By Ravi Perera –
“Nothing doth more hurt in a State than that cunning men pass for wise” ~ Francis Bacon
In parliament recently President Ranil Wickremesinghe suggested to an opposition member that he had no ‘brains’, furthermore adding that the MP neither had the power.
The latter observation is obviously gratuitous, after all, the victim of the Presidential putdown is only an elected member of the opposition while the scheme of our constitution bestows immense powers on the office of the President.
It is the former suggestion – a deficiency in the opposition legislator’s brainpower, a comparative assessment of a human faculty that invites further musings. A difficult endeavour however; the generally accepted methodologies of assessing such endowments, the Intelligence quotient (IQ) or emotional quotient (EQ) tests while efficacious overall, are not considered perfect, their results needing further qualification.
Implicit in the Presidential taunt is an assumption of his own superior brain power, which in some quarters has become an article of faith. When societies are defined by patron – client relationships, such faith is inevitable; the patron is driven to justify his eminence, while the client believer must explain his belief. When it comes to self–justification, human ingenuity is limitless.
Nothing in Sri Lanka on the other hand, suggests superior intelligence, ability or application. It is the very opposite that predominates, everything around us only underlines an irrefutable mediocrity: a decrepit country now bankrupt; deep-rooted social discontent, a corrupt and nepotistic political culture, a hilariously inept bureaucracy, substandard services, an overall productivity level below the global average; altogether a system which has failed miserably, a system now increasingly falling back on violence and repression for its rationale – we are right because we have the guns!
That our parliamentarians are not too bright may be self-evident, the pathetic state of the country today offers only one inference. About half a century ago there was this very capable Minister who having surveyed his colleagues is said to have quipped that to the average parliamentarian (of the time) a cheque book was the eighth wonder of the world- by signing on a slip of paper you could settle your purchases! Then, intelligence has many hues -spectacularly unfit for legislating or administering they may be, in building their personal wealth our legislators have proved themselves world-class!
Ours is not a failure that occurred suddenly. One bungler replaced by the next, blunder following blunder, each act of omission more criminal than the last, every government outdoing its predecessor in covering up corruption, the storm was gathering, but slowly. The Sri Lankan failure built up gradually from almost the time of independence, when a peaceful nation and a reasonable economy, was handed over to our leaders to govern. There is a wearisome sameness about them; coming from a handful of families, invariably second or third generation in politics, same secondary schools (established by the colonialists/evangelists, a fact proudly stressed), exaggerated religiosity with rituals predominating or cultural adherences (white sarong in public), punditry flows freely, the oratory is grandiloquent; big talk but only small deeds, a country mediocre in every way.
Hovering over this sorry scene like a haunting spectre is the 1978 constitution; not a single dull moment for this nation since its adoption it seems! A period of history horribly distorted by horrendous race riots, barbarous civil wars and gut-wrenching insurrections following in its track. An avowed ambition of the constitution was the rapid economic development of the country; an executive President, empowered by a nationwide-mandate, freed from day to day parliamentary pressures and quibbling, will lead the charge. It was all balderdash, every country in our part of the world marched ahead, while we are stuck with this rigid constitution; everyone damns it, none has the moral strength to throw it out.
Now we could assess the careers of our post -independence leaders in perspective. Their very nature; how they think, work, ideas they embrace or resist, their basic impulses, all conspire against modern day national leadership. No successful nation, no country which has become prosperous, will have this type of men as decision makers or administrators.
Taking the post 1948 era as one period of history, it seems failure was their ultimate aim. Having no political principles, they resorted to empty posturing, with no gifts of mind or character to speak of they represented their low cunning as signs of intelligence, while mismanaging the country outrageously, they lectured it.A heedless nation swallowed it all.
Our leaders today celebrate when they obtain a loan to service previous loans, seventy-five years of unbroken buffoonery has led this nation to ignominy.
A farrago of confusions and contradictions the constitution may have proved itself, however at the time (in 1978) JR Jayewardene obviously thought, among his other innumerable gifts, he also had a special insight into constitution making. After his overwhelming electoral victory of 1977, JR Jayewardene was reinvented in the public imagination to be something exceptional, a leader of a global scale, sizzling with knowledge, palpitating with wisdom! If nothing else, our culture seems to endow office holders with an unmerited self-infatuation, higher the office, greater the vanity, ultimately leaving on stage, an absurd scarecrow, compensating a sorely disappointed nation with a few laughs.
The 1978 constitution boasts its democratic essence. But now in the form of Ranil Wickremesinghe, it has brought upon this nation an unelected person as the President. This followed the inglorious exit of Gotabaya Rajapaksa the elected President whose disastrous decision making had made him simply untenable. Where there is even a semblance of decency in public life, such a successor carries a ‘pro tempore’ nature, working towards electing a legitimate President at the earliest. Not only was Wickremesinghe not elected to the office of the President, he was rejected by the people even from representing them in Parliament.
When discussing unforeseen vacancies occurring in the office of a Head of State, we are often referred to the resignation of President Nixon (1974) and his succession by Vice President Gerald Ford. In this case, Ford was Richard Nixon’s running mate on the Republican Party ticket, in other words, the voter was well aware that Ford would succeed, if anything were to happen to President Nixon.
That is very different to what happened in Sri Lanka.The voter really had no say in the appointment of Ranil Wickremesnghe as their President at any stage. Going by their voting, they never wanted him to represent them anywhere.
Let us say you have a neighbour whose extravagant lifestyle has led to his bankruptcy. And, now you learn that his wife is terminally sick. Does their misfortune permit you to simply walk into the neighbour’s house to advise them on finances or medical procedures? Your neighbour is entitled to show you the door “Sorry Mr. Interloper, we rather perish than you interfering in our lives!”
The consent of the ruled is an absolute, incontrovertible principle of democracy.
A constitution deriving its validity from democratic ideals, now denies itself.
There is a typically high-flown preamble to the 1978 constitution.
“Svasti – The people of Sri Lanka having, by their mandate freely expressed and granted on the sixth day of the waxing moon in the month of Adhi Nikini in the year two thousand five hundred and twenty one of the Buddhist era (being Thursday, the twenty first day of the month of July in the year one thousand nine hundred and seventy seven) entrusted to and empowered their representatives elected on that day to draft, adopt and operate a new Republican Constitution in order to achieve the goals of a Democratic Socialist Republic, and having solemnly resolved by the grant of such mandate and the confidence reposed in their said representatives who were elected by an overwhelming majority, to constitute Sri Lanka into a Democratic Socialist Republic, while ratifying the immutable republican principles of Representative Democracy, and assuring to all peoples freedom, equality, justice, fundamental human rights, and the independence of the judiciary as the intangible heritage that guarantees the dignity and wellbeing of succeeding generations of the people of Sri Lanka and of all the people of the world, who come to share with those generations the effort of working for the creation and preservation of a just and free society.
We the freely elected representatives of the people of Sri Lanka in pursuance of such mandate, humbly acknowledging our obligations to our people and gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain and preserve their rights and privileges so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured. Just, social, economic and cultural order attained, the unity of the country restored and concord established with other nations, do hereby adopt and enact this constitution as the supreme law of the democratic socialist republic of Sri Lanka”
Even without a reference to the country, from its clumsy verbosity, the originating country could easily be guessed at.
Words, words, words!
If only they could mean something!