Daily Mirror Editorial
(Theme Cartoons googled and added by TW)
Just after Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power there was a spate of strikes. The phenomenon was celebrated at first by the then Government as an indication of increased space for the expression of democratic freedoms. Not too long afterwards the very same regime decried strikes as an abuse of freedom. The line changed to, “The strikers are irresponsible and are demonstrating nothing but the freedom of the wild ass.”
It is happening all over again. We hear the same kind of dismissive statements from the Government. Indeed, they’ve gone a step further, borrowing a page from the previous regime, describing agitation as the voice of a disgruntled few who are being used as pawns by the joint opposition.
It’s all too familiar. When agitation is not being celebrated as evidence of enhanced freedoms under the current dispensation, it is dismissed either as abuse of privileges by the irresponsible or the antics of the joint opposition.
Naturally, any Opposition worth the title will not miss any opportunity to piggy-back on any course of action against any government. That’s politics. This Government is a coalition made of the two main political parties in the country. Both parties have played this game and do not have the moral authority to cry foul. This of course doesn’t mean that piggy-backing is all that the Opposition does. Everyone is someone else’s pawn and political organizations are the best positioned to turn any population segment into a pawn, foot soldier or cannon fodder.
In this instance, though, it’s hard to blame everything on the joint opposition. First of all that would amount to acknowledging a strong opposition, an accusation that runs counter to the regular pooh-poohing indulged in by the Government which claims that the joint opposition is weak, confused, in disarray and facing an imminent split. Secondly, it implies that grievances expressed are manufactured. They are not. They are real and they are not being addressed. The Government itself, in what has become a chronic propensity to state, contradicts and become confused, robbing its own claims of logical worth.
Even if everything that came before has a Rajapaksa signature, so to speak, the tag just cannot be pinned on the trade union action by the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA). FUTA has gone on record to state that they are willing to even jeopardize the exams of undergraduates. Clearly they’ve run out of patience.
FUTA Secretary Arjuna Parakrama charges that the Government authorities lacked a proper understanding of the university sector. Claiming that FUTA was demanding security and respect for their profession, Parakrama points out that salary deductions made by the recent circulars has brought university lectures on par with other administrative officers.
There’s more, “There are anomalies in vehicle permits, communication allowances and other privileges when compared with other administrative services. When the Unity Government was elected it promised to allocate six per cent of the GDP to the education sector. However, it has been reduced to 0.6 per cent, which clearly shows a breakdown in the entire system.” It has to be a big concern for the Government. It was well into Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term that things began to look shaky. One could argue that things weren’t visible due to overt and covert repression, but even if one clipped a couple of years on this account and made allowances for the war situation, things seem to be crumbling faster for this Government.
There are two ways to deal with agitation. The better way is to resolve the relevant grievances. The other way is to crush it. The second becomes inevitable when Governments do not have what it takes to adopt the first option. That’s where we seem to be. Things cannot be resolved when there’s no coherent policy and when the constituent parts of a ruling coalition do not or cannot speak in one voice.
The Government needs to come to terms with certain realities sooner rather than later. Blaming agitation on the machinations of the joint opposition has run its course. Blaming the bad policies of the previous regime for current ills is no longer an excuse for non-resolution of grievances. The wheels haven’t exactly come off, but there’s rattling under the chassis.