By Emil van der Poorten –
Recently there has been, I don’t know whether orchestrated by the UNP or not, a fall back on “There is no alternative” arguments with Ranil Wickremesinghe as the beneficiary of the Hobson’s Choice scenario being depicted. The primary argument for this theory is the fact that the current government, from the very top down, is absolutely corrupt and beyond redemption and Ranil has never been tarred with the brush of financial dishonesty.
For starters, in and of itself, this is a pretty poor justification for putting someone as head of a country where he will inherit dictatorial powers over its entire populace. Even if Sri Lanka still had in place something resembling a democratic liberal constitution, it still would not be an acceptable choice.
You might well say, “Better half a loaf than no bread at all,” but after 2500 years of recorded history, this country should be aspiring for more than a tarnished bronze medal in the stakes of governance. Certainly, some in the rural neighbourhood that I inhabit appeared, a while ago, to be prepared to settle for ANY alternative to the present lot because they figured that no one could be more violent and corrupt and any change would be for the better. There is now a perceptible change in that response. Many of us are old enough to remember better times when we had far better governments running this country without the monumental corruption that is the current reality, not to mention the absolute suppression of dissent under one guise or another and that too with a ham-handedness that is indicative of the kind of arrogance only mad men would be guilty of. As a side-bar to that central argument it needs to be stated, that ham-handedness of that kind has another side to it and that is the knowledge, subconscious though it might be, that the current “glory days of impunity without limit” cannot last forever and when they end they will do so on a very sticky note. That is not simply crystal-gazing of a kind practiced by soothsayers in the deep south inhabiting four-storey houses, but simple logic that it does not take a PhD to comprehend.
Without beating around the bush, one needs to take a look at dramatic changes in the governance of countries that might well provide a clue to what might be possible. In fact N.O.T.A – “None of the above” – would be a more logical and practical response to what faces Sri Lanka today.
When the rule of the Czars became intolerable, the Mensheviks, “the minority”, led by Kerensky who were in fact Bolsheviks (the majority) in opposition to the Russian Royal Family and their hangers-on, were initially seen as the solution to the problem. For a variety of reasons, that equation changed and changed very dramatically and Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin et al emerged as the means of ridding old Russia of its oppressors.
Increasingly, many in rural Sri Lanka who probably have never heard of Kerensky see Ranil Wickremesinghe as playing a similar role to that played by that Social Democrat in the early years of the twentieth century. A “reformist” and an appeaser at a time when radical change is the only change that will bring anything resembling relief to a population faced with a soaring economic and democratic deficit.
As one who subscribed to the T.I.N.A theory for (too) long a period of time as it now appears with the benefit of hindsight, I am as guilty as the next person who subscribed to this belief.
Simply put, Ranil Wickremesinghe does not offer an alternative to Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family. While these two men might not be exact peas in the same pod, their broad policies are pretty much the same. The matter of toeing the line of the international financial institutions and pandering to the banks and local big businesses is symptomatic of that basic frightening similarity.
It is the seemingly small things that provide the clues to all of this.
Inconsequential as it might seem, the Chief Opposition Whip, John Amaratunga, going on an overseas junket with the President of this country when there is deep tradition of politics and private life not being separate provides a clue to the cozy relationship between the two parties whose foundation appears to be one of corruption. The fact that major functionaries in the UNP are, literally, employed by corporations that, on the surface at least, seek to “terminate, with absolute prejudice,” as that hoary old CIA dictum had it, the political (if not personal) career of the earlier-mentioned Mr. Wickremesinghe is yet another of the significant symptoms of the corrupt hypocrisy that prevails. I also remember another instance reported in the Sunday Times where an apostate from the government, now supposedly a virulent critic of that same government, exhibited paroxysms of fear and sought the intervention of one of his new buddies in the UNP to persuade the President that his birthday greetings were interrupted by a telecommunication breakdown and not by an intentional “hang-up.”
It is such seeming inconsequentialities that provide ample proof that this is a case of “Six of one and half a dozen of another” rather than “T.I.N.A” with Ranil W as the beneficiary.
In the circumstances, isn’t one being naïve in simply “hoping for the best” and buying into the belief that “anything has to be better than the status quo?”
I have been wrong in the past and I do hope that this is yet another time when one of my predictions comes home to roost! However, the simple logic of past behaviour being the best predictor of future conduct is something that is undeniable and, interestingly, that is what I am beginning to pick up from my rural neighbours who are suffering significantly more than I am and are usually prepared to accept even the smallest bit of relief from the huge financial burdens being placed on their already bowed shoulders. Where they will seek relief given that the current choices are pushing them inexorably towards a “None of the above” response to the choices before them, causes me and anyone with so much as a smattering of historical knowledge real concern because when that last straw breaks that particular camel’s back, the result is not likely to be an orderly and peaceful change of those who currently dictate our fortunes.