Diogenes in The Island, 2 January 2016, where the title is “Politics: The inelegant art of ‘immoral ‘suasion!”
Percipient readers of The Island would expectedly be dismayed, when they look around and observe the intriguingly disturbing developments taking place in the local political scene. The much-vaunted aspects of representative democracy, which basically lay stress on the elected representatives reflecting the will of the people in formulating and implementing policies which live up to the pledges made during election time, have over the years, been cleverly and imperceptibly turned into increasingly self-centred, aggressive endeavours to augment the individual and collective power of politicians, all done of course, in the name of the ‘will of the people’! We have witnessed the monolithic aggrandizement of hegemonic power by the former Executive President, which seemed totally unwarranted, particularly after the LTTE terrorists had been totally crushed and vanquished! This hegemonic dominance over the Legislature and the Cabinet facilitated the further strengthening of the numerical predominance of the ruling party in Parliament. This was accomplished by offering irresistibly attractive perks and other inducements as largesse, to members across the divide, to cross over. The public at large however, took a dim view of all these extravagant blandishments of power and dominance. This was a huge faux pas which the then incumbent President was never able to live down. Despite the magnificent victory won facing innumerable odds ,the people remained wary of the acquisition of unbridled power by the Head of the State, as they saw in it, a deliberate enervation and emasculation of the ‘will of the people’. The die was cast for the tide to turn decisively against him!
People were euphorically expecting a total turnaround of things with the new dispensation of the combination of somewhat ‘strange bed fellows’ being forged together by the politically savvy ex- Lady President, who had worked astutely and tirelessly, to bring the implacable age old political rivals to form a common front. The all too sudden transformative change was expected to free the country of corruption and misrule and establish good governance based on the democratic fundamentals of Justice and Equity to all.
The initial mistake made by the new dispensation was to complacently take things for granted by the abundant confidence they had reposed in themselves that with the desired change carried through successfully, they could throw a few sops to placate the large majority of the people by promising price reductions of essential goods and commodities, while concurrently introducing the unpalatable reforms, which in their view, were necessary if things were to be turned around economically. They failed here surprisingly to judge the mood of the people which would quickly find expression in aggressive Trade Union protests.
The government should have had the gumption to anticipate popular resistance following the withdrawal of existing privileges and the imposition of new taxes. Such unpalatable measures should have been introduced with due circumspection. A wider involvement of knowledgeable persons like Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickremaratne, in the formulation of these reforms, may have helped in mitigating to a large extent the unsavoury public reactions to the proposals.
The Budget, containing a good many of these ‘unpopular’ proposals though ironically enough, passed in the House by a two third majority led to continuous and prolonged agitation by powerful Trade Unions for their withdrawal. The government not wanting to court unpopularity virtually at the commencement of its rule, relented by giving in to many of the demands made by the trade unions. This only encouraged other Trade Unions to come out and stage street demonstrations demanding the rectification of injustices meted out by their respective managements. President MS perceived all these protests as organized moves by those opposed to him, to destabilize his government. His natural reaction was therefore to consolidate himself and his government by inducing members in the opposition to cross over by offering them ministerial positions and other lavish perks which are by now, well proven time tested means of getting even highly committed opposition MPP to o do some spectacular leaps right across the political divide! There have also been newspaper reports regarding a proposed phenomenal increase of the daily allowance given to MPP for attending Parliamentary sessions, from Rs. 500 to Rs. 20,000! This would be in addition to the numerous other perks Ministers and MPP are entitled to viz. life-long pensions after five years, duty free vehicles every five years et al. These Parliamentarians must indeed, be a jolly happy and contented lot!