By Emil van der Poorten –
Despite my family tradition as free thinkers making it difficult for me to quote from the scriptures or formal religious references, I really couldn’t find a more apt theme for this column, than, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
Beginning with a piece I wrote a while ago for the now-defunct Montage magazine, I have consistently sought to avoid the proclivity of those observers of the Sri Lankan political scene whose pet pastime appears to be Ranil Wickremesinghe-bashing.
If I came across as defensive of this politician then it was for two reasons. One was because I do not think it serves any purpose to treat anyone as some kind of political piñata even though it might be the “in” thing to do at the time. The other reason is because I had perceived Ranil as a latter day J. R. Jayewardene who hadn’t rushed the UNP into premature action against the SLFP coalition of Mrs Sirimavo Dias Bandaranaike but bided his time until the opportune moment presented itself and then delivered a historically crushing blow to the most prominent product of the Balangoda Ratwattes.
I cannot resist a qualifier to that last sentence at this point: I believed way back then that JRJ was simply the Machiavelli of Sri Lankan politics, singularly lacking anything resembling an ethical focus or a vision for this country and nothing since has reduced that opinion by an iota. That a host of loyalists of Sri Lanka’s Yankee Dick, close family included, have found very comfortable abode within the Rajapaksa edifice only confirms that fact.
Anyway, the recent contretemps involving the Chief Justice forced Mahinda Rajapaksa to conclusively reveal that under all the smarm and baby-kissing was a totally ruthless politician who, when the chips were down in terms of even minor impediments on the megalomaniacal journey of his government, was capable of grasping the nettle and clearing the decks, if I might mix my metaphors.
This behavior, apart from proving – if proof be needed – the caliber of Sri Lanka’s capo, had a most interesting by-product: flushing out the real Ranil Wickremesinghe, making that wanna-be emperor’s lack of raiment very, very obvious.
I don’t think this was intentional on the part of the Rajapaksa Regime because Ranil had been a most useful stalking horse for the Fascist Project that was building momentum and this flushing out of those parading in the disguise of “opposition” removes what was a small but important part of their democratic fig leaf. It has forced the people of this country to confront the grab for absolute power with no possibility of ignoring that reality this time around.
In taking the UNP down the road of appeasement, Ranil Wickremesinghe has had little real opposition from within the UNP’s ranks. Certainly not from the alleged “young Turks” in its ranks who were playing the same game as RW though with less subtlety. Other UNPers were accepting favours in travel and entertainment with large dollar and Euro implications. Of course, there was also the broad category of the UNP’s “class allies:” these being primarily businessmen, nominally supportive of the UNP, who, until crunch time, sought to create the impression of being brave and selfless defenders of democracy in Sri Lanka. What they were really doing, with the active assistance of a government that no one has ever accused of being principled, was keeping up appearances of a dedication to democracy, tut-tutting periodically about the “unacceptable behavior” of our current regime. This worked very well for those on both sides of the widening democratic deficit. Suffice it to say that I have personally experienced this in fields at significant distance from the governance of this country which has forced me to a realization of what their game plan is and where it is seeking to lead all of us.
The impeachment of the Chief Justice has really upset the apple-cart, forcing them, at long last, to come out of hiding. The tip of that particular iceberg was the picture which appeared in The Island newspaper that showed several UNP “firebrands” and their more staid colleagues having a great, good time with the President at a dinner (champagne and caviar, anyone?) on a day otherwise noted for its particularly nasty tone in the saga of the Chief Justice’s impeachment. The cat was truly out of the bag with that one picture speaking far louder than a thousand words!
Given the political bankruptcy of the United National Party, the largest opposition entity, does it leave resistance to the Rajapaksa juggernaut totally rudderless? I think not. I believe that, while it might take more time for those opposed to this singularly venal regime to organize formal resistance and an alternative to the status quo, the demise of the UNP has, in fact, removed an impediment to that journey. The history of Nicaragua, leading up to the removal of Somoza, provides a more-than-appropriate example of what can happen once an opposition like the UNP ceases to exist.
There have been political commentators like Kumar David who have consistently advanced the argument that what is needed is a single-issue leader who can capture the majority of the vote bank, immediately rescind a constitution that does little but subjugate the people of this country, set up a constitutional council that develops a democratic structure – perhaps even a modified version of the Soulbury Constitution which, warts and all, served us well – and then let the political parties loose to contest a general election and form an appropriate DEMOCRATIC government to run this country.
Previously, I have suggested that peaceful resistance is probably the only way to remove this monstrosity of a government that no one wants. As tough as that road might be to travel, it is the only path open because a violent overthrow will bring us additional grief of a dimension that no one in his right mind wants to see, except, perhaps, for the goon squads of Kiribathgoda.
In the meantime, I would suggest that the title of this column be emblazoned over the entrance to Sri Kotha!