26 September, 2020

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The Application Of Religious Exhortations To Sri Lankan Politics!

By Emil van der Poorten –

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!

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    Mr v der Poorten,

    Peaceful resistance will never work under the prevailing conditions in Sri Lanka. The Rajapaksa brothers have already got the country and it’s institutions in a vice grip. Peaceful resistance will be brutally suppressed, especially now with the CJ under their command. I am not suggesting a violent mass revolution which will certainly result in many deaths but a small group of determined citizens to plan and execute the elimination of you know who. This is the only solution to save the country and it’s people from the Rajapaksas.

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    United National Party has become Uncles Nephews Potty. We have a character like Mr Bean indulging in various antics much to the amusement of the people. If it was a acting for a show it would be acceptable but when it is a matter of national importance it is a tragedy. Latest episode ‘Mr Bean in Venice’. As reported in DBSJ’s blog.

    While the entire country was watching all agog the impeachment saga, in which the government and the Chief Justice were the main actors, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was playing a duplicitous role behind the scenes, which was known only to a few people.

    There had been a secret understanding between the government and Wickremesinghe over the impeachment from its very inception. His visit to Venice for a vacation was a result of that understanding. So, when the debate over the impeachment was raging in the country, Wickremesinghe and his wife, Maithree were enjoying rides in gondolas in the beautiful city on water as we disclosed in our column last week. We are in a position to reveal more interesting details about Wickremesinghe’s visit to Venice.

    Ranil had arrived in Venice with his wife, Prof. Maithree Wickremesinghe after having made arrangements to check into a super luxury hotel in Venice at the expense government. So Ranil immediately on arrival in Venice got in touch with Sri Lanka’s envoy in Italy, Asitha Perera, who happens to be a close relative of his. Asitha got his embassy officials to reserve a suite in the Hilton Hotel for a period of two weeks for the Wickremesinghe couple. The External Affairs Ministry here, in a matter of few minutes, learnt that Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Italy had reserved a hotel suite for the Wickremesinghes on the embassy account. The ministry high-ups lost no time in informing Asitha Perera that the embassy should not play host to Wickremesinghe and his wife at government expense. “If you are keen on hosting the couple, you may do so at your own expense,” ministry officials had told Asitha Perera.

    Following, the External Affairs Ministry directive, Ranil had to reserve a suite in a less expensive hotel that cost only US$ 400 a day.

    Ranil returns to hotel

    A highly disconcerted Wickremesinghe lost no time in informing the government top brass here about the predicament he was in. Within minutes, the Sri Lankan Embassy in Italy received an order from a high government authority here that the Wickremesinghe couple be provided with all facilities for their stay in Venice adding if the embassy could not release funds for this purpose, the government could channel adequate funds to the embassy from a separate source to cover all the expenses in connection with the visit of the Wickremesinghes. The Sri Lankan Embassy in Italy lost no time, thereafter, to transfer the Wickremesinghe couple to the super luxury hotel they had initially reserved for them. And thus the initial hiccup easily got over; a trouble- free vacation in Venice began for the Wickremesinghes.

    On hearing that the UNP Leader is on a vacation in Venice, the office- bearers of the UNP Branch in Italy, who were highly concerned over the developments in Sri Lanka, decided to discuss the current political situation in the country and the steps being taken by the party leadership to meet the political imperatives called for by the developing crisis over the impeachment process. These party activists who sought a meeting with Ranil were shocked by the response they got from the party leader.

    “We have come to Italy to relax, not for politics,” was Ranil’s curt reply. “Why don’t you leave us alone? I will speak to you all when I visit Italy next time.”

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    “We have come to Italy to relax, not for politics,” was Ranil’s curt reply. “Why don’t you leave us alone? I will speak to you all when I visit Italy next time.”

    Nero was playing the violin when Rome was on fire.

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