By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
Three provincial councils have been dissolved, years ahead of time. Millions of rupees will be wasted on untimely elections, unneeded by the country and unwanted by the people.
These incessant elections are not about democracy or devolution; nor are they in popular or national interests. They are about shoring-up Rajapaksa-power.
Unseasonal elections keep SLFP (national/local) leaders in constant trepidation about their own political futures and thus disinclined to think beyond their positions, perks and privileges. This increases their dependence on the Ruling Family, for nominations, electoral assistance and political preferment. The consequent combination of fear (of political death) and desire (to prolong the good life of gilded-slavery) is a potent impediment to any inner-party resistance to Sibling-rule.
Unseasonal elections also enable the Ruling Family to increase the presence of Rajapaksa-loyalists (as distinct from SLFP-loyalists) in national and local assemblies. Incessant elections ensure the accelerated transmogrification of the SLFP from a Ratwatte-Bandaranaike fief to a Rajapaksa fief.
The Katuwana attack is a timely reminder of the dangers of opposing the Rajapaksas, politico-electorally. The threats meted out to the President of the Federation of University Teachers Association, Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri, demonstrate that under Rajapaksa rule mere criticism is a de facto crime. The 18th Amendment has emasculated the Elections Commissioner, turning him into a presidential-underling.
The unending elections happen in this landscape of repression, fear and abuse. They are more politico-propaganda gimmicks than real exercises in democracy and popular franchise – the electoral-equivalents of a Carlton sports encounter, guzzling funds which should have been spent on providing relief for drought-stricken farmers or reducing the tax-burden on consumers.
The provincial council system was enacted as a political solution to the ethnic problem. Today the South, which neither demanded nor wanted devolution, is being inundated with provincial elections while the North is deprived of an elected provincial council. The resultant absence of devolution cannot but render even more difficult the near-Sisyphusean efforts of Northern Tamils to rebuild their shattered lives, post-war.
Unseasonal provincial/local elections are not in Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or Lankan interests. They just serve Rajapaksa interests.
The Rajapaksas might have personal differences; or disagreements about how the power-and-wealth pie should be shared. But when it comes to protecting Familial Rule, the Siblings operate in a truly polyphonous manner.
Take l’affaire Kolonnawa. In the immediate emotional aftermath of the murder of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, Mahinda and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa were publicly decried by Bharatha-supporters as Godfathers of the alleged killer. Basil Rajapaksa worked tirelessly, soothing incensed tempers, calming the impending storm, preventing closet dissenters within the SLFP from teaming up with furious Bharatha-supporters and causing a pocket-revolt in the party.
Last week, the CID informed the courts that the AG’s Department (under President Mahinda) did not give a directive to record a statement from Duminda Silva (the protégé of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya). 24 hours later, Speaker Chamal presided over the foundation-stone laying ceremony for a Bharatha-statue. The two incidents in juxtaposition demonstrate, again, the Rajapaksa modus operandi; the seeming familial differences are often nothing more than a necessary (and useful) division-of-labour in protecting and promoting familial interests.
Country, nation, race, religion and party: all are ruses and slogans. The raison d’être of Rajapaksa Rule is Rajapaksa Rule.
Last week, award-winning actress-cum-environmentalist Iranganie Serasinghe appealed to the Navy “to refrain from engaging in activities that would have an adverse impact on the Panama lagoon” (The Island – 27.6.2012). According to the Spokesman of the Panama Lagoon Fisheries Management Authority, “the Navy had already acquired land belonging to the villagers and places considered by the Central Environment Authority as rich in biodiversity” (ibid). The Navy had built a jetty in fish-breeding grounds and cut down mangroves.
Conflate this outrage with the recent statement by the Army Commander about the need for “a complete overhaul of the Army along military and development lines” (Sri Lanka Mirror – 25.6.2012). The military, transformed from a state-entity into the Rajapaksa Praetorian Guard, will be tasked with implementing unpalatable and shady politico-economic dictats of the Ruling Family. A stake in the economy will be their reward for acting as Rajapaksa enforcers and yeomen.
The military, in turn, will bring into the economy the habits of lawlessness, abuse and impunity it internalised during the war. The ongoing devastation of Panama is but a forewarning of the ills of militarising the economy. These ills will impact as adversely on Sinhalese as it will on Tamils and Muslims. In their pursuit of profit for the Siblings and for themselves, the military will not discriminate between the majority and the minorities, and will not hesitate to treat as enemy-aliens anyone opposing their ‘developmental work’.
The Rajapaksa economic strategy is not aimed at promoting productive and self-sustaining economic development or popular welfare. Its aim is to create the necessary basis for Rajapaksa Rule by marrying familial political power with familial economic power.
In the Rajapaksa-book, development is a show, garish and gargantuan, with little relevance to the lives, occupations, needs and expectations of most Lankans.
The Minister of Higher Education is simply echoing the thinking of his masters – albeit his own inimitably execrable manner – when he celebrates the closing down of rural schools as a sign of development.
Rajapaksa development means agricultural decline and industrial stagnation, a crisis-ridden educational system and an under-funded health system, an ailing rupee and a ballooning debt plus worrying hikes in income inequality, inequality before the law and crime levels.
In dictatorships trains are no more punctual than in democracies. The former is better not at ensuring punctuality but at creating an illusion of punctuality. When real economic/developmental problems crop up in Rajapaksa Sri Lanka, they are swept behind a curtain of roseate hues, woven with interlocking threads of lies, deceptions and denials.
Last week when the rupee hit a new low, the Central Bank, instead of dealing with the problem, ordered commercial banks not to trade the rupee above 133.00 against the US dollar.
Maintaining appearances is all that matters. Let the basics haemorrhage and innards rot, so long as the economic-facelifts and developmental-makeup are in place.
So the regime which is going hell-for-leather to enforce the plastic crates law is planning the wanton destruction of pivotal agricultural land and the closure of the country’s sole Agricultural Institute, to build a domestic airport. If farmers, battered by government maltreatment and climatic assaults decide to sell their lands and migrate to cities, that would suit the regime. Their land, bought for a song, can be used to increase the worldly wealth and glory of the rulers. The resultant decrease in rural population can be hailed as another sign of development.
In ancient Greece the agora was a marketplace for goods and ideas. This dual function is symbolic of the totality of democracy, of its bipedal nature, political and economic. To be complete, and safe, economic democracy and political democracy must complement each other. An economic strategy which ignores the needs of the majority might ill-fit with political democracy. But such a strategy, which aims at enriching a minority, will be the perfect corollary of despotism.
Familial Rule must cause Familial Development.