By Sarath de Alwis –
“When there’s no worthwhile banner, you start to march behind worthless ones.” ~ Victor Serge in ‘Memoirs of a Revolutionary’
It is a charged, charmless finish line by a professional political commentator. It is also a clear, unequivocal statement that an astute political commentator could make, the kind of wordplay that Mario Puzo would have devised for his ‘Godfather’s consiglieri.
“……. based on my knowledge and experience as a professional journalist and political commentator in Sri Lanka, Mr. Rajapaksa is currently the candidate most likely to win the presidency in the December 2019 election.”
This consequential pronouncement appears in an affidavit given by a professional journalist in support of the motion filed by defendant’ Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s lawyers who seek to stay the proceedings before United States District Court in California on grounds that the proceedings will disrupt their client’s politicking in distant Sri Lanka.
I must confess, that on reading the news report, I felt devastated. Being ignored is hurtful. Gotabaya’s lawyers should have contacted me for a more explicit affidavit which I would have gladly proffered with some of my own observations on a possible Gotabaya presidency.
Nobody who says, ‘I told you so’ has ever been, or will ever be, a hero. That does not prevent me from saying I told you so.
In an essay captioned ‘Specter of Gotabaya’ published in the Colombo Telegraph on 15th March 2018 I predicted this turn of events.
Please allow me to brandish my foresight recorded in these columns eighteen months ago.
In that essay I said, “unless, this parliament succeeds in abolishing the executive presidency, Gotabaya Rajapaksa will surely end up the supreme law giver of this blessed island. And worse, it will be in the guise of redeemer of the Sinhala Buddhist tribe”
The purpose of this essay is not to dispute the conclusion of the political commentator or to assess how the statement would impact the legal drama unfolding in the adopted fatherland of the candidate.
That said, it would be churlish to dismiss the constitutive plausibility of the conclusion reached by the political commentator with that brilliant escape hatch ‘most likely’. The statement is an exceptional summary of the crisis politics of our land.
In this age of omnipresent, or I should say positively pervasive media, reality is what one perceives it to be from a given vantage. In addition to newspapers and television, our cellphones supply a relentless flow of information.
Let us be honest. The Gotabaya for president campaign has a substantial handle of control over creating its own statist narrative of modernism, nationalism and religious conservatism.
The political commentator in his affidavit makes a pointed reference to the ongoing indecisive and often chaotic debate in what he considers the other political alternative – the UNP.
He has chosen to ignore the declared candidate of the National People Power Movement.
The power elite behind Gota’s candidacy seems to think that they are ahead in the game. An assumption which in my humble opinion that is not at all farfetched.
This is an appropriate time for me to revise some of my own mistaken notions. I firmly believed that we should elect parliamentarians informed and educated. I don’t hold that view anymore. I have heard enough from Lawyer Ajith Perera and Economist Harsha de Silva to prefer reformed chain snatchers and distillers of illicit brews.
Lawyer Ajith and Economist Harsha have not only failed to grasp the contents of the 19th Amendment but have decidedly come out as stubborn proponents of executive presidentialism.
The presidentialism introduced in 1978 has over the years developed into what Max Weber the German sociology pioneer called ‘Sultanism’.
Max Weber borrowed the term from a form of governance that was familiar to his age. The Ottoman sultanate of Turkey. He developed the concept based on a ruler’s whims and fancies primarily based on unrestrained, unbound personal discretion- a form of oriental despotism.
It is that feature of Presidentialism that captures the imagination of our hidebound monks cloistered in feudal monastic fiefdoms.
Presidentialism and Democracy are not reconcilable. That is the simple idea behind presidentialism. Presidentialism tames the mob and drives the herd.
JRJ converted the aberration of a five sixth majority under the first past the post system into a presidency and a neo sultanate. He sought a presidential election by disenfranchising his main opponent. He preserved the aberration of a five sixth majority by the expedient of a brazenly corrupt referendum.
Presidentialism is what 18th century thinkers devised to replace tyrannical kings. They adopted presidentialism to represent national authority in place of the crown. In Britain and France, the people did not stop at deposing the king. They chopped off the king’s head.
We do not know what awaits us in the form of other presidential candidates.
The banter in the lounges of the ‘Royal Colombo Golf club indicates a general idea that the Rajapakse family is an indispensable factor in our march to modernity.
That is not surprising. Their idea of modernity is bizarre to say the least. They spend nearly one and half hours in traffic to get to office from their suburban homes. That daily waste of time and fuel is more than compensated by their ability to get to play golf at Hambanthota Shangri-La on weekends using the highway to Matara.
Mahinda ‘the magnificent’ has now spoken in favour of his chosen successor.
“Gotabaya Rajapaksa rendered yeoman service during his tenure as Defence Secretary. People can expect the same efficiency and effectiveness if he assumes the presidency,”
Referring to current president Sirisena’s observation that the 19th amendment has curbed the powers of the presidency he has tellingly declared that wielding power depended on the capacity and capability of the wielder of presidential power.
Mahinda knows what he is talking about.
At the beginning of the 20th century, in 1902 to be precise, the Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov introduced the idea of classical conditioning to the study of animal behavior. He did not realize then that his experiments would come handy to populist autocrats.
Pavlov found that his dogs were so used to him bringing them treats every time he walked in the room that they would salivate at the sight of him, even when he wasn’t in possession of anything edible.
There is a ‘Pavlov’ running for president. We are looking at this world through eyes of Pavlovian dogs! He is the ‘most likely to win’ says one possible picnicker counting on Pavlov’s biscuits.