Photo courtesy Iromi Perera’s Flickr album on 2018 constitutional coup

When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked rule, the people groan. (The Bible; Proverbs 29. 2.)

The more visible euphoria that precedes the coming presidential election, is accompanied with a deeper, solemn realism that the country is unlikely to be better placed after a new president is in place. The most recent experience of the post-2015 presidential election, remains a hard lesson. Whoever the major political power blocks thrust into the highest seat, the promised golden era will continue to elude us.

The politics of spoiling

This is largely because these power blocks simply cannot do better. They have for years cultivated the worst within and among their circles by playing and replaying their twin agendas of deceit and self-interest, and it will be near impossible to shed overnight, what has become second nature. The anti-people political culture in the old order, promises to linger.

Consequently one does not have to be a seer to predict that the top priorities of the new president will be to save and keep saving his own from the rule of law, to place and keep placing his own in positions of power and control, to take and keep taking what rightfully belongs to others and to blame and keep blaming others for the mess in the country.

These happenings will not come as a surprise to a repeatedly betrayed and harassed people. It is this same political culture that has over the recent decades denied and robbed us of a reasonable quality of life; socio-economic dignity and cultural respect, for all. Over the years our legislators have allowed or actively persisted in making and breaking promises, drafting and breaking constitutions and preaching and breaking community, if they must, to stay in power.

As the country approaches 16/11, there is little in the collective profiles and performances of those who contest and those who prop them up, to suggest they can overcome this tendency to break good things. No sooner one is in the seat, the pressure will be on to continue the policy of spoiling; erasing the hard truths of history, settling old scores and emptying what is left of our diminishing public wealth.

Trapped companions

But the problem is more serious than this. Entrenched in a mire of corruption and crime, the major political blocks will be compelled to lie and mislead the people in exchange for their political survival. They know that if even one is taken through an impartial process of accountability before the law, they will all have to go.

What our legislators fear most and what they will resist most is, therefore, the domino consequence under the rule of law. It is this common fear that keeps them dependent on each other, regardless of the rhetoric of the campaign. And it is this interdependence that explains why the credible evidence on corruption and violence, Supreme Court rulings, the findings of Commissions and public opinion, will simply pile up in the pending file.

In these circumstances, we would be extremely foolish to imagine or expect a more honourable work ethic from those who know each other’s secrets better than what is revealed at talk shows.

Our national anxiety

Consequently, there is a sense of national anxiety that this culture of political vandalism will persist. When those with an accumulated baggage of failure and corruption, surrounded by cliques with similar baggage take public office, the people groan. When those tasked to mend what is broken, break what should never be broken, the people grow despondent.

As this drama unfolds, those repeatedly made to feel that their culture and identity comes second, stand at the periphery. Their dilemma is whether to step out or stay in on 16/11. They have no hero to cheer and have grown tired of the charade of being made to feel insiders before elections, and outsiders no sooner a winner is declared. By now they have learnt that the ‘bus politic’, has reserved seating, only.  All others, are to walk or wait till the next breakdown. Even then, their task will be to help push-start the bus, and stand aside.

Sole interests and soul erosion

Much of the answer to this suffocating climate, lies with us. Over the years we too have become trapped in our own agendas of self-interest. Our protests and demands centre on our own interests, and seldom if ever, does one religion, profession, sector or ethnic group, speak or intervene on behalf of another. And seldom if ever, do our protests probe the substance of an issue for the wider, common good.

A case in point here, are teacher protests. Those also responsible for the formation of our children, who will take to the streets for better pay, are hardly ever known to raise a voice against our rigid and exclusively uniform educational curriculum that has shut the door on imaginative inquiry and exploration, as tools for learning and life.

It is largely this sole interest in our little worlds that have made us easily susceptible to political manipulation, and in turn, feeds authoritarian regimes; the type that crushes dissent and the equally sinister type that ignores it.

The unbelievable enthusiasm to bring back those from a failed political culture who will continue the spoiling is in line with this unquestionable acceptance of whatever goes.  Indoctrinated for years by shrewd legislators, a dull educational system and a largely pontificating media, we have been lulled away from the need for a more just and stable political culture, not just for ourselves but for all.

A new political order

The recognition that it is in today’s child that tomorrow’s adult is robbed of the gift of wider social critique, can pave the way towards a new political order for the common good.

Such an order will acknowledge that most citizens are reasonable. They do not ask for the moon and the stars. They understand that the task of civil governance is far from easy. They understand that the legitimate needs and demands of people, provoked by the impact of geopolitics, a wounded environment, the fluctuation of global markets, and sophisticated methods of crime and so on, make the business of good governance a daunting task.

Neither will citizens in a new order demand miracle workers of our legislators. They do however ask for prudent legislators; vulnerable, transparent and accessible women and men of integrity, who will keep striving to safeguard the basic rights of all citizens and improve the quality of life of all. In the midst of mountains of challenges, these legislators will quietly begin to work from the bottom, where citizens hurt most. To begin at the top never works, because the top has developed the fine art of enticing legislators into greed for more wealth and power, and blinding them to the crux of the political quest.

The new order will, therefore, be built on the power of liberating ideas that will contest the idea that power is meant to be abused. In this encounter, the associate idea that self-interest, self-absolution and self-perpetuation is the prerogative of the legislators of the old order, will be strongly resisted by a people who value their sovereignty.

Such a welcome alternative will however, have to co-exist with the current ‘spoiler’ debacle for a while. It will not drop from the skies, but will have to be forged through hard work from within a spent old order, just as safe and hospitable dwelling places rise out of the debris of dilapidated structures.

Till that day when prudent legislators and a prudent people courageously create a prudent political culture, we will be expected to help each other rediscover and sustain the inner resolve and resilience, latent in our common humanity.

With peace and blessings to all.