Democracy: The Rajapaksa Variety

The various Chintanayas since Independence

| by Gamini Weerakoon

(November 13, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) We were lounging in our haansi puttuwa enjoying the cool, cool waters of Nuwara Eliya (sorry Carlo) and thinking of our post independence political ideologies (Chintanayas)
This may be all propaganda by capitalist Western nations against Arab leaders who stood up to them. But questions are being asked how relatives and family members of these rulers who had risen from lowly ranks of the military came to acquire fabulous wealth.
The Senanayake father and son had no such philosophical thoughts. The father wanted Independence from the British and got it while the son wanted to make the country self sufficient in rice and nearly made it. Then came the philosophers and their Chintanayas: Bandaranaike principles, JRJ’s Dasaraja Dharmaya (principles of Buddhist governance), Premadasa’s 4 C’s (Co-operation, Consensus, Compromise …we forget the other but it was called the Four Cons by his critics), Chandrika’s Chintanaya vowed to eliminate Beeshanaya and Dooshanaya (Terror and corruption) and now we have the Mahinda Chintanaya.

Common thread
Students of these political philosophies say there is a common thread running through all these Chintanayas from JRJ to MR—Anything that the people think is beneficial and popular with them is attributed to the prevalent philosophy of the time and anything considered anti-Sri Lankan, unpopular, is treason and goes against the accepted Chintanaya of the time. Some cynics say that Nicolo Machiavelli and Kautilya would have loved to draw on such wisdom but that’s hypothetical thinking now.
Mahinda Chintanaya is abstruse philosophy. We were wondering whether it could be called a form of democracy, an application of humanitarianism, democratic- humanitarianism, humanitarian- democracy, sustainable fascism or undiluted nepotism.

Humanitarian wars
The Rajapaksa thinking, it has to be noted, has spread beyond the shores of Lanka. As we pointed out in a recent column of Serendipity it was Rajapaksa who gave the world the concept of ‘humanitarian wars’ and the Great Powers lost no time in lapping it up as was evident when NATO bombed Libya into the Stone Age for the humanitarian purpose of saving the lives of innocent Libyan civilians. Soon Syria’s President.
Bashar Assad will claim that he had killed over 3000 terrorists tprotect innocent civilians from terrorists. Sri Lanka, however, is no Libya, Syria or any other despotic Arab state. We are a democracy with a president and parliament elected by wide acclaim of the people. President Rajapaksa was elected twice democratically and he swore on election platforms that he would abolish the executive presidency which gave the holder of that office dictatorial powers. Instead, he enhanced the powers of the executive president while having a two third majority in parliament – an unlimited power that, which is often said, can make a man into a women and vice-versa.
Impermanence of promises
Perhaps he was guided by the Buddhist concept of anichcha—impermanence of all things animate and inanimate or by Greek philosophers such as Heraclitus who held that everything is in a ‘state of flux’: You cannot step into the same river twice for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you. It may have even been an elementary principle of physics, the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Every stable system tends to destabilise itself over a period of time.
All mighty empires and republics have degenerated over a period of time into the desert sands or been run over by the mighty jungle. It would be a sobering thought for the Rajapaksa regime and its supporters who after the ‘great military victory’ speak of lasting ‘till the sun and moon lasts’ (Ira handa pavathina thuru) that they too are subject to the principle of anichha.
Democracy the Rajapaksa way
Of course, the Rajapaksa regime can maintain that everything thing they have done is legal and democratic. The executive presidential powers are legal and constitutional – even enhanced presidential powers acquired by the 18th Amendment while ignoring the 17th Amendment whereby appointments to key posts to the public services including posts such as the elections commissioner, police chief, chiefs of the armed services and the chief justice are at his discretion.
The jailing of the man who was Rajapaksa’s main presidential opponent, his army chief and declared ‘greatest of military commanders’ has been declared legal and democratic too. Mohandas Gandhi had said that ‘nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person because he is unpopular. This is the real test of civilisation. In the Sri Lankan case it is much worse – the man was and is popular!
The words ‘law and order’ regularly emanate from the Rajapaksas but assassinations take place often and at times assassins of key public figures still roam the country or are abroad. Perhaps the sarcasm in the Voltairean quip, ‘An ideal form of government is a democracy tempered with assassinations’ has been missed. The country is so much wedded to democracy and committed to humanitarianism that chief murder suspects are treated with kid gloves by VIPs in the glare of national TV.
There are many such examples which are stoutly defended by the Rajapaksas as being democratic. The last was the nationalisation of the allegedly unutilised and underutilised privately owned assets which were developed on land purchased from the state. The Bill was drafted by a private law firm – not the Legal Draftsman’s Department – as is the usual procedure, rushed to the Supreme Court before any public debate could take place, brought before parliament and approved by the steam roller majority in parliament on the same day it was presented!
The Mahanayakes appealed for restraint; there was public outcry particularly on the nationalisation of two sugar producing companies which were making millions in profit. But humanitarianism apparently is not for capitalists particularly if they are patrons of the Opposition UNP. The interest of the national economy has to be given priority. The law is the law.
Nepotism of fallen despots
There are other similar issues to be considered but let them pass. Perhaps those acute observers of the foreign scene would have noticed that a common charge made against Arab despots such as Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and the much adored idol of some Sri Lankans Muammar Gaddafi, is nepotism. Family members had been appointed to key positions in the administrations by the despots and are alleged to have stashed millions and billions of dollars in foreign banks.
This may be all propaganda by capitalist Western nations against Arab leaders who stood up to them. But questions are being asked how relatives and family members of these rulers who had risen from lowly ranks of the military came to acquire fabulous wealth.
Sometimes it happens through corporations. Benito Mussolini the Italian dictator who was hanged in public by his own people is attributed with the remark: Fascism should rightly be called ‘corporatism’ because it is a merger of government and corporate power! On the other hand some see no objections to nepotism. A high ranking American businessman is attributed with the remark: We promote family values here as often as we promote nepotism. Even the legendary John F. Kennedy brought in his brothers to key posts in the administration but Americans generally do not support nepotism. The well known American journalist and commentator Ambrose Bierce declared: You don’t appoint your grandmother to office for the good of the party.

Nepotism and the Rajapaksas
President Rajapaksa has packed the administration with family members and relatives but so far has been free of direct charges being made against him but as the old saying goes forewarned is forearmed.


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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