By Sarath De Alwis –
“The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.” Leon Trotsky
The debate on the 19th Amendment demonstrated the obscene contrast of ethical values of parliamentarians on both sides of the aisle.
A predisposed political commentator and an ideologue of the Mahinda Chinthana autocracy has described the opposition success in partially blunting the 19th amendment as a victory for JR Jayewardene. There is truth in that foxy inference. JR Jayewardene would have indeed chuckled at the twisty performance of the Rajapaksa acolytes Dinesh Gunawardena and Wimal Weerawansa. Indeed, had he not reached the biblical span of three scores and ten years when he reached the top of the greasy pole, he would have never introduced the two term limit on the presidency. The 18th amendment is hardly an aberration in comparison to JRJ’s attempt to have two members representing the Kalawana seat.
The committee stage proceedings on the 19th Amendment was ample proof that politics is a self-serving business. The labyrinthine maneuvering by Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists to first scuttle and later to delay its passage in parliament was only one aspect of the Mahinda Rajapaksa strategy. A host of well-known Buddhist monks rejected it in its entirety with venomous rhetoric. Dr. Medagoda Abhayatissa thero head of the Historic Sunethra Mahadevi Pirivena termed its passage as Armageddon of the Sinhala people.
Clearly the game plan of Mahinda loyalists was to scuttle the legislation and precipitate a general election. This turn of events would have pleased the UNP as well. Wimal Weerawansa, the fanatical acolyte of the former strong man, showed how painful it was to lose gracefully. Unmasking the deep seated, insidious influence of the cash and carry politics of the Rajapaksa regime he exulted “They wanted a Cobra. We gave them a rat snake”.
Much of the corruption in the country is systemic. A sizable segment of this parliament owe allegiance to the earlier order. Mahinda Rajapakse did not make the system. He only perfected it.
The Executive Presidency and the precipitous introduction of the open economy undermined the social contract implicit in governance. ‘Let the robber barons come’ was the new zeitgeist. Public interest was defined by the new political order which promised a righteous society and a free market capitalist economy. The public perception of corruption until the introduction of the JRJ brand of ‘Laissez Faire’ economics and governance was mainly confined to wrongdoings by individuals and small groups of rent seekers.
President JR Jayewardene did not dismantle the rigid institutions of governance set up under the planned socialist economy. His free market initiative introduced a new dimension to corruption in the form of collusive politics. The corruption inherent in the issuance of permits and application of regulations was replaced by a new culture of entitlement of the business and political elite. The new chemistry of corruption was a synthesis of pursuit of profit, collusive politics and a new perception of corruption. It justified patently unethical business practices as economic dynamism.
In this fast lane to economic progress, corruption was seen as a functional imperative. It served to lubricate the rigid political and bureaucratic structure which remained in place. Private ownership of productive resources, profit motivation and a competitive market mechanism were super imposed on a society that remained glued to subsidies and protection of a welfare state.
Three notable members of the Jayewardene regime launched their own patrimonial crusades. All three leaders were imbued with equally phenomenal ambition to succeed the aging President. All three launched massive populist programs. The competitive patrimonialism of the three rivals linked them to loosely organized networks of loyalists, followers and power brokers which radically altered mass politics of the land. The Executive Presidency had created three Cabinet level satraps with their own constituencies. The free market economy was thus converted to a quasi-feudal order which encouraged an elitism at the expense of state resources. This UNP monolith imploded under President Premadasa.
In the absence of a competitive entrepreneurial class, the neo Gaullist constitution and the bastardized free market, led to patrimonial politics.
There were no institutions capable of monitoring public finance in the context of the free market economy. The enforcement agencies that existed were subject to ministerial fiat. The insightful historian Eric Hobsbawm remarked “It is often assumed that an economy of private enterprise has an automatic bias towards innovation, but this is not so. It has a bias only towards profit.”
The private sector of Sri Lanka was no exception. Described as the engine of growth, private business pumped a vast quantity of lubricants to keep a consumerist economy running. The new institutions of public and private sector collaboration facilitated collusion, corruption and crony capitalism. It was a corporate feudalism where the Lords and Barons were from a chosen elite.
The presiding Monarch remained aloof. He enabled and encouraged abuse of power by ignoring or side stepping existing laws. Tailor made legislation to fit the interests of the regime and its loyalists were introduced in a parliament sans an opposition. It wiped out accountability of the government to the governed.
It was the good fortune of Mahinda Rajapaksa to win the war. He claimed the ultimate prize in politics – unbridled authority coupled with unmatched national adulation. The personality cult that developed was inevitable. History tells us that such cults are possible only under conditions in which the image of the leader is associated with the values and goals that are seen as essentials for the wellbeing of the nation. Mahinda Rajapakse outperformed JR Jayewardene. Mahinda Rajapaksa perfected the system. The difference was that the new Lords and Barons were from a different social milieu. There was new migration to Gregory’s road and other addresses named after British governors. This was accompanied by a proliferation of urban temples with kiosks offering vegetarian takeaway food. A crony clergy took over the spiritual guidance of the kleptocracy.
President Maithripala Sirisena reposed his trust on Mr.Ranil Wickremesighe to dislodge Mahinda Rajapaksa and enact constitutional reforms. He can derive some satisfaction from Trotsky’s adage that “The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.”
Mother Teresa accepted more than a Million dollars from Charles Keating who precipitated the savings and loan scandal that rendered thousands homeless. She also used his private Jet. When Keating was convicted, she wrote a letter to the courts, urging leniency. She accepted donations from the Haitian Dictator Jean Claude Duvalier and said that ‘Papa Doc’ was loved by his people.
It is the fervent wish of this writer that President Maithripala Sirisena the politician would be more pragmatic than beatified Mother Teresa. Isaac Deutscher describes the murder of Rosa Luxembourg as the last triumph of Hohenzollern Germany and the first triumph of Nazi Germany.
The passage of the watered down version of the 19th Amendment was the last triumph of the Rajapaksa Kleptocracy. Will it prove to be the first triumph of Ranil Wickeresinghes Corporate Feudalism?