By Gamini Weerakoon
Dissolution of Parliament followed by elections is the magic potion that can cure the raging political crisis in one dose, is the belief of the Rajapaksa faithful.
If an election can be held within a short time, it may resolve the current political impasse. But to hope for an election to end the plague affecting Sri Lanka’s body politic for long years – and the main cause for the continuing instability — is to look away from Lanka’s recent political history.
Mahinda Rajapaksa last week was demanding that a general election be held to end the current crisis and bring about the much needed political stability for many reasons, including his obviously burning desire. The impressive triumph at the recent elections for Gam Sabhas and other local council bodies has given him hope for a sweeping victory at parliamentary polls. But politics is a game that does not always conform to statistical trends, particularly in Sri Lanka. He seems to be forgetting his defeat—not a very long time ago–at the presidential polls in January 2015 after sweeping all provincial council polls, except for the Northern Province poll. This was followed by his defeat at the parliamentary elections which set in motion the current political instability that has rocked the country for the past three and a half years.
However, for the Rajapaksas and their politically faithful, a parliamentary election appears to be the abracadabra for a quick return to power. Political stability they may be presuming will come with their new government–a form of political stability that they consider is normal but dodging the fact that even though the state of emergency was called off on September 11, 2011 the emergency regulations are being enforced under the Public Security Ordinance that enables the government to deploy the armed services in any province for the maintenance of law and order. There is much concern in the North and East about suspects being held for long years—many without even being prosecuted—under the public Security Ordinance and the Prevention of Terrorist Act. The recent killing of two policemen could be indications of the cracking of ice under mounting pressure.
This columnist is not contesting the merits or demerits of the application of such laws to maintain law and order, but to make the point that a parliamentary election cannot result in consolidating a political stability for all Sri Lankan society to live happily in a fool’s paradise while fires are raging below. Since 1958, when the unfortunate estrangement of the Sinhalese and Tamils took place, all political parties, particularly the SLFP, should bear the blame of riding the dragon of racialism to win elections. We will not labour too much to cast the burden on the Rajapaksas save to say that the Tamil and Muslim communities turned against the overlords during their decade-long rule. The continued opposition to a Rajapaksa-led regime to date is further confirmation of the rejection by minority communities.
When Velupillai Prabakaran was killed by Sri Lanka’s Special Forces in May 2009 Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa who returned home after a brief sojourn had a good opportunity to bring about reconciliation between the Sinhalese and the Tamils after a near 30-year war. Instead, he went into triumphalist demonstrations such as kissing the ground of his motherland and staging kiributh-kavun street parties with all the political razzmatazz. It certainly did not go down well with the sulking Tamils who had suffered so much for so long. He did make some positive contributions such as rehabilitating thousands, demining etc. but that was not enough?
What was lacking was the overt sympathy and empathy in words and deeds probably because it would not have pleased the hardcore Sinhalese in their moment of ecstasy. ‘In war resolution, in defeat defiance, in victory magnanimity’ was the recommendation of the World War 11 winner Winston Churchill. But Mahinda Rajapaksa has given no indications of being Churchill like. But he has a much better idol to emulate, a personality to whom he will go down on his knees, Dutugemunu, Sri Lanka’s legendary king who defeated Tamil king Elara who had held sway for 44 years at Anuradhapura. On slaying Elara and regaining the Rajarata, his immediate response was to order building of a dagoba in honour of his arch foe at the entrance to Anuradhapura. He issued a fiat: All processions passing this monument should silence their drums and blowing of horns when passing the Elara tomb–an order which was being obeyed even 500 years later when the Mahavamsa was written. This example of his proclaimed hero, Rajapaksa did not follow.
Rajapaksa who often harks back at the past did not do so on this occasion probably because this was a time 2,000 years after the Dutugemunu-Elara encounter and in the politics of 21st century Sri Lanka, a hardcore Sinhala line was a sine qua non for victory in the election he had called for. But that formula did not work in January 2015. That line appears to have been softened but whether it will work at the next poll, only the Tamils and Muslims can tell, not so much his optimistic astrologers.
Since political stability is absolutely essential if this country is ever to pick itself up and move forward, enlightened, cultured and reasonably educated people’s representatives are called for. Sri Lankans saw on TV in recent times the quality of representatives they had elected to make the country progress.
Before the last presidential election, many civil society groups under the leadership of the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha thera made fervent appeals to all political parties to nominate contestants with no criminal records and educated persons. Those who were successful in entering parliament may not have had criminal records at the time of nomination but during the past three years have qualified enough to face criminal charges in the courts while many of the honourable MPs had stumbled at the GCE O/L before entering the highest legislature.
Those pious upasaka-like figures clad in virgin white kurtas and sarongs seen on TV carrying trays of jasmines and some nattily dressed imitations of pukka sahibs staged a splendid display of their talents on live TV on two days hurling chairs at the Speaker, throwing water laced with chilli powder, while a burly ex-serviceman enjoyed himself at the commencement in the Speaker’s chair surveying the chaos and raw thuggery below him. All this made the façade parliamentary attire a farce because it betrayed the real character of the performers: bare bodied bazaar thugs in fancy parliamentary clothes.
Can an election result in an end to all this mayhem and bring about political stability if the same set of performers or like performers are nominated and elected to parliament? President Sirisena made it even easier on the last occasion. Even defeated candidates were elected and given top ministerial posts!
The sovereign people will get governments they deserve, if they continue to elect the same riff-raff.