Avantha Artigala says a lot here. But Maithripala's move is also a 'Maithri-Ranil'. This classic 'imperative' of coercion when ideological sway has been spent is not new though.
‘At least there’s freedom now!’ This has been the stock (consolation?) response of those who defend the yahapalana regime whenever it is pointed out that corruption, nepotism, abuse of state resources for political purposes and other wrongdoings have not ceased after the January 8 ‘revolution’. No more white van abductions, true. Journalists have not been beaten up, true. Demonstrations and marches organized by the Opposition have not been attacked, this is also true. Does this mean there’s ‘freedom’ or that ‘relative merits’ is what counts? Not necessarily.
Not necessarily, because things are getting bad. And not necessarily, because playing relative merits is a cop out. There are signs to be read and nothing stands in-your-face as the disarray, confusion and clowning with respect to law and order; in particular the issue of putting Saraath Fonseka in charge.
There was talk that Fonseka would be put in charge of the Army. A politician in charge of the Army would of course be a disaster not to mention that small detail of it going dead against the yahapalana spirit. Fonseka, thankfully, has shot that idea down, as he shot down (he says) the presidential offer of a post called ‘Security Division Head’. Fonseka however stated that President Sirisena had made a request and that cabinet had approved it. The request is this: ‘taking over the responsibility of carrying out duties when essential services were disrupted.’ Fonseka has said that a mechanism to implement such a programme would have to be drafted, implying that Parliament would have to approve it.
Fonseka, clearly, has taken it seriously. Minister of Social Empowerment and Welfare S.B. Dissanayake objects, though. He says ‘the President was joking’. The joke, according to SB, was about making Fonseka the Army Commander. He implies thereafter that the President was not joking about ‘the post,’ presumably the one Fonseka referred to which, according to SB, would ‘streamline the services of the Army’.
All this comes after Cabinet Spokesman Minister Rajitha Senaratne stated that ‘President Maithripala Sirisena had requested Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka to quit the ministerial portfolio and take up the post of Army Commander or Overall Commander for two years to discipline the country.’ Senaratne, like SB, alluded to a Special Act of Parliament and slipped in the caveats about the primacy of operating within the existing laws.
Minister WIjith Wijayamuni Zoysa sang a different tune. Maybe SB and Rajitha are mouths whereas Fonseka and Zoysa are tongues following the Sinhala dictum kata boru kiwwath diva boru kiyanne nehe (although the mouth may lie, the tongue will not). Whereas Fonseka may have been, as per his style, said it as it was, clinically and dispassionately, Zoysa’s was a blurting out: “Several underhand forces are operational to hinder the development of the country [and] for that there should be special forces to suppress them.”
Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Minister Mahinda Amaraweera had a sober take on the affair. He told a news conference that the President only asked whether Mr. Fonseka could help implement a mechanism to ensure uninterrupted supply of essential services for which Mr. Fonseka agreed. Here’s the reasoning: “It was discussed during the cabinet meeting that people had to face inconveniences due to the strike launched by trade unions without prior notice. It was said that the situation had arisen due to the overuse of freedom given by the government. The President said a special mechanism should be set up to provide essential services without any disruption.” He adds, “there were such mechanisms even during the war.”
So what do we have here? Simply put, things have gotten out of control. The allusions are to some ‘sinister hand at work’. The concern is about ‘misuse of freedom’. The answer then is about ‘streamlining freedom,’ if we were word it mildly. The different takes of the worthies mentioned above clearly indicates confusion. Shed the whole thing of hilarity and we are left with a proposal for a mechanism relating to law and order. This means that either the existing mechanisms are inadequate or else the personnel in charge are incompetent. A third, if you will, is that the Government has proven to be utterly incompetent in handling issues, which can be put down to several possible factors such as a) lack of policy-coherence, b) abysmal skill in handling objection, c) poor communication and d) poverty of ideas and imagination. This is the obvious conclusion when a regime gets to a point where it is forced to talk about ‘lurking evil’ and the need to exorcise it by any means necessary — which, by the way, is what all these statements collapse into.
So what of ‘freedom’ now, ladies and gentlemen, especially those of you for whom ‘more freedom’ has been the last line of defence of the yahapalana regime? This regime has seamlessly picked up the baton of everything-that-was-wrong-
about-the-Rajapaksas. If regime change euphoria yielded a window of opportunity, it’s almost closed now. If ‘change’ prompted a freedom-honeymoon, it’s almost done. It took the previous regime at least 6 years to lose the professionals, the academics and the artists; the yahapalanists have beaten the Rajapaksa by several years in this aspect. The most telling ‘drop out’ is the business community, traditionally a UNP bastion; their dismay is less about policies that are detrimental to their interests but the lack of clarity in policy.
The ‘solution’ says it all. The ‘solution’ is a clear vote of no confidence on both system and personnel. More than that, it is an acknowledgment of failure on the part of the regime. It has boiled down to a game of political survival. Ideas, clearly, are not swaying anyone and when that happens it’s the batons that are swung. The yahapalana regime has come to this point just a little over two years into its term (or less than two years, if you take August 2015 as the true ‘Beginning’).
The freedom-argument has all but run its course. The yahapalanists have essentially got freedom by its metaphorical throat (what irony!). So let’s hope that somewhere in the corridors of power there is sanity that can be gathered in adequate quantities to counter the insane and the stupid. If not, ‘crack down’ will be on the cards and what ensues when that happens can be easily imagined if we turn the pages of post-independence history back to 1988-89.