By 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.
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.
The 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 Yana‘ report 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.