By Sarath De Alwis –
The American philosopher Eric Hoffer once wrote: “It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many.”
That seems to be the condensed quandary of the Maithripala Sirisena rain bow coalition. Color enriching, vibrant splashes everywhere. A new beginning. Alas! Rainbows don’t last.
In its first 150 days of a few achievements and plenty of blunders and absurdities, the Maithripala Presidency has proven Abraham Lincoln wrong and Joseph Schumpeter correct. Our democracy is not rule of, by and for the people but rule by politicians plain and simple. The President’s stoic silence on the Bond scam has demonstrably defined the dangers of our naiveté in seeking to convert ideals to expectations.
The combination of the arrogant Omni competence of his Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the incendiary cupidity of his adversary Mahinda Rajapaksa has exposed the glaring deficiencies of his capacity to survive in the great game. He is no weakling. By challenging the tyrant he has proven his mettle. Yet, in office, he has settled in to the role of an innocent abroad. His predicament is similar to that of Mark Twain in Paris.
“In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language.” It seems the Presidents language is similar to Mark Twain’s French in Paris!
Frankly, this President has pissed off many of his followers, the present writer included, for his determined effort to remain aloof on the Central Bank Bond fiasco that has given renewed hopes to the Rajapaksa restorationists. An announcement by the President that the new Parliament would take up the probe halted by the dissolution would take the wind off the sails of the rickety canoe of Bandula Gunawardane, the ridiculous Ricardo of our times.
Both Ranil Wickeremsimghe and Mahinda Rajapaksa are elitist politicians who share a common presumption of the inadequacies of the average citizen. Conversely the citizenry does not hold the pair accountable for their fickle politics. Their core convictions are remarkably identical. Dysfunctional democracy is their principal vocation.
They divide their universe between political entrepreneurs and the masses that the entrepreneurial elite could manipulate at will. Neither believes in ideology. Both depend on passive and inert followers whose allegiance is secured with the promise of spoils.
Joseph Schumpeter summarized the strategy. “The democratic method is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote.”
In the afterglow of the epochal upheaval of 8th January, the nation has failed to take note of an organic menace that lies ahead. A Recent photograph featured the Judge and the Judged of the ‘Helping Hambanthota scam. The duplicitous duo were listening to a Poya day sermon with mock piety writ large on their chubby cheeks. No doubt flushed with the excitement of the coming battle. It was a prophetic preview of the peril that awaits the caravan of good governance.
Restoring democracy within an intrinsically undemocratic political culture can produce political outcomes that unmistakably tilt towards the undemocratic.
A day prior to the Esala Poya day, the former President and his brother, former Defense Secretary and Security Czar attended a much publicized religious ceremony at the historic ‘Sunethra Devy Pirivena’. It was officiated by the Militant monk Medagoda Abhyatissa thero who likened the enactment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution to a death warrant to the Sinhalese.
The lavish ceremony was to invoke the blessings of the triple gem on the patriarch prince and to invoke the assistance of the deities to reclaim the throne. Said Venerable Abayatissa “Our detractors accuse us of performing ‘Gathikum‘ but let it be known that these are our ‘Yuthukam.” The head priest of the Historic seat of Buddhist Learning was making the distinction between ‘servility’ and ‘duty’ to the monarch on the Poya day which according Buddhist legend was the day that the Buddha delivered the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta ( the wheel of truth) to the five ascetics Kondangna, Wappa, Bhaddiya, Mahanama and Assaji at the Deer park of Isipathanaya and exhorted them to spread the Dhamma.
“Go forth, o bhikkhus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, for the good, for the happiness of gods and men.”
The venue and the significance of the day would have escaped notice of the political class. But it certainly sent a powerful message to that part of the Western province that bucked the trend on 8th January and gave Mahinda the edge in Homagama, Horana and Kaluthara.
Patriarchal Patrons can promise prosperity and deliver ruin. Explaining the good intentions of their patrons is the business of the priest. The saffron shroud has become an instrument of appealing to emotions and to advance political ends.
The Cope subcommittee that probed the Bond scam had two young articulate parliamentarians who represent the future promise of the United National Party- Eran Wickremaratne and Sujeewa Senasinghe. Eran advocated the release of the Committee proceedings claiming that his party had nothing to hide. Sujeewa unleashed a diatribe against the distinguished Economic commentator and former Deputy Governor W. A. Wijewardena accusing him of mudslinging. As Jeffrey Archer the brilliant story teller who was jailed for perjury and perverting justice would say “Thereby hangs a tale.” Calvinist ethics versus Karmic apathy to the truth.