The Meeting Of The Twain: Self-Respect And Accepting Responsibility For Failure
- An Open Letter To The Leader Of The Opposition
“It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character.” — Dale E.Turner
“You must never be satisfied with losing. You must get angry, terribly angry, about losing. But the mark of the good loser is that he takes his anger out on himself and not his victorious opponents or on his teammates.” — Richard M. Nixon
Dear Mr. Wickremesinghe,
No one, except perhaps you yourself, is surprised that your party and alliance lost yet again, and what a stellar loss it was! You have, in characteristic loser style, made some excuses, complained about this and that, put some self-seeking spin on low voter turnout, done some grumbling and whining, a routine you must be quite used to after so much practice. Yet, this time round they sound tired and old arguments even for you, I’m afraid.
But you hear no corresponding attacks from the President’s men, do you? Ask yourself a simple question, please. Why is it that Sarath Fonseka was incarcerated just after his first attempt at challenging the Mahinda Pawul (H)awula, while you have led a charmed life during the past decade in opposition? Could it just possibly be that he is seen as a threat and you are not?
Sarcasm aside, you are, of course, his not-so-secret weapon, and I believe that they will move mountains to keep you on as leader of your party. Not that there’s much to choose from anyway. You have the party you deserve and they have you as an ever-present symbol of their bankruptcy and irrelevance. Yet a party officially without a leader is still better than a party with a leader who is official and nothing else!
The point is that in politics, and especially the dirty politics of this country that you have chosen to remain enmeshed in for decades, you need to win people over, convince them, earn their trust, understand and share their lives. Yet, the yawning gulf between you and the general population of this country increases with every (lost) election, and, in the current conjuncture, appears irremediable. You may believe that your understanding of issues is better, more nuanced and comprehensive than others – both politicians and citizens – but understanding without real empathy is doomed to inconsequentiality.
You may claim that you are honest and non-racist. You may boast that you have more enlightened views on religious, cultural and linguistic hegemony, and I have even heard rumours that your failure is your steadfast refusal to descend to populist rabble-rousing and demagoguery, unlike your opponents.
I believe that this is neither true nor relevant. In the first instance, you have through the years countenanced corruption, violence and abuse of power in order to further your own political career, or because you are too weak to stand up against the perpetrators of these acts. In the second, your own populist use of religion and culture is a matter of public record. Your supporters (the precious few that remain) describe you as a gentleman politician.
Aside from the sexist and classist worldview embedded in such a description, the public need no reminding that there are no “gentlemen” in Sri Lanka’s political firmament today. Those who pretend to be aloof from the bloodthirsty horde of corrupt and corrupting vermin (as apt a definition of Sri Lankan politicians that I have ever seen) have as much blood on their hands as the others but only seek to wash it away with the effluent of hypocrisy.
I realise that this may sound exaggerated and over-generalised to an outsider, but it is not so. “Gentlemen” like you cling to the sinecure of power-without-responsibility, thereby holding the country to ransom and allowing others to plunder and pillage. All you are interested in is maintaining your creature comforts and status as Leader of the Opposition, to protect which you will wage war on decency, democracy and even your own self-respect. You have long been bankrupt as a politician because politics is about engagement with people on their own terms.
Just as much as President Rajapaksa sees himself as a monarch and ruler of all he surveys, so too do you position yourself as perennially waiting in the wings to accede to the throne. You speak of democracy and the right of all peoples of this country to elect their leaders without fear or favour, and yet your stranglehold on the UNP is disgustingly feudal and undemocratic. You demand fundamental human rights for others, to serve your political ends, but you refuse to hear the message repeated so many times by a public that rejects your elitism and lack of basic empathy.
Your time as Leader of the Opposition is up, as all but you can see. It should have been over a long time ago. It is you I blame for the mess we’re in right now because your political ineptitude (to mention nothing of the other acts of omission and commission that can be laid at your door) has allowed successive ruling dynasties to ride rough shod over democratic values and principles of good governance. Now that this dispensation has fine-tuned family-oligarchy to its highest zenith, your continued (non)leadership is essential to them. Alas, not only do you deserve each other, you reproduce each other in a shared agenda that has little room for altruism or public wellbeing.
One reading of the past election result is that people who did not support the Rajapaksa regime preferred not to vote rather than endorse you or your party, upon which you have imposed your stamp of petty irrelevance. You do not present a viable alternative to the UPFA so much as a bankrupt and lost-cause non-option against which staying at home on election day seems less futile.
Give up now, Mr Wickremesinghe, while you can, so that, misquoting Shakespeare, history may say of you at least that “nothing in his political life became him like the leaving it.”