By Vishwamithra –
In the deep conclaves of libraries and reading houses philosophers and great thinkers exchange a vast array of ideas and thought, yet only a rare few of political leaders have come out as shining beacons studying the complex human condition and what cascades from that condition either to a benevolent or destructive effect on the future. While these great philosophers and thinkers are many and sometimes innumerable, those who chose politics as their profession or livelihood are a few and far in between. If the system of government is democratic in structures and processes, the most cynical kind of these politicians travel to unthinkable distances to exploit the weak susceptibilities of the average voter, to gain advantage over them in order to mount the high echelons of power.
If the system of government is non-democratic, then the suppression of the people’s freewill and other fundamental freedoms are easy to play around with since the path to power is not through the people, as one would say. Yet there is another system of government that prevailed especially during the time when the notorious Rajapaksas were in that exalted position. That is an amalgam between a President and parliament whose ascension to power was through the ballot of the voter yet the exercise of that power was absolutely dictatorial and autocratic. Owing to the inherent deficiencies in the Sri Lankan Presidential structure and organism, the concentration of enormous powers within the office of President did pave the way for easy exercise of arbitrary and draconian decisions and mean exploitation of two third’s powers majority in parliament. Impeachment of the then Chief Justice is a clear example. Mahinda Rajapaksa, with his uncanny charm and maliciously intended role-playing, presented himself to the broad masses as a patriotic and sincere political leader. That message was very clear.
However, if the message is clear and succinct on the surface, but if beneath that agreeable outer cover are concealed dangerous and unkind intentions of self-enrichment and immeasurable disregard for the common man whom he most pitilessly condemned as irrelevant and exploited as pawns on a political chessboard, then the Rajapaksas and their cruel henchmen belong in Dante’s infamous ‘First Circle’ of hell. On the other hand, the people of Sri Lanka chose Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family as their rulers in two consecutive times. Third time was a ‘No’. Although Mahinda’s message was clear and bold, but what lay underneath was exposed beyond an iota of uncertainty. Mahinda Rajapaksa and his clan did not bargain for the resistance that was shown towards their unscrupulous regime during the last Presidential election campaign; the anger and rejection shown by the civil organizations and a smorgasbord of academics, intelligentsia and commoners was manifestly visible.
Thus far and no further, the distance the people were willing to travel with the Rajapaksas, ultimately saw an end. The frustration and the feeling of being taken for a mammoth ride by a ruler who thought that his clear message and assumed-charm would sustain his corrupt and autocratic rule forever reached its peak during the 2015 Presidential Election campaign. A Cabinet that was equally corrupt and pathetic in its approach to complex political realities, a Cabinet that was happy and content with the bones that were thrown at them by the Rajapaksa siblings was taken by sheer surprise of an electoral victory for Maithripala Sirisena, a ‘commoner’ himself and a member of that corrupt Cabinet and also the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), S W R D Bandaranaike’s machine for the empowerment of the ‘common man’, waited with their mouths open and minds closed. Bandaranaike’s ‘common man’ won the day, once again.
Then what happened is another story to tell, or not to tell, depending on whom to tell. But the signs are no good. The utter lack of memory of the voter and the alacrity at which events unfolded and the idiotic errors of judgments committed by both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe contributed hugely to the disdain on the part of the general public. The people are not blind nor are their loyalties beyond boundaries. Corruption, whether it’s a part of the Rajapaksa’s ilk or associated is with the current administration, is corruption, period. Furthermore, members of the United National Party (UNP) being out of power for almost two and half decades does not give them a license to indulge in the same extremities as those who preceded them.
Being victims of the culture of corruption created over the last few decades, these politicos have chosen to play the same game to the same undignified rules. Barring the likes of Navin Dissanayake, Ruwan Wijeywardene, Sajith Premadasa and a few more, this shameful badge of corruption, allurement to money from ‘perpetual corrupters’, belongs to most in the current Administration, so the rumor goes. Alleged corruption is as bad as being proven guilty of that corruption. That is the cruel side of being alleged of lack of financial integrity. The optics of the allegation is more than sufficient for those who read only the headlines and that consists the vast majority in the country. Social media accompanied with some nasty headlines and cartoons can destroy an image of a political leader. State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe must be aware of this aspect of political image-building. Years of good work can easily be erased and totally eliminated by a single stroke of an allegation of corrupt practice, whether financial or otherwise.
It is this hodgepodge of governance and politricks we are dealing with today. But the voter does not care a damn about the nuances. His wants and desires must be met, at least half way, and tangibly. A sincere attempt by the politician is seen by the voter immediately and his allegiance to such genuine characters in this not-so-genuine profession could last a longer time than to others who openly exploit the profession with shameless proficiency. Dudley Senanayake was a personification of such honesty and integrity.
All these nuanced explanations might go unheard and unseen by the immediate cohorts of these politicians; yet the cryptic observations of the voter still matter. It should be a lesson for those in the UNP who aspire for leadership in the future. Whether it’s Navin, Sajith or anyone else, these fundamentals of leadership and management of mass movements have not changed and they will not.
In the current political environment in Sri Lanka, a clear and bold message with a craftily assembled organization would still be an unambiguous way to power. The UNP and the SLFP are running out of time. While the Rajapaksas and the ‘Pohottuwa’-gang have been slinging mud at the present regime in every occurrence possible, being engaged in the running of the country’s economy and its disentanglement from unbearable debt burden caused by the Rajapaksa regime and offering that as a reason or an excuse will not be accepted by the voter, common man or otherwise.
The Rajapaksas devoured the country’s wealth and good name. Their extent of corruption, nepotism and autocratic rule is not easy to surpass. Their indulgences are beyond the pale. Their avarice had no reasonable border. In short, they were not good rulers for the country. But the people must not be left to choose between two bad choices. If the people are condemned to choose the lesser of evil, it’s extremely injurious to the fabric of society; such condemnation would result in the people settling down to a mundane mediocrity. As it was with a decadent Roman society in the long drawn out fall of its Empire, our people too would begin displaying sheer disregard for decency; they would show callous concern for honesty and what looked like the beginning of the fall may have gone a way too far to contain.
That is not an alluring prospect for an island nation that showed tremendous potential in the nineteen eighties. An island of potential prosperity could easily become an island of shame and dishonesty; a people of unmitigated pride and morality could easily end up as shameless rags of humanity, meandering in a desert of hope and barren inspirations.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org