After the 18th Amendment… What?
Reading what passes for analysis and comment with regard to the Rajapaksa Regime’s (RR’s) effort to place the seal of respectability on what can only be described as a travesty of democratic practice, the term that comes to mind is “Theatre of the absurd.” If it isn’t, there sure are a huge number of idiots being published who have pretensions to intellect above the average!
We had the spectacle of the United National Party (UNP) seeking to discuss/negotiate the proposed changes to the constitution with the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government, or, rather, His Majesty Mahinda Rajapaksa. Given the history of previous discussions of this nature, one might justifiably ask, “For God’s sake, why?” We had a UNP loyalist immolating himself in front of that party’s headquarters while the behaviour of the leaders of the party to which he had been loyal for more than half a century could well be described as the political equivalent of that fiery end, except the behaviour of Ranil Wickremesinghe and his cohorts was pathetic rather than dramatically tragic.
It is a matter of record that this Government has consistently acted with complete and absolute impunity, ignoring those provisions of the constitution that it found inconvenient when trying to impose its will on its subjects, and I use the word ‘subjects’ deliberately.
The only explanation is that, while bread and circuses have been a staple of every dictatorship at least since Roman times, there is also the need to constantly reinforce the fact that the regime will do as it pleases even if that means making seemingly meaningless gestures.
What practical consideration requires that you remove what you have a track record of deliberately ignoring in the first place? Just as the 13th and 17th Amendments have been completely ignored, why would Mahinda Rajapaksa want to remove the limitation on the number of terms that he serves? It is not logical. He could simply have offered himself for a third term, ignoring the requirements of the constitution and electoral law as he has done often enough.
Around the time of the end of ‘The War,’ in May of last year, Montage magazine printed a submission of mine which spoke to the fact that Sri Lankans had acknowledged the rule of the Rajapaksa family, in a manner that more than suggested a recognition that liberal democracy had no real legitimacy in Sri Lanka despite the passage of more than half a century of Westminster-style democratic practice. They saw Sri Lanka’s place as one in the pantheon of benign oligarchies. Unfortunately, the populace did not seem to recognise the fact that ‘benign’ and ‘oligarchies’ constitute an oxymoron.
All of that said, what fate awaits those of us seeking an existence free of harassment and the need to genuflect (literally and otherwise) to the rulers and their sycophants, even those several levels divorced from the top?
There aren’t many choices.
Particularly for those of us in the ‘boondocks’ of this country who are seen by an increasingly deprived rural population as ‘rich’ by virtue of having three square meals a day, a roof over our heads and, perhaps, a private means of transportation, life can suddenly take on new risks. One would have to be blind and deaf not to see what’s in the cards.
Not so long ago, I contacted the local police about a theft-in-progress by armed thugs where there was the real risk of someone being seriously injured or killed. I was told that it would help if we brought the location of the crime closer to the police station! This was not simply a facetious ‘Gum-Butta’ at the end of a police telephone line indulging his sense of humour. It reflected something far more serious because minions don’t say these things unless they know that there is no likelihood of adverse consequences from above for such behaviour. Do I have to even mention the ongoing Sri Lankan soap-operas/teledramas called “Mervyn Silva” or “Wimal Weerawansa” in confirmation of this reality?
Out in the village and in rural Sri Lanka generally, you are, essentially, on your own unless you have the exceptional situation of a police officer in charge of a station who believes in those old-fashioned rules such as the need to protect law-abiding citizens from the thugs who are often close associates of the politicians who wield ultimate power in our society. Those politicians, of course, are assured of the ultimate in personal security at our expense.
How does one survive in this jungle? With great difficulty, I would suggest.
The simplest form of protection is to invoke ‘connections’ to those with ‘clout,’ something I was implored to do from the time of my return to Sri Lanka. As someone who had never done this either here or in the land I chose to call home for better than 30 years, I haven’t and have, instead, tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to prevail upon those with whom I’ve had to deal to act fairly and legally. I am reliably informed that this is a stupid, counterproductive way in which to try to do business in Sri Lanka. No matter. It’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks, particularly of the slimy variety.
Many friends are persuaded that there is going to be some kind of Sri Lankan revolution and the people will rise up and throw off the fetters of slavery that are descending upon them and that we will then return to some kind of utopia where everything will be sweetness and light once more.
What we are going to see is the continuing dominance of the oligarchs; a sycophantic horde who will share in their aggrandisement; a middle-class that will be satisfied with picking up a steadily-decreasing supply of crumbs from the table and the vast majority of Sri Lankans who will walk around in a daze saying, essentially, “Woe is me!”
The rapacious and criminal elements in Sri Lankan society will flourish, because their success will be predicated on their ability to stay close to the rulers, a skill they have already demonstrated in ample measure.
To invoke an analogy: we are going to be another Haiti except that we will have three Baby Docs instead of one!