The new President, Ranil Wickremesinghe, recently selected and appointed by 134 Members of Parliament, is the main protagonist in an unfolding morality tale, political in category, a tragedy in the making.
Quite unlike in Hans Christian Andersen’s morality tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, where no one dared to tell the emperor that he was naked, many have warned President Ranil Wickremesinghe that his style of governance, added to the method of his ascent, is a difficult combination to swallow, and is being rejected by the Aragalaya, condemned by civil society, and denounced by the religious community including the Catholic clergy and Buddhist monks supportive of the people’s protests. And this, after only a few weeks in those new clothes.
But then, he didn’t take long to soil them, not even 24 hours.
Old Bag, Old Tricks
Having forced President GR to vacate the premises, the People turned around to find that a far worse prospect had taken up residence without their consent. The new occupant had brought along with him an old bag of tricks which he promptly unpacked and unloaded on the people. Alarm bells rang when in the early hours of the morning after the swearing-in, troops swarmed on the Galle Face protesters and began beating them with sticks and wires. Hitherto treated mostly with politeness by the authorities who had been in negotiations with them, the protestors were taken by surprise as were the people. And predictably, things have been heading south from there.
A prominent Aragalaya activist popularly known as Ratta, never seen to be violent, and a sane, moderate voice on behalf of the protesters, was just arrested as he voluntarily gave evidence at the CID. A worrying testament to the growing irrationality that guides the new President. Who exactly has taken the reins of our government?
Having arrested several protesters in unorthodox fashion, the President is now in pursuit of a priest. Why is he after Father Jeevantha, the Catholic clergyman? The priest was a prominent protestor at the Aragalaya, representing the people of his parish who are the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten; those at the lowest end and therefore the most vulnerable to the ill-conceived policies of governments. The Wickremesinghe administration, as if it had nothing better to do in a country that is bankrupt and on the edge of a precipice, has seen fit to prioritize sending the Police from church to church looking for Father Jeevantha!
The Cardinal wasn’t amused. Nor were 1640 priests and nuns who issued a statement questioning the President’s sense of civil and political rights, urging him to cease and desist and to get on with the job of saving the country from economic disaster. He has one job, at this time of economic crisis. Is he doing it? Or is he determined to empty all of that bag of tricks before he gets down to serious business, so to speak?
President’s New Clothes
Since he ascended the throne, protesters have been pulled off planes and buses by law enforcement, and even abducted in (trademark) white vans. While the government’s focus has been on subverting the Aragalaya, an unusually high number of people have been shot dead in broad-day-light, mafia-style, and three dead bodies have floated in from the sea near the Galle Face. A student from Kelaniya claims that he was forcibly taken in a white van and questioned, threatened with planting drugs on him, and abandoned on a road after 3 hours of interrogation. This is going way worse than anyone expected. And not a dollar in sight for the economy, yet.
The President has been told that his conduct was utterly unbecoming and unacceptable. People have questioned his boldness (or rashness) in unleashing repression as an unelected president, only there due to a constitutional provision and the show of 134 discredited hands. They could raise those hands again for fresh elections but that would go seriously counter to their self-serving logic.
So, the President has been warned. The naked truth is that the new clothes don’t fit him that well, and he is acting strange in them. Sri Lankans, quiet until provoked beyond reason, have told him that this will not end well. There is no evidence that he is listening. Listening wasn’t his strong suit anyway. Over the 25 long years he has been in the business of politics, that endearing quality of just not listening ensured that most of his party left him and formed themselves into another one, doing much better at their first showing without him. At the same election, he lost his seat. And yet, here we are, all in misery, except perhaps the President.
The Next Deluge
The President having prorogued Parliament, is preparing to give the ‘Throne speech’ today, August 3rd. As the Americans say, “never mind what he says, watch his hands”. We have already watched his hands. A champion of human rights when out of power, is violating them like there is no tomorrow in a masterful display of hypocrisy, at the worst time for the country. Reputed to be the one hope for dollars due to his unsurpassed ‘external connections’, there isn’t any evidence of them. What is in sight however is a Chinese ship and an Indian protest, and the makings of a geopolitical disaster in our waters. The chance of economic support each of them may have meant to give us may sink in the Indian Ocean. A right Royal mismanagement of our international relations.
There will be a moral to this story, and it won’t be because the people didn’t dare articulate their discontent. It is becoming clear by the day that there will be ‘the deluge’. Another deluge, like the earlier deluge, is bound to hit the fortress of power, sooner rather than later.
Actually, the next deluge may be the solution. That it is coming, is beyond question given the conditions that are being created. And when they are ripe, we may see the story begin to end and the moral lesson emerge, hopefully to be learnt fast. The tragedy however, is already written by the 134 hands, and will be played out to the bitter end.