by Anura Gunasekera (Island)
Theme Cartoons added by TW from internet
When absolute virtue is your launching pad, there is no way but down thereafter and that has been the sad story of the Yahapalanaya regime from its laboured birth.
Yahapalanaya is a collage of intrinsically incompatible points of view and an uneasy cohabitation between groups and individuals who would not, normally, bed with each other. Given its current state of incompetence and paucity of achievement, the union between a mare and a donkey, which produces the sterile mule seems an apt comparison. Briefly, and fortuitously for the nation, these disparate groups and individuals found a common objective; the ouster of a man who, in one narrow sense, may be described as the liberator of the Nation State of Sri Lanka, and from another point of view, will be seen as the man who decided that having freed it, that it belonged to him to do as he pleased with.
Yahapalanaya owes its existence, not to previous performance but to promises, some partly addressed and most others yet unfulfilled and simply languishing in the wish lists of those who voted for it. It must perform, and quickly, as it has no laurels to rest on to reinforce its bid for continued existence, or for that matter, for its legitimacy. At the maximum it has another year for productive action, before it is compelled to abandon even a pretence of service to the nation and the main protagonists start preparing for the next election; when all the actors and principals currently in action, as well as others presently side-lined but hopeful of a piece of future action, initiate the deals, alliances, the horse-trading, when yesterday’s sworn enemy becomes today’s friend and vice-versa; when it becomes politic to cast aside sanctimoniously enunciated principles, assurances and ethics in favour of the expediency of the moment.
In the Yahapalanaya regime there is this incomprehensible variance, a bewildering disparity between rhetoric and action. To start with, the promised, lean, mean, purpose driven cabinet has become a bloated vulgarity. The assurances of austerity in state administration has been replaced by an obscene consumerism, totally at variance with the needs of the moment, even in the context of the need for material blandishments to maintain happiness amongst the troops; a successful Rajapaksa strategy, embraced wholeheartedly by the MS-RW administration.
According to official assessments, close to 800,000 citizens of the country – at the bottom end of the income level – have been affected by the recent drought and are in need of assistance. Many are farmers exposed now to income loss, the spectre of unpaid debts, malnutrition of children, interruption to schooling in affected areas, denial of medical aid for the sick and elderly and other similar deprivations, contributing to overall rural poverty and destitution. In this background the State has, in absolute insensitivity to priorities, allocated Rs 500 Mn, for the purchase of luxury vehicles for a dozen parliamentarians, along with an additional Rs 100,000 per month to all parliamentarians – Rs 140 Mn per annum – to enable them to maintain offices in their electorates.
The Joint Opposition, which violently contests all decisions made by the ruling coalition, has maintained a studious silence in regard to the above obscenities. The legitimacy of an Opposition, in a democratic system, is grounded in the service it provides a nation in helping to confine an over-ambitious incumbent administration within reasonable boundaries. Unfortunately, irrespective of the agitation that it has mounted on various other issues, clearly, the main aim of the JO is the reinstatement of the Rajapaksa regime and the possible revival of individual political fortunes that may follow. Inequities visited on the populace are not part of that agenda. In that context, the 51-strong JO has as little legitimacy as the 16- member official Opposition.
Recently, the Cabinet approved Minister DM Swaminathan’s proposal to pay an indemnity of Rs 2 mn to the next of kin of 16 prisoners, killed in the Welikada prison riots and the 20 inmates injured to be paid Rs 500,000 each. Eleven others, deemed as killed whilst trying to escape, will not attract any compensation.
Normally, compensation is paid by the State in instances where the State acknowledges responsibility, or culpability and by that very action, the State has decided that some killings were unlawful whilst others were reasonable. The decisions have been based, obviously, on the report of the independent panel which investigated the riot and, if one concedes that a killing is unlawful, then it amounts to murder, or at the very least, manslaughter.
The investigation must have been thorough and specific in respect of each casualty and the relevant circumstances also clearly identified. There are also, apparently, eye witnesses to incidents of search, identify and destroy actions implemented by members of the security forces, against some of the inmates. In this overall context, what action is the State taking, or contemplate to implement, in regard to 16 cases of custodial murder?
Speaking of murder, there is much speculation that the probes on the Lasantha Wickrematunge assassination, Wasim Thajudeen’s murder, the Ekneligoda disappearance, all have been stymied just as the investigations reached stages when there is clear indication of culpability of high profile individuals, in both the previous and present administration. Will the perpetrators ever be identified and suitably dealt with according to the law, as most suspects are, or have been , members of the Tri-Forces and , thereby, automatically become “Rana Viru”, sacrosanct and immune from punishment, irrespective of the nature of the crime?
Another interesting issue is the appointment of Ramanathan Kannan to the High Court, made in breach of protocols customary in such cases, commencing with the unilateral recommendation of the then BASL President, overlooking District Judge Manaf, who was considered far more suitable on all aspects. The situation has been partly rectified by the subsequent appointment of DJ Manaf to the High Court, on account of severe agitation by interested parties but Kannan continues to occupy his present position, although the appointment itself is in a grey area.
The UN Resolution now being discussed in Geneva is yet another example of the regime’s incoherence. To now refuse to implement an accord to which one is a co-signatory, is ridiculous; equally ridiculous is the Prime Minister’s current position that such mechanisms are untenable and politically unfeasible , and that a suitable alternative must be found, as if that accord had been entirely at the whim and fancy of the Foreign Minister. The only ray of hope for this beleaguered administration is that the international community is more likely to be conciliatory and sympathetic to its pleas for time, simply because Mahinda Rajapaksa is no longer the President.
Another intriguing issue is the timing of the delayed PC Elections. In a situation of fast eroding credibility, how much longer can the incumbent regime postpone PC elections, without damaging its chances irrevocably at the next General Elections? There is an inherent danger in holding PC elections close to a General Election as the results, particularly if unfavourable to the incumbent power, can give the voting population, especially those not totally committed to a party, the direction in which they should go. And the longer a government stays in power, the less popular it becomes.
The Yahaplanaya regime, with its lack of co-ordination, its indecisiveness and absence of direction and cohesion, needs replacement at some point in the future, or its direction immediately clarified and strategy of governance reconstructed. Otherwise, wittingly or unwittingly, it is clearing the path for a Rajapaksa resurgence, now clearly identified as ” Project Gota”, fiercely championed and articulated by Dayan Jayatilleke, who sees no alternative to the country’s woes, but the reinstatement of MR and BR, with GR at the helm. The Troika will rule, whilst NR the crown prince, the heir to the throne, waits in the wings for his cue, for his moment.
Gota is being promoted by DJ as the only man who can lead the country towards a “… fair and just society in which ethnic and religious factors can be transcended in a new fusion….”. Surely, an unfamiliar objective, however distant, for a man , whose iron-fisted militarism contributed heavily to the loss of the North and the East for the Rajapaksa regime, in two successive elections; who gave patronage to the murderous ” Bodu Bala Sena”, which totally alienated the Muslim community from the same regime. In the Sinhala South, apart from the Welikada prison massacre, need one mention the Rathupaswela, Weliveriya, Chilaw and Katunayake episodes, when legitimate citizens’ protests were muted through military force, culminating in the murder of several innocents; a fair and just society , indeed!!!!
There is more; “…a decorated warrior, who knows how to defend his country at the risk of his life ….” , though Gota possibly owes his life to the fact that he abandoned both the country and the war, when the latter was at its most intense , and sought refuge in another country. Many of his contemporaries did die for the country, in battle, some of them destined to lie in unmarked graves, their fate unknown with the bereaved yet unable to find closure.
And yet more ;”….A man with a modernizing vision and capacity…….fighter and builder……any country needs and should be proud to have “….; are we, indeed, looking at the best of Mao, Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro, with contributions from Nehru, Gorbachev and perhaps Sadat, just to randomly name a few?
In regard to this modernizing vision, all will agree that in improving infrastructure in greater Colombo, a very effective strategy was spearheaded by GR. It is not too difficult to achieve objectives, when funds are approved on request and disbursement permitted outside normal protocols; when the Tri-Forces are at your beck and call, under your thumb as it were and marginalized residents of coveted areas can be evicted , literally at gun-point; when dissent and criticism of any sort can be stifled through unlawful abduction, physical intimidation, torture, disappearance and not infrequently, by plain and simple murder. None of these resources and strategies has been available to any other public servant of this country, in any previous regime.
The current regime surely understands that its failure to deliver on promises will usher in, due to total absence of an alternative, another Rajapaksa era, with the potential for the re-enactment of the grim realities of the past. It is said that those who fail to heed the lessons of history, will permit history to repeat itself. A cliche’, perhaps, but absolute fact.