The Furore over the Fuehrer
Hitler, who is either suffering the eternal torments of hell or is in the bardo, must be wondering why on earth he has been dragged into the cesspit of Sri Lankan politics. (For want of carpets he must be biting something else.) What must be hurting most must be the fact that the Sri Lankans of his ilk are condemning him as a monster, though they are ready to do as he did, given half a chance.
The yahapalana government’s chips have been really down. It was on the defensive vis-à-vis heavy fire from its political enemies in whose mouths butter wouldn’t melt. Bus fares have been increased. Prices of milk food, gases etc. have gone up. The free trade agreements have run into stiff resistance. There was a sudden increase in the underworld operations. Not even armed policemen are safe. The rupee has reached a record low. The Galaboda Atte Gnanasara’s prison garb issue landed the yahapalana leaders in a quandary. And, to their relief, a Buddhist prelate put Hitler centre stage and, unwittingly, gave them something to hurl back at their opponents.
Asgiriya Anunayake Thera Ven. Vendaruwe Upali, in the course of his sermon at an alms giving, recently called upon former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, to take over the country and put it right, whatever it took. It was a godsend for the government, which was looking for the slightest opportunity to emerge from the political foxhole it had been languishing in for weeks.
The UNP trained its propaganda guns on Gotabhaya and the prelate concerned, with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe himself leading the charge. The UNP top guns have embarked on a mission to prevent the emergence of a Hitler in this country! They would have the public believe that everything else—development, economic relief, restoration of the rule of law, curbing corruption included—has to wait until their save-democracy mission is accomplished. What we are witnessing looks like a replay of their pre-regime change campaign.
Ven. Upali has taken exception to what he calls the misinterpretation of his exhortation to Gotabhaya. He says what he preached has been taken out of context and given a twist. He has, without naming names, flayed his critics. A rule of thumb for a preacher is that when he says something he has to make sure he has said it without leaving room for different interpretations. That is what Buddha has done.
Upali Thera’s clarification may remind one of what Humpty Dumpty tells Alice: ‘When I use a word it means just what I chose it to mean—neither more nor less.’ There may be others who buy into his claim that his message has been distorted. The issue, however, is not the Thera’s reference to Hitler and military rule, but the fact that he is not alone in hoping for a strong political leadership, without which the country cannot be hoisted from the politico-economic mire it finds itself in. This does not mean the people should re-elect the former rulers who are behaving for the time being but will revert to type, once ensconced in power.
The UNP is obviously all out to do whatever it takes to ruin Gotabhaya’s chances of winning the next presidential election, as he is widely thought to be the Joint Opposition’s presidential candidate. It is trying to convince the public that Gotabhaya is not fit to be the President because he has dictatorial tendencies because of his military background. (It, however, threw its weight behind former Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka in the presidential fray in 2010.) All those who have begun bashing Hitler, all of a sudden, ought to realise that winning a presidential election is not a prerequisite for the emergence of a monster like the Fuehrer as can be seen from Germany’s experience. On the other hand, Hitler was not the only monster the world has had to deal with. There have been other tyrants in all parts of the world, especially in South America, Africa and Asia. Some of them had never been in politics when they captured power through extra parliamentary means.
Sri Lanka has been lucky that efforts to overthrow democratically elected government have been few and far between. All of them failed. But the possibility of a threat to democracy emerging from unexpected quarters cannot be ruled out.
Cometh the hour, cometh the monster
Hitler was a creation of a particular milieu. He owned his meteoric rise to the socio-economic and politico-military circumstances of the day rather than anything else. But for the unprecedented chaos and economic woes Germany was experiencing in the post WWI period, Hitler would have lived and died an ordinary man. He rose to power exploiting the suffering of Germans. All monsters grab power, masquerading as messiahs and undertaking to bring order out of chaos and shepherd the masses to the Never Never Land.
It is incumbent upon the present-day rulers who are trying to give us a scare by declaring that Hitler is coming and the end is near to stop creating a situation where people will, out of sheer desperation, repose their faith in monsters who parade themselves as messiahs. The yahapalana grandees are better than their predecessors in some respects, but, on balance, they have failed to bring about the change they promised and to improve the people’s lot. In short, having raised people’s expectations, they have failed to live up to them.
The present government is chuntering on about its own problems. True, it is in an unenviable position; it has had to repay loans drawn by the previous administration known for its borrowing frenzy. Debt servicing account for a huge chunk of the state revenue. But, that is the way the cookie crumbles. All governments have to pay for the sins of their predecessors. The challenge is to perform and live up to public expectations despite those difficulties.
The question is why the yahapalana economists who think they are the bee’s knees failed to do the math before seeking a mandate to govern the country and pledging to perform economic miracles. They promised the people the sun and the moon and a Volkswagen factory. They granted the public sector workers a huge pay hike (Rs. 10,000) by way of an election bribe. This was a colossal blunder. Try hard as they might they cannot make the people believe their debt tale whether one likes it or not. The latter need the promised relief. On the other hand, the widespread waste and the ruling politicians’ ostentatious lifestyles and colossal amounts of public funds allocated for their luxuries run counter to the government’s claim of pecuniary difficulties.
Detection of arms haul
The detection of a lethal haul in Oddusudan and the subsequent arrests including that of former senior combatant could not have come at a worse time for the government which has numerous other problems to contend with. It came to power, rubbishing its opponents’ claim that security threats were not over and the yahapalana leaders would compromise national security. The Rajapaksas exaggerated the situation which the present-day leaders made light of. The former sought to re-enact old battles, so to say, to whip up the public before the last presidential election, but it failed in its endeavour.
There have been several instances of former Tigers being arrested with arms, ammunition and explosives. But, the government succeeded in downplaying them and accusing its opponents of seeing ‘more devils than vast hell can hold’. But, this time around, it finds itself in a tight spot. It cannot either make light of the situation or adopt extraordinary measures to prevent anything untoward from happening. Having undertaken to reduce military presence in the former conflict zone it cannot order operations in those parts of the country.
The Joint Opposition (JO) is sure to make the most of the situation to gain political mileage, national security being its strong point.
Polls Chief on warpath
An election is the last thing the government wants at this juncture. The UNP and the SLFP are at daggers drawn, but both of them see eye to eye on the need to postpone elections. Adversity not only makes strange bedfellows but also brings estranged strange bedfellows together.
Chairman of the National Elections Commission Mahinda Deshapriya has publicly deplored the postponement of elections. He minced no words when he said, at a public function, the other day, that postponing elections was as bad as polls rigging. His consternation is understandable. His commission is not independent though it is said to be so. But, people blame him and his outfit for postponing polls. The political authority has retained the powers to take vital decisions as regards elections. On the other hand, the government in power can use numerous pretexts to avoid facing elections. The present administration is using electoral reforms and review committees for that purpose.
The people were given to understand that the party leaders would meet last week and sort out issues which had led to the postponement of polls and the much-delayed provincial council elections; it was thought that the PC polls would be held before the end of this year. But, their meeting ended inconclusively with the SLFP demanding that the PC polls be held under the new electoral system and the UNP, backed by others such as the SLMC, calling for reverting to the former system.
One wonders whether the yahapalana partners are clashing over electoral reforms so as to postpone the PC polls they are not in a position to contest. If the Feb. 10 local government polls results are anything to go by then the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) the common enemy of the aforesaid parties is ahead of them. Under the new electoral system, the number of councillors increases and the losing parties stand to gain from that arrangement and the winner is deprived of control over some councils as a result. Therefore, there is no reason why those parties cannot agree with the SLFP.
It is only wishful thinking that anyone can avert electoral defeats by postponing elections. The SLFP tried that method in 1975 and faced a disaster two years later at a general election. It did not recover for 17 long years. What has befallen the yahapalana government is also a case in point as can be seen from its ignominious defeat in February. Someone has rightly said a government which postpones elections makes the same mistake as a dysentery patient who delays a trip to the washroom. They cannot prevent the inevitable and they only get into a bigger mess.
The Polls Chief’s call for elections has a far bigger impact on the electorate than that of the Opposition. Deshapriya being Deshapriya is not likely to stop his campaign. His dissenting voice is sure to dent the good governance credentials of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government further.
Above all, let the yahapalana leaders be told that postponing elections only help advance the extra parliamentary agendas of sinister groups. So, if they are really keen to prevent a Sri Lankan Hitler from emerging, they have to hold elections on schedule and enable pressure in the polity to escape without being used by sinister forces.