Sarath de Alwis
“Madness is something rare in individuals — but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages, it is the rule.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Make no mistake. This government has failed to deliver. It must be brought to its senses. If not, we must fashion something better. But, we must not allow the monster to return.
As I write this column, I read that the President’s Chief of Staff has been arrested by officials of the Bribery Commission in the act of accepting a bribe of a vast sum of money.
Ven Sobitha from whatever heavenly abode he presently inhabits would no doubt approve. Let us be real. This would not have happened under Mahinda Rajapaksa. His Chief of Staff alleged to have amassed prohibitively priceless wealth continues to roam freely three years after the fall of the Rajapaksa regime.
So, all said and done, we are in a quiet crawl towards sanity. We are not there yet. But we shall get there. This government appears more dysfunctional than it really is. Comparison with the regime it replaced is neither rational nor logical. Mahinda Rajapaksa presided over an unabashedly authoritarian regime during his second term.
The second term of the Mahinda presidency was a family autocracy. Brother Gotabaya assumed absolute control over the regime’s image engineering. He made the dark green battle fatigue a symbol to be feared and respected. Every thug and hooligan in the service of the family wearing and parading it was a ‘Ranaviru’ beyond reproach and the reach of the law of the land.
Gotabaya redefined the power dynamics of Mahinda’s Presidency. He did it with a ‘triad’ of image engineers that spawned a new oligarchy that is today committed to his presidential bid.
How did he do it? Defeating the LTTE, killing Prabhakaran, and the restoration of normalcy were impossible tasks. The Rajapaksa regime made the ‘impossible’ possible. The means employed to achieve the impossible was therefore unpunishable.
Dear reader, we are still trapped in that straitjacket. So Dilrukshi Wickremasinghe had to go for parading Admirals before a Magistrate. In critiquing this coalition of two reluctant parties, we must tread softly and lightly, for otherwise the two leaders of the Government will not hear the petals of the ‘Pohottuwa’ unfold.
The reshuffle has had no discernible impact on the public. The public mood is skeptical. Its verdict is strident and severe. The reshuffle was a showcase and the government wanders along in profitless pursuits.
This dismal prognosis is not without hope. In every desert land there are wells to be discovered. Since January 2015, we have come a long way in terms of individual freedom. Our argumentative nature has been unleashed. We always had opinions. Now we argue about them. That was not so before January 2015.
Dissent was not expressly prohibited but was emphatically discouraged. Then we kept our opinions to ourselves. We knew that dissent was tracked, collated and presented to the great grandee who decided the fate of those who dared to opine.
I repeat. We must not allow the monster to return.
Repeating failed strategy over and over expecting a different outcome is insanity. The just announced Cabinet reshuffle is not very different.
A coalition must have a common goal. The only common goal in the ruling coalition seems to be the need to hold Ministerial office and enjoy the perks that come with it. The President has no credible political base. His SLFP relies on loyalty purchased with Ministerial privilege. The Prime Minister appears to be losing control of his party after an internal reforms exercise last month that satisfied nobody.
In the public view, the Government that held so much promise has turned into a circus.
The reason is not difficult to be located. The coalition lacks the essential foundation required in a coalition. It lacks the raison d’être for its continuance. It has no common goal.
There was a time when we were thirsty for change. That was before January 2015. There was then a fountain of fresh water in the person of Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero. Since his demise, the fountain has dried up. Once more, we are lost. With parched throats we are roaming an arid land of political caprice. The just completed reshuffle is the fourth mirage in three years of wandering.
The two leaders of the coalition – the President and the Prime Minister inhabit two different worlds. The first is battling to be the leader of his party. The latter is in a struggle to remain the leader of his party.
Burdened by choices made prior to the 2015 Presidential Elections, both the President and the Prime Minister are haunted by mistakes made after 2015.
In politics, one day is a long time. One mistake is one too many. Acquiring power is less arduous than retaining power.
The re-induction of Wijedasa Rajapakshe into the Cabinet is political mockery. He was the instigator of Buddhist clerical opposition to Constitutional reforms – a principal promise of this Government.
Rajapakshe’s political baggage is heavy – the alleged association with Nissanka Senadhipathi, the shadowy ex-military man who ran the controversial Avant Garde floating armoury with the blessings of the former Defence Secretary continues to dog the new Minister of Higher Education.
It will not be forgotten that as Minister of Justice, Rajapakshe laid out a staunch defence of the controversial security company in Parliament saying there was no case to be filed against Avant Garde. That was the same controversial parliamentary speech in which Rajapakshe revealed that he had personally prevented the arrest of former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
If one was to jog the memory about the learned President’s Counsel, it will be recalled that he did not resign from the Cabinet as was the case with Ravi Karunanayake. He was removed from office by the President under pressure from the UNP after he criticized a series of policy decisions made by the Government led by his own party.
Why was he inducted to the Cabinet? Give the man his due.
In the days preceding the No Confidence Motion, he insisted that he was the only maiden in the bordello. He kept his options open. At voting time, he discovered loyalty to the party and reiterated his confidence in the party leader.
Making Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka take charge of protecting and preserving Wildlife is a stroke of genius. Taken in the context of speculation that he was named to be the Minister of Law and Order, the alternative offered is a dazzling display of the Janus-faced leadership of the coalition.
There is a lesson in all this fuss over reshuffling and restructuring. As the wise sage and genius cinematographer Akio Kurosawa observed, in a mad world, only the mad are sane.
In politics you don’t make judgments. Politics, known as the art of the possible and the refined art of retaining power demands not simple judgements but judgment calls- the kind that umpires make in cricket and referees make in football games. It is decision based on intuition, experience and circumstances.
The country expected to see a transformational change in the Cabinet. We expected to see new, young and energetic persons to replace dinosaurs who are most unlikely to be in the post 2020 Parliament.
Good governance is not erratic governance. Even now, it is not too late to reduce the size of the Cabinet to 30. If we are to lift politics out of the mire, we must stop rewarding errant politicians. We must cry a halt to this insolence.
The need of the hour in both camps is young, creative, honest minds. For now, they may be considered crazy misfits. But they are the ones who should grasp the future. They see things differently. They are not particularly fond of the rules now applied.
They have no commitment to the status quo. Let us hope they come forward when the time arrives.