Nation At The Crossroads
hands among our readers may recall how, in years gone by, dissolution of
parliament precipitated immediate rejoicing, dancing on the streets,
firecrackers and all. Politicians of the opposite party would spit on
their hands and prepare for the mˆl‚e to come, and the public, if
faced with an unpopular government, would gleefully prepare to mark a
cross against the symbol of the other side.
the present dissolution came as no surprise to anyone. After all,
Chandrika Kumaratunga had sworn she would not dissolve, which, to a
public that knows her as the Mother Of All Liars, was good enough as a
sure sign that she would. Even Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe,
whose childlike trust in the President's bona fides is touching, was
only mildly surprised. Nevertheless, dancers on the streets have been
conspicuous by their absence.
polls just six weeks away, Kumaratunga's anticlimactic and self-serving
dissolution has resulted in parties of all complexions leaving no stone
unturned in a search for issues. Kumaratunga and her JVP allies are
already, like the donkeys of yore, bound together but each pulling
towards its own bundle of hay, off at cross purposes. The JVP says it
wants to arrest and try Pirapaharan while Kumaratunga wants to negotiate
with him. For his part, the Tiger king says he wants nothing to do with
either of them.
there is the economy. Kumaratunga says she will bring down the cost of
living, passing over for the nonce the fact that it was she who
succeeded in doubling it in just five years through halving the value of
the rupee - to say nothing of the stock market crash, the exhaustion of
foreign exchange reserves and the drastic cuts in social services to
fund the war she fought so unsuccessfully whilst of course building a
multi-million dollar Presidential Palace for her in Battaramulla. Madam
Debacle, we knew her as, remember? Now she wants to ladle out a bit more
of the same, and the serfs - us the electors - are supposed to lap it up
like the peasant tenants of her country seat at Horagolla.
is Kumaratunga going to do different? Will she no longer summon tender
boards to President's House and order them to award tenders to her
favourites? Will she desist from doling out any more special favours to
her pal, Ronnie Peiris? The man was just the previous week back in
Colombo. Will she cease to utter lie after lie, whether about her
fantasy sojourn at the Sorbonne or about her fictitious PhD in
economics? Going by her recent form, not likely. If perchance the
JVP-SLFP alliance were to emerge victorious on April 3, we can expect
more - much more - of the same.
worse. The JVP are straining at the leash to take over the social
services ministries. Their strategy is simple: increase wages, dole out
the largesse, and become the good guys. Who cares where the money comes
from? Then, when the government is bankrupt, go for the kill. Two years
is all there is, and two years is all they need to fool a lot of the
people all of the time.
if that were not enough, we are now faced with the prospect of having a
parliament full of yellow robes, for the Ayatollahs have joined the
fray. Gautama Buddha gave up his principality to follow the ascetic
dictates of Buddhism, and in sunny Sri Lanka, his disciples are just
about to do the reverse due to what they see as the hypocrisy practised
by 'pseudo nationalists' such as the JVP.
so we come a full circle to the UNF, evidently the only party that still
espouses secular liberalism to any degree. What has Ranil Wickremesinghe
to offer? Only more of the same: more peace, more tolerance, more
economic growth, more patience, more foreign aid. But a fat lot of good
all that is to a people whose stomachs are empty and who would like
someone else to fill it for them.
held his peace since Kumaratunga's November 4 palace coup, last week the
Prime Minister for the first time confided in the people his version of
events. Calm and rational to a fault, he freely admitted that members of
his government had gone astray, apologised for the errors of their ways
and promised, if re-elected, not to repeat the same mistakes. This is
something of a novelty in Sri Lankan politics for Wickremesinghe's
opponents have done far worse and are far less inclined to confess their
has lied as if lies were going out of fashion, and committed countless
other offences against common morality, but never would she bring
herself to seek forgiveness. A Bandaranaike, she. For their part, the
JVP have sadistically slaughtered tens of thousands and shed blood in
the Holy of Holies of Buddhism: no sign of any apology from them either,
other than a very general statement from Somawansa Amarasinghe.
Congratulations then to Wickremesinghe for his courage and humility to
admit his faults.
one's faults and correcting them, however, are two different things.
While the public welcomes unreservedly the Prime Minister's candour and
manifest goodwill, he faces the challenge now of convincing the people
that he will change his style of governance. Wickremesinghe is not a
willing leader, and certainly not a street fighter. However, given that
the President is an outright bully, not a few people are frustrated by
his unwillingness to take her on.
all, that is what leadership is about: championing the cause of one's
electors. When he returned to Sri Lanka on November 9, it was in
Wickremesinghe's power to lead the million people who turned out to
welcome him to a siege of President's House, using people's power, as
was so effectively done in similar circumstances in the Philippines and
Indonesia, to get the President to back down. Instead, he withdrew to
Temple Trees and tried to start negotiations, little realising that you
cannot negotiate with a habitual bully like Kumaratunga. She knows only
one language: that of a solid boot connecting with her derriŠre,
preferably with a goodish bit of follow-through.
it is not just the President that Wickremesinghe has failed to control,
it is also his ministers. A good many of them have engaged in blatant
corruption. No more, we grant than the PA ministers who went before
them, but disgraceful nevertheless. Even as one instance after another
has been brought to the Prime Minister's notice, he has turned a blind
eye evidently fearful that the loss of a single thief would deprive him
of his parliamentary majority.
Wickremesinghe failed to recognise is that had he booted one corrupt
minister out, the others would swiftly have fallen in line. By failing
to act against corrupt ministers, while he himself stayed with his hands
squeaky clean, his government has been fatally tainted. This he must
resolve never to let happen again, if the public do indeed re-elect his
party come April 2. He simply cannot refuse, as he did just weeks after
his government was sworn in in December 2001, to be the class monitor.
That duty just happens to go with the job.
faith in the Sri Lankan people, while touching, is also perhaps
excessive. He has a duty to counter the lies and the false propaganda
that are endlessly trumpeted by the state media. He cannot leave it just
to the good judgement of the people to believe only what is true, for a
lie told oft enough assumes every attribute of the truth. There is a
case to be made to the people of Sri Lanka, and a good one too, in
defence of what Wickremesinghe believes. It is up to him to articulate
that case, not leaving it to the imagination of the electorate. After
all, if one does not lead, how can others follow?