By Sarath de Alwis
President Maithripala Sirisena has earned the verdict given in local government polls. He appointed candidates defeated at the parliamentary elections through the national list and made them cabinet ministers. In electoral democracy, failure is decisive. Overturning the people’s verdict has a price.
The verdict rendered at the local government polls is brisk and brusque. Brisk means quick and sudden. Brusque means blunt and rude. The people have quickly and suddenly decided to halt the Maithri-Ranil circus. The astounding margins with which the people have repudiated the ‘yahapalanaya’ of the President and the Prime Minister is conclusive evidence that the people have been blunt and rude. Hence the brisk and brusque title ‘Hip Deep in Shit’.
We can draw some satisfaction from the fact that we now have systems in place to hold free and fair elections. Democracy presumes that we are all rational creatures. All who vote at elections can relate truth to reality and vice versa. Identifying truth is not easy in this age of instant news, gossip and kite flying. It calls for prudence, courage and one’s own idea of virtue.
People are wise
We who are impudent enough to comment on voter behavior often forget that people are wise. The President’s principal platform was on his determination and ability to eliminate corruption. He promised to punish the corrupt in this government and those in the previous government. The Prime Minister assured that crooks would be punished, loans repaid, jobs created, and everybody wired to Wi-Fi. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s task was much simpler. The regime that replaced his is equally or more corrupt. They are inept as well. Mahinda’s claim resonated. No one would claim that he was inept.
When election results are excruciatingly discomforting, the temptation to interpret them is irresistible. Politicians and political parties are good at misinterpreting dismal performances.
President Sirisena under interpreted and over interpreted his mandate according to his personal whims and political fancies. He promised to be a single term incumbent and then decided to fortify his powerbase for 2020. He voluntarily reduced his term, but later sought Supreme court ruling on the precise expiry of his term.
Preaching and Practice
He condemned nepotism and family bandysm. “If you were to ask me how I became the common candidate I don’t think even I could give you a proper answer. I see this as some sort of a miracle. I was a part of this Government with a lot of heartache having witnessed rampant corruption, nepotism and family bandysm which is a part and parcel of this government.”
One of his first appointments was that of his brother to the top job in Sri Lanka Telecom. His son-in-law has an assignment with the Ministry of Defence. He is not tired of reiterating his commitment to fight corruption. He publicly reprimanded the executive head of the Bribery Commission for producing retired defence high-ups before a magistrate. The Director General of the CIABOC resigned.
The Common Candidate for the Presidency was a civil society creature. Civil Society expected the elected President to adhere to the agreed policy agenda. The hybrid government was a two-headed donkey that was stalling. Civil Society activists soon discovered that the President had his own advisors. Affairs of state were of such importance and significance that they required analysis by more astute minds than those of some well-meaning academics and idealistic activists. It was time to jettison civil society dreamers of ‘yahapalanaya’.
Ranil’s Manifest Destiny
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is a man convinced that ruling this island nation is his manifest destiny. The success of the common candidate was therefore a bitter pill to swallow. The hybrid government was a farcical orchestration. A selected coterie held all strings and the puppet at the top was expected to conform and comply. Thanks to Sobhitha Thero’s insistence the 19th Amendment has lifted the lid. The Bond Scandal unraveled over two years.
Mahinda’s brother-in-law lost billions running the airline for seven years. The brother of one of the yahapalana cronies seems determined to match that performance and has succeeded admirably in the last three years.
The last three years have been qualitatively different from the years under the Rajapaksa presidency. If we did not mind his business, he left us alone. He held elections and won them fair and square by persuading people with whatever it took for him to win. He didn’t rush elections. He went about the business of elections quietly and patiently. He was not stupid enough to hold island wide elections in the middle of a presidential term which could be construed as a test on performance.
Since 8th January 2015, we have been subject to naked manipulation, blatant lies, systematic spin and downright dishonesty. In Mahinda’s time we were informed or directed. Mahinda did not preach. In contrast there is no end to Maithri’s sermons and Ranils lectures. Mahinda’s coercive state apparatus was anchored to reality. He was the arch pragmatist not seduced by idealistic trivial.
The Inconvenient Truth
Sirisena’s benign governance is totally detached from reality.
Political truths are terrible to deal with. Post-election truths are not only terrible but are mind boggling. The mixture of fact, opinion and conjecture that partisan analysts resort to are not worth our attention. Plain speaking is the need of the hour.
The people have given their verdict. ‘Honest’ crooks are better than ‘dishonest’ crooks. Skim off on contracts with foreign parties. Don’t rob our pension funds. Naked ambition is preferred to ambition wrapped in false altruism. Better to have good war winning crooks than crooks who shield other crooks.