By Sarath de Alwis –
“Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.” – H.L. Mencken in Prejudices
The legitimacy of the UNP-SLFP consensual coalition to draft a new constitution has been seriously undermined by the composition of the UPFA national list. It seems that President Maithripala Sirisena has set a new constitutional precedent by exercising a right to reverse the people’s verdict by nominating six defeated candidates who were members of the previous parliament. It is an ingenious constitutional precedent of the right to recall defeated MPs to the new parliament.
The jiggery-pokery of the SLFP is in blatant contempt of the normative principles of representative democracy. A free and fair election does not depend on the assurance of the integrity of the process but on how the integrity of its outcome is respected. The arrogant disregard for ethical political behavior will only lead to further undermine our fragile freedoms and democratic systems which we cherish and yearn for.
The JVP’s option of assigning one of its two national list seats to a defeated candidate can be politically explained. It was a compelling compromise that redressed an imbalance precipitated by a fickle electorate.
In contrast, the nomination of six defeated candidates is pure political expediency. It is an affirmation of the adage that the “most useful thing about a principle is that it can always be sacrificed to expediency.”
President Maithripala Sirisena appealed to the electorate to preserve and advance the gains of his 8th January triumph over fascist tendencies. His January electoral success was due to the ‘wave’ for democracy based on the perceived threat of corruption and the absence of good governance. It created a deep anxiety about politics in general and a deep seated distrust of politicians. He was seen as the antithesis of the conventional politician.
With the UPFA national list he has reneged on his own promise. It is a devastating blow to the public’s trust and confidence in the political system. The political ploy he has adopted is so consistent with past wrong doing. The continued disdain towards public opinion as displayed by the ousted regime is disheartening. It now seems as business as usual with nothing changed in the rules of play.
The photo finish outcome of the general election on 17th August 2015 is a reprieve and not a victory for the crusade for a just and a scrupulous society. When the IGP tells us that it was a peaceful election and a turning point in the history of our nation he seems to overlook the fact, that he held the same office and responsibilities on January 8th 2015. His unspoken words are more eloquent than those he uttered. It is such discretion of those in authority that makes myth, the end product of history.
The results of the election, conclusively demonstrated that Mahinda Rajapaksa is the ultimate tribal leader capable of generating ecstatic devotion of nearly half of the Sinhala ethno nation that makes up two thirds of our Civic nation.
The UPFA owes its impressive performance to its strategy of projecting Mahinda Rajapakse as the ‘Redeemer who could save the country that was in imminent peril’.
The spectacular preference counts of Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila in Colombo, Lohan Ratwatte in Kandy, Wasantha Perera in Matale, Dulles Alahapperuma in Matara, Namal Rajapaksa in Hambanthota validates the success of this strategy.
This writer is personally acquainted with a group of middle class, Sinhala Buddhist ladies who conducted regular Bodhipooja for eleven days praying for the return of 113 UPFA parliamentarians. In due course some of them will offer alms to 83 monks and redeem their solemn vow made to the four guardian deities of Lanka.
The ‘Bring back Mahinda’ campaign was brilliant political marketing. It shaped the attitude and behavior of the traditional voter base of the SLFP that President Maithripala and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga were attempting to rescue from the Rajapakse stranglehold. More than the dreams of good governance the fears of losing Sinhala Buddhist primacy galvanized and motivated the traditional anti-elitist Sinhala middle class. The electoral success of the ‘Dinosaur fossil’ Gamini Lokuge now in SLFP ranks, in the greater suburbia of the promised Colombo Megapolis is a striking example of this premise.
Patriotism and piety continues to shape the political behavior of the average Sinhala voter. The fiery rhetoric of monks such as Bhikku Medagoda Abayatissa whose oratory was persuasive and pervasive cast a spell on the average voter.
Piety was creatively deployed to create a fictional order in place of facts. Faith and ignorance are dangerous tools in the hands of demagogues. By making Buddhism a basis of communal loyalty the Buddhist priesthood supporting Mahinda Rajapakse has forged a powerful ideology. It has given it the status of an established order. It is they who decide how we should adjust our world view.
Throughout our history the Buddhist monk has been a part of our political order. With politicians extending selective patronage in the context of competitive politics, the Sangha community has become a politically polarized power center with the most dangerous prerogative in public life – power without responsibility.
In these uncertain times, trust in politics and politicians is vital for us to fashion a new order. The absence of trust encourages the growth of populist, fascist or dictatorial tendencies.
By promising a beginning and breathing new life in to it, even the Mahinda Rajapakse manifesto acknowledged the death of our body politic. As Hannah Arendt observes, the death of the body politic, can only occur by way of the powerlessness of politics itself. Situated within the world of human speech and action, power reveals its ethical and political limits when it is overcome by deception, empty words, destruction, and “brutality.” Thus power depends upon the public self-disclosure of actors acting together with other actors to generate power.
Power is actualized only where word and deed have not parted company.