The Sunday Leader

Enthronement of Demogoguery

The last flickering flame that kept Sri Lankan democracy in light during elections was blown out last Wednesday.
Most of the freedoms cherished and enjoyed by the people had been blown out before that black day in the history of the country. However, the right of the privately owned media to freely express itself during election times had flickered on. But on that black Wednesday the 18th Amendment which obliterated many other freedoms — which existed at least on paper — strangled the only independent voice that had been heard at election times, the freedom of expression of the privately owned media. It was more than that. The right of the privately owned media to voice an independent opinion was the right of the people to shout out an independent opinion amidst the deafening cacophony of the voices of the ruling party. Now the voice of the people has been stilled in its entirety.
Under the newly enacted 18th Amendment among the multifarious powers vested in the almighty president is the power to appoint an Elections Commission. This commission comprising three members has not only the power to issue guidelines to the state media as it happened under the now abolished 17th Amendment but direct all media — state and private. This could amount to the private media being gagged and bound hand and foot by the new Elections Commission. In practice the state media will be free to the extent the president desires, for it is the president that calls the shots ultimately. We have seen Lake House, state television and radio thumbing their noses at the former Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake and doing what they pleased. The only redeeming feature was that he had no power to give directions or ‘guidance’ to the private media. Now through the new amendment the president could have his desires fulfilled through the Elections Commission, that he appoints.
During election campaigns in recent years the ruling party drove the illegal juggernaut  of administrative power making public service employees cow down to the wishes of ruling party political thugs, abused state resources unabashedly, made policemen dance to their tunes, thrashed citizens and framed criminal charges against innocent people. There was only a couple of newspapers like The Sunday  Leader  and one or two TV channels that exposed this political thuggery and dared to speak out on behalf of the victims. Their outreach was not as great as the state controlled monstrosities, neither was their immediate effect felt because of the absence of an effective and credible opposition political party. Yet, the message was seeping through all strata of society, eroding the credibility of the ruling class. To the world beyond our shores it was a message that deep beyond the orgies of gobbling milk rice on the streets, lighting of crackers and dancing of thugs there were serious voices of dissent in Sri Lanka.
The free media paid dearly for this bravado. Two warriors of the press,  Editor of The Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge and Editor of TamilNet, Sivaram paid with their lives for exercising the right of independent opinion.  Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared the day before the last presidential election and his disappearance still remains a mystery. Some journalists have fled the country while many Tamil journalists have paid the supreme penalty.
The issue of the Elections Commission will come into play only at the tail end of Rajapaksa’s second term — if he goes for the full term. But before that he has ensured all mighty power required even for a dictatorship. He appoints the seven commissions — Elections, Public Services, Police, Human Rights, Bribery, Finance and Delimitation including members of the higher judiciary, Judicial Services Commission, Attorney General, Auditor General, Ombudsman and Secretary General of Parliament. Presidents before the 18th Amendment too enjoyed executive powers  to some extent though not the same as under the new legislation. Even heads of state in other countries too enjoy similar executive powers. But the unique exception of the Rajapaksa presidency is that 75 per cent or more of the administrative and military power will be under the direct control of the Rajapaksa family and proportionately the control and distribution of finance.
Where oh where are the ‘checks and balances’ of the constitution required for the constitution of any democratic  country? ‘The most powerful man on Earth’, the president of the United States is bound by a constitution — not enacted by him to suit his purposes — an independent, vigorous Congress and a media that is considered to be the most effective and powerful instrument in controlling the executive powers of the president as well as other institutions such as trade unions and powerful lobbies that he cannot ignore.
The rise to power of the Rajapaksa regime can be attributed to the absence of any effective opposition. Much of that opposition was removed by UNP Leader J.R. Jayewardene himself when he crushed the once powerful trade union movement that could have brought any government to its knees. Velupillai Prabhakaran contributed substantially by exterminating much of the UNP leadership, leaving the SLFP untouched while also eliminating the democratic Tamil leadership. Rajapaksa with his Machiavellian plots ousted Anura and Chandrika Bandaranaike from the SLFP leadership and then used the powers of executive presidency to split the JVP and decimate the UNP.
The absence of  any opposition today is evident by the supine attitude shown by the ‘independent’ media towards his blatant assaults on the freedom of the media. Press Barons who were once considered more powerful than the rulers have now turned out to be tame poodles waiting for crumbs to fall from the Temple Trees tables. There is a bit of a pinch made on and off but the next morning lavish bumming is evident.
The once  proud and stolid UNP is crumbling. Last week six UNPers went over to the government on the grounds that they are dissatisfied with the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe. Certainly Wickremesinghe’s leadership has been disastrous. But the remedy is not to quit the party but stay back and fight. What contributions do these renegades hope to make for the betterment of the party and country defies reason. Is the thinking that electing Rajapaksa for a third term and having a 77-year- old- president would be best for the country and the vesting of all power in this one individual will make us an Asian Lion? Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hints that he too may seek a third presidential term but he is only 57 years and would be 63 when his third term ends. Gerontocracy whether the leaders be democrats or autocrats is not the order of the times.
The Daily News front page announcing the ‘historic majority’ was a tragi-comedy with the headline: “Masses erupt in joy island-wide.” Why should the masses ‘erupt in joy’ when their basic political rights and freedoms are being taken away and vested in one person?
The answer could be found in a definition of H.L. Meneken: One who preaches doctrines he knows to be quite untrue to men he knows to be idiots, is called a demagogue.

5 Comments for “Enthronement of Demogoguery”

  1. Kandana

    The last flickering flame that kept Sri Lankan democracy or the future of UNP?

  2. Pot Stirrer

    “Masses erupt in joy island-wide.” Why should the masses ‘erupt in joy’ when their basic political rights and freedoms are being taken away and vested in one person?” because 90% of the Sri Lankans are uneducated and dance to the tune of their leaders irrespective of the political party. If you are good at marketing yourself to these ignorant people you can be a hero!! Look at our world famous Dr He know how to market himself in Gampaha District; kind of a “marketing guru” Simply, these people are just like the “frogs in a well”
    The trick is to manipulate and brain wash the vast majority of ignorant uneducated people to agree to your philosophy and you become a winner. (MR is doing it right) Let’s light some fire crackers because we just lost our freedom! Idiots!! (Sorry if I had touched one of your nerves)

    • Ian D.S

      Its NOT the masses that erupted in joy but the Lapdogs, Lackeys, Political turncoats purchased over the counter, the ignorant and the uneducated people bought over for a piece of Kiribath.
      One must realize the personality of the person we are dealing with. It is a man who is not very educated but very devious and cunning, he loves when people pay homage to him and sing his praises, he is very vindictive and is used to having his own way and will not book any dissent he will rule with an Iron hand BUT his true colors can be seen any day those in his own party has the guts to stand up to him and say enough is enough. But who will have the guts to bell the cat, who will have the guts to call his bluff and rid this country of the most corrupt family ever to soil the sands of this country.

  3. Bashir

    Those who rule by the sword will perish by the sword is an ancient truth! Patience pays.

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