01 February 2016

For Maithri as he begins his second year

Actually this is not about Maithripala.  It's about Mahinda.  This was a note to Mahinda as he began his second term in January 2010 published in the 'Daily News".  The lessens are not irrelevant to Maithri.  If, for example, acts of omission and commission by Mahinda saw Yoshitha doing jail time, then the track record of the Sirisenas (father and son) in a mere 12 months could very well see young Daham in a worse situation once daddy's term is done.  

How does one dissect the results of an election?  I could slice through the numbers and make cuts in terms of ‘province’, ‘district’ and ‘electorate’. I could set these pieces with equivalent slices from the 2005 election, side by side and check out how Sarath compares with Ranil. Who weighed more, I could ask and the numbers would answer.  I could check out what’s happened to Mahinda in the past 4 years: Mahinda up or Mahinda down?  I could add volume to direction and try to figure out the factors that came into play. 

I could also re-read articles which dubbed the election ‘too close to call’ and tried to artificially create a ‘tight race’.  I will do that, because a lot of these self-appointed political analysts should be shown up for the charlatans they really are, but not today.

I could break up the numbers in terms of ‘strongholds’ for party, candidate and key backers.  I could send the numbers through a colour-separator called ‘ethnic identity’ and check out how Mahinda, for example, has been embraced, ‘aloofed’ or slapped by this or that community.  I could slice things up into city and village if I can find that line which is supposed to separate urban from rural. I could find some proxies to dabble with the ‘class’ factor and perhaps even ‘caste’. 

Takes time.  I am still in the ‘morning after’ as I write this.  Some numbers strike me as they would anyone else.  The people of this country have given a massive signal of approval to Mahinda Rajapaksa.  According to latest reports he’s heading for a majority close to 1.8 million. He has secured close to 60% of the total vote.  This is ‘massive’ whichever way we look at it and if anyone has any doubts, just consider the fact that JRJ got just 52% in 1982 against Hector Kobbekaduwa.  So, whichever way we look at the numbers and however we cut them, they spell ‘endorsement’ (underlined, bold, I might add).

The numbers tell a lot about the defeated also, but this is not the moment to dwell on Sarath Fonseka and the parties and individuals that backed him.  This is Mahinda Rajapaksa’s moment.  So let me speak to him in the manner that he often speaks to us.

Mahinda.  Good show.  Incredible.  Congrats.  Enjoy.  Take 24 hours. We will not grudge you that.  Indeed, the vast majority of our voting population living in vast swathes of our beloved nation would smile with you today and for a few days more.   

I am writing in advance something I hope you will return to once the celebrations are done.

First of all, you’ve got a solid endorsement.  You have won an endorsement of a kind that none of your predecessors were given by the voters when they ran for a second term (both J.R. Jayewardena and Chandrika Kumaratunga barely squeaked through, in comparison).  As such you don’t have to keep looking over your shoulder.  You can look forward instead.

You can look at those areas you were not allowed to look at because you were busy fighting a terrorist organization while being harassed by two-bit spoilers in Colombo or because you didn’t consider them important at the time.  You can and must focus on the key issue in a post-terrorist Sri Lanka: development.  While you ‘do’ development, you must understand that you cannot ignore other issues such as correcting the seriously flawed institutions of governance that lazy and crooked leaders and inept law-makers built over the years.

You have won a second term. There will be talk of constitutional reform to enable you to revert to an executive premiership. That could be something that you want to think about.  What ought to underline your second term, what should be your waking-up thought and your going-to-sleep thought is this: legacy. 

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind, Mahinda?  How do you want to be remembered by history?  What kind of lettering would you like to be used when the name ‘Mahinda Rajapaksa’ is written?  What colour?  Would you be happy with a remark such as ‘Did a little, could have done more, had potential but fell short’ to follow your name?  How about this: ‘Wore a kurahan saatakaya but could not drape the kurahan saatakaya on every element of political, economic, social and cultural life and thereby return to the sons and daughters of the soil a nation that had been robbed from them by weak colonial clones intent on supervising for former lords and ladies the humiliation of a people and the robbing of resources’?

There are other possibilities: ‘He was positioned like no other had been to turn the country around; he didn’t’.  Mahinda, you must understand that you were not and are not perfect.  You must understand that not all the criticism can be sourced to political bitterness.  You must understand that there is a certain vulgarity in the way people close to you conduct themselves. You may have suffered them in silence due to reasons of expediency.  The people have forgiven but they have not and will not forget.  There are things you need to fix.   

There is a problem that all leaders have: sycophants.  You have shown you have the eyes to distinguish friend from foe. You have shown that you don’t hold a grudge.  Now you have to use those eyes to figure out who is causing you the greatest harm.  You cannot afford to let the behaviour and indiscretions of such people dictate the wording of the tablet that history will construct in your name. 

Yes, ‘legacy’ is something you should think about. There is another small factor: your power is diminishing even as you breathe for that is the constitution-driven reality of a second-term president.  The more time you take doing things the harder it is going to get.  

Tomorrow is a day for reflection on these lines and I hope you take this as ‘friendly advice’. 

But celebrate.  By all means.  The nation is with you.  For now.  Enjoy the warmth.  The people have said they are grateful.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malindasenevi@gmail.com.