Why Should My Enemy’s Enemy Be My Friend?
“Patriotism is usually stronger than class hatred, and always stronger than internationalism.”
“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
“Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”
Election time is here again, and the fanfare, tinsel and baubles will put Christmas and New Year festivities to shame. Giant cut-outs and pandals already cannibalise the highways and byways. Illegal, all of this, of course, but in an era where power creates, conceals and coordinates both laws and their prosecution, legality itself is a narrative of how close to the top you can access.
Impunity is another name for presidential whims and fancies, just as punishment is the other side of this coin (or note to be precise). If you are currently in favour, you will be rewarded magnanimously, whether it be in cash, kind or protection, whereas once you fall out with the powers-that-be you are left to the wolves.
At elections we are used to making simplistic assessments which even a lifetime’s regret cannot quite undo. How many times have we mistaken our enemy’s enemy for our friend, only to be disabused when he ascends the pinnacles of power. Even the “lesser evil” syndrome has proved so wrong so many times, and yet we remain willing to be gulled into voting for someone we dislike less than another though neither meets with our minimum standard of acceptability.
The ugly fact, however, is that we always get the leaders that we deserve. Both the successful candidates and ‘also-rans’ mirror our own rotten opportunistic values and world views. Their corruption is ours; their violence we have endorsed in a hundred different ways. They own us, just as much as we bring them into power, and apologise for or defend their excesses. In short, we create, nurture and empower these monsters, whether through our votes or our apathy.
Let’s find the time and the energy, therefore, amidst all the propaganda and hype to set out the basic requirements we demand in a leader today, and let’s not, this once, compromise or settle for the garbage that we have all around us. Even if we are too embroiled in our own personal tragedies and struggles for survival to care any more about the state of this country, even if we are too cynical to hope for anything better for ourselves, surely we owe at least this for our children and the generations to follow?
Unless we demand even minimal standards, and unless we are in a position to put our money where our mouth is, we will continue to attract this motley crew who will misgovern us as they please.
The point is that unless we take a stand today we will be confronted with even less options, even greater Hobson’s choices tomorrow, and it will be still worse the day after. My challenge to you is simply this: do you approve of the levels of corruption, opportunism, impunity, dishonesty, nepotism, ignorance, unconcern, violence, waste and general perfidy practiced by members of parliament on all sides of the House today? Do you endorse the wheeling and dealing, the double-speak, the intimidation and thuggery, the rank selfishness and naked profiteering of our elected representatives? Do you, as citizens, support the professional trajectories of some of them and their key sponsors who stand publicly accused of violence, extortion, rape, corruption, drug-dealing and so on?
The answer I am sure is a resounding “No.” And yet what are we willing to do about this grotesque state of affairs? In high dudgeon we go to the polls to elect another side or group or individual in to power, who will very soon (if not already) begin to do precisely what we have rejected in the previous incumbents. Sometimes, we elect the same persons again, hoping for a change of heart, or due to some personal agenda of profit that we hope to reap. The national outcome is the same sad dead-end, and we continue to demonstrate that our lethargy and lack of vision has made matters worse.
Change hurts; real change must overcome complacency, vested interest and cynicism. Elections are the only occasions during which we the people wield anything remotely resembling power and influence. Or at least in theory we do, though in practice even this opportunity we relinquish by default. Let us not squander our one last chance to ensure that our issues, our concerns, our values are placed at the centre of the national agenda. Intervening between the devil and the deep blue sea may appear a daunting task, but together we can put in place a set of issues and basic positions that hold them accountable, that demand their adherence.
The imminent elections – both presidential and parliamentary – are not so much a test of the candidates who continue to plumb the human depths of incompetence and perfidy, but the signal opportunity for ordinary citizens to set the national agenda and determine the minimum standards that we demand of our leaders. Tragically, the writing on the wall is that we in Sri Lanka will inevitably let this last opportunity too slip through our fingers, guaranteeing yet another decade of pain and anguish as the country continues to sink to the bottom.