By Ameer Ali –
“… to deal with an impending economic catastrophe like this nation has never seen before calls restructuring of the political apex, unity of diverse cultures to reach a common vision, and breaking free of the dominance of military cabal and narrow interest groups.” One cannot agree more than with what Kumar David has said in these words (Colombo Telegraph, 10 May 2020). This is the need of the time.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (GR) must realise that he cannot win his triple battle: to win over Covid-19, to recover the economy and to protect democracy, through task forces and tri-forces. It is an impossible trinity. He has to get the nation behind him, which at the moment is divided vertically and horizontally as never before. It is true that GR sees in this disarray an opportunity for him, his Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) and the party MR leads to emerge victorious with a two-third majority were an election be held without delay. The Election Commission is being pressured from every corner to fall in line with GR’s strategy. Professor S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole, a Tamil who dares to speak truth in front of power and refuses to kowtow to pressures, has become the regime’s whipping boy.
The hastiness shown by GR and his team to hold an early election has made it clear that they want to kill democracy first, even if that meant allowing Covid-19 to score victory on the health front, while economy enters the most dangerous phase of hysteresis. Pride is the worst enemy of a ruler. GR wants to show that he alone, assisted by his task and tri forces, could lead the nation to ‘prosperity and splendour’. “And let it be noted”, said Machiavelli, “that there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to set up as a leader in the introduction of changes” (Quoted from Ben Hubbard, MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohamed Bin Salman, London, William Collins, 2020). Let the President, who is known for his Machiavellian traits digest the words of that mentor.
On the other hand the country can achieve victory in all three fronts, and fairly quickly, if there is unity. There is no alternative to a collective effort led by the people. It is not the majority Sinhalese or Buddhist masses that are preventing this unity, but the political and religious elements that are poisoning their minds with the idea of creating a nation ruled by Buddhists and for the Buddhists. I call them the supremacists. Unfortunately, GR, his clan and their coterie of advisors have fallen victims to or been ensnared or brainwashed by these elements, whose vicious propaganda has sapped the energy of saner minds and thrown at least 48 percent of eligible voters on the opposite side.
Let the election come when it comes and let the Commission make a decision independently in the light of all information available to them. Even if the virus disappears tomorrow there will be hundreds of thousand heads of families whose livelihood has been shattered by Corona and would be battling to achieve some level of normalcy in their economic survival before thinking of politics. Voting is not going to put food on their tables and jobs to their grown up. Voting is not even compulsory in Sri Lanka.
In the meantime, the governments appeal for the employed to forego at least a portion of their monthly earnings, and its shameful willingness to permit money laundering in order to increase the country’s foreign balances show how desperate the nation’s financial situation is. More and costly borrowing from abroad is unavoidable, which will certainly mortgage the lives of coming generations.
On the other hand, there is substantial amount of hard earned money available abroad in the hands of expatriates, and they would be willing to invest in Sri Lanka, if political and social situations improve and become conducive. With the army controlling the levers of administration, with the task forces not free of corrupt behaviour, and minority communities are deprived of any say in political consultation and decision making that investment is not going to flow in.
GR assumed power with a resolve to end corruption. How corrupt some of his top appointees are is now public knowledge. In this context, it is worth remembering Machiavelli again, who was said to have informed his Medici prince that “one reason that Ottoman empire would be difficult to conquer was the ministers, slaves, and dependents of the sultan could not be corrupted” (Leslie Pierce, Empress Of The East, UK, Icon Books Ltd., 2020, p. 146).
Mr. President, kindly swallow your pride, reconvene the dissolved parliament and let the nation tackle this emergency as a united body. This is the need of the time.