Sri Lanka: Why Do I Care ?

I have written on this issue recently and I feel compelled to write again because, as a citizen who has never contemplated life anywhere else other than in this country and who has nowhere else to go, I need to make some sense out of the lunacy that is now consuming us.

by Anura Gunasekera

( November 11, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Over the last couple of decades, particularly after Mahinda Rajapaksa first became president in, I have written intermittently in various daily and weekly papers, on matters of political interest or significance. At the outset I must declare firmly that I am not a political writer per se or a professional journalist in the real sense of the word. That identification must be reserved for writers who own columns in various papers and regularly comment, comprehensively, clearly and learnedly, on current issues. I , on the other hand, belong to the class of agonized, ordinary citizens, who burst out sporadically when something they value is threatened; the kind of people who write indignant "Letters to the Editor", when they wish to focus public attention on matters of common interest or value.

Recently I scrolled through my early writings and noticed a disturbing trend. It is that of a gradual change in tone and content of the writing. I find that I have commenced with Hope, steadily degenerating over time to confusion, suspicion, disbelief, anger, discouragement, disillusionment, resignation , cynicism and finally despair.

Despair is now, today

Despair is when a man who first seemed eminently reasonable, articulate but not impassioned, strong in his convictions but unbiased, a man with an ostensibly clean past and who promised a clean, uncorrupt future, a man who promised credibly to right old wrongs and to prevent the commission of such in the future, a man who pledged, very convincingly , to redress inequities and to address inequalities, a man who swore to punish the guilty and to reward the virtuous, suddenly turns his back on everything that he promised before the nation to hold dear, and commits an act of incredible imprudence, that which is glaringly duplicitous, and plunges the entire nation and its machinery in to total chaos.

Despair is when a man who rekindled hope and provided a glimpse of a path to sanity, suddenly commits an act which is both absolutely deceitful and irresponsible . An act which, in the light of events in its immediate aftermath, proves totally damaging to the national fabric and recommits it to the noon darkness which once threatened to engulf it.

That man is President Maithripala Sirisena, the most unlikely president in a country in which dynastic succession in political power seemed to be a given. A quick appraisal of the kinship links of successive leaders of this country, apart from R. Premadasa and D.B.Wijetunge, will bear out my statement. Sirisena in the high chair is itself an aberration, a consequence of the desperation of a citizenry groping for rationality and a measure of righteousness of governance after a decade of corruption, abuse and misuse of state power and privilege, naked nepotism, subjugation of legitimate dissent and the suppression of minority interests.

Maithripala Sirisena actually stood before the nation two days ago and declared that Mahinda Rajapaksa as the purported new Prime Minister was a choice born out of his personal desperation, after two candidates he considered to be more suitable had turned down the offer, despite entreaties and blandishments.

I have written on this issue recently and I feel compelled to write again because, as a citizen who has never contemplated life anywhere else other than in this country and who has nowhere else to go, I need to make some sense out of the lunacy that is now consuming us. Perhaps, if ordinary people like us pop our heads over the parapet and scream from time to time, somebody will take note and something will happen. I have children living in this country, as well as grandchildren who may, as adults, make a life for themselves in the country. That is one of the reasons I care about what happens in, and to, Sri Lanka.

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s presence as a leader is the consequence of Prabhakaran, the terrorist leader of the North, writing the political narrative of the South through the suicide bomber and the assassin. If not for the violent deaths of Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and Ranasinghe Premadasa, it is most unlikely that Wickremesinghe would have become the leader of the UNP and, consequently, the Prime Minister. Despite having been the leader of his party over two decades and Prime Minister on more than one occasion, that he has never been able to become President is clear evidence of his toxicity to the greater mass of people of this country, when the voters are faced with a choice of not a party but one individual against another. However, whilst unequivocally conceding the glaring fault lines in Wickremesinghe’s administration and, also, of his personality, what is uncontestable is that his replacement is a man who was twice rejected by the nation in a twelve month period.

At the recent mass rally at Diyatha Uyana, convened to celebrate the Mahinda-Maithripala nuptials and to convince a confused public that this time the union is forever - possibly till death do them part - Sirisena made a startling revelation. The spouse that he foisted on the unsuspecting nation-family was not the first choice, nor the second. It was only after first refusal by Karu Jayasuriya and the second refusal by Sajith Premadasa that Sirisena had proposed to Mahinda Rajapaksa. A Hobson’s choice as it were. Perhaps Sirisena would have done better if he had conducted this selection through a lottery, closing his eyes and drawing names from a box.

Maithripala Sirisena actually stood before the nation two days ago and declared that Mahinda Rajapaksa as the purported new Prime Minister was a choice born out of his personal desperation, after two candidates he considered to be more suitable had turned down the offer, despite entreaties and blandishments.

Leaving aside the other provisions of the Constitution which suggest that the president’s removal of the PM is inconsistent with both its spirit and the letter, consider the provisions of article 42 (4).

"….. the President shall appoint as Prime Minister the Member of Parliament who, in the President’s opinion is most likely to command the confidence of the Parliament".

The provisions of articles 46(2) and 48 are specific as regards the appointment of a new prime minister, setting out clearly the conditions which provide the President with the opportunity of making such an appointment. If we are to assume that that the president, having discarded the provisions of articles 46(2) and 48, and was acting entirely on the powers vested in him by article 42(4), it still does not permit him to exercise his subjective and personal opinion, but an opinion grounded in an objective and constitutionally valid view as to who is most likely to command the confidence of Parliament.

At the Diyatha Uyana meeting the president made it absolutely clear that, that person was not Mahinda Rajapaksa but Karu Jayasuriya. It then follows that if the president was acting only in the broader interests of the nation and in accordance with Article 42(4), that the matter should have stopped there, when the person whom he considered most suitable as an alternative to the sitting Prime Minister, declined the invitation.

But what does president do then? Having failed to persuade the man whom he considered most suitable, he then turns to Sajith Premadasa, the man whom he considers the next best. When to his increasing disappointment and despair the second best choice also refuses the offer, the President - who has pledged before the nation to uphold the constitution and all that it entails - holds his nose to stifle the stench and approaches Mahinda Rajapaksa who grabs the opportunity, probably before Sirisena finished outlining his pitch.

In the context of the president’s actions and statements in the preceding fortnight, how do we, as a nation, assess the man’s nature? Is he a fool or a knave, or a disastrous combination of both ? How is it possible for the nation to continue to endure such a man as the president? Does not the unbelievably poor judgement, the lack of objectivity and the prioritization of a personal need against the national interest that this man has demonstrated, warrant a call for his removal? Remember, in his first address to the nation after October 26, that this man whined about the cultural gap that distanced him from Wickremesinghe , whilst more recently making totally inappropriate references to the " Samanala Group" within the RW administration. The constitution of the country does not address such issues when contemplating the conditions which permit the appointment of a Prime Minister.

The president’s desperation has clearly addled his senses. In a way, his confusion also reflects the tragic dilemma that this nation is also faced with, the lack of viable leadership alternatives. The voters are compelled at election time to follow the same path as Sirisena, who now triumphantly admits before the nation, to having replaced one scoundrel with another of a greater magnitude.

It is not necessary to elaborate on Sirisena’s previous opinion of Mahinda Rajapaksa as a man and a politician, expressed frequently at various public forums in the preceding four year period. Having appointed Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, it is now incumbent upon Sirisena to apologize to the man in public, recanting all the terrible accusations he made against Rajapaksa. Sirisena needs to confess, either that he is a brazen liar, or that he was completely misinformed about Mahinda Rajapaksa personally and of his previous administration as well. He owes that explanation toat least 6.2 million people of this country.

In a brief video clip currently in circulation, parliamentarian Eran Wickramaratne, in an address to an unidentified audience, spoke with a sense of despair which mirrors mine. In the context of the ongoing auction purchase of parliamentarians, he repeated a comment which he attributed to an unnamed minister." …. This system works for us. So why should we change it?". That brief, cynical statement encapsulates the appalling lack of integrity of leaders that the electors are forced to accept.

In a recent writing (The Three Losers and the Crisis) subsequent to the October 26 incident, journalist Sarath de Alwis has referred to himself as a "…..76 year old loony nut obsessed with human dignity and individual freedoms." I too would classify myself as such, whilst being a just couple of years younger than de Alwis, as a man with an equally ridiculous obsession about freedom of expression, decent governance, the need for the elimination of religious and racial bigotry from both public and private discourse and for addressing legitimate minority aspirations without equating them to threats on majority rights. These are just a few items in an otherwise long list of foolish, irrational aspirations.

That is also why we need to keep on protesting; because we need to care about the things that are dear to us, however derisible they seem to be. I care deeply because I firmly believe that all those spectres which used to haunt my consciousness - and possibly that of all decent people - which had begun to recede in recent years, will once again reappear if the country returns to a Rajapaksa dispensation.


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