The current political crisis has descended to very worrying depths. In a matter of days we have observed an alarming cycle of vindictive politics charged with scheming and aggression.
Political rhetoric is turning slanderous and the onslaught against the Speaker sends a wider message that, however independent they may be, opinions that do not endorse the President’s position will be shot down as partial.
Two Prime Ministers
The President must take responsibility for this destructive plunge. It was his decision that led to the awkward unconstitutional duplication of PMs. Not only did he swear them both in, he seems to have assumed that endorsing ‘PM two’ would simply get rid of ‘PM one’.
This disregard for the highest statutory Code that defines our sovereignty and ensures and protects our legitimate rights, dignity and security, is in no uncertain terms the eye of today’s political storm.
The most the President can do to save the situation even at this stage is to sit with the Speaker and AG to undo the damage. If he harnesses the humility and prudence to do so, he may still be able to recover some respect.
But an eleventh-hour Presidential resolve alone will not be enough to set us right in the long run. Even if we are able to endorse a constitutionally legitimate government, we will keep returning to a polity which will drag us down.
We are the crisis
Foremost in this polity is the uncritical ease with which we take sides with those on all sides, who have repeatedly let us down, hurt people and treated their sacred assignment as people’s representatives, with contempt. This gets worse when we blind ourselves to their long list of public crimes.
Knowing their potential for destruction, and yet calling for political power for the very ones who squandered opportunities, protected their own and promoted their self-interest, and have consequently lost all credibility to govern, has been our collective downfall. It suggests the crisis lies more with us than with them.
We can make a change
One way forward is to replace this uncritical bias with a culture of independent political discernment that will hold legislators accountable for what has been, and continues to be, and to refuse to bow down to any form of intimidation or enticement in doing so.
When applied to the current crisis, this culture will see resistance to what is undemocratic and unconstitutional as a non-negotiable duty that no citizen of an independent nation can escape.
In addition, it will assert that a commitment to democratic values and governance often requires us to distance ourselves from political parties and their policies.
Not only did Jesus express strong disapproval of the political regimes of His times, He refused to have anything to do with them because of their anti-people policies. This, in turn, liberated Him to hold them accountable and direct His energy towards the needs of the poor and the vulnerable.
Political engagement and party politics are not the same. It is mostly those who distance themselves from political parties who are best placed to call legislators to accountability, and serve a peoples’ cause.
Steps to a new political culture
In today’s complex circumstances, a more detailed application of a new culture of enlightened engagement will include the following ingredients.
- It will urge us to remain vigilant in public affairs and sustain belief in each other.This will require us to stand with people who speak out, and those who want to, but fear repercussions if they do. To remain vigilant also requires us to stand with the poor and vulnerable, and ensure that their cause is heard and justice done. To give visibility to victims of injustice is a never ending task of those who work for a just and reconciled society.
- We will also be compelled to press for a reasonable percentage of clean politicians. Correspondingly those who talk patriotism and are steeped in self-interest will have to go. The seats of governance are not their birthright. There are still some promising legislators on all sides with potential to deliver. They will do this best if they are wise enough to shun the traits of their failed gurus, and pursue a political career that serves the common good, balanced with an element of self-fulfilment.
- Religious leaders can and must play a role in building this culture of critical engagement. Under no circumstances can we speak out of self or institutional interest or back the violent and corrupt. Neither can we remain silent when legislators deceive and mislead the people. The values of our respective religions challenge and guide us in no uncertain terms to speak and work for a just, non-violent and reconciled society in which the causes of the crushed and helpless receive most attention. If we fail the people at this juncture we will also lose their trust, and disqualify ourselves from the public space.
If however, the current unconstitutional trend prevails, we are to brace ourselves for our next political crisis which could well centre around two contending Presidents; a de jure president and a de facto president.
Were this to happen, we will have to learn all over again to contest the machinations of self-seeking politicians, and further strengthen our resolve for a safe, reconciled and just Sri Lanka.
With Peace and Blessings to all!