By Mohamed Harees –
It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make
amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere
to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character. – Dale Turner
After weeks of political drama in our Dharmadweepa since October 26th, it was the height of irony that RW was sworn in as the PM for the fifth time this Sunday, before Maithri, thanks to a historic verdict by an independent judiciary and public activism, after having said that he will not appoint RW even if all 225 parliamentarians said so; thereby eating his own words. Maithri also screamed that he will NOT stay in office even for a day, if it happens. Now that the so-called ‘impossibility’ has happened, the nation has begun to look at Maithri with much wariness and a tinge of sarcasm whether he will do what he promised to do, at least this time. However, knowing him as he got gradually unmasked ever since he was elected in January 2015, the chances are next to nought.
Maithri has been gradually losing his credibility and proving himself to be thoroughly inefficient, slimy, political (instead of being apolitical), corrupt and since 26th October, a crackpot, betrayer, cunning figure, and a chronic liar. Only concerted public pressure can therefore force his hand to stick to his ‘promise’ and resign OR call for a Presidential election after January 2019 or force their Parliamentarians to impeach him for the unforgivable damage done to the country, recovering after 30 years of war and subsequent years of dictatorship and divisiveness.
For political leaders to be able to function and to deliver, having a healthy ‘stock’of political capital is essential. As authors Whiteley and Seyd described it, ‘political capital refers to citizen feelings about the political regime as whole, not just about the party or coalition which is currently incumbent. It is broader than the concept of legitimacy, since it encompasses citizen perception of regime competence, as well as of regime legitimacy’ (1997, p.128). It is unlikely that political capital can be put to effective use if one’s credibility becomes seriously hampered, and it is hard to imagine how a leader would succeed at that point in mobilizing others. Credibility for that matter is one of those indispensable political qualities that barely rates a mention when it is there. Yet when it is missing, nothing else matters as much.
It is clear as daylight that credibility and self-respect of the political class in Sri Lanka have becomes seriously hampered even to irreversible proportions specially during in the Post-War era. Serious levels of corruption, extravagant lifestyles, foreign travel, racism, loss of touch with the ordinary folks and inefficiency as well as excess fat in hierarchy levels of government have made this political class the most despised among the people. However, be it as it may, corrupts, cheats, drug dealers, criminals are continuing to be sent to the Lake by the House either through the ballot route or national list because of the outright stupidity of the people. It is a bane that the ones elected by the whole country to be their executive Heads of State have also been acting with impunity and thriving within the same polluted political culture instead of changing it. Maithri has now become an epitome of this despicable political culture and a fatal cancer which has engulfed our lost nation.Well! Fish rots from the top! they say and it is so much true in Sri Lanka. Many ‘Addresses to the Nation’ he made in Post- Oct.26th period have been full of lies and distortions, unbecoming of a Head of State.
It will be recalled with much humour that it was in September 2016 that a ‘fake’ article was published on a bogus ‘Guardian’ newspaper website, that Maithri was adjudged as the world’s best president by a Technical Committee made up of experts from reputable International Civil Service Organizations and think Tanks., which received at least 10,000 likes with several unsuspecting Sri Lankans also going on to congratulate and criticize him in the comment section. The story claimed that there has been ‘rapid development’ since he assumed office in January 2015. It is expected that a factual and actual article will now appear that Maithri has become the world’s worst president who has put the name of Sri Lanka in the news websites in recent times for the wrong reasons.
In addition to irritation and anger about Maithri’s actions, people are fearful of what might come next. With people being regularly fleeced and cheated by the ruling class who fail to adhere to the string of promises they give at elections, the people are losing their hopes in the democratic process. The country is showing signs of descending into a troubling and more authoritarian phase. While the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe coalition government has been a huge disappointment, it was to the credit of the government that it at least opened up more room for assembly and speech.and with less meddling with the Judiciary as it was before. In this context, recent Maithri/MR’s recent unconstitutional manoeuvres have once again raised renewed fears of authoritarianism. Overall, the whole system of governance stinks to high heavens with Sri Lanka turning into a corrupt haven and always been a flawed democracy where ethnic majoritarianism has prevailed.
The positive development during the recent period of trouble has been that the attempted coup was met with significant resistance. As we saw, at crucial moments—through the Supreme Court and Parliament—the country’s institutions have held up, while the range of civil society protests and public criticism of the coup attempt has also been notable. Nonetheless, the Post October 26th developments have already inflicted critical harm with Sri Lanka’s democracy being dealt a major blow. The economy has already taken a massive hit. Maithri’s standing has been irreparably tarnished politically, though he’s unlikely to ever be held accountable for his illegal actions due to this absurd immunity he enjoys in office.
Sri Lanka’s current impasse is more than a constitutional crisis — it is a moral and political one. The state needs much greater reform. This rotting process of the political process cannot be stemmed by plastering remedies. True! RW has been reinstated as the PM; but that is not the remedy for the long term ills besetting Sri Lanka. There should be an honest reckoning with the ‘Yahapalana’ government’s failures over the past four years. Ranil being re-appointed as PM after public activism does not in any way mean that people are with his policies . In fact they are clearly not. People came out to stand up for democracy. Any movement opposing Maithri and the present political culture of impunity must advance a viable political and economic vision for all Sri Lankans, including the country’s minorities.
Maithri’s tantrums should be punished and should be forced to step down/ to call for fresh Presidential elections/ impeached. His drama and antics if left unpunished will set dangerous precedents to the future leaders of this country as well to the future generations. Future candidates for higher offices like this should be subjected to intense screening and vetting by a civil/ public committee. Moreover, this monstrous Executive Presidency should be abolished with the incumbent accountable to the people through the Parliament; if not at least the incumbent should be held to account for all his/her misdeeds and insane acts. Immunity cover to the President should be definitely revisited.
And, if Maithri has an iota of shame or self respect, he should go pronto voluntarily. As the Abba song ‘The King Has Lost His Crown’ goes,
‘How does it feel? I guess it hurts your pride ….
Disaster and disgrace – the king has lost his crown
Suddenly he’s clumsy like a clown
The world is upside down
The king has lost his crown
Was it hard to step down from your throne….’
Maithri should listen to the plea of the masses of this country and pack up his bags and GO!. This is the least he could do to at least mitigate the ill-effects of the utter mess and damage he initiated. If this does not happen, a concerted agitation campaign should be initiated to make Maithri go home. This campaign should also be used to pinpoint the culture of political impunity and corruption prevailing in Sri Lanka. Be it as it may, as it stands, people should not rest their case, but continue their agitation to ensure that this rotten political culture is changed for forever. Humour could be an effective weapon too. Social media has proved this effectively .
When Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square to protest the regime of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, they brought with them a funny weapon against the guns and tear gas of the military: a sense of humour. They carried cartoons, sang parodic songs, and renamed the central garbage heap after one of the president’s agencies. In the short term, their humour was a powerful vehicle for nonviolent struggle against a potentially violent regime, and it followed in the footsteps of similarly antic protests in places as disparate as communist Poland and the Bush-era United States. Humorous protest is a very sophisticated—and even tricky—tool to deploy against authoritarian regimes. As Hannah Arendt wrote in On Violence: “The greatest enemy of authority … is contempt, and the surest way to undermine it is laughter”, although laughter has political advantages as well as limitations. Many political memes based on Maithri’s lowly antics can be used to highlight his unfitness to hold this high office and force him to go home, as well as in fighting political impunity.
For activists, there are no limits to the supply of humour—after all, it comes from deep within our different cultures—but there are limits to how it can be used. Joking “with” others rather than “at” others is important, as is knowing what crosses the line and violates norms, and what does not. Jokes do not fly if they are out of context. Activists who know what, culturally, triggers laughter can use that knowledge to their advantage, even against the most seemingly omnipotent governments. Sri Lankan activists and civil organizations, too can use this tool of humour to change this culture of impunity in politics.