Sheer arrogance of power

Island Editorial

The government is reported to have said the controversial Hambantota Port lease agreement, signed amidst protests, on Saturday, will be presented to Parliament. It is an exercise in futility in that the pact is now a fait accompli. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government came to power, promising to scrap the Colombo Port City project. But, two and a half years on, it has not only allowed the project to continue but also handed over a vital port to China, which couldn’t have asked for more. The next national asset to be offered to a foreign power on a platter is the Trincomalee oil tank farm. The Indians may be here any moment to finalise the deal.

At this rate, one need not be surprised if Sigiriya is handed over to a foreign quarrying company, Sinharaja to an international logging venture and Sri Pada to a Chinese earth moving outfit!

Saturday’s port agreement which, its opponents say, will undermine Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and pose unforeseen national security challenges happened to be inked exactly 30 years after the signing of the infamous Indo-Lanka Peace Accord, which was, in fact, rammed down the late President J. R. Jayewardene’s throat on July 29, 1987. The JVP, which plunged the country into a bloodbath in protest against that accord, is now an ally of the present UNP-led government in all but name. It makes noises of all sorts and conducts media circuses for the consumption of the public, but baulks at doing anything that might threaten the survival of the government.

The yahapalana administration is full of greedy politicians who abused power and amassed ill-gotten wealth under SLFP and UNP governments in the past. Old habits die hard. So, they can’t be expected to safeguard the national interest. Their yen for yuan, dollars etc. is monumental and they won’t scruple to sell national assets to foreign companies so long as they and their families stand to gain therefrom. The Opposition’s reaction to the ongoing sale of family silver is appalling, to say the least.

The TNA has become a mere appendage of the government and its raison d’etre is to demand federalism. The less said about the Joint Opposition (JO) the better! Whenever the government wants it to fall in line, the kith and kin of the former rulers are hauled up before commissions of inquiry, which are legion. As for the handover of national assets to China, the JO leaders, who are themselves beneficiaries of the Chinese largesse, are running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Thus, the yahapalana leviathan, without any counterweight, is bulldozing its way through.

Some trade unions continue to oppose the Hambantota port deal, but it is highly unlikely that their agitation campaign will reach fruition as they are without the backing of major political parties, whose leaders are all compromised. The pro-government trade unions which initially opposed the Hambantota Port deal tooth and nail have made a U-turn. One wonders whether their volte-face has been financially induced.

The JO should have made use of Friday’s parliamentary debate to expose the Hambantota deal, which is likely to affect the Colombo Port adversely and turn the country into a global battleground as it were. But, its members behaved like (or as) a bunch of overgrown schoolboys; they unnecessarily disrupted proceedings and held a mock parliamentary session thereafter. They only made a public display of their infantilism and callous disregard for the dignity of the national legislature. One may argue that there is a method in their madness in that their leaders have a history of trying to ink a similar pact with China and they are, therefore, wary of opening up a can of worms.

Keeping the Opposition firmly under its thumb, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government seems to think the sky is the limit in its efforts to perpetuate its rule. It has postponed elections indefinitely. Its latest despicable move to put off the provincial council elections till 2019 on some flimsy pretext has betrayed its ‘polls phobia’ and willingness to go to any extent to remain in power. It is already using the tri forces and the police to crush democratic protests unflinchingly while extolling the virtues of good governance. Let it be warned that the abuse of power, corruption and the violent suppression of democratic dissent have brought down much more powerful governments. The fate that befell the Rajapaksa regime is a case in point.

The yahapalana government is manifestly afflicted with the political autoimmune disease and, therefore, needs no external enemies to destroy it. The arrogance of power is symptomatic of that dreadful condition.