By Asoka N.I. Ekanayaka –
With hindsight it would seem that all attempts by Ranil Wickremesinghe and his cronies in a dull mediocre incompetent “Pohottuwa” supported government, to form an “All party national government” have so far been a laughable exercise in futility and deservedly so. Whatever the enticements that might have been offered, pressures applied, manipulations resorted to, pleading and persuation with which they may have sought to cajole politicians of the opposition parties to come together in the humbug of a national coalition so as to create the veneer of a stable government that would impress international agencies and bilateral donors, have been a dismal failure. All the rhetoric and optimistic speculation intended to raise public expectations of a unity government have come to nothing. Such a pathetic end result to what was from the start a dubious exercise was of course entirely predictable. Any political initiative that is driven by doubtful motives and lacking in moral principle is bound to fail.
Wickremesinghe’s pathetic struggle to form an all party alliance is a good example. In the first place the whole initiative was fueled by questionable motives. It was seemingly driven more by the imperative of crafty political expediency and survival than by selfless public interest and true compassion for the tragic victims of a nation in ruins; by the need to give the appearance of respectability to a tottering government despised by the people and distrusted by the international community than any genuine desire to harness the best brains and talent bringing together men and women of dedication ability and integrity so as to generate international confidence and promote the true political stability demanded by the world as a condition for helping Sri Lanka. Whether the impetus to form an all party government might also have been insidiously motivated by the hope that it would break the SJB marginalise its leader and eventually help resuscitate a moribund UNP, is of course a matter of speculation !
Wickremasinghe himself an inept unpopular political failure having led his own party to ignominious defeat and suffering the humiliation of losing his own seat at the last election had crept into parliament though the proverbial back door. Thereafter through a mixture of fortuitous circumstance and a constitutional sleight of hand (which though perfectly legal was totally lacking in moral legitimacy) he was catapulted from virtually nothing to being president of the Republic! This meteoric ascent was achieved with the dubious support of some 134 political riff-raff who included the worst and most unscrupulous elements of the former corrupt and diabolical SLPP/SLFP government, which must take full responsibility for destroying the country and the untold suffering of its people.
That promotion to the highest office in the land should be with the dubious assistance of such erstwhile bitter political foes whose superficial support on this occasion may belie an inward contempt and ultimately prove ephemeral, does not seem to bother the pragmatic beneficiary of their momentary affections. In the dull unimaginative pedantic narrowly legalistic thinking of a pragmatic presidential upstart, all is well so long as it is in conformity with the small print of the constitution. To confidently bear the title and play the role is what matters to “a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more” (Macbeth Act V Sc 5) while with his head in the clouds he nonchalantly performs to the jeers of a national audience that holds him in derision.
But the grim reality of the situation is not easily dispelled. It is the reality of an unstable government consisting of an unelected president lacking credibility who now rules precariously with the patronage of the very political elements who ruined the country in the first place. No wonder from the time this shaky combination assumed office they have been trying tooth and nail to cover their nakedness with the fig leaf of an “all party national government” so as to give themselves a shred of respectability. So much for the questionable motivation underlying attempts to form an all party government.
But it can be argued that the whole idea of an all party government is also misplaced in that it runs counter to the prevailing public mood of cynical distrust of political parties altogether. The people of this country are not so foolish as the asinine way 69 lahks of them voted to their own destruction at the 2019/2020 elections would seem to suggest. At least they have now come to detest political parties who are widely perceived as the villains of the peace. Political parties are seen as the systemic cause of the nation’s downfall not the solution. Politicians are by and large despised and distrusted as a class of parasites who have taken to politics drawn by the perks and privileges of power and to enrich self rather than engage in sacrificial service. Political parties are widely perceived as having been the bane of the country ever since independence. Consequently where each political party that has ever governed the country has been in and of itself a dismal failure in the best of times, it is surely ludicrous to imagine that a combination of such political parties in the form of an “all party government” might be a success in the worst of times !
It is worth digressing to reminisce how the rot started in 1956 with one political party the SLFP diabolically manipulating the low passions of the foolish masses and seizing power on a narrow racist platform of rabid Sinhala Buddhist linguistic nationalism. In the words of Lee Kuan Yew “it was the start of the unraveling of Ceylon”. Literally overnight the trust between ethnic groups was shattered sowing the seeds of racial enmity that would germinate into the regular bashing of minorities, inevitably provoking a terrorist response resulting in the horrors of a brutal war that would last for years and ruin millions of lives. Moreover in 1956 all notions of excellence and elitism were thrown overboard as the so called “age of the common man” was ushered in glorifying a cheap populist egalitarian monolingual mediocrity leading to a leveling down and the erosion of standards that has bedeviled nearly all institutions ever since.
From 1956–2022 it has been downhill all the way with sporadic hopes invariably followed by dashed expectations as successive political parties (despite some commendable initiatives from time to time), have in their own way fooled the people and contributed to ruining the country. Political parties enslaved by outdated ideologies and bent on deceiving the masses with false promises have been unable to pursue a consistent rational economic policy. Political parties have been intimidated by militant trade unions and have cringed before the yellow robes of a corrupt racist power hungry Buddhist establishment that is a disgrace to Buddhism, and from whose clutches they are still unable to break free and boldly stand for a secular society. Furthermore over the years political parties have been increasingly infiltrated with half educated riff-raff, political thugs, corrupt racketeers, and moral lepers of various kinds who now call the tune and have increasingly brought the hallowed institution of parliament into disrepute.
Most of the political parties that have thus failed the nation since independence have been versions of or coalitions with the original SLFP which started the rot in 1956. They have also included various puerile left wing Marxist parties which like today’s JVP have contributed nothing apart from their nagging self righteous vocal criticisms, and tendency to disrupt public life by manipulating both trade unions and student unions which they have infiltrated and ideologically brainwashed. The charismatic leaders of such left wing socialist parties now long dead and gone, notwithstanding their much acclaimed intellectual credentials fine speeches and liberal pretensions were at heart diehard ideologues and in their day apologists for the now discredited monstrous regimes of the former Soviet Union and China where millions were slaughtered in the name of ideology. Finally especially after 1977 the political putrefaction spread like a cancer to engulf the UNP too which then became enfeebled and corrupt to the point where at the 2020 election the party was wiped out, the best people deserting to form their own party, and its stubborn colourless leader suffering the ignominy of losing his own seat.
That in a nutshell is the sordid record of political parties since independence from the perspective of a disillusioned resentful 77 year old who has seen it all. Now amidst the shipwreck of the biggest catastrophe to hit the country, to imagine that the answer lies in an aggregation of such political parties in some insipid “all party configuration” makes no sense. We hear the atmosphere is fouled by the stench of several piles of garbage each making its own contribution to the foetid malodour, it is fanciful to imagine that a new mountain combining samples taken from each pile would exude a fragrant aroma!
Notions of “all party governance” are also predicated on the false assumption that each party has the same value as all the others such that in some way the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts. But that is a completely inappropriate application of the Aristotelian axiom. In the present case none of the 17 political parties of the SLPFA (including the SLFP) which made Gotabaya president in 2019, whose 145 MPs formed the government in 2020 and voted for the notorious 20th amendment, can be members of an all party interim government. They are all immediately disqualified because it is their government that precipitated the present catastrophe. They have one and all been shameless lackeys of a corrupt and criminal notorious family oligarchy under whose evil rule the country has been devastated. Those who have caused the problem cannot be part of the solution. Far from being included in an interim “all party government” to rescue the country, if there was any justice in this country some day the members of such parties should at least be deprived of their civic rights for their part in returning Sri Lanka to the stone age.
Notwithstanding the lack of any moral or rational basis for an “all party government”, it is nevertheless sad to observe people (including many from the so called educated and professional classes), who seem to be disappointed that the SJB and its leader have refrained from joining such a dubious coalition, and mistakenly interpret such reluctance as weakness. Perhaps such critics have not thought deeply about the issues discussed in the preceding analysis. Or maybe it is the selfishness of those who want a quick fix to their immediate personal inconvenience no matter who gets together with whom and what principles are compromised. At any rate their attitude is consistent with the contemporary post–modern mindset that rejects any notion of absolute truth and believes in the mantra of inclusivity on the basis that truth being relative and there being goodness in what everybody believes all are capable of contributing. Such thinking leads to endless tolerance and accommodation where unity is considered the highest value and peace at any price the ultimate goal. Sham harmony is preferred to righteous conflict. Engaging in the pretence of ‘good disagreement’, “endless compromise” and ‘walking together’ are the prevailing fashion in a post modern culture where people are expected to hold their beliefs with as much slack as possible and avoid being judgmental. That is the weak and insipid attitude of Sri Lankans who are critical of opposition parties for having the wisdom to stubbornly stand by their principles and refuse to bite the poison bait of Wickremesinghe’s call to participate in the sham of an “all party government”.
The Case for an Interim “Meritocracy”
The obvious alternative to the humbug of an “all party government” is the formation of a strong credible interim government of “Meritocracy”. One hopes the President whatever his own lack of credibility would have the good sense even at this late stage to undertake such an initiative, even though one despairs of him doing so. In practice this would involve bringing together an elite exclusive group to form a unified high profile interim government with the Leader of the opposition as Prime Minister. They would comprise an exclusive “meritocracy” consisting of the most educated, intelligent, upright, hardworking, competent individuals of known integrity, drawn from amongst the 225 members of parliament. In this team Wickremesinghe must have the humility to regard himself as no more than the first amongst equals.
This may be a stiff challenge considering the paucity of talent and stature in the present parliament. But it should be possible to identify about 25-30 individuals who meet the criteria of a strict meritocracy. In the event whether such an elite group might inevitably be drawn from one party or several is irrelevant. All that matters is that they meet the rigorous criteria of a meritocracy. As things are it is likely that such a “meritocracy” might have to be composed purely from amongst members of the opposition parties. If so, so be it. All 145 + MPs who belong to the parties of the previous government would be automatically disqualified for the reasons already demonstrated. Considering their personal limitations and record of betrayal and sycophancy as members of an abominable government responsible for plunging the country into ruin, none would meet the rigorous criteria required to justify their inclusion in a “meritocracy” .
The formation of such an interim “meritocracy” would immediately result in political stability. Abandoning the futile attempt to form an all party government will give millions of citizens who have come to detest political parties a sense that their voice is being heard. The formation of such a “meritocracy” will tell the world that for the moment at least Sri Lanka has an honest government of good men who are committed to eliminating corruption. This will restore the confidence of international agencies donors and creditors, and evoke the compassion of the wider world. Such a government of “meritocracy” as proposed will be a breath of fresh air that will induce a measure of peace and hope in the midst of suffering, and help mark time until conditions allow elections to be held as soon as possible.