14 December 2018

‘Citizens’ as suckers

So Sri Lanka! That’s a tourism promotional line. It’s more subtle and of course far less pretentious than ‘Aasiyaave Aascharya’ (Miracle of Asia).  In a way it’s more ‘Sri Lankan’ come to think of it. In other words, we are a pretty laid back nation. Of course some may disagree. So let’s consider the current political situation. 

We had a ‘powerful’ (note the inverted commas) movement intent on delivering good governance (some would say it was more anti-Rajapaksa than pro anything else). Some in that movement were determined to abolish the executive presidency. Some talked of reestablishing democracy. To this end, they scuttled the undoubtedly anti-democratic 18th Amendment and introduced the 19th Amendment.  Nihal Jayawickrema, constitutional expert, even said that the 19th had effectively pruned 80% of the presidential powers.  

Well! Following a court order regarding the Prime Minister and Cabinet after the sacking of Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place, there’s just one individual with power. That’s Maithripala Sirisena, President. Sure, all that could change once the Supreme Court (finally) delivers its determination on the issue of dissolution, but for all intents and purposes, as of now, power and the president are roughly synonymous.

The true test of power or rather in whom or what position most power resides is resolved by answering a simple question: ‘which individual can effect the most amount of change with the least amount of effort?’ Well, we know the answer to that question now. Sirisena signed a couple of papers and a few weeks later ‘So Sri Lanka’ is a country without a prime minister or a cabinet, it has a Parliament that’s like a circus, a Speaker who think he’s the Executive and a judiciary that is sitting on a decision (of course probably for good reason). 

No riots, no great public agitation. Nothing like France, for example. 

That could all change very quickly, but six weeks after Sirisena did the unthinkable, so to speak, life goes on. Let that not lull us into complacency though. More importantly, let us be wary of the do-gooders of the moment. 

Am I saying that those who are concerned are mischievous and have motives that have little to do with their rhetoric? No. It is good that people are concerned and that they voice their concerns. The problem is that the main issue is being skirted, in the main.  

Let’s get some facts straight. None of the prominent political leaders are operating in the people’s interest. None of the major political parties are interested in the people. They will say they are for the people, they will claim their politics is to further the best interests of the nation, but one doesn’t need to have studied politics deeply to understand that personal goals are what matter most. In the case of parties, it is about obtaining or retaining power. 

Just think of the democracy-demanding set. Were they really ever serious about democracy or are they suddenly upset because certain political developments have tripped Ranil Wickremesinghe and the United National Party? Some may argue that Sirisena’s moves exceeded by quite a margin all anti-democratic acts perpetrated by the Yahapalanists (Wickremesinghe and the UNP included) since January 2015. The issue is that a crime is a crime. Wrongdoing is wrongdoing. We can talk relative merits or demerits, but one has to hold one’s nose before supporting any wrongdoer.  

As of now, the entire state apparatus, judiciary included, is designed for wrongdoing; it is patently anti-people. You leave apparatus and process intact while arguing for change or rather batting for one party or another, one individual as opposed to another, and you are essentially supporting one crook or set of crooks over another. For whatever reason.  

At some level is ridiculous to talk about elections or quibble about the integrity of the existing system or scream about upholding a constitution that is anti-people. The question is and should be sovereignty. The constitution along with amendments do not support sovereignty. The institutional arrangement does not affirm sovereignty. The processes are not people-friendly, they don’t affirm the notion of sovereignty. 

In short, all demonstrations by all parties to this ‘conflict’ are essentially framed in a manner that does not in any way threaten the overall status quo. That ‘status quo’ is not about political personalities or political parties, but a system of exploitation, a system which constantly sanctions oppression of one kind or another. 

All those who talk politics without factoring in people (outside of the rhetoric that is) and ignoring the overarching structural realities are essentially negotiating for political advantages of one set of crooks over another.   

One word about protests and protestors. Scratch most of them and you’ll find a color. A color associated with a party. A good rule of thumb is to figure out who they are targeting. That will tell you who they are supporting and protecting. That will show the color of their bias and the extent of their servility.  

Can we go beyond all this? Perhaps. First and foremost, we need to shed illusions about democracy and the system (constitution and judiciary included) and sever fixations to personalities and parties. That might get us somewhere. If not, we might as well call ourselves ‘citizen suckers’. That would be ‘So Sri Lanka’ sad to say, but we can reinvent ourselves so that we can be ‘So Sri Lankan’ in a more affirmative manner, that recognizes realities and do something about it. Maybe we are all biding our time. Let’s hope so. 

At any rate, let us not put things ‘in the hands of god’ so to speak. That’s a mischievous hope, let me admit. The entire process is being determined by individuals and their religious convictions could come into play (let’s hope they rise above all that, but let us not be too innocent either). There are born-again democrats and born-again theists in this game. Think about it.