Colombo Telegraph

This President Has No Idea How The State Works

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Will this be a last gasp of sanity before we sink into disorder? This President has no idea how the state works

The Supreme Court issued an interim order staying till December 7 the proclamation issued by President Sirisena dissolving parliament” ~ News Reports on 13 November

Not only in Sri Lanka is there a visible meltdown of government. Sometimes the implosion is triggered by energisation of social discontent that has long been voiceless (Trump’s America) and sometimes it is manmade – which is not to deny underlying social causes – but it surfaces at particular times when someone in a cardinal position goes berserk (Sri Lanka and the Philippines). Mostly, chaos spills out of a stewing pot of poverty, corruption and economic failure (Venezuela, Brazil, Burma and places as diverse as Italy and Afghanistan). In this last named group, instability is baked into the very structure of society, state and recent history; the textbook horror story is Afghanistan. I will say no more about failed states like Afghanistan because Lanka is not a failed state in the usual sense; it is a failed polity. In recent weeks an incredible – literally incredible – manmade spectacle has been thrust upon us by Sirisena who has turned the country into a madhouse. As someone said of Trump, he is a bull who carries his own China with him.

There was no objective national motivation, irrespective of whether the motives were good or bad, for MS to strike out on this road to bedlam. Therefore the drive has to be subjective, personal; some promised, hoped for, or imagined private gain. In the event it has exploded in his face. Perhaps MR assured MS of a job after 2019. I say this not from inside information of which I have none, but from a common sense reading of the facts as my grandmother was wont to do; and the old dear was spot-on right nine times out of a ten. 

Sirisena is a write-off; I can’t repeat the foul imprecations saturating cyberspace, not even the most indulgent of editors would let me get away with it; but what about Mahinda? He is said to be shrewd in politics and astute in judgement of people, so why this incomprehensible lapse? Analysts will marvel over this conundrum for long; an astrologer? Mahinda was comfortable front-runner for parliamentary elections due in 2020. But now what? Mud stirred up by Sirisena has caked MR. Who but a born-yesterday baby will believe that this bizarre performance was not an MS-MR combo-concert? Powerful MR, advised by ignoramus GL, is leading dim-witted strawman MS. The upshot is that MR will be going into the election as underdog not top-dog! It’s time to fire GL; recall that Sir John slapped Ananda Tissa when the house of cards collapsed. MR’s credibility has been demolished.

The heart of MS’s problem is twofold; first, greed for fruits of continued office as I have said; second, ignorance of how government works, illiteracy of the concepts of division of power between the branches of state, and third, village craftiness that flopped into naiveté. How embarrassing it must be for justices of the Supreme Court to have to step in and teach this peasant the rudiments of his job. I will not say anything on specifics as it is sub judice but confine myself to political remarks. The interim injunction is a shot across the bow, an indication of thinking, in effect it is a last warning to Sirisena to revoke his rash Gazette(s). For Mahinda, if he is cunning, it is a chance to quit before his face suffers more damage. I have no idea what these dramatists will do, but a worst case scenario is what one of my Cassandra-like buddies said in an email on D-Day.

“Today (14 November) is critical. I repeat, MS & MR cannot back down. If Parliament meets today and passes a no-confidence vote on MR it will pave the way to impeach MS and it will destroy MR’s political credibility. Hence in their madness they may try anything, even try to use the Army to squash Parliament and retain power. Let’s see what happens”.

These fears did not materialise on that particular day though parliament told MR and his illicit Cabinet to piss-off; but the peril is not past. There are multiple legal and constitutional challenges to MS and MR that seem insurmountable, but the story will not reach dénouement in courthouse or parliamentary assembly hall, but in dark corridors, on the streets and in the gutter. For these reasons I have often said in this column that there are parallels between Mussolini and Mahinda – Sirisena is nothing solid, just piss and wind.

Mussolini and Mahinda

The first sample of a Mussolini style scheme came in parliament when boisterous MR-MS members disrupted proceedings and prevented a formal count. The voice vote, the Speaker opined, showed that the JVP’s No Confidence in MR motion had carried. Videos in circulation show SLPP and SLFP MPs behaving like hooligans and attempting to prevent a vote being taken. This is the first act in Sri Lanka’s March on Rome by our Black-Shirts clad in pristine white waula-nationals. Neo-populist neo-fascism will fight to the death, make no mistake about that. The liberal middle-classes and elites need to prepare for things the likes of which thy have never seen before. It is impossible to foresee every specific stratagem and subterfuge the black-movement will use; that changes by the moment. Everybody knew what was going on during the last two weeks but just what tricks Sirisena would conjure up was not always foreseeable. So like good boy-scouts we should Be Prepared.

Vasudeva, Gamanpila, Weerawansa and the filthiest chauvinists told a press conference after the parliamentary vote that they did not recognise the authority of parliament (they were evasive about the Supreme Court but their attitude was unmistakable) and most important, they declared that they would continue to govern. Dinesh issued a statement that they would not give up power. Such unmistakable Black-Shirt strategy! Mahinda will evaluate the next step depending on mass responses. There were unconfirmed reports of mobs gathering near parliament but the exuberance has fizzled out. Still, Bahu says in his 14 November article “A battle has started, both sides enthuse their followers in militaristic language; it is as if a civil war is on our door step”.

Italian fascism opposed socialism, liberalism and the enlightenment values of the French Revolution. It championed nationalism, deference to traditions, syndicalism and a commitment to a modernisation. It foreshadowed the modern neo-populist amalgamation of alt-right and alt-left socio-economics enabling it to win discontented workers and peasants in abundant numbers. Thus armed, former socialist Benito Mussolini became an orator. Though Mahinda is no orator he can call upon the services of demagogues and sycophants like Weerawansa and Vasudeva. Moreover, Mussolini courted industrialists and feudal land owners. In Sri Lanka the capitalist class is divided between its elitist Ranil wing and its more corrupt Rajapaksa loyalists. Though institutions such as parliament, courts, police and military will make a difference and though foreign influence, especially India, can be helpful, it is the involvement of the grassroots that will be decisive. 

In Italy, mania was driven to frenzy by political assassinations. When in June 1924 Giacomo Matteotti – who had written the book ‘Fascists Exposed’ – was murdered, the terrified ruling classes surrendered power to Mussolini who went on to install a dictatorship. We had the assassinations done a while ago, Lasantha, Ekneligoda and others. No longer are these shenanigans a political coup, no, it is a Black-Shirt style power-grab. If Mahinda is not stopped now the dictatorship that arrives in his wake will be ruthless. The MS-MR monster has created perilous conditions.

[I have to go on inspection of China’s new 12 km bridge on Thursday and Friday; in these fast moving times this piece may be dated when you see it].


Back from China (Saturday). It’s a madhouse; this man is mentally deranged, seriously, clinically. The usual solution in these cases is impeachment by bipartisan consensus, but this won’t happen here. If the affliction turns demon-purple 125 MPs will want to impeach, if sickly-green 95. With consensus out of reach will lakhs of people pour out in exasperation and seek to intervene directly? Then what will the police and military do; take orders from an unhinged boss? No IGP or Army Chief deserves this torture!  

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