Sep 18, 2017

Oh! This crazy world of Sri Lanka

The first few days of the week saw a political comedy unfolding hardly taken note of by the Sri Lankan society.

Not on the small screens in households. But on the larger political canvas that's rolled around in Colombo. Deputy Minister Arundhika Fernando dubbed "rock star" for allegedly trying to rock the "yahapalana" boat, was announced sacked from his post, Deputy Minister Tourism Promotion and Christian Affairs. No reasons given to the public. A news website said Arundhika Fernando demanded a pound of flesh and lost even the bones. The website claimed with much authority, Arundhika demanded millions and contracts for his company to be with the government. Following afternoon, the more credible DM Online said he is likely to be re appointed a Deputy Minister once again.

These sordid politics don't end there. Nimal Lanza who was popularly called a big time drug trafficker who during the previous regime hovered around with former President Rajapaksa's patronage, was appointed Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, by President Sirisena. There is now the possibility he would be further upgraded by President Sirisena as successor to deposed Arundhika Fernando.

The first episode of this political comedy was with "yahapalana" cheer leaders demanding the removal of Thilak Marapana from his post of Minister for Law and Order almost 02 years ago. That was for his role as legal counsel for Avant Garde before he was nominated to parliament. The "yahapalana apologists" pretended they meant business with this hybrid  government. Marapana tendered his resignation on pressure in November 2015. But none protested when he was made the Foreign Minister once again. Instead they wanted Justice and Buddha Sasana Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe removed. Not for his very racial politics aligning with Buddhist extremism, but for his alleged violation of cabinet responsibility. For his critical remarks over the Hambantota port agreement this government entered into with a Chinese company. That deal anyway is called dubious, heavy with many allegations and criticism against it. He thus leaves his ministry after few days of tantrums.

Next came the removal of Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake over the Penthouse fiasco related to the mega Bond scam under investigations. The bond scam that for well over 02 years was kept under wraps, with PM Wickramasinghe playing the lead role. Now Karunanayake is appointed to an equally powerful position under the PM, working from Temple Trees. For "yahapalana apologists" and all other anti corruption brigades including the JVP living on media presence, that is no serious issue.

Next facing the firing squad of "yahapalana" racists is minister Field Marshal Fonseka. That for saying war crimes need to be investigated as there were few who tarnished the image of "war heroes". For saying he is willing to testify even in front of an international investigating panel. That under this government is anathema and unpatriotic.

The fact is, even if those who are held as unpatriotic and non co-operative are removed from their present positions, they can still be accommodated with equal or more power in another capacity. The urban middle class "sanity" accepts such political insanity with applause for "corrective measures".

How stable and how far can a government with no seriousness in what it does go with such sackings and censures against its leading ministers and allies? Far more serious is the question, can these arbitrary decisions of sacking ministers and deputy ministers clean up the mess this government is in, the very decisions to sack prove it is in? In fact, as Arundhika said after he was deposed, sackings will not deter dissent within the SLFP, President Sirisena for the past 02 years and 08 months struggle to take control of. The crisis is screwing in and down the SLFP from the parliament to the provincial councils and to local government bodies too. Southern Province had one of its ministers removed after he opposed the 20 Amendment. Western Province CM removed two, after the 20 Amendment.

This government is certainly more "transparent" than the Rajapaksa regime even on mega deals. Investigations into the Perpetual Treasuries' hand in the bond Scam still has not gone deep into the actual bond deal. And this is only the first. The second that came around 01 year later is almost forgotten. But numbers on profits and losses are being calculated by different independent public interest activists. The Central Expressway construction deal has most documents out in public domain, proving the PM's explanation in parliament a poor cover up. Documents say the cost of constructing a kilometre distance would now cost Rs.4.1 billion and no easy money. That cost in terms of 39 inches that make 01 metre distance is 4.1 million rupees as calculated by Anura Kumara Dissanayake. Sadly the PM can only fool around such allegations by saying if the expressway is too costly, the option of flying to Kandy with an airport constructed can be thought of.

Mega corruption is as high or even higher with this "yahapalana" government than during the Rajapaksa regime. It is not just mega corruption that makes this hybrid government another Rajapaksa regime sans Mahinda, but also its Sinhala Buddhist politics. All things promised during the presidential election remain in cold storage with a label "Mahinda may return" stuck on them, if done. This was aptly said by Northern Province CM, Justice Wigneswaran at the book launch "Rajapaksa the Sinhala Selfie" on 12 September at the SLFI. He said, it was the minority vote, the Tamil and Muslim vote that brought the "change" the South wanted. But when it comes to the issues of North-East Tamils, the answer often is "Mahinda may come back". So to keep away Mahinda by placating the Sinhala Buddhists, the Tamil problems are not addressed.

This crazy run of things would only accelerate with Election Commissioner saying the LG elections could be held in January 2018. That’s just 03 months and a little more from today. LGs in the Sinhala South were controlled by those ruffian type elements Rajapaksa brought into local politics. They were provided with money through numerous projects and the political power to establish as socially dominating "vote hubs" in local areas. They thus replaced the traditional SLFP organisational structure that anyway was a loose one.

The major problem the Sirisena leadership in the SLFP would therefore face, is finding candidates independent of Mahinda Rajapaksa who could muster votes to win elections. With Rajapaksa holding an alternative political party ready for all those who may get dumped by the Sirisena leadership, LG elections would be the "Waterloo" for President Sirisena.

So is it for the Wickramasinghe leadership in the UNP. Large tracts of voter sympathy there was before the "Rainbow Revolution" faded off, will stay away even if they would not vote against. Frustration is so deep in middle class society. For the larger majority of the rural Sinhala society that still tags along with Rajapaksa, "Sil redi" case is no serious issue. In a country where Buddhist monks come on the streets to collect money for the guilty, Rajapaksa plays for the sentiments of the Sinhala Buddhists. The argument goes, as a trishaw driver in Colombo asked me, "how can distributing sil redi for Buddhist women, be ruled an offence in a Sinhala Buddhist country?" He presumed all those who were party to the indictment and the verdict against Lalith Weeratunge and Anusha Pelpita are all non-Buddhists.

This is no insane thinking in this majority Sinhala Buddhist country. It is the social psyche that was systematically cultivated and then cemented by the Rajapaksa regime with their campaign against the LTTE and Eelam. That whole campaign ably assisted by the JVP and the JHU was a Sinhala Buddhist campaign than anything else. It is with attitudes fashioned through such Sinhala Buddhist thinking those who were found guilty without doubt of misappropriating 600 million rupees of public funds, still commands respect as "high profile, very respected" top bureaucrats even in mainstream media.

The big question that therefore remains is, "when will urban intellectuals who still want this chaos of a "yahapalana" government, come back to intellectual sanity?" In other words when will they think of an alternative that can keep Rajapaksa from entering politics with better bargaining power than now? For now, it is those dumb campaigns of Sirisena-Wickramasinghe politics that keep Rajapaksa politically alive and as the "alternative" too. Such is this crazy Sri Lanka that lacks intelligence to work out a viable, decent alternative to a racist leadership.

- Kusal Perera