A Citizen’s Declamation: Reform and Theatrics

Fabian Schokman

Over the course of this last week, what Sri Lanka has witnessed is a teledrama, not too different from the teledramas that your grandmother, mother and maids watch. An elaborate script designed to draw the gullible into a daily melodrama to take their attention away from the base of the struggle unfolding all around them.

What was witnessed on Monday was not a new and revolutionary ideology on quelling uprising. Innovation in Sri Lankan politics is as scarce as meaningful economic policy. It was very simply a page out of the old book. The plan was a simple one; use goons to attack and destroy the protest site, use political influence to ensure that the police do not do anything, enforce the emergency regulations and clear the site, people will cower in fear, wait for two days until the heat of the moment dies down, continue corrupt governance as usual.

Things DID NOT go as planned.

The political pundits advising the royal family (they are still the royal family; nothing has changed) miscalculated the frustration of the people and above all the widespread support for the protest. I was able to witness first hand, staff of large conglomerates including managerial staff, brutally assault goons who were attempting to flee. And otherwise, peace-loving citizens like myself, having just watched the violence that descended on peaceful protestors at Galle Face, many of them friends whose acquaintance we had gained or solidified since the “Aragalaya” began, did nothing but watch, even silently admire the retribution. Over the course of that evening and the next day what unfolded was as astonishing as it was unexpected

It is important at this juncture to acknowledge that the institutions in this nation have been eroded and public faith in them is nearly non-existent. Over the course of decades, the police that the Defense Secretary lauded in his address to the nation last evening as a bastion of the protection of the rights of citizens, has long lost its lustre in the eyes of the people. It has come to be regarded as a band of mercenaries whose only purpose is to defend and protect, not the innocent, but the political overlords and their henchmen. Everyone has a story of bribery and corruption when it comes to the police force and it is a matter of public opinion that they do not institute justice nor facilitate democracy, only quell it. The blame for this must fall squarely not just on the political machine (under different governments) of decades, but the police personnel who have, for a number of reasons, allied themselves with political figureheads and long divested from the purpose of the force while also allowing corruption to grow like weeds in their field.

With the military, the story is quite different. There are those from across the nation who continue to respect them, but it was under the government of Gotabhaya Rajapakse, that their popularity suffered. It was he who saw them being utilized as pawns and not even the growing awareness of crimes in the war, would entirely wipe their legitimacy in the eyes of the people. Yet, what will unfold in the next few days will decisively decide once and for all if the people of this nation will continue to laud them or they will suffer the fate of their khaki brethren.

Watching the address by General Kamal Gunaratne (Retd), what dawned on me was that the man was indeed an eloquent orator. But even his eloquence could not effectively hide the political drivel that he had undoubtedly being ordered to mask behind his address. Yet I remain certain of one thing; If His Excellency had but half the eloquence of Gen. Gunaratne, then perhaps he stands a chance of salvaging himself from the dregs to which he has fallen. Yet fate and the old gods he worships have seen it fit not to grant him that eloquence and before the eyes of the nation, it is unlikely that he has any hope of preserving himself as a President who can legitimately complete a full term of Presidency.

On the topic of the Presidency, his address to the nation was deplorable to say the least. He has neither the charisma nor the fortitude to survive it unscathed and it remains without a doubt that whoever he has commissioned to write them cannot seem to find the words that the nation will deem if not worthy, then at least acceptable.

Nonetheless, he persevered on and if nothing else, that perseverance is his only virtue at present. He has persevered as his family was ousted by nothing more than the voice of the people, he has persevered as his celebrated brother was forced into hiding in the Eastern Fort, he has persevered as his father’s monumental statue was unceremoniously brought down in what was once the sanctum of his family’s power, and his ancestral home was consumed by flames.

In this backdrop of laudable perseverance and nothing else, the usual conspiracy theorists of Colombo Twitter-scape have continued to philosophize whether the violence and vandalism that broke was indeed the work of ordinary people, or some great political plan concocted by these overlords. To them, there is nothing to be said. Every man who has touched a political science book in their lives know that violent retribution in a land without institutions only need a spark, a spark that the former Prime Minister unknowingly ignited and it was that spark that burned down their homes. I am certain that a few innocents suffered, but it was all collateral damage to the masses. Given that these “Honourable” MPs, are proud of and have gone to great length to exaggerate the role of their predecessors, it is unlikely that they would want to see their historic family seats consumed in flames. I do not doubt that the fear among them is real. I do not doubt that the pressure on them is real. But none of it justifies the backdoor underhand deals that are being concocted as we rush to stock up on essentials expecting longer curfews.

* https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/south-asia/ancestral-home-of-sri-lankas-rajapaksas-set-on-fire-in-hambantota/articleshow/91450018.cms

* Timesnownews.com/world/protest-in-sri-lanka-intensifies-as-ancestral-home-of-mahinda-rajapaksa-residences-of-lawmakers-set-ablaze-arti

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9r-TnZ5cXFo

What the nation has demanded is change! It is the most coherent demand that I have ever heard in my lifetime and most importantly it is a justiciable and equitable demand. This nation has long been driven by a “saviour” model of government. Given the almost God-like powers of the Executive Presidency, that is what the nation needs at any juncture within the current system. Yet now, there is growing call for the empowerment of institutions so that the nation does not have to rely on its “Saviour,” but on its institutions to maintain stability in the nation. The island-wide call for accountability is the opportunity for us as a nation to model those institutions and the SJBs Constitutional Amendments are a reflection of that. Yet, as Sir. Arthur in the English comedy “Yes Prime Minister!” so clearly articulated, reform is to “kick away the ladder that put him, where he is; while he’s still standing on it!” That is true for all our politicians. How can they want political change when it was the old, corrupt, and divisive system that put them where they are! It is in their personal interest to perpetuate it. His Excellency gave us the same argument that has being given ever since JR instituted the Executive Presidency. After dialogue with the relevant parties, he will abolish the Executive Presidency. But in truth, that is just a way for them to say that they will discuss and come up with either reasons it cannot be done, or an alternative that makes them happy and pacifies people. All in all, it is just a delay tactic. People must not shy away from continuing to demand that the Executive Presidency be abolished and they must not shy away from demanding that the institutions in this nation are empowered so that we are not slaves to the benevolence of an elected representative but rather subjects of a system that prizes accountability, inclusivity, democracy and policy.

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