10 January 2019

Some new projects for Born-Again Democrats, Funded-Voices and Candlelight-Ladies

The year 2018 ended with political uncertainty being shelved. I say ‘shelved’ because the ‘restored’ UNP regime no longer has the President’s support nor that of his party, is being held to ransom by the Tamil National Alliance and does not have a stand-alone Parliamentary majority. Moreover, the flaws of the 19th, apart from those pertaining to dissolution, still remain and could come to haunt the ruling party. 

Thirdly, the government remains unpopular and is widely perceived to be corrupt and inept. The fact that its political opponents cannot boast of a superior track record in terms of wrongdoing is hardly comforting given that credentials of would-be replacements matter less than the need to get rid of governments when it comes to elections. Fourthly, the UNP-led Yahapalana regime has bungled so much with constitutional reform that it is likely that the people would view the proposed 20th Amendment with suspicion and will watch closely the UNP’s position on the new constitution that the TNA plans to table shortly.  

Despite all this, less confusion and less uncertainty in terms of who is running the country is obviously makes for a much healthier situation that what we had in the last quarter of 2018.  

Stability in this sense, nevertheless does not translate to democracy and good governance being in the box seat. But do we have democracy now, people? Is everything hunky dory? Do we have good governance now, finally?

We can safely relegate the ongoing spat between Sarath Fonseka and Palitha Thewarapperuma as a humorous diversion. So too Palitha Range Bandara’s threats and predictions. It’s nothing more than disappointment and ire on the part of individuals who’ve lost out in the apportionment of cabinet posts. 

But here’s something to think about. The man at the centre of the Central Bank bond scam, Arjuna Mahendran is evading arrest. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the key approver of Mahendran and the scam, who also, according to Mahendran, proffered relevant instructions, is back as Prime Minister. The suspected go-between, Ravi Karunanayake, is back in the cabinet. The principal  beneficiaries, Arjun Aloysius and Kasun Palisena, are out on bail.

Now it was reported that their bail application was accepted by court because a) the main suspect cannot be apprehended, and b) their families were falling ill. Such ‘reasons’ if applied across the board would help clear the prisons!  

None of this is surprising. These are politicians and crooks doing what they’ve always done, after all. What’s interesting here is the action or rather the apathy of people who barely a few weeks ago were shouting themselves hoarse ‘for democracy’. Yes, ‘not for Ranil but for democracy’ was the slogan; that’s why they took to the streets, they told the world.  

Well, the Born-Again Democrats, the Funded Voices and the Candlelight Ladies who were appalled by President Sirisena’s moves in October 2018, but had been quiet when he did the hanky-panky from January 2015 until he sacked Ranil Wickremesinghe, appear to have retreated to comfy quarters of apathy after Wickremesinghe was reinstated. 

It’s as if they were deliberately lying when they said ‘It’s not about Ranil’ and ‘It’s not about the UNP’. They were lying when they said they were fighting to reestablish democracy and good governance. They were, in fact, utterly unconcerned about such things. They were, in fact, only concerned about ‘their people’ being in power.  
Why haven’t they issued statements regarding Wickremesinghe’s choices for cabinet portfolios? Why have they (and also the governments of the USA, UK, France, Australia and Canada, and top people in UN agencies) been silent over the sacking of ITN employees? Why didn’t any of these people cry in horror over Buddha statues being smashed in Mawanella?  Why not, indeed! 

They would know best, but we can hazard a few guesses. They were protecting their people, their turf; democracy and justice were easy and convenient alibis in this project. 

However, we could be generous here. Maybe they are taking a breather. They are just tired, perhaps, from sleepless nights. They are recovering from being forced to spend some time outdoors and being bombarded with noice, smoke, dust and of course the unpalatable matter of having to rub shoulders with the ‘riffraff,’ made mostly of people who are not like them,  would love to be like them and probably have deluded themselves into believe that they would get membership in this ‘exclusive’ and (in their minds) elusive club if they ‘mimicked the gentry’ in action and by embracing their pet antipathies.

Yes, maybe they are exhausted. Maybe they will catch their breath one of these days. Maybe they’ll shake off the dust of placards and cut-paste status updates in social media one of these days.

If they were serious about democracy and good governance (a big if, that!) and they also want to use the old placards with the legend ‘it’s not about Ranil’ there are some projects they could take up.  

First. Check the draft 19th Amendment (which elicited much concern from the Supreme Court) against the amendment itself. It can’t be difficult to ascertain the gap, the magnitude of which would help them figure out how much the authors (principally the UNP) respect the concerns of the Supreme Court. 

Second: Check the draft 20th Amendment. Go through each and every word. Refer all articles in the constitution that would be repealed or amended (Articles 30, 31, 33, 34, 35, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 46, 48, 50, 51, 52, 65, 70, 80, 85, 88, 89, 92, 111, 129, 130, 153 and 156). Read Article 3 (sovereignty), study the word, meaning and usage. Study the 13th Amendment and see what the draft 20th, if passed without repealing the 13th, would do to the unitary status of the constitution and indeed reconciliation.

Third (and this would necessarily be an ongoing project that ought to outlast the tenure of various governments). Be alert to actions and non-action, statements and silences. Ask the question: ‘does this enhance or diminish things which we cherish such as democracy and good governance or even basic decency?’

Born-Again Democrats, Funded-Voices and Candlelight Ladies: your work is not done, sorry.