By Emil van der Poorten –
Immediately after I coined the title of this piece I was struck with its inadequacy in the matter of describing the Sri Lankan “reality.”After all, it seems that political memories are not simply short, they appear to be non-existent most of the time.
Take the continuing discussion in the electronic and print media of politicians, particularly in the matter of their being placed in a position to dictate the fate of the vast majority of Sri Lanka’s citizenry.
You have what passes for Sri Lanka’s “first family” in the matter of politics, the Rajapaksa’s. The most prominent of these is Mahinda who, literally, wielded power of life and death over most of us and, if circumstantial evidence is to be believed, didn’t hesitate to demonstrate that power and authority. A very interesting tidbit here is the fact that, on more than one occasion, an anecdote has been trotted out when, thanks to his intercession, the life of one who was being “white-vanned” to a final resting place was saved. The simple reality of a relationship with murderous abductors/killers seems to have escaped those making “objective” assessments of this episode in our recent sorry history: if you have a congenial enough relationship with the worst criminal elements in the country aren’t you a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution?
The foregoing is but one head of a Hydra-headed monster called complicity that Sri Lankans either fail to see or, more logically, choose not to. That attitude towards actions than are considered completely unacceptable in any society calling itself civilized, is the stage on which our political tragi-comedy has been performed, seemingly, since the time of that most cynical of Constitutional documents was brought into existence by J.R. (“Yankee Dick”) Jayewardene.
Take for instance the other names that are being bandied about as candidates for the most powerful positions in this country, if they aren’t already in them.
One thing that is forgotten about Ranil Wickremesinghe when his active supporters display their loyalty to him and the party he leads is the fact that he was, if an unobtrusive one, one of the premier and most consistent supporters of all that Yankee Dick stood for; not the most liberal or democratic of principles as anyone claiming to be even slightly objective would have to admit.
In the matter of dynastic politics in the ranks of the United National Party (UNP) you have the only son of a past President from that party whose assassination was greeted by the (joyous) lighting of firecrackers that I was witness to while visiting my homeland from North America where I was then domiciled. There is a certain irony that that man’s son is now held in quite high esteem in some UNP quarters and is allegedly the favourite of a very powerful electronic media outlet which has for a long time conducted a vendetta against Ranil Wickremesinghe and his supporters in the current government. “Byzantine“would be an accurate description of this corner of Sri Lankan politics. While maintaining an aura of loyalty to the UNP, this man plays his share of petty politics a part of which resulted in the resignation of a recent, widely-respected head of the Wildlife Department because he wasn’t permitted to act in the best interests of the real residents of the Yala National (Wildlife) Park, bending essential rules to accommodate the jeep-drivers who are more of a menace than an asset to the operation of that facility. When push comes to shove, this man continues to display the political cunning of his father, sans the vision that the father displayed, however flawed it might have been.
Then there is the current Speaker of the House of Representatives who, some would have us believe, is a candidate for elevation to the ranks of the saints for simply adhering to Parliamentary procedure. This is the man who led seventeen of his UNP colleagues across the floor to provide Mahinda Rajapaksa with the numbers to visit upon this country the most violent of administrations through exercising the might of numbers to make more draconian the already-draconian constitution of this country. Oh! But you say, “He saw the error of his ways, and returned to the fold.” Even if that contention is accepted, he did so after irreparable damage was done to the political fabric of this country and leaving behind his seventeen acolytes to continue the mayhem with the Rajapaksa Royal Family. And Sri Lankans can’t see these facts that have been staring them in the face for so long? Or is it simply a 21st century instance of a collective Nelsonian blindness? Pardon me, but I tend to lean to the latter explanation.
And among the motley crew that have returned to the fold, so to speak, is one who is the most prominent of the third generation of professional politicians who were not averse to jumping ship when it seemed to promote their immediate ambitions. This worthy has been elevated to the position of the National Organizer of the United National Party. It should be noted here, also, that this gentleman cannot be faulted in the matter of the skills he has demonstrated in moving hither and thither and yon on the political battlefield with no risk whatsoever, personally or politically. When one thinks back on those who sacrificed a great deal in order to support a political ideal of some description, this man’s adherence to ‘pragmatism,’ is more than obvious. Typically, he has brought along with him people of similar ilk, some owing their “eminence” to being associates of his father and having demonstrated a similar philosophy in the matter of “allegiance-flexibility.”
And then we have the “new guard” of the UNP, not tainted with the kind of sleaze that some of their more senior colleagues have, justifiably, had attached to them. One of these displayed a certain lack of intelligence when he admitted to making numerous telephone calls to the now-notorious Mr. Aloysius at the time that worthy was on the verge of being apprehended for allegedly master-minding the “bond-scam,” which, it has consistently been suggested, is the largest boondoggle in Sri Lankan history. His reason for the plethora of telephonic communications? He was “researching material for a publication” on the very same “bond scam.” The curious fact about the chronological sequence of those events was that the calls were made after the publication of the expose!
Those who have not tainted their reputations with similar shenanigans have not advanced the cause of honest governance because they have shied away from anything resembling up-front criticism of unacceptable policy or practice by their senior colleagues.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna as an alternative to what we are faced with? Their insistence on continuing to treat Rohana Wijeweera as one deserving of canonization in the face of that man’s espousal of cruelty and murder that stands with the worst in this land’s history, seems to preclude them from even a long shot at this country’s political leadership while there are still people who endured the living hell that was the late nineteen-eighties in Sri Lanka.
Not a great prospect for this land and its people who deserve far better than they’ve endured since the time of independence.
But we can and must endure even if, initially at least, it could well be by some Quixotic gesture of supporting a less well-heeled aspirant to high political office who displays a modicum of intelligence and principle. There was one potential candidate who rather “blotted his copybook” with many of us by refusing to state plainly and simply that he would eschew any type of alliance with the Rajapaksa clan to which he was related and which he, allegedly, had supported, on the record. Hard to advance the candidacy of anyone with ties to that lot I’m afraid! The other man who has consistently offered himself as an alternative to the current lot is Nagananda Kodituwakku who is, supposedly, not the epitome of bonhomie. However, beggars can’t be choosers at this point and you’ve got to start somewhere unless you are prepared to roll over and play dead!