1 October, 2020

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Post January Dialectics Of Democracy

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

A tale is told of a man in Paris during the upheaval in 1948, who saw a friend marching after a crowd toward the barricades. Warning him that these could not be held against the troops, that he had better keep way, he received this reply,” I must follow them. I am their leader.”  – ‘Conflicts of Principle’, Lawrence Lowell,President Harvard University.

A sanguine President Sirisena plans to thwart a rebounding Rajapaksa. A restless Ranil relies on a chagrined Chandrika to offer SLFP support after elections to keep him in office.

The adjectives applied to the principal protagonists decidedly describe the dialectics of our post January democracy. Sanguine is to be ‘optimistic or positive in an apparently bad situation’. Rebound is to ‘bounce back through the air after hitting something hard’. Restless is the inability stay still or to be quiet and calm, because you are worried. Chagrin is a feeling of vexation, marked by disappointment or humiliation.

The present dissonance in Parliament is mostly due to Mr.Ranil Wickremesighe’s self-deception that Nimal Siripala will be as accommodating to him as he was to Mahinda Rajapaksa in the role of a simulated opposition leader.

Ranil Chandrika MaithripalaThe anti Rajapaksa movement lost a great opportunity when the UNP wise guys decided to hound officials and politicians who squandered state resources in promoting the candidacy of President Rajapaksa for a third term. If the TRC spent millions in distributing ‘Sil’ shrouds, if Divi Neguma spent more millions distributing calendars, and a Minister distributed ‘Sathosa’ dhal taken on credit, the candidate Mahinda Rajapsaksa should have been charged for violating election law. The law provides for filing an election petition against even the loser. If the charges were tenable the courts would have imposed the applicable punishment – the loss of civil rights for six years. Meanwhile in open court all those who aided and abetted could have been grilled by the same three eminent lawyers of the Pitipana committee who have produced a ‘Pana Yanareport on the bond business.

The Mahanayakes who frowned on the upright Buddhist Diyawadana Nilame being questioned by the FCID would have applauded the move. Ranil could have worshipped at Dambulla and brought home the iguana for dinner.

Toppling the tyrant is the easy part. Erasing the traces of tyranny takes time. Democracy cannot function in the absence of an opposition. ‘Thinking publicly different and otherwise’ is the holy writ of the doctrine of democracy. ‘Institutionalized distrust’ is the sine qua non in the practice of parliamentary democracy.

For more than a decade the country has not seen either a vibrant, veiled or vulgar opposition engaged in sustained confrontation. Chandrika faded in to oblivion not because she is irrelevant. An intimidated media, in Pavlovian servility erased her just as they made the former General a foot note in history. They were terrible times. This writer ventured out to get a glimpse of the public indignation at the impeachment of the CJ and retuned from Hultsdorf with a bruised shoulder and minus an expensive pair of Dr. Scholl’s slippers.

Today Mahinda venturing out is news. The country is not mesmerized with Mahinda. It is fascinated with the new process of hearing the other side. They do not approve of sleaze but the new circus in town is fascinating and fun.

Mr.Ranil Wickeremesighe is the monitor of the class appointed by the Principal. He threatens to report miscreants to the ‘Principal ‘and reduces it to a farce. Instead of responding to members of the opposition, he tells them to sit down. He even threatened to get the President to give them a few ‘Tokkas’. With that poor display of puerile adolescence, the Ranil regime is now distressed that the President is not stern enough with that part of the SLFP which sits in opposition.

The UNP has decided to unremember that Maithipala Sirisena was the insurgent candidate of the SLFP. Parliamentarian Dulles Alahapperuma has unwittingly stumbled on a reality. At his last Press Briefing, he said “The president had an agreement for hundred days with Ranil Wickremesinghe. He has another five year agreement with former president Chandrika Kumaratunga”.

The triumvirate behind the Rajapaksa restoration project – Dinesh Gunawardena, Banduala Gunawardane and Wimal Weerawansa know their business. They have identified their target.

Chandrika Kumaratunga does not possess the raw allure of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Hindsight bias impacts her sheen. What she does possess is the ability to revive the propositional content of the party of her parents and infuse it with the performativity it once had in attracting the elite segments of liberal politics. Chandrika did make mistakes during her tenure. Yet history would treat her kindly. She made devolution of power a palatable proposition. She removed the tunnel vision of Sinhala chauvinism. If Lakshman Kadirgamar was the greatest foreign minister, surely she deserves the credit of appointing him to the task and the international isolation of the tigers. She had her faults. If only Archduke Franz Ferdinand slept a little longer in that fateful morning in Sarajevo? If only Chandrika allowed Justice Mark Fernando to take his turn?

In their evidently successful demonstrations in Kurunegala and Matara the pro Mahinda team brilliantly choreographed their anti Chandrika act. The last performance at Matara was dazzling due to its counterfeit precision of execution. The arch demagogue Wimal Weerawansa reduced the shrill crescendo effect and whispered ‘Chandrika’. Then, he paused in anticipation. Derisive hooting erupted. Weerawansa built up again and reached a high note only to end abruptly. It was a performance that matched the likes of Toscanini or closer home a Zubin Mehta!

For Chandrika, the retrieval and resurrection of the SLFP is as important as ousting the despot. That makes Chandrika the principal target of the Knights Templar cartel at Abayaramaya.

President Sirisena is battling to keep faith with the covenant he made with the rainbow coalition. Though determined to thwart the narcissistic mass dictator, he knows that he is in a difficult situation. Effective leaders in bad situations combine resolute moral purpose with impressive empathy. This essential truth and materiality of the ‘peasant from Polonnaruwa’ has escaped the attention of his interim Prime minister. As former general secretary of the SLFP he seems confident of his ability to ride out the storm by separating the ‘turncoats’ from the sycophants.

The former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is definitely on a rebound. It is equally evident that nearly half of the electorate refuse to believe that he is the villain, his opponents claim him to be. His political machine is on top gear. His trust networks of clergy and clients are highly motivated. A country that has not seen a functioning opposition in two decades of repressive governance coupled with a collusive opposition is watching the antics in Abayaramaya with justifiable shock and awe.

This autocrat succeed not so much by his brutality but because of the enthusiasm of a segment of the self-serving middle class that opted to side with him. Mahinda Rajapaksa was indeed a transactional leader.

He developed his own momentum of social influence. As pointed out by Hobsbawm in the case of Nazi Germany, our affable autocrat became the only leader who offered a solution to the chaos he himself created. It convinced a substantial part of our society that his was an effective political and legislative system that should be endorsed by rational law abiding citizens.

Democracy cannot function in the absence of an opposition. ‘Thinking publicly otherwise’ and ‘institutionalized distrust’ are essential ingredients of a parliamentary democracy. Mr.Ranil Wickeremesighe acting as monitor of the class threating to report miscreants to the ‘Principal’ is a reminder of how far we have drifted away from parliamentary democracy.

On the 18th amendment the then Leader of the opposition opted to walk out. He refused to nominate a member to the enfeebled constitutional council. More than Mahinda Rajapaksa, the toothless, incompetent UNP opposition is responsible for the erosion of our democracy.

In the last decade, under autocratic leaders, the UNP and the SLFP have disintegrated in to power cliques held together on the promise of political spoils when elected to office. Democracy needs strong and sustainable political parties with the capacity to represent citizens. But not anymore. With the near total disconnect between citizens and elected leaders and the growing corporate sophistication of oligarchs, political parties have become leader focused and leader driven.

When former President Chandrika Kumaratunga announces that the SLFP will not tolerate the intolerant among them, she gives hope to those who yearn for ideology driven political movements.

Karl Popper wrote, “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

President Maithripala Sirisena promised an all-party government with the leader of the UNP as prime minister for hundred days. The next parliamentary elections should be held under an all-party care taker cabinet of ten Minsters.

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Latest comments

  • 3
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    “On the 18th amendment the then Leader of the opposition opted to walk out. He refused to nominate a member to the enfeebled constitutional council. More than Mahinda Rajapaksa, the toothless, incompetent UNP opposition is responsible for the erosion of our democracy.”

    Thank you, Sarath for highlighting something many Ranil/UNP supporters are unwilling to accept.

    I wrote along similar lines only a few days ago:
    “Remember his actions viz a viz the 18th amendment? Walked off out of parliament, leaving Anura of the JVP and Sumanthiran of TNA to fight the MR juggernaut.”

    Also it is pertinent to remember his antics when CBK presented her package in parliament, the man slept while his UNP MP’s burnt the package in parliament and abused CBK in foul language. So much for his character !

    Ranil has again and again failed in his duty of the opposition leader while crushing dissent within the UNP to any leadership challenges. What a abysmal failure when the country needed a strong opposition !

  • 1
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    Good analysis of democracy in the land of Modayas… should be widely published in Sinhala language.
    Fact is that Ranil Wickramasinghe and the opposition are equally to blame for the ignorance and stupidity of the Sri lankan voters who vote in corrupt clowns to represent them Arjuna Mahendran is an a corrupt INSIDER TRADER and should be fired from the CB as is Ravi Kaurnanayaka, Ranil’s Minister for Economic matters.. Educating the voters is very important to hold ALL politicians (UNP, SLFP, SLMC, TNA etc..) accountable and ensure good government. But the courts have not released all the corrupt criminals and murderers who has been put behind bars – from Basil Jarapassa and his Divineguma cronies who stole poverty funds, to ex-DIG Vas Gunawardena… Yahapalanaya is slpiing down the tubes with Sirisena appointing more corrupt clowns from SLFP as MPs to safeguard against return of Jarapassa! What a circus in democracy in the Land of Sinhala Modayas..!

  • 0
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    “Raw Allure ” more like the smell of Manure !

  • 1
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    By Rohana R. Wasala

    “The overwhelming success of the Matara rally has demonstrated beyond any doubt that the pro-Mahinda forces have decisively turned the tide against the status quo. It is not against the presidency of Mr Maithripala Sirisena.”

    http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=126613

    • 2
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      Dayan:

      The overwhelming success of the Matara rally has demonstrated beyond any doubt that the pro-Mahinda forces have decisively turned the tide against the status quo.

      *** You are absoultely right. I know you hail from Ward Place and I have friends and family who are businessmen and live in Horton Place and Barnes place but they are horrified as to the message Sinhala Lanka will send to the World and the damage to the Buiness.
      The message will be we havent changed and Accountabilty and Reconciliation Sri Lankan style is not going to happen.
      It is a blessing in Disguise for us and help us get what we want.

      I also have material interest in Colombo but as soon as Power is devolved I intend sell everything in Colombo and return to Jaffna and serve my people. When I last visted Jaffna I went to some missions and I was touched by the despair of some Orphans and I was asked to give Counselling and hope to spend two months in a Year.

  • 0
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    Sarath , You have truly connected the dots.
    Shelley Dharmaratne

  • 2
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    Where is the Yaha..ya “kade yana” tean hiding? ‘

  • 3
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    My perception is that the proportion of anti-MR vote has expanded since 08/01/15, thanks to exposure of his misdeeds and the uncouth, crafty, poor loser and greedy beviour he has displayed. However, the possibility that his somewhat diminished support base has also solidified and become more committed and brash, cannot be denied.

    The General Election can be yet won by the Maithri-Ranil- Chandrika combination with the support of the JVP, TNA and SLMC.

    Since, a sensible 20th amendment seems unlikely to emerge from the present parliament and in fact may need deeper and detailed study as to retails and ramifications, the proposition should be left to the next parliament and a national electoral commission to pursue. The minor parties should be made to disappear under a new system, as they are only of nuisance and noise value. They are anachronism that need to be purged.

    It is imperative that the present parliament be dissolved immediately and the elections held under the old system. Let the main political parties at least ameliorate its rottenness by offering a better slate of candidates and restricting campaign expenditure. The Commissioner of Elections should strictly enforce election laws as laid down.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 0
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    “The minor parties should be made to disappear under a new system, as they are only of nuisance and noise value. They are anachronism that need to be purged.”

    Here we go again. This is not Democracy!

    • 1
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      Democracy is not the excuse for chaos or for few loud/foul mouths to hold the country to ransom.

      Dr.RN

  • 2
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    Dev

    Thank you for reminding us of Ranil’s antics on Chandrika’s Constitutional package. I had no means to access the Hansarad of the last day in that debate. Sarath Amunugama I remember pointedly telling Ranil – you will live to regret this day.

    Don Quixote
    Allure to the human. Manure to the bovine.

    Dr.Rajasingham
    It is obvious that the total UNP vote in the next election will be
    w far less than the 5.8 million polled by MR. Believe me I am on record saying that Ranil would have made a good prime minister. I don’t subscribe to that view any longer. I think the performance of Ranil in the 150 days has eroded the UNP vote. They will not vote against the UNP. They will stay home.
    Vanguard
    Minority parties will not disappear. Major parties run the risk of becoming minor parties.

    • 2
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      @Sarath
      Unfortunately I have not been able to get my hand on the hansard either nor a video of that burning incident online either.

      @Vanguard:
      UNP is on the path to becoming a minor party already !
      Last 2 presidential elections they could not even challenge the incumbent but had to find someone from outside. Sirisena came froward only due to the efforts of CBK and won mainly because the minority parties + Sobitha thera threw his weight behind him. Yes the UNP votes were crucial but would have not been enough, the once mighty UNP is now weakened. It may weaken further if Ruwan W (Ranil’s cousin and Wijaya newspaper owners son) is promoted as it seems to be the case.

    • 0
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      Oh yeah otherwise LTTE was going to accept it!

  • 1
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    Mr.Sarath De ALWIS.

    If only Chandrika allowed Justice Mark Fernando to take his turn?…..

    This was the turning point of recent History with the biggest blunder ever made by Chandrika!
    Justice Mark Fernando was the son of a former CJ. Justice H.N.G.Fernando.Justice H.N G.in turn was the son of Justice V.M.Fernando.They all belonged to a great tradition of Jurists.
    With this monumental blunder of Chandrika,Sarath N.Silva turned out to be the CJ! The rest is History.
    MaRa would not have been on the political stage had it not been for that flawed decision of Sarath N.Silva.over the Helping Hambantota case.It is an irony that he had regretted that his decision was wrong to say the least.
    Eventually even Chandrika too became a victim.

  • 1
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    Very well written though there may be a few assertions that one may not agree with. Bensen

  • 1
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    Plato

    “Justice Mark Fernando was the son of a former CJ. Justice H.N.G.Fernando.Justice H.N G.in turn was the son of Justice V.M.Fernando.They all belonged to a great tradition of Jurists.”

    Yes. I cannot betray trust by naming the person who said this nearly five years ago in casual conversation. The person is still involved in constitutional reform movement. Chandrika was very serious about the new constitution immediately after her assuming the Presidency. When the then CJ Justice Silva retired Chandrika wanted to appoint Justice Mark Fernando. Mother Sirimavo then Prime Minister was a great admirer of justice H.N.G. and a matriarch to whom class too mattered. It was G.L.Pieris who persuaded Chandrika to appoint Sarath Silva instead, much to the annoyance of Sirimavo. G.L Pieris has said that Mark Fernando J with his highly legalistic mind would make the constitutional amendments the business of the court and impede the will of parliament. The person who narrated this had also supported GL then. I suppose now he believes the adage “what goes around comes around. Chandrika took the advise of GL because she was quite sincere about the reforms in her first year. It did not take long for her to be seduced by untrammeled authority. .

  • 0
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    Mr. Sarath De Alwis.

    With all due respect,I am unable to white wash either GLP or Chandrika on this intransigent moment in History!

  • 0
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    An appoint of Sarath Silva as CJ nothing wrong. He did good job, but all human being subject made mistake.

    CJ -Sarath Silva person who understanding of new realities of Sri lanka society. That what legal system want.

    We don’t want maintain old traditions and convention in legal order of Sri lanka, that inherited from colonial practices of Law.

    Ex-CJ Sartah has been legal profession and legal office under the Ministry of Justice, that department over more than 40 odd years.

    Sarath play vital role in legal work as ex-CJ.

  • 0
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    The parliament must be dissolved soon.

    The Constitutional Council must appoint an Election Commission.

    The next election must be held under the supervision of a strong Election Commission, NOT under a group of politicians.

  • 0
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    Interesting analysis indeed. The coalition is without a doubt struggling to fulfill its absurd self-imposed targets even over 200 days. That said, it is making headway. The economy is currently in a state of flux, the general election needs to be concluded and soon. Only permanency in Government will let the private sector to get back to “Business as usual”.

    I agree that keeping Arjuna on as Governor of CB is WRONG, I agree that keeping Ravi K anywhere there is money is WRONG……Ranil must be having his reasons for this, what they are, I cannot understand. But I do not at all agree that investigation and prosecution of political criminals is wrong……at worst, this is setting a new benchmark in good governance, perhaps after all, we are moving forward as a civilized society?

    As for elections, if you break it down to mere mechanics, if MR chooses to form a party of his own and run against Ranil, he is only guaranteeing Ranil’s victory without a doubt. Remember, this is a GENERAL election, not one personality against another. MR will have to put forward viable candidates across the country and build a new party machinery to go against the sleeping giant that is the UNP. In the process, all he will do is break valuable votes from the SLFP. MR is a political master but we all know now that he is no magician.

    I am sure Ranil is at home sleeping now only with the hope that the Iguana quickly gets off the Temple wall and throws his hat into the race.

  • 0
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    If you cant win an election with Maithri-Ranil- Chandrika combination with the support of the JVP, TNA, SLMC and every other small party against a one man show, then these useless bunchof people must give up on politics all together

  • 0
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    Sarath’s article reminds me a little story.There were two friends.
    one owed a large sum of money to the other and he was carrying it with him on a particular day. Both of them were accosted by a robber and the robber demanded all both of them had. At that time the friend who owed the large sum of money, in the presence of the Robber returned it to his friend. By doing that he paid his debt to his friend, knowing very well in any case he had to part that money to the robber.

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