Nov 09, 2018

Counting stars from the gutter

What made the Yahapalanaya coalition a refugee camp of political survivors?

The teacher asked a Montessori child what’s there in the drawing book drawn in large red, blue and green patches, smudged all over the page.

The little one says The Sky.
The teacher stands nonplussed.
“A sky? Why red and green for the sky?”
The kid points to another.
“He put red. So, I put green”.
“And blue?” the teacher asked.
“He gave that pastel”.

No contradictions and doubts here. It is the sky, as the little minds understood. That seems what our Constitution is with 19 Amendments to it made time and again. It is the drawing book of our legislators.

They have drawn as they wished in creating a Constitution. People have to accept it as the supreme law of the land and are called upon to safeguard it too.
On that supreme law called the Constitution, President Sirisena has signed the Gazette notification to convene the prorogued Parliament on Wednesday 14 November.
Parliament was prorogued at midnight on Friday 26 October 2018, immediately after Mahinda Rajapaksa was arbitrarily appointed as PM by President Sirisena.
The “deal” it is said was sealed with President Sirisena accepted as the SLPP-SLFP alliance presidential candidate and Rajapaksa agreeing to lead the campaign says ‘inside information’.

President Sirisena stands qualified to face an election on 10 January next year they claim, as he completes four years in office on January 8, 2019.
Sirisena would keep the media ministry under him till then.
Parliamentary elections would follow immediately thereafter and allow Rajapaksa to be a powerful PM through another amendment to the Constitution, as Rajapaksa believes he could return with a 2/3s majority on his own.
What makes Rajapaksa so confident of his path to victory? He certainly is the most charismatic Sinhala Buddhist leader in post-independent Sri Lanka as I have said before in these pages. “But how?” is a question, often asked.
Sri Lanka has always asked for Sinhala Buddhist leaders in mainstream national politics with a dominant social psyche that has been publicly Sinhala Buddhist from Anagarika Dharmapala afterwards.

Yet, that was not without demands for socioeconomic answers for development.

Socioeconomic issues left the Sinhala Buddhist psyche moderate though dominant with the urban middle class. This was taken into the provinces by the Buddhist Commission headed by Gunapala Malalasekera, assisted by N.Q. Dias in early 1950s.

Bandaranaike thus becomes its political representation and was voted as PM in 1956, contesting from the MEP in an alliance with Philip Gunawardena’s LSSP (R).
Yet, the socioeconomic issues could not be forfeited for Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism till the 1972 Constitution and Standardisation in University entrance became political issues for Tamil democratic parties.

To sum up a long political history, after 1972, the slogan for a Separate Tamil State, the 1983 July massacre of Tamil people, the escalation of the military conflict, lifted the moderate Sinhala Buddhist psyche into a more ruthless form of anti Tamil ‘patriotism’ dragging in the rural society as well, from where the Sinhala soldiers were recruited.
This became Mahinda Rajapaksa’s turf on which he bargained votes for his 2015 Presidential Election campaign.
His political ancestry in the deep South, the very rare honour of being titled Sri Rohana Jana Ranjana by the prestigious Buddhist Sect Shyamopali Siyam Nikaya giving him acceptance among all Buddhist monks and free access to all Buddhist temples, his public acceptance of all superstitious beliefs and rituals of the ordinary Sinhala Buddhist folks makes him an organic leader of the Sinhala rural polity.

Even his attire with the maroon shawl and the thick moustache, make him the icon of Sinhala Buddhist patriarchy, the much-revered father figure the Sinhala Buddhist majority has turned out to believe in.

Beliefs don’t fade off easily in backward cultures. That perhaps explains the pious attraction he has among rural women too.
Meanwhile, the numbers game is still on, in a sordid struggle to give Rajapaksa the majority in Parliament. It has turned out more rough and tough than first expected to be.

Chandrika Kumaratunge had also intervened to move her pawns on the chess board against Rajapaksa, leaving him with much less than the 108, Rishad Bathiudeen’s ACMC wants Rajapaksa to prove before the 05 ACMC MPs move in.

From 2015 January 09 evening to 2018 October 26 midnight, corrupt and chaotic politics of Yahapalanaya made Sinhala Buddhist Rajapaksa politics dominant and inevitable.
In an inherently corrupt urban-centred economic model that makes all systems hugely corrupt in this free market economy, nothing else can be expected too.
Cronies who run business in this are not permanently affiliated to political parties. To say it mildly, they fund political parties and leading political personalities. There is thus, long-term obligations politicians have to give in to and compromise on.

The Yahapalanaya coalition was therefore like a refugee camp of political survivors given 100-Days with an extension thereafter to find a permanent place.
A refugee camp of surviving political groups and parties fighting to have permanency in an unprincipled, unplanned-for site they’ve managed to squat on. The 19A, a product of that unholy coalition celebrated as an historic achievement, made the Constitution look like the smudged painting of the little kid’s sky.

The latest Constitutional Coup by Sirisena and Rajapaksa thus made a mockery of the present Parliament and the Constitution with its 19A.
This Constitutional Coup remains a long process that only comes to an end with their decision to have Presidential Poll in January and allow Rajapaksa to be head of a Caretaker Government, though without a clear majority.

Proving a majority does not arise immediately. On 14 November it would only be a ceremonial opening of a new Parliamentary Session by the President, after which the next date for Parliament sittings would be announced.

That would have to be 05 days from the opening of the new session and therefore will have to be any day after November 19.
It is only then, the Speaker could officially accept the No Confidence Motion against PM Rajapaksa that for once compels the UNP and others to accept Rajapaksa as the PM though argued as illegally appointed.

Accepting the No Confidence Motion does not mean it would be discussed immediately and put to vote.

Party leaders in Parliament will have to agree on a date to have it discussed and put to vote.

That again can be haggled upon and delayed till early December if necessary.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Poll would be announced making the No Confidence Motion irrelevant and dragging the UNP into another squabble in agreeing on a candidate.

Whatever the outcome of schemings and manipulations for numbers and power, a Caretaker Government by Rajapaksa or a UNP led new alliance in Government, will not bring this tragi-comedy to an end, even after Parliament meets on Wednesday, November 14.

Nor will a quick election provide any solace either, with these two mainstream political parties once again vying against each other.
Continuing with this free market economy, they would not have anything new or different in their political thinking.
Their culture of greed fashioned by big money and power would remain too. People cannot impact their political vision, nor on their party decisions.
In short, NO political manoeuvring with these two political parties even with new human faces, male or female, can pull this society out of the gutter.
Nothing short of shelving the free market urban economy with its filthy rich, for a complete paradigm change can lift this society to a decent, civilised life.
That, therefore, demands a new social discourse on what development means to people and their personal and social life.Development should mean the quality of life in terms of time and wages for a cultural life and recreation, every citizen would be entitled to and would have access to with equal opportunities.
We also need to define what democracy should be in its function beyond Rights and elections.

Democracy needs to be defined and designed as “Participatory democracy with people adopting a national policy on all major necessities like education, health, public transport, through Referendums. We, therefore, need to pull the drafting of the New Constitution out of boardrooms with experts into the public domain as a social exercise, with active local participation, to draft and adopt a Constitution the people could own.

With all political parties and their leaderships incapable and uninterested of even provoking such intellectual discourse in society, it certainly is the burden of the Concerned Citizenry to begin such social dialogue from the beginning.

If at this juncture of disastrous political miscalculations made by self-elected social and public interest activists and a very corrupt, self-serving professional middle class, a new initiative if not initiated by all concerned citizens, then as Oscar Wilde says in the comedy, Lady Windermere’s Fan:

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

With glee here in Sri Lanka, thinking all’s done right, it is a heavy burden on society no doubt to kick-start a new dialogue, but Development and democracy don’t come for free and without responsibility.

Kusal perera