04 December 2018

Let's talk about civility now, shall we?

‘Let us be civilized now. Let us deplore barbarism and show it the political door. Let us act with dignity and let the undignified be banished forever from the august chambers (of Parliament).’

Now the above could very well be an excerpt from any one of the many who are commenting (mostly in English) about events that have transpired in the Sri Lankan political firmament over the past 4-5 weeks, that is, from October 26, 2018 onwards. 

And of course there are comparisons: ‘Look at countries in North America and Europe. Look at Australia and New Zealand. Look how dignified and respectful the representatives are in how they conduct themselves!’

Appearances matter of course. What’s beneath the surface is not seen and seldom explored. The racism and criminality is North America and Europe, throughout history and even now, are not seen. It’s not shown either. The ‘civility’ we do see is that which transforms into wrecked economies, cities turned into rubble, massacre of civilians, refugees and such. All in the name of democracy, need we add?

Let’s talk of closer-to-home civility. The born-again democrats have been expressing horror over the uncivilized and in their minds illegal sacking of Ranil Wickremesinghe. They’ve been horrified by the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister. They’ve been disgusted by the behavior of the Mahinda camp in Parliament. 

They’ve talked numbers (as they should). Mahinda’s camp couldn’t show 113. So, lacking a Parliamentary majority, they’ve accused President Sirisena of violating the constitution. They didn’t ask if 113 WANTED Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister (just like they didn’t worry about numbers on January 9, 2015 when this same President swore in Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister even though he had just over 40 MPs supporting him in Parliament). Now that the Tamil National Alliance has expressed said they would vote for Wickremesinghe if it comes to a parliamentary test of support, they might say, ‘ok, now he has over 113!’  

Numbers are strange things though.  Principles are strange too. Consistency even stranger.  When it was very clear that the TNA was supporting the Yahapalana Government and the Joint Opposition as a group was opposed and their numbers exceeded those of the TNA, the born-again democrats did not talk numbers, propriety and parliamentary tradition. No talk of civility there, then.

Speaking of protocols, the motions of vote confidence against Wickremesinghe and then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake were taken up weeks after they were tabled. The Speaker, in his wisdom, hemmed and hawed before allowing a debate. The motion against Wickremesinghe was debated and duly defeated. Good parliamentary stuff, the born-agains said.  

Then, just the other day, the very same Speaker violated all established procedure embedded in standing orders to take up a private member’s motion, allowed no debate and declared the motion ‘held’ within a matter of less than five minutes. There’s no way he or anyone else could have counted the ‘ayes’ and ‘nays’. Indeed, in that chaotic situation, members who voted ‘aye’ had their hands up when the ‘nays’ were being expressed!

That’s democracy and decency. That’s civility. The Speaker exceeded the limitations imposed on his office. He was blatantly partisan. He arrogated upon himself executive powers.  Decent. Civil. Democratic. Fine.

Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the JVP leader, on the other hand, did the half-way decent thing. He acknowledged indecency.  He implied that it was not the best way to get things done. He interjected an important qualifier though. He correctly pointed out the indecency of the President’s recent decisions and directives and implored that the decency or otherwise of actions aimed at overturning these decisions not be questioned.  

Milinda Rajapaksha, a member of the Colombo Municipal Council from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) gave an appropriate rejoinder.  He listed some damning instances where the yahapalanists demonstrated rank incivility and were quite undemocratic, instances that were uncommented by the born-again democrats, and threw Anura’s own words back at him: ‘if this, this and this were not civil, then don’t question the civility of actions taken to overthrow the political forces that are culpable here.’

Therein lies the issue. It’s black and white or rather black or white. It is about end justifying the means. Both major political coalitions are hell bent on grabbing or retaining power. They are not worried about how they do it. They are, however, very concerned about the ‘how’ of things when they get the short end of the stick.

In this entire exercise, entertaining though it is, it is not the President or the two people who are convinced they are the Prime Minister or their backers who are being civilized. It is the masses of this country.  They’ve watched. They’ve waited. They’ve let these so-called representatives disgrace themselves, their parties and their constituencies. They’ve not partaken of any of it. It is almost as if they are at the metaphorical doors, waiting for people to leave so that they can be shut. That’s civil. That’s democratic. And that is the civil and democratic voice that the goons in Parliament and their vocal defenders are reluctant to give voice and decision to. Quite uncivilized on their part, wouldn’t you say, ladies and gentlemen?


malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com