for that. I would like it to be an opportunity for framing a level headed response to the oft posed question: “Is RR the worst government Lanka has had in 65 years of self-government?” This is not an exercise in idleness as the query crops up at street corners, in three wheelers and in drawing rooms, and if not said, it is implicit in the gossip. To be rational, we have to be comparative and bear in mind that every previous government (or for that matter every government everywhere in the world) is hugely flawed. Governments are mammoth machines with joints out of kilter and loose nuts screwing around all over. Hence only a comparative viewpoint is reasonable.

I will choose six dimensions to make an appraisal; the first three are simpler to define: financial corruption (graft), abuse of power (curbing democracy, crushing dissent, interference with judiciary, independent statutory bodies and the police) and third, family patronage (nepotism, dynastic ambitions). The next three are more complex but cannot be shirked if the rating game is serious; clear policies, especially socio-economic (at issue is not whether one approves, but whether it visibly exists); fifth, the integrity of leadership (free of fraud and malevolence; the dichotomy often quoted is Lee Kwan Yew versus Ferdinand Marcos), and sixth, special to these times, we must give thought to the ability to sort out Lanka’s national question.

OK that’s enough for definitions; let’s get down to business.

Graft, power abuse and nepotism

Graft here refers to corruption across the body politic; not leadership rot, my fifth dimension. None of Lanka’s government’s can be said to have been spotless and there has been an egregious decline in the public ethos over the years. If one were to repeat what is uttered over every cup of tea, society at large has never been so deeply in the grip of sordid sleaze at any previous time. I have put to one side my views of RR and am repeating ubiquitous chatter, nor am I recounting from one social class or community. People are persuaded that Lanka is inundated with sleaze and abuse of power as never before. Is RR entirely to blame? No, but largely, because UPFA politicos set the examples that spread the epidemic. If politicos rob, rough up, and now even rape with impunity, is it possible to make a case before the citizenry for decency and morality?

There is a patron-client network which fans out like this. Holding up the heavens, numbering say 5 to 10 dynastic deities, are about 3000 UPFA MPs, provincial and local councillors, and operators in patronage positions in ministries, corporations and departments. These lesser gods constitute a vibrant middle-layer through which the apogee of the RR exercises leverage. The middle layer demands hosannas, duties and votes from the grass-roots, the public, in exchange for favours which may be as simple as a letter of introduction, or a phone call to a police station, or more substantive such as favouritism in securing a job, or fraudulently fixing a land title deed. If each middle-level flunkey can commandeer 300 persons (an MP or councillor has a bigger stooge base) we are looking at about one million voters; a more than adequate swing vote base to guarantee victory in the seven Sinhala provinces.

It is this three-layered patron-flunkey-client nexus that partly explains the degeneration of the eventual client, the public. “Everybody is corrupt, right down to the man in the street and the man next door” is a ubiquitous remark that manifests the UPFA’s network as a maggot. It is that, but it has also rendered all society corrupt in its own image. It is for the same reason that people ignore abuses by state, regime and politicos, though only too well aware of it all. Fear is lesser reason; the erosion of public morals the greater.

RR is not entirely to blame for two reasons. The decline in civic morality is ongoing in all post-colonial societies and to a degree inevitable with the opening of political spaces, previously the preserve of an elite, to society at large; an overhead cost of decolonisation and populism. The other reason springs from the celebration of neo-liberalism, in Lanka post 1978. Neo-liberal, get-rich quick, market worship does not conceal its creed: ‘Each man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. Look after yourself, you are not the keeper of the public-good, strive only to benefit your family’. That’s the new ethic.

This morality, never mind whether you like it or not, erodes the concepts of public-good and social-responsibility; it abandons moral resistance to egregious conduct of the powerful. Decadence of the citizen at large is the ganger on which the UPFA feeds as maggots do on putrefying flesh. However, though RR found loathsome conditions at hand, it is also an active scrofulous thereon. Therefore on these two counts – graft and abuse of power – RR comes first from the bottom in post-independence Lanka.

The Senannayakes had a bit of it, the Bandaranaikes a lot but squabbled and nullified the benefits of family clannishness. RR has excelled at nepotism and family patronage like no other before. They speak of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty inIndia; pitiable in comparison with the imperial thrall in which Lanka’s dynastic clique holds state and society. I do not need to waste newsprint; it is accepted that at no time in our history since the olden monarchies, did one family exercise such a grip on power.

The RR and policy commitment

While we on the left say that RR is bereft of a policy framework, this is fabrication for propaganda purposes; the regime does have a policy framework and an orientation. Policy may fail, but it is certainly there. It is not classic neo-liberalism – that died globally in 2008 – but rather a new business friendly economic path worked out in collaboration with the IMF. The government has pursued it with deliberation for two years, and the signposts of consistency are its refusal to make concessions on wages, services (education and health expenditure), the painful devaluation of the rupee, selling the nations prime real estate to foreign investors, and making tourism a programme lynchpin. RR has been consistent in its loyalty to this path.

It is not reasonable to say that this government deserted its policy choices whenever the going got tough. True the 1970-75 coalition and the JR regime tracked their directions more doggedly, but that is more to do with the definitive character of those programmes. The current pro-capitalist, semi-populist socio-economic agenda, is by design ductile and flabby. Flaccidity aligns with the times when global capitalism is in retreat and neo-liberalism has fallen flat on its face.

RR has also chosen to sell its soul to China, come what may; it has worked itself into a corner on human rights and has little other choice. How deeply Lanka is sucked in does not depend on RR, which would like to mire itself deeper, but on China which is cautious not to overstep strategic spaces in theIndian Ocean. A contest with the US-India axis in these waters is one China cannot win. The Chinese Defence Minister visitsColombo, but makes sure his next two stops on the way home are Bombay and Delhi.

The writing is on the wall that the economic choices RR has made will come to grief and the foreign policy orientation will embroil Lanka in costly quarrels with India; but RR is not short of commitment on either. Therefore on the fourth dimension, RR is entitled to pass marks; it does have programmes and pursues them – Hail Basil! Hail PB!

Integrity of leadership

To get to the crux of it without beating about the bush, the apogee, the pinnacle, the Brahma, Siva and Vishnu of state power in Sri Lankais MahindaGothabayaBasil. Mathripala, Nimal Siripala, the whole blithering Cabinet, the Generals, everyone else, are in so far as the power equation goes, cabbages, a dispensable side dish. Power flows from the triumvirate and whatever quarrels there may be in family circles is carefully kept under the lid and not allowed to spill into the public domain. The Rajapakses are not suicide prone in the way the Bandaranaikes were. Hence when we speak of perceptions of the integrity of the national leadership we speak of public perceptions of the uprightness and worthiness of this three-headed deity.

Well dear reader decide for yourself – I do not want to have my poor Editor charge-sheeted by the Press Commission, nor land myself with a libel action for the reason that lawyers are grotesquely expensive, if I could find one at all. However, do not forget our initial contract; it must be a comparative appraisal. Hence the test is not whether RR is decent, but rather how it ranks against Dudley, Mrs B, JR, Peme and Chandrika, the other noted power holders, on the leadership probity score.

The national question

Ratings on this criterion will be intensely subjective; the objective facts are incontestable. One, RR wiped out the LTTE and brought an end to the civil war; two, there is no hope in hell that it will ever reach a political settlement with the Tamils. You may ask how I can assert the second with such certainty. Ask, and let history decide; my certainty springs from the history of the national question and the character of RR. The rating however depends on what weighting one assigns to each of these two factors. I will leave it at that.

So is RR the worst of all? It scores a bad failure on items 1, 2 and 3 on the list of criteria; it passes on 4, and reaches the pits on count 5. And on count 6 – it is a subjective choice.

I hope you enjoyed this little mind game of a Sunday morning.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    The trick made by Rajapaksa was to transform the corrupt Republicanism of Sri Lanka into a corrupt Ceasarism: according to the Economist, 80% of national budget is under the control of Rajapaksa family. He can claim the merit of the Sinhala triumph and he engineered the balance of power in such a way that he’s walking hand in hand with China AND India. How sustainable is this course? We don’t know, but the Sri Lankan society at the moment has very few anti-bodies against the Ceasarism of Rajapaksa. As the new Emperor of Ceylon,his grades are pretty high. Of course to the absolute detriment of Sri Lankan citizenship.

  • 0

    The people are voting with their feet and fleeing the island as boat people and economic migrants – and econmic development is a code word or looting and in-debting of Lanka by RR. Basil Rajapass the uneducated so-called minister of Economic Development thinks that tourism is development!
    Kumar you seem to have swallowed the spin put out by the so called minister of economic development who is a high school drop out and the criminal clown at the Central Bank Nivard Cabraal on the socio-economic criteria. They do not have a clue about human or social development and are merely money mad and pocketing lots!
    So, how come RR passes on socio-economic criteria when people are voting with their feet and migrating and brain-draining Lanka, and RR is doing is looting and indebting Lanka while the rupee has crashed and lost value as never before – even during the war years! Never has University Dons marched the streets for pay rise, and now the doctors are to join them
    And now Gota the White van Goon is building a Prison Museum!. One hopes some white vans will be on display there. Sri Lanka needs a PEACE AND RECONCILIATION MUSEUM not a bloody Prison Museum! Gota the Goons’ minions have already cut down all the old and valuable timber trees in Colombo while pretending to be paving roads and the contract for timber logging and environmental degradation of Colombo has been given to a company called “BOTANICAL” whose crews run around in white pick up, first chemically treat the trees so they seem like they are dying and then cut them down. This timber racket is denuding South Asia’s green city in the name of development.
    Today there is no development policy in Sri lanka – only the Rajapassa bros. pet projects — which are a huge waste of public funds and white elephants. The Mahinda Chinthanaya is good to wipe Mahinda’s ass and the geriatric leftists who support him!
    What a bloody circus. Time for people to get on the street and protest Chinese loans for the dictator’s white elephant development projects!

    • 0

      PC election outcomes shows the pathetic performance of opposition UNP, even with so much social discontent and economic hardship..
      It is now crystal clear that only FUTA and a social movement for people’s power by professional ans students to ensure inclusive and equitable growth and development is the way forward..
      Meanwhile the search for alternatives to and within the UNP which is dead in the water with Ranil W to continue..

  • 0

    At least better reading compared to utter gibberish he wrote in the past couple of weeks or so, delving into areas he knows nothing about.

  • 0

    Today I happened to meet an european national – he himself stressed, if the degree of corruption could be much lower, he could better run his project for a village near to Balapitiya. This is one of the incidents – but this proves how some who voluntarily take part in lanken projects feel the prevailing corrupt levels in sl today.

  • 0

    The only thing the the rr regime has to its credit is the defeat of the monstrous LTTE and that too was done by crude brute force rather than strategic and targetted taking out of the leadership which would have saved many innocent lives. During that time the lack of education and crudeness of the regime was masked by the war but since war’s ending the barbarism, greed and crudeness of the regime and its total lack of education and culture is evident.. and indeed as the comments above show the rr fails on social and economic indicators.. and clearly the defense budget must be reduced and social sector spending increased particularly for education since there is absolutely NO need for a massive military now in such a small country except sans terrorism almost 4 years after the war. The only reason for such massive military budget is for Gota the White Van Goon’s pleasure and selfimportance and his brother’s protection as they loot Lanka.
    As for military Keyensiansim or the funds spent on recurrent expenditure for soldiers wages is a small percentage of total defense spending which is now going to buy helicopters from Russia and other useless equipment in exchange for Russias support at the UNHRC, military businesses – golf courses, restruants, travel agencies tourism business, etc. run by the military on tax payers money that subsidizes military business which is often build on criminal activity such as land grabbing by forces.. Lanka’s military is following the dangerous trend of STATE FUNDED AND SUBSIDIZED military business at the expense of Education and health as in Pakistan and Indonesia. In the final analysis it is clear that when MR is out of Power Gota the white van goon is set to become Lanka’s first military dictator. This is way the Defense budget should be halved at the November budget and further reduced.. and funding for education and health and human resources increased…

  • 0

    Lets give the devil his due, the only good the RR did was the elimination of terrorism at the cost $5 billion wonder what gota got for arms procurement in commission.Any one with reasonable ability can nullify a enemy with a 10:1 ratio. Again credit goes to the RR for standing up to the western powers to halt operations. Does this mean we have to be eternally grateful to the Rajapakses which the previous weak leaders did not do?. Does it mean the Rajapakses can pillage the country as never before since 1948.

    • 0

      Its a myth that the regime blostered the: ‘western opposition’

      Quite the opposite was the reality, even now no court proceedings for at least the two Yankee brothers.

      Western bans, freezing of funds, intelligence most vital, even weapons (AK47 can be made in China, not the Beechcraft spy planes, etc). Above all the ‘war on terrorim’ freedom was the vital factor for our sucess with minimal foreign interference and acting for the cameras due to the large Taiml voter base; even a million man march and blockade of UK parliment resulted in only foreign minister visits, then departues, these countries had the power to do more (the barking we do, they had the power to do, but no do, we still bark).

      The whole concept of foreign interference is mainly to cover up previous military failure, Chandrka, Preme fought till one lost militarilly & one eye, the other was eliminated; this the truth we hide behind ths ‘western opposition, etc’. Only JR (well Kobekaduwa and Wimalaratne) had near compleation military sucess, but was stopped with interference, this time round they (India) was on our side. So what interference!!
      (the human rights groups are non government organization limited in power to media reports)

      If this government came ten years ago the same result as above, if it appointed ‘cannot win Vietnam style war’ generals the same result, if no change of military ethos, the same result; failure.

      This was the only time where the global tide was effectivelly with us, even willing to turn a blind eye!

      Foreign government interference is largely an excuse for military failure, media pressure was always there and never stopped our offensive or bombardment!!

      Primary foreign government interference with the ‘war on terror’ was on our side !!!

  • 0

    LTTE propaganda & anti Srilankan.

    Load of B*** S***.

    The majority public sentiment is the opposite

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