The Agony Continues Or A New Beginning With Fonseka As Leader Of SJB?
By Vishwamithra –
“I demolish my bridges behind me – then there is no choice but forward.” ~ Fridtjof Nansen
Sri Lanka has not yet reached her Rubicon. Nearly one and half years ago she was found on the edge of the abyss but thanks to the assistance extended by the International Monitory Fund (IMF), she manged to avert a total collapse of her sociopolitical life. It’s undeniably true that the Aragalaya played an integral and indispensable part in the crisis. Some pundits, especially those who pontificate from atop their drawing room armchairs, are now relaxing. Their needs, petrol, diesel and cooking gas, are now comparatively easy to satisfy. Their evening parties can be now held in the perfumed banquet halls, some accompanied with their better halves and others with their paramours, living their lives seduced by the fairer sex and intoxicated by expensive whiskey and fine wines. A decadent style of living has yet again begun their punishing travel towards possible extinction, hopefully!
Colombo life has not changed; not even one iota of this farce has taken a fresh turn; on the contrary it’s meandering along the same old path crowded with dangerous beasts cloaked in fleetingly seductive garb. However, the rush to make extra bucks on the ‘commission’ sphere has decelerated and its effects are telling on the super-rich class; yet the evening gatherings at major hotel lobbies do not seem to have declined. Utter absence of empathetic feelings amongst these rich classes is not being felt nor is it visibly manifest in the current scenarios of extravagant spending and indulgences in social affairs by the cronies of the government.
Some have resorted to seeking their pleasures abroad; either in Singapore or Thailand. Morality is not an exclusive sin of the rich. Yet when such break from normal behavior is sought by those who can achieve it with ill-gotten monies and proximity to powers that be, the sins become more pronounced and aggravated. That is a fact of life which the poor cannot afford to live with.
On the other hand, when societal judgments are in order, when cultural norms are questioned and when the ‘haves’ pursue seemingly impossible financial gains, the social fabric tends to get loose and threaten to be torn apart by internal forces. Those who are actively engaged in such pursuits do not see it, not because they cannot but because they tend to look the other way, politicians included. In such a tragic circumstance, the country at large suffers.
The pause the chaos had to experience after the current President assumed the helm of the nation may not last for long. A mere one and half years is not a long period of time in a nation’s evolutionary march. Yet with each passing week and each passing month, the gap that is existing between those who can afford to wine and dine in the lobbies of big hotels and those whose struggles to keep afloat in a cruel stormy sea extend to their younger generations, the bursting point does not seem to be far away. Whether it’s the farmer whose daily labors include waking up before sunrise and ending it way after dusk, or it’s the middle-class worker who is laboring to keep his wife and child fed, clothed and sheltered to a reasonable measure, the story is the same. Fundamental factors have not changed. If the middle-class and the lower middle-class have to undergo such harsh realities, what awaits the poor and those whose identity does not belong in any one of these classes because the conditions that they have to deal with are appalling and intolerable, is anyone’s guess.
Dependence on a messiah-like expectations and hopes has driven the country’s majority to this dismal abyss. When elections approach, they get caught up in the vortex of television adverts and other propaganda gimmicks. They invariably turn to temporary and fleetingly seductive solutions. Instead of pursuing solutions to a given knotty condition, they tend to seek answers which cascade from their political leaders who seem to have mastered the art of deception and dishonesty.
This unfortunate cycle of deception and dishonesty has been spinning out of control for the last seven and half decades. With each successive government, the the problems have become worse and closer to the forgotten phases of human failure. Reliance on one single individual, placing all faith and trust in one deliverer has taken its own tragic toll. Government efforts have been gradually focused on concentrating more and more powers in a single individual whose image had been projected in mass-scale propaganda. Teamwork as a dynamic human conduct has evaporated into thin air; the people have been placing their trust and faith in one single person as opposed to a team of Ministers. Departure from the Westminster system where the Prime Minister is merely a first among equals, has produced its drastically injurious results to the individual voter at the beginning and the country at the penultimate stage.
No single man can save the country from all its ills; no one man or woman, however he or she is skilled and determined, can deliver the people from their anguish. Power is so strong a notion; power is so powerful an addiction. It not only corrupts the mind of the holder, it destroys the one over whom that power is held. When power is shared amongst many, accountability becomes more amenable and its evasion becomes more challenging. The cleverest and craftiest may still try to circumvent the normal and legitimate routes of disclosures that accountability demands; but the increasing scrutiny and basic human inquisitiveness would overshadow the deceptive and dishonorable indulgences.
The Westminster system is not a perfect system of governance. Its slow pace and propensities to adhere to painstaking checks and balances would undoubtedly instill a slower pace of work as against an accelerated speed of ‘getting things done’. This is the same argument, slower pace of ‘getting things done’, JR Jayewardene placed before his United National Party (UNP) members in 1977 when he introduced the Presidential system of government. Even though JR exercised some disciplined and stern measures to check on his Minsters and MPs, especially during his first term in office, his successors chose to exercise the enormous powers that were vested in the office of President to the hilt.
Ill-effects of such presidential conduct are visible today and the grave mistake committed, among many others, by JR stands today as the root cause of unchecked and undeterred powers which has ultimately entailed corruption at the highest level of government, both political and bureaucratic. When power is concentrated in one single person, it is not only the people at large who look up to such enormous ‘power’, those Ministers and MPs too have begun to revere the man on top as all-powerful and omniscient.
That is why the current political imbroglio is vested with this inner element of decay and failure. Anura Kumara Dissanayake or Sajith Premadasa as the next President will not offer an alternative to this system unless they pledge a definite change of constitutional reform abolishing Presidential System of government. This is the challenge the country is facing today. In the absence of Ranil Wickremesinghe and another Rajapaksa, the choice before the people becomes clearer and more acute. It’s between the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and National People’s Power (NPP).
I labor to reiterate here that, in order to make a choice easier, the people’s trust in the Party and its leader becomes the prime factor in his decision making process. When comparing the two, AKD and Sajith, in so far as ‘trust’ is the ultimate vote-swaying ingredient, the balance tilts towards AKD. But AKD’s greatest negative is his Party, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and its history which is thoroughly forgettable. The young may still be attracted to its postures and romanticist appeal but a great majority of the old voters would still perceive it as one that should not allowed to be in power. It is indeed a challenge of significant magnitude and I have no clue as to how AKD could overcome this sizable negative in coming months.
Sajith Premadasa, on the other hand, has a different obstacle to overcome. When ‘trust’ becomes the crucial issue, Sajith falls way behind AKD and his positioning in the ladder of trust would be only above the current President Ranil Wickremesinghe. It is as bad and pathetic as that. Sajith and his immediate cohorts might not know this or they may not want to know it, but it is the unpalatable fact they all have to reconcile with.
In such a complex context, what can the NPP do and what is available for the SJB to do? The NPP and AKD will have to resolve this issue as a mid-term solution. Their manifesto and other important declarations must include a pronounced pledge as to what economic and governing principles and practices they would adopt in the event they come to power.
The choices available to the SJB are different. In their midst there is one leader whose word would be trusted by the majority and Sarath Fonseka stands alone on that pedestal. Would Sajith be willing to allow Fonseka to be nominated as the SJB candidate? If abolition of Presidential System is the main issue, why not? Could Sajith and his Party be so far-thinking as to accommodate Fonseka as the candidate and win the election or are they going to commit hara-kiri by nominating Sajith? These are difficult choices but one must remember that to do the right thing is always difficult and painstaking.
*The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org