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Sri Lanka: Political somersaulting of patriotic candidates

Of course, today Sri Lankans of all varieties rush to Singapore for medical attention on lesser ailments. So why not the Rajapaksas?



by Gamini Weerakoon

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the widely tipped Pohottuwa candidate, was convalescing at a Singapore Hospital after a heart by-pass operation, it has been reported. A bunch of the faithful from the Pohottuwa had gone all the way to Singapore to see his progress and wish him well. Such visits by second eleven leaders to prospective leaders are good political investments.

Gotabaya being treated in a Singapore hospital raises the ambiguity of the Rajapaksas towards anything foreign. They are taken to be intensively nationalistic and widely appreciative of Sri Lankans and anything Sri Lankan. So why go to Singapore for medical treatment and not to the trusted GMOA or even other qualified Sri Lankan doctors? A Pohottuwa supporter explained that ‘Gota’ had only gone for a medical check-up to Singapore and it was revealed only during the check-up that immediate surgery was needed. The question arises: Why not a medical check-up in Sri Lanka followed up with Sri Lankan heart surgery?

Gotabya Rajapaksa
Of course, today Sri Lankans of all varieties rush to Singapore for medical attention on lesser ailments. So why not the Rajapaksas?

The Rajapaksas, it appears, have broader visions and look over the limited horizon. They may be seeing America as the 21st Century Land of Hope and Glory, like England was when it ruled the waves. Most Sri Lankans would love a Green Card and the Rajapaksa family, it appears, has many of them — Basil, Gota and some other family members being citizens of America. A question that leaves me baffled is: Can an intense Sri Lankan patriot swear by the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America and not only claim to be a Sri Lankan patriot but aspire to the highest offices of the land? Here’s the oath:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

Renunciation of American citizenship is possible under American law.

But what of the credibility of a person who swears: “… I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or Citizen….”

What is the state or sovereignty that is being referred to when the person taking the oath is Sri Lankan? Isn’t it the sovereign state of Sri Lanka? What would have been the reaction had Ranil Wickremesinghe or Mangala Samaraweera taken such an oath?

And the person ‘who entirely renounces and abjures all allegiance, all fidelity’ to the Sri Lankan state, in a few years after that aspires to be the leader of Lanka to protect and defend its sovereignty!

It reminds me of the poem by Sir Walter Scott we learned way back in school.

Breathes there a man with soul so dead
Who never himself hath said
This is my own my native land……
Martyr for morality?

There are other aspirants, who have performed reverse political somersaults to those who are running for executive presidency.

Some of them defy analysis. President Maithripala Sirisena is being mentioned as a front runner for executive presidency although he was elected to abolish the executive presidency and on being elected declared that he would not contest presidency again. Now he is negotiating a political deal with the Opposition Pohottuwa group although the group has unofficially declared Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother Gotabaya as their candidate. Sirisena’s political strategies are indeed baffling.

With not many months to go for a presidential election, Sirisena is proposing very high moral issues that do not seem to be vote catching. He is vigorously pursuing bringing back the hangman for drug dealers who, while being held in high security prisons, are said to be still running their illegal and despicable business. While few have qualms over extending the severest punishment to drug dealers what has caused global concern is the reintroduction of the death penalty. Except the SLFP-led by Sirisena, all of Sri Lanka’s political parties, citizen organisations, professional bodies, are opposing the move. The UN has expressed concern and the European Union is threatening to impose sanctions, but Sirisena vows to carry on regardless. It is extremely doubtful that hanging drug dealers will win him votes.

In another moral crusade, he promised to eliminate the moonshine menace by May (in time for Vesak this year). But a recent WHO Global Studies report on Alcoholism in Sri Lanka says that consumption of illicitly manufactured liquor has gone up by 95 percent during the period 2003-2016. It is quite unlikely that booze consumption had dropped during the Sirisena years of 2015-2019, despite his efforts through police raids. Sri Lankans have guzzled illicit booze because of the ever increasing price of legally manufactured liquor. Intensive religious and ‘do-gooder’ campaigns, mass media piety, intensive police raids and Excise Department vigilance such as closing down of retail liquor outlets, banning women from buying or selling liquor or closing down of all sports and social club bars at the slightest provocation have not helped. Sirisena perhaps wants to go down in history as a martyr to morality.

If a drug dealer is hanged, what would the pious Buddhist from Polonnaaruwa say? Siyalu Sathwayo Nidhuk Wewa Suwapath Wewa…. (May all living beings be well and happy!)

Vertebrata

A prominent SLFPer, Kumara Welgama, is being singled out by the Pohottuwa leadership for the cardinal sin of opposing a Rajapaksa—Gotabaya Rajapaksa who was anointed not at a party conference but at a family dinner–as the next presidential candidate. He says he is supportive of Mahinda Rajapaksa but not Gota. His stand is difficult to comprehend, for Welgama would have known for long years that Mahinda and Gota have been like–as the pithy Sinhala saying goes—Jaadiyata Moodiya. They were through thick and thin and partners in many things in the gory days of their regime. Nonetheless, it is good to see signs of a backbone left in the Bandaranaike Party. It shows that not all belong to the genus invertebrata (no backbone) as members were called in the days of inception of the party. Political sources say that Welgama could be a front runner for the SLFP.

Veddah Chief a winner

An exceptional leader– Uruwarige Wannila Aththo, leader of the Veddah people–in an interview with the Sunday Times last week, when asked why he would not contest the presidential election, had said that he “doesn’t want to get caught in messy politics” and added that he did not want to get into the practice of fighting for small things as is happening in parliament.”

Apparently, the Veddah Chief, living in the wilds of Dambana, has a dim view of politics and parliamentary proceedings but if he does throw his hat into the ring or rather his axe into political ring, he will have a distinct advantage over all other contestants. He has an unblemished record–untainted by corruption, crimes and other wiles of the political tribe.

On the other hand being a Veddah or no Veddah, will an honest and innocent man have a chance of surviving in today’s political jungle? Being a political thug with unaccountable funds has a distinct advantage over honest candidates or less corrupt thugs. The electorate seems to relish corruption, thuggery and being conned. If not, how could thugs be repeatedly elected into the supreme legislature?

A true leader

‘One country, two systems, zero trust’, was the headline of a recent report on massive protests staged by residents of Hong Kong against a Deportation Bill which the protestors claimed would result in them being deported to China.

Sri Lanka’s problem is somewhat different. Ours is: ‘One country, two leaders and zero progress.’

It made us recall a quote on leadership of an ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism.

‘A leader is best when people know he barely exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves’. Such modesty, however, has disappeared in the 2600 years that has elapsed since the Chinese philosopher. The universal trend in politics today is to claim that everything good that happened is mine and the heap of rot is by my rival.

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