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The larger polity “packages”

The two-day ceasefire extended by the government was expected to be used by the warring factions to hammer out a solution to evacuate the civilians trapped in the no fire zone. The dawn of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year was considered the best time to forge a consensus on this thorny issue. It was even suggested that Velupillai Pirapaharan together with other top Tiger leaders would be afforded an opportunity to get out of the country enabling the civilians to be moved out but the mistrust between both factions run too deep for such a possibility.

As expected the brief respite ended Wednesday (15) morning when hostilities resumed. 

Meanwhile canvassing for the Western Provincial Council poll was being continued with gusto by the UPFA candidates with the likes of Duminda Silva attending Easter Sunday Mass at the Roman Catholic Sacred Heart Church in Rajagiriya, dressed in spotless white and even receiving the host. Of course as is the style of those who can afford and even consider it a fashion statement, he was surrounded by a retinue of bodyguards and a back-up vehicle. Why the servants of the people at provincial council level need such a big security detail calls for serious debate.

Closed ranks

As for the UNP the dissidents who were clamouring for a change in the leadership, have temporarily closed ranks to lend their weight to those candidates contesting the provincial elections. To the discerning voter the quality of the UNP list is by far superior to that of the UPFA. The winds of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism that have spread with the successes on the war front has swept with it a pseudo coterie of candidates who form the bulk of the UPFA list.

Lawlessness that is spreading across the country is growing unabated. Crime is increasing by leaps and bounds. Good governance and accountability are confined to the statute books and one dare not seek redress nor voice dissent, for the wrath of the ruling political juggernaut will be upon such citizen.

Consider for a moment. The founder editor of this newspaper, Lasantha Wickrematunge was assassinated in broad daylight on a busy highway and no one has been charged yet for this crime. If Lasantha was allowed to live, would the war have stopped? Would Pirapaharan have left behind the civilians in government controlled areas? It is this type of crime that breeds the level of lawlessness the country witnesses today.

 It was this evolving lawlessness that was troubling Petroleum and Petroleum Resources Minister A.H.M. Fowzie when he met President Rajapakse at Temple Trees last week. He was to complain to the President of the dangerous ground conditions in his pocket borough, Colombo Central. Minister Fowzie complained about the thuggery and intimidation resorted to by a new set of UPFA supporters canvassing for their candidate Mowjood. Rajapakse was to laugh it off with a pat on Fowzie’s back stating that he could never make Colombo Central “blue” and it would be done this time. With even a senior cabinet minister’s concerns being treated so lightly by the President no less it is little wonder that even the smallest of elections have become mini wars. For his part UNP MP Maharoof who has been the power behind this large electorate for the grand old party has stayed aloof of the violence.

Shocking ‘secret’

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is known to keep confidences. Yet with the terror unleashed in the Colombo Central electorate he found it opportune to share a secret with the public whilst addressing a political meeting in support of UNP candidates. “The President is going around charging that I betrayed the country by signing the Ceasefire Agreement in 2002. It was former President Chandrika and the JVP who started saying this in 2002. President Rajapakse was the leader of the opposition then. He told me that I should go ahead and implement the ceasefire in full for the benefit of the country and that he fully endorsed that move, and I thank him for the support he extended to me at that time….” stated Wickremesinghe to a shocked audience.

He did not stop at that; “It was Dulles Alahapperuma who called me from the USA and said that Chandrika was useless and to go ahead with the ceasefire and implement a political solution…” 

Moving on, recall how the JHU capitalised on the untimely death of Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thera to establish itself in the political firmament of this country? Soma Thero was very popular with the Buddhist population due to his television orations on Buddhist philosophy. His death for all intents and purposes gave life to the JHU which cleverly mobilised a group of monks to contest the general election that followed soon after.

The monks who entered parliament promising to build a ‘Dharma Rajya’ soon proved to be no better than the laity. Duty free luxury cars, salary increments were endorsed with glee. Soon the lustre of the saffron clan was to wear off. The hordes that veered towards this new party believing in the monks’ ‘Dharma Rajya’ have since abandoned the party.

Short-lived promise

Meanwhile Udaya Gammanpila, a “star” in the JHU camp is contesting the Western Provincial Council elections. He started off just like his robed party members by promising to conduct an environmentally clean election campaign. “No cut outs, no posters,” he promised. Once into the campaign in what is now true JHU style the ‘clean campaign’ promise also ended up in Colombo’s mounting garbage pile. Not only cut-outs and posters, he even carries his old school logo on them.

Be that as it may the international community and Norway in particular came under attack by the government after LTTE supporters vandalised the Sri Lankan High Commission in Oslo. Norway has for long been in the firing line of the JVP and now the National Freedom Front of Wimal Weerawansa, for its perceived support of the LTTE, the latter being a handy political tool for the government. President Rajapakse has now perfected the art of playing ‘good cop’ and using political allies to play ‘bad cop’ as the situation demands.

The LTTE has time and again shot themselves in the foot, and the Oslo incident clearly shows that old mistakes are being repeated or the Tamil diaspora is now acting out of concert. The strident level of protest over this issue shows the marketing strategy of the government. Norway’s good offices were used even as recently as a couple of weeks ago in seeking a way out of the civilian situation in the north. 

If one may recall how our cricketers were targeted in Pakistan during their tour recently, it was sheer providence that saved the entire team. What was the level of protest by the government against the government of Pakistan? Was it anywhere as near as the ranting against Norway? Was there ever a likelihood of anyone losing life or limb in the Oslo vandalism leave alone a national team?

This is not to say the dastardly Oslo incident should not be condemned unreservedly, but are not our cricketers national heroes or ambassadors of Sri Lanka?

Marketing strategy

Politicians it seems have perfected the art of marketing to the larger polity ‘packages’ that are in the main designed to keep them in power. It is sad that the majority too has fallen for the marketing strategy of the Rajapakse administration and are not focusing on any other issue than the war.

In the meanwhile the economy is surely slowing down and the slide has yet to bottom out. The next few months would begin to show the true effects where job cuts, pay cuts and the shedding of bonus payments would be the order of the day. Though instructions are out from the President’s Office that all new projects in ministries should be postponed or stopped until further notice, the ministers are in no mood to curb their expenditure. It is business as usual.

Some sections of the state have no option but to cut costs to keep up with the competition. SriLankan Airlines is one. The top management including the pilots decided to take a pay cut of 20% and forego bonus payments to be in competition. Certain sectors have been scrapped and even the journey to London which was a direct flight may now be through the Middle East with one or more stops.

Pet carrier

This however does not mean that the other pet carrier of the Rajapakse regime would follow suit. Having taken an aircraft from SriLankan Airlines on a wet lease, Mihin Air charges a passenger Rs. 15,000 return to Bangkok. One would imagine that this would result in over bookings and off loading of passengers. Not so. Yields are low despite the ridiculous prices and another bailout by the Treasury to keep it afloat won’t be long in coming.

Certain that the economy is going to hit the people hard in the coming months the government is going all out to secure a favourable result in the Western Province but it is unlikely a general election will be held this year whatever the result in the province. With economists comparing economic recovery in the short term to a snowball’s chance in hell, the political gains made on the war front would evaporate by next year and this fact is not lost on the President. For he is all too aware that it is in the management of the economy that the UNP has an edge and by the time the next polls are called it would be the economy that would be the crunch issue. The other fact he would be aware of having been in politics long enough is that the Sri Lankan voters do not have more than a month’s recall. In the meanwhile the country plods along.




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