By Sarath De Alwis –
“Politics – A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” – AMBROSE BIERCE, The Devil’s Dictionary
Contemplating a return of Mahinda Rajapaksa is a gut churning and an offensive experience to those in possession of even a minuscule awareness of the value of autonomy and freedom of the individual. Nevertheless, we must come to terms with the materiality that Mahinda Rajapaksa is an exceptional politician who continues to retain a substantial reservoir of mass support and adulation.
The return of the redeemer and road builder to that exalted status of the supreme law giver of the land is not an imminent possibility. However, his return to center stage as the parliamentary proxy of the oligarchy he spawned and the rent seekers he forged is clearly inevitable. Mahinda Rajapaksa is above politics. He is part of our contemporary world of realpolitik- that deals with not what is morally right or wrong, but what is real in substance and form.
Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency was successful in the systematic destruction of all independent agencies and institutions. He removed legal barriers that protected the citizen from the excesses of a state that defined the limits of its own accountability. He obtained pliant judicial decisions to justify the capricious conduct of his regime. He was remarkably successful in shaping public opinion in his favour. Above all he has constructed a massive network of Buddhist priests who are not hesitant to appeal to emotions and prejudices of the majority Sinhala Buddhists to further his political imperatives. This is a land where the official title of the Priestley follower is a paragraph of adjectives while the master is identified with two single nouns. When grandeur supersedes gravity, the faithful chant Sadhu Sadhu!
Mahinda Rajapakse losing his presidency was a near miraculous event. Pivotal to his defeat was the decision of the UNP and its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to allow the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga to precipitate an implosion within the Rajapakse monolith.
Even at this late hour the United National Party and its leader Mr. Ranil Wickermesinghe should chart its trajectory forward with an unreserved recognition that the ouster of the Rajapakse autocracy was possible exclusively and exhaustively due to the resistance and rebellion that occurred within the SLFP.
Comprehending what happened on 8th January requires apprehending what transpired at the New Town Hall on 21st November 2014. Elected Despots are not ousted by ballot alone. Despots survive on a combination of ideology, myth and symbol. Sinhala chauvinism was the Rajapakse ideology. The Asian hub was its manufactured myth. The Maroon shawl with its stylish knot exuding the authority of a hangman’s noose was its symbol. Dislodging the tyrant needed the kinetic energy of sudden and lightning defiance. This came from the segment of the SLFP headed by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
By voluntarily making way for his successful challenger to take over the Presidency of the SLFP, Mahinda Rajapaksa averted a split in the party when the momentum was with Chandrika led dissidents. After two months of UNP rule under the SLFP President he set in motion his return which was aptly called the ‘Nugegoda’ rising.
The fall of a regime does not bring change. It is only an opportunity for change.
The UNP made the monstrous mistake of interpreting the mandate of 8th January as a license to impose its own version of ‘change’. It failed to recognize the fall of the tyrant as an opportunity to build a broad coalition and social and political relationships that would eradicate the injustices and oppression of the ousted regime. Instead, it embarked on a partisan power project that alienated all other shades of political opinion.
When the then General Secretary of the SLFP Maithripala Sirisena decided or was persuaded to challenge the incumbent executive president, he was well aware of the momentous consequences of his decision. In his own words failure would have sent him six feet under. Success would have given him the executive presidency, and the privilege of living his normal life span. He also calculated that once in office he could gain effective control of the SLFP which was the principal stake holder of the UPFA.
But that was not how events unfolded. The poet Robert Burns was proven prophetic. “The best laid plans of mice and men go awry.” The SLFP it seemed had more men and mice intimidated by the awesome shadow of the redeemer and road builder of the nation.
The former President Chandrika Kumaratunga was then and is now ready to break any number of eggs to make the party founded by her father and nurtured by her mother in to a palatable democratic omelet. The ousted president Mahinda Rajapaksa remains equally amenable to break as many eggs and more to make the main anti UNP party in to a soulless neo fascist hot pan of scrambled eggs.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is not a brash dictator. He is the consensual warlord who after the military defeat of the LTTE installed a “permanent campaign” that shaped and still shapes political attitudes and arguments. Give the devil his due. He can in this age of digital communication concoct and manufacture popular approval and acclaim.
To Mahinda Rajapaksa and his group that includes competent – Dinesh, cunning Weerawansa, clownish Vasu and calculating –Dulles, compromise is a temporary accommodation to regain lost power.
The UNP and its Prime Ministerial candidate can also respond with a sure to fail compromise to retain its present unearned office or forge a sensible compromise that will revitalize the spirit of January 8th and create an enduring partnership for good governance.
Resistance to broad compromise that transcends ideology is a problem for any democracy that relies on competitive politics to choose its leaders. Continued mistrust of opponents will only facilitate the return of the barbarians not up to the gates but in to the heart of the citadel.
The social movements and the protest struggle that guided the Presidential election should reestablish its moral command over the coming electoral campaign. As David Caute says in his comparative study of the Liberal and the Marxist – Isaac Deutscher and Isaiah Berlin ‘morality and mitigation in equal measure is a rare and a wise combination. These are times when plain speaking is an existential imperative. This writer will vote for the JVP and hope for a UNP led administration!