Lankans: A people double-crossed

Come hell or high water, Sri Lankans are assured of one thing –political flittering about will continue unabated. Her people could be bent over double with skyrocketing living costs, shaken by insecurity and instability, but Sri Lanka’s politicians will go dancing merrily on their way, making and breaking deals hither and thither. The deals struck (and broken) of late, in the political scene, are almost as ubiquitous and numerous as all those pledges from election platforms.

There have been crossings and double-crossings. Several UNP members broke ranks less than one year into President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s term in office, claiming to do so for the greater good. And then more recently, the fiery Samaraweera-Sooriyaarachchi duo crossed over to the Opposition after being sacked and harassed by the present administration for raising dissenting voices. Now, in the mother of all deals, the Grand Old Party, the main opposition UNP has struck a deal with Samaraweera’s SLFP Mahajana Wing, with a pledge to work together, to usher in a brighter tomorrow for the Sri Lankan people. Signing ceremonies, mass rallies, a government that reacts to these moves towards mobilising popular opposition – these are all signs, it would seem that Sri Lanka is a thriving democracy, with leaders and politicians vying for the best opportunity to serve the people.

It is a sad story that over half-a-century of deal making has left the average Sri Lankan citizen empty handed, disappointed and disillusioned, time and again.
Dissidents – both UNP and SLFP have made the move to switch sides based on one claim, in the recent past. They have claimed that their motivation has been an apparent tendency towards dictatorship on the part of the party leadership. In the case of Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi, they claimed that Mahinda Rajapaksa and his administration were an emerging tyranny and one in which democratic principles would not have a place. The 17 reformists that crossed over to the government, made a similar claim about Ranil Wickremesinghe’s leadership of the UNP. How, the average person might wonder, would the two splinter groups manage to function under similarly tyrannical reigns on either side of the divide? What Mahinda Rajapaksa was to Mangala and Co, Wickremesinghe was to Karu and his team of ‘reformists’. How then, do Samaraweera and Jayasuriya bite the bullet and deal with the undemocratic practices of the leaders they have now aligned themselves with, with the shift in allegiances?

Both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe are leaders who could easily be tainted with the same brush. Neither of them have been able to take a single step against corruption within their ranks. There is blatant corruption within the current administration and yet, the President has remained mum; much like Wickremesinghe adopted a ‘see no evil’ policy with regard to his own errant ministers, back when he was Premier between 2001-2004. The best example of this lack of action would be the continued tolerance of the likes of Colombo District MP Mervyn Silva who has more or less violated every law known to man in the years he has held office and is open about his links to drug lords and underworld characters. The irony is that if Rajapaksa were to sack Silva tomorrow, Wickremesinghe would undoubtedly welcome him with open arms – and vice versa if the situation was reversed and Wickremesinghe was the one doing the sacking.

Both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe are guilty of nepotism – sickening nepotism at that. They are incapable of allowing anybody but their nearest and dearest into decision making spheres of party or government. Worse yet, they show no shame or remorse in adopting this highly undemocratic practice.

The problem, it would seem that whether it is SLFP or UNP, Mahinda or Ranil, Chandrika or well, Ranil, all we really get is a different slice of the same vile pie. This is what we are forced to swallow at every election that comes round; it is not about making a decision as to who the better man is, but instead, it is a choice between the bad and the worse. Politically, Sri Lanka is more bankrupt right now than its national treasury. Our greatest tragedy is that even in this time of great need, we are rendered leaderless and powerless from that lack of leadership.

Perhaps the old adage is true. We deserve the government we get. If we are made to elect and re-elect corrupt leaders, the onus is upon us, as a citizenry, to awake and demand change. Unfortunately, ours is a strange and elitist nation, in which the rich and educated, the only ones truly capable of effecting change, choose to be aloof, criticise only from the comfort of their dining room chairs and shake their heads in despair, while the country slides further and further into anarchy and destruction. To enter the fray, to do something about the dismal state of things, would be beneath them, this elitist class.
And yet, despite this home truth, a quick survey of our political landscape, leaves us wondering whether Sri Lankans, collectively, haven’t really got an exceptionally raw deal.