Political cross currents for the ‘good of the people’

Political crossovers have been part and parcel of Sri Lankan politics since Independence. Even though such political manoeuvring has been the order of the day, for so many decades, once in a while the sheer hypocrisy and the blatant callousness with which a people’s mandate is embezzled by those who claim to represent the voters continue to shock us.
This week Edward Gunasekera, one of the UNPers who made a grand cross over to the ruling party a few months ago, citing many shortcomings and undemocratic practices by the party leadership, bowed his head, made an apology and made his way back to the UNP. When he joined the government with the ‘reformist’ group of the UNP led by Karu Jayasuriya, he along with the others made sure the country knew that this was all ‘for the sake of the nation’. There were noble causes cited: consensus on the ethnic issue, anti-corruption, good governance, pro-poor development etc.
It was not too long ago when the most unfortunate campaigner in Sri Lankan politics, Anura Bandaranaike made a similar holier-than-thou statement that he wish not to be a part of a carnival of clowns. That was on the occasion when he and deposed Ministers Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathi Sooriyarachchi were sacked by President Mahinda Rajapaksa for brewing dissent within the party. However, before a week had lapsed, Bandaranaike had begged his way back into the fold of ‘clowns’, gleefully accepting the crumbs which were thrown at him in the form of the National Heritage Ministry.
He too claimed that his decision to return to the government was for the good of the people. To be sure, there have not been such noble politicians born anywhere else in the world. For the good fortune of our little island, the noblest of them are only born of this soil. And pigs can fly too, we suppose.
The greatest tragedy in all this political double crossing and musical chairs is the assumption of politicians that the intelligence of the average Sri Lankan man on the street is less than that of a goldfish. The likes of Gunasekera and Bandaranaike may live in denial that the people of the country are not politically savvy enough to assess the political crosscurrents accurately. But time and again the people of this land have given their verdict, as silently as it may be by casting their votes to the many political pole vaults. The pathetic numbers that attended a rally organised by the UNP cross over group also amply showed the verdict of the people for those who claim that they accepted the privileges and luxuries of government ‘for the good of the people.’
Worse still but each time crossovers take place, back and forth, it makes an absolute mockery of parliamentary democracy, further strengthening the hand of the executive and making the people look to him rather than to the legislature for answers to their problems. If this were to continue, with parliament having been undermined severely as it is, we could soon, as a nation, bid goodbye to a system of checks and balances (in whatever miniscule degree) and settle to be governed almost exclusively by the executive.
Even as the politicians play their merry games, dancing their way to power or out of it, the people must soldier on. While the only thing that matters to Sri Lanka’s ‘leaders’ is their perks of office, the Sri Lankan people must struggle to get by – hemmed in on all sides. They are challenged by a war in the north east that are leaving thousands homeless and displaced. Poor economic development in the south and a soaring cost of living has rendered the common man barely able to lift his head. To add to the burden, an all pervasive sense of insecurity that a recent spate of abductions, extra-judicial killings, massacres and of course, not to forget air raids has settled and does not appear to be lifting any time soon. The Sri Lankan citizen has a large amount of problems on his plate and while he may gain the temporary satisfaction of watching the Sri Lankan cricket team performing splendidly in the Caribbean, chances are his elation will be short lived.
The great question is, to how many crossing and ‘uncrossing’ politicians, does all this matter? The media will do its part in highlighting the things that ail the country, but in the end, it is akin to pouring water down a duck’s back – our leaders neither care nor have any desire to effect change. The media cannot exceed its mandate – ours is not the job of implementing solutions or ‘fixing’ problems faced by the people. If the media could do that, we would not need governments. But we have been shouting ourselves hoarse and it has only fallen on deaf ears. Politicians, drunk with power or blinded by power-lust, care only to secure their personal futures. Our people have long since stopped expecting them to do anything else.
Indeed, on the eve of this New Year’s celebration, we are a people with very little hope left. One party pins all its hopes on the April prophesies and the other remains determined to cling to power for as long as possible. To which party should the Sri Lankan citizen turn? Neither would be the only answer available to us. It’s every man for himself – for a long time to come, we will all have no choice but to just grin and bear it.