Waiting is the great vocation of the dispossessed.
- Mary Gordon -
A series of media advertisements for the Yahapalana government say their reign of three years has given some breathing space for the populace (husma gath wasara thunak). Technically the Government came to power in August 2015 when the UNP formed a quaint alliance with the SLFP, yet politically it is neither correct nor ethical to say that this regime is only three years as opposed to 3 years and another 8 months starting the count from January 8, 2015. Given the momentum of the tremendous victory of ousting the former strongman who made history as a conqueror of the LTTE menace, the political power was undeniably with the new President and the PM even though the numbers in Parliament remained the same till the General Elections in August. Besides when taking credit for the 19th Amendment, the government has no qualms of appropriating the credit all to themselves which actually was enacted prior to the General elections which were held in August that year.
But that is beside the point; some cynics sneeringly declare that it is only “husma” or breath that the present government has to show; the slogan itself conceding their inefficiency and incapability to offer anything tangible to the people who ushered in change by removing the Rajapaksa Cabal. On the other extreme, the yahapalana apologists say that allowing civil liberties without the authoritarian bearing in on all facets of life as the Rajapaksas did as well as pruning down powers of the executive and expanding democratic dialogue itself were testimony to the positives.
Critics and Apologists
I believe both the critics as well as the apologists have valid points. The record of the previous regime in ridding the country of terrorism and achieving economic progress through huge infrastructure development projects during which period the nation crossed the border from a poor to a low middle income country, deserves commendation. Yet the corruption, nepotism, impunity and lawlessness that under-ran all such efforts ate in to all plus points on their score sheet; The putrid socio economic and political culture they nurtured permeated all facets of life.
That the society was rotting within while showing cosmetic progress, hardly needs arguing about. Racial disharmony reached new heights with violence aimed at racial and religious minorities. Any dissent was branded as being a mark of a traitor and the persecution of media to the point that even the so called private media shunned criticism of the regime; the disappearance and murder of journalists served as a caveat to others not to irk the regime.
When majority voter opted for regime change on Jan 8 and Aug 2015, it was hardly rapid economic progress or mega development they had in mind
An impending debt crisis threatening to gobble up the entire economy plus the pressure from the international community to be pinpointed on the regime at the UNHRC on allegations of grave human rights abuses during the final phase of the war, were hanging like the sword of Damocles, with time running out. The fateful decision to hold the Presidential Election prematurely was a result of this fear of the doomsday that seemed imminent to those in the inner circle of power, if not to those outside. It sounded an admission that the Cabal’s glory days were behind them.
Aspirations of January 8
Against such a backdrop, when the majority voter opted for regime change, first on January 8 and then in August 2015, it was hardly rapid economic progress or mega development they had in mind. In that sense, the Rajapaksa regime had done well; in fact one bogey being used to deter change in the elections being that it would bring to a crashing halt the rapid economic development drive that was in full swing, albeit under questionable conditions. People, did in fact want a fresh breathing space, they were tired of the authoritarian, jingoistic and personality cult based rule that did short work of democratic and normative principle of governance.
The 19th Amendment introduced significant change in the way the governance was done in this country by curtailing the hitherto unbridled powers of the Executive Presidency, devolving them to independent commissions through the enlivening of a Constitutional Council decapitated by the previous regime. The democratic space expanded, media freedom saw new heights, trade unions were able to dictate terms to the rulers, the judiciary able to summon and punish even ruling coalition ministers, something unimaginable previously. In that sense the apologists are justified. But will it suffice...?
People deserve more
Is that all the people who took a chance in removing a stable and strong regime with proven results in winning a war considered ‘unwinnable’ and tangible and drastic economic achievements, to show for? I think not.
They deserve more. Even if one forgoes the economic front, now a hackneyed rallying point for the opposition to attack it, it is obvious that this government could have done much more in crystallizing the aspirations of January 8 for a democratic, moral and ethical mode of living with the rule of law upheld. No, the people did not expect a Central Bank bond scam in the first place and any justification or playing down the repercussions of it on the national wealth in the second. No, they never foresaw a deal culture that not only leaves daylight robbers of public wealth Scot- free but even gives them ministerial portfolios, mocking the mandate of the people who effected change.
Democracy vs Prosperity?
It is a fallacy to suggest that democratic space and rapid economic development are mutually exclusive and antithetical phenomena incapable of coexistence in a body politic. That indeed, is a mantra all authoritarian rulers incessantly chant to spook the masses. We have had democratically elected rulers since independence and have come this far. We would have done better if not for the corrupt and nauseating political culture that robbed us further progress. We do not need dictators or benevolent despots to ‘guide’ us as a flock of sheep. At any rate the ‘benevolent’ side of the so called dictators falls far short of their theatrics on the ‘malevolent’ side!
We have shown that we can uphold parliamentary democracy, despite with setbacks; giving pure and simple breathing space is not to the satisfaction of the people of the country.
It is all good having breathing space; but that alone is not enough. We demand the assurance of equality and fairplay in all social aspects of life. The downtrodden masses expect social justice not the utopian neo-liberal laissez-faire model that turns a blind eye on the suffering of the common man. Granting breathing space is hardly a pretext why progressive and rapid economic change should not be aspired for, as that could well be the deciding factor in the next election.
Not too late
It was the people of this country who brought the coalition to power; who agitated for democratic space with strengthened civil society structures. With that mandate and momentum, this government could have broken ground both in terms of good governance and economy building. That is where the disappointment lies and the apologists hit a dead end!
Yes! We do concede being able to breathe freely; the credit goes to the coalition government. Yet we deserve much more than that. And they owe that duty to the people. The people still await; but their collective patience, too, has a limit!