Colombo, Politics and Governance

Rajapaksa dynasty doing as they please in Sri Lanka

The story about Minister Mervyn Silva tying a Samurdhi Officer to a tree as punishment for not participating in a dengue prevention programme in the Kelaniya district was bad enough. The statement made by the UPFA General Secretary, Susil Premajayantha that the party or the government is not responsible for the actions of Minister Mervyn Silva opens up far more serious issues.   What we can infer from what the UPFA General Secretary said, is that neither the UPFA nor the government has any control over its Ministers.  The pertinent question then is:  who is in control? Surely,  we not are supposed to believe that the Cabinet of Ministers act as individuals and are not accountable to anyone in the government?

Minister Premajayantha consciously or unconsciously has just revealed the true state of affairs in Sri Lanka under the Rajapakse regime.  And the state of affairs simply is that anyone who has the goodwill of the Rajapakse dynasty can pretty much do as they please.  Everyone else had better watch out. Consider if you will, the following:

  1. Former Army Commander and current MP Sarath Fonseka is charged with engaging in politics while in the Army; the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse who campaigned openly during the Presidential and General elections,  goes on international television saying that Sarath Fonseka will be ‘hung’ for his crimes. (This is of course just one of the charges being trumped up against Sarath Fonseka but in order to keep this article to a reasonable length let’s just stick with this one).
  2. KP, the leader of the LTTE’s international network, who raised funds and procured arms for the organisation is allowed to meet representatives of the Tamil diaspora, travel to the North and East, speak on the telephone, conduct news conferences and has other special privileges.  He was smart enough apparently to admire a Buddha statue in the Defence Secretary’s office.  In the meantime, thousands of young women and men who are suspected of being linked to the LTTE (including those who were forcibly recruited) and who have no opportunity to charm the Defence Secretary, are detained with no notification to their families, proper charges or access from independent observers.
  3. The same KP is allowed (no, escorted) on a tour of detention centres and refugee camps in the North while elected members of parliament from the JVP are refused entry and are obstructed while on a fact finding tour of war affected areas in the North.
  4. Journalists critical of the government and the Rajapakse dynasty are constantly threatened, intimidated and harassed while those who are willing to lie and sing paeans of praise of the dynasty and its doings are feted as ethical journalists.
  5. Students , trade unions and civil society members exercising their right to express opinions and protest are beaten, tear gassed and arrested; MP Wimal Weerawansa who makes Sri Lanka the laughing stock of the world and leads a riot against the UN staff in Sri Lanka is tenderly resurrected by the President after a three day ‘fast’.  And the police who were on the scene trying to maintain law and order are peremptorily ordered to back off by the Defence Secretary.
  6. Duminda de Silva, who has been accused of  rape, sexual harassment and drug dealing  among many other things,  campaigned with no restrictions during the provincial council and general elections recently while UNP Colombo district candidate Susil Kindelpitiya was arrested for sexual harassment and refused bail for the duration of the general election campaign.

This list could go on but I think the point is clear enough.  The Rajapakse dynasty systematically and mercilessly hunts down its opponents while protecting its supporters. In the process there is no law, procedure, custom, tradition, value or ethic that is safe from violation.  The only law or value that is of any significance is that which will strength and protect the dynasty.  Poor old Minister Susil Premajayantha; how he must have hated being asked his opinion of Mervyn Silva’s actions!  Unable to speak the truth, that is that Mervyn Silva is the President’s Thug-in-Chief, can therefore do anything he wants and that the UPFA exits as a political party merely in name, he says something incredibly stupid, which just reveals to the world, the extent to which the Rajapakse dynasty has strangled systems of accountability, due process, law and order within the political and governing systems in this country.

I wonder what those within the UPFA, the SLFP and others supporting this regime and people like Vasudeva Nanayakkara or Tissa Vitharana, who claim to come from a radical political tradition, think about all of this:  How do they feel when Wimal Weerawansa and Mervyn Silva seem to take turns at exposing this regime’s crassness, mediocrity and callousness?  What drug are they on that enables them to continue to support and justify this regime?  How do the Ministers and MPs feel when they are constantly sidelined, overruled and ignored by members of the family dynasty? What do they feel when the dynasty’s youngest member has more power than the most senior member of the SLPF? Do they not fear for their own lives and their political futures? That there must be some rumblings of discontent is evident by the recent news report of a three day ‘workshop’ down south that is being planned for the UPFA MPs.  We can all imagine what kind of a ‘workshop’ that is going to be!!  But is there no one among those MPs and advisors with an ounce of self-respect, who  might feel a twinge of conscience, a pang of guilt, a sense of duty to his or her constituents,  who will stand up to the President’s charm offensive, the wining and the dining?

But there is something that is more powerful than any drug in the world that makes it possible to condone and justify the most horrific acts; and that is self-deception.  Just think of all those who supported Nazi Germany.  There are those among us who believe the President when he says that not a drop of civilian blood was shed while defeating the LTTE.  There are those among us who believe that the streets of Colombo look better without beggars or street children and can ignore the atrocities that happened to those human beings in order to clear the streets for our visual pleasure.  They can whizz down the newly repaired roads to Arugam Bay, Nilaveli and Nagadipa and not see the oppression and the fear among the people around them.  They also believe that journalists kill themselves or cook up stories to obtain visas to foreign countries and burnt down media institutions to claim insurance.  These are the same people who believed that the Beeshanaya of the late 1980s and early 1990s was justified because the state had to maintain law and order.  These are also the same people who believe that torture is justified if it is a means of arriving at the ‘truth’ since the truth will ‘protect’ us.  They believe that Sri Lanka doesn’t have to respect human rights because the USA and the UK do not.  This self-deception is what makes it possible for Mervyn Silva to be regarded as a joke, a media personality and even a ‘protector’ of people, using every means  to take care of his electorate instead  of seeing him for the cruel, arrogant and conscienceless thug that he really is.  It is also what makes it possible for this totalitarian and corrupt regime to be considered to have brought peace and stability to Sri Lanka.

Self- deception may be comforting, but it is a temporary comfort.  It is also dangerous because by the time we rouse ourselves from its stupor, it may be too late.  But just remember, one day we will have to wake up – and what we see around us then will be far from pretty.