By Kumar David –
There is a prominent vacancy in Lanka’s political terrain; all previous occupants have absconded. The vacant lot is called liberal-democracy and its traditional occupants were called the UNP and the SLFP in a game of musical chairs. For a while it was usurped by a neoliberal authoritarian called JR and after 2012 though Ali Baba and his forty thieves occupied centre stage the state itself remained largely liberal-democratic. There was gentleman-liberal (Dudley), populist-nationalist (SWRD), centrist republican Mrs B and even a harum-scarum Chandrika. But give or take a bit here and there, and except for a ruthless bent on the Tamil question, the state from 1948 to 1983 remained liberal-democratic and largely so even after that. Now the opposition is impotent and deeply divided. In fact, there is no organised liberal opposition at all to an evolving Authoritarian-Militaristic project. The JVP on the left, if it does well on 5 August, will be a different sort of barrier; but the liberal version is all but dead. The regime has used coronavirus as a smokescreen to strengthen its stranglehold and outflank the two flavours of the UNP and miserable rump SLFP.
A seventy something year tradition is evaporating. The metamorphosis that has begun could end in wholesale transformation. The UNP is shambolic and chaotic like never before – not even after the defeats of 1956 and 1970 did it fall into such a pitiable state of nothingness. The Tamils and the TNA are exhausted, they have given up the ghost; what else is there to do after the LTTE danced with the devil while the military buried the Tamils. The Muslims are on the backfoot without the capacity to resist refulgent Sinhala-Buddhist mass hostility flaring through Presidency, Military and State.
The Friday Forum declares that the blood and thunder Task Force “established a military regime within a civilian regime and a parliamentary democracy”. The US, Commonwealth, Indian and CPC controlled Chinese military baulk at moving against the people, but Gota’s putative model seems to be derived from Burma and pre-Imran Khan Pakistan. Therefore, there is a need to create afresh an entity (a front, an alliance, a gathering place of some form) specifically charged with protecting and enlarging democratic spaces. Despite election fever and election pandemonium, or maybe just because of it, it is good to get started before the elections.
Some readers may raise an eyebrow about a Marxist zealot getting excited by democratic passions. The answer is that the task requires participation of the widest sections of society not just leftists. A pluripotent mobilisation of many social classes, ethnic groups and people of different political hues who are willing to come together in defence of democracy will be opportune. Lanka’s youth is strangely docile at this moment when in the US (Black Lives Matter), Hong Kong’s rioters, European populists of the left and right and in nearly all South and Central America, young people are on the march. I can’t fathom this somnolence but the young must be woken up. This is not a left-only but an everybody job. A democratic league by any name should be gathered together. A task, exceptional to these times and circumstances, has to be addressed by a wide alliance. As a political mission (democracy) does not require consensus on economic policy. For this reason, it is an “All are welcome, all Party” gathering. It should be about democracy in political space and decency in public life. I for one have other fora in which to ventilate my Marxism and leftism.
For these broad reasons, we must also watch how government initiatives to ameliorate distress to the public fashioned by officialdom work out. An Ombudsman Office has been created to address public complaints and grievances. A former DIG, S. M. Wickremasinghe, has been given the responsibility. His task “Is to provide solutions to distress caused to the public by negligence or excesses of public officers”. In principle excellent; a democratic task. I am assisting a friend with a very distressing test case of a personal nature to approach the Ombudsman. I will keep readers appraised, in broad terms, how efficaciously and fairly the new Ombudsman gets cracking. Let’s say “best of luck” to Mr SMW because these things are complicated.