Sri Lanka: Confused And Confounded
By Gamini Weerakoon
A vast section of Sri Lankans are in a state of confusion only compounded by recent political events. The defeat of the LTTE and the presidential election have left the Tamils and Muslims in a state of bewilderment, while politics of the south has caused deep splits within the Sinhalese. Sparks are beginning to fly, with the UNP and JVP taking to the streets.
Unprecedented events have brou ght this island nation once again into global focus. On Wednesday, the BBC’s news bulletin said: “Sri Lanka’s common opposition candidate was arrested on Monday and parliament dissolved today.” Whither Sri Lanka? We have been often in disagreement with the BBC’s news and comments, but this headline did reflect the state of mind of many Sri Lankans.
Nonchalance and abuse
Middle class supporters of the Rajapaksa party, however, convey an air of nonchalance and confidence, and speak of glorious visions ahead, although their continuing vicious attacks on General Sarath Fonseka and his supporters belie that airy-fairy posture.
Political partisanship has reached such levels that commentators are purblind to the obvious counter-arguments to their positions. An argument made last week was that the majorities scored by Mahinda Rajapaksa were so great and widespread that the allegations of vote rigging simply could not be sustained. This assertion obviously refuses to consider the counter-argument that such vast majorities in places spread out throughout the electorate was inconceivable, especially when considering the huge crowds that General Sarath Fonseka’s rallies attracted.
Massive crowds at political rallies being indicative of the extent of political support in an electorate is indeed questionable unless you consider whether it is a pro-government rally or an opposition rally. Political parties in power have always abused power using state resources, particularly Transport Board buses by the hundreds for transporting supporters from far-away places, while even halting normal bus services at places where opposition rallies are held. The opposition candidate is left to his own resources. This was the case at the recent presidential election. And Fonseka did attract unprecedented crowds.
Boats and nets
The story — true or false — that did the rounds during the presidential campaign about an inebriated government supporter at a rally illustrates well this point of transporting vast crowds from far-away places. President Rajapaksa, it is said, addressing a rally deep in the hill country told a cheering audience: “Tell me what you want and I will provide it after the election.” A staggering supporter from the crowd roared: We want boats and del (fishing nets). The fan apparently had availed himself of a day out and a free ride from his native Hambantota to the hill country town, which did not even have a minor tank to fish in!
Why the acrimony?
Bitter and acrimonious attacks were launched by both candidates during the campaign. Such acrimonious attacks on Fonseka are continuing after his defeat and even after his arrest. If the UPFA supporters were cocksure of this sweeping victory, were such verbal onslaughts and defamatory accusations called for during the campaign? And why continue these vicious attacks by hired pens even after his arrest?
The credibility of the allegations made against Fonseka has been diminished by the variety of charges quoted by the many government spokesmen. The alleged charges range from: treason by alleging war crimes committed by armed forces; politicking while being in army uniform; attempting a coup d’tat; conspiracy to assassinate President Rajapaksa; illegal arms deals; corruption; and many other offences. All these accusations are being made against a person who was hailed by leading government personalities three to four poya moons ago as: The man who defeated 30 years of LTTE terrorism, the best soldier the country produced, the greatest army commander of our times, etc.
Militarisation of politics
Fonseka is not sugar and spice and all things nice. The fault lies with those who made the terrorist war a potent political weapon, politicised the military and now have militarised politics. High ranking military officials who have been closely associated with General Fonseka have been arrested and penalised in many ways. Such developments are by no means of benefit to the armed services or the nation. Now the nation is — as we Sri Lankans say — in ‘a hell of a mallung’. And, as we know, a mallung cannot be undone.
What have the political parties to place before the people before the parliamentary elections in April? The main dish being offered by the ruling UPFA is Fonseka’s head spiced by the grandiose prose of the Mahinda Chinthanaya — (II) — even though much of Mahinda Chinthanaya (I) did not materialise. Victory in the terrorist war was not pledged in the Mahinda Chinthanaya. The opposition parties are still trying to find their feet to fight the election. And where would General Sarath Fonseka be? Contestant or locked up in a bunker? The UNP and JVP taking to the streets in protest demonstrations while armed ‘pro-government’ but unidentified gangs attack them bodes ill for the country.
Mahanayake’s praiseworthy move
The only bright spot on the political horizon has come from the historic Malwatte Temple in Kandy. The Mahanayake of the Malwatte Chapter, Ven. Tibbotuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala, has severely condemned the arrest and treatment of the man who had contributed immensely to the eradication of terrorism in the country. He is to take up the issue with President Rajapaksa along with the other Mahanayakes. He has also expressed concern about the freedom of the media and the disappearance of eNews journalist Eknaligoda the day before the presidential election.
This move is indeed welcome and much could be achieved if the Mahanayakes, instead of conferring their blessings on every scoundrel who arrives at their temples with TV cameras, tell them in no uncertain terms about the issues involved and the teaching of the Dhamma on the subjects. These monks are indeed placed in difficult situations because they cannot turn away scoundrels who seek their advice and blessings. But if they can publicly give moral advice to our leaders, however embarrassing it may be to politicians, they could become the effective moral leaders of the nation.