“Susie, what shall I do - there isn’t room enough; not half enough, to hold what I was going to say. Won’t you tell the man who makes sheets of paper, that I haven’t the slightest respect for him!”
Dear Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister,
It is time we took stock of our current situation. Waiting for another year or two would be far too late. I am not writing this letter to enlighten you, though there might be a slight chance that you do once you finish reading this humble missive. It is to remind you of the various promises both of you extended towards the people of my country at the hustings prior to January 8, 2015. Please lend me the time and your ears, which I am sure you would, without much ado.
To a man and woman, nearly every one of the leaders of the Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), those few who crossed over with you, Mr. President, those who belong to the ‘ordinary’ ranks of society, men and women who trekked miles and miles to organise election rallies and pocket-meetings who went from house to house, trying to canvass the Rajapaksa-voters and persuade them to vote for Maithripala Sirisena, made the same promise to voters: elect Maithripala Sirisena as our President and we will eradicate corruption and nepotism; we will take the country’s economy forward, we will replace crony-capitalism with economic principles based on equality and social justice.
We needed a paradigm shift. It seems that instead of that shift, we have got a shift that has put the country totally enmeshed in a stagnant economy. Nevertheless, we are grateful to both of you for having tried to introduce a new and fair social and governance system by establishing the following: Financial Crime Investigation Division (FCID), Special Presidential Commission, Public Service Commission, Judicial Service Commission, Election Commission, National Police Commission, Audit Commission (Yet to be passed in Parliament), Human Rights Commission, Bribery or Corruption Commission, Finance Commission, Delimitation Commission and National Procurement Commission.
Whether these commissions will eventually deliver the ‘goods’ they promised to or not, the very appearance of delivering accountability, transparency and fairness to a population that was taken for a massive ride by the last regime of the Rajapaksa family and its cohorts itself is somewhat a great relief to them who were unwilling victims of a social dynamic known as the ‘Rajapaksa Doctrine.’ Basking in the glory of the war victory in 2009 against the dreaded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), the former first family was a personification of ‘power-holding gone bad.’ Their avarice did not show any measurable bounds. Their self-righteous patriotism was phoney and its vociferous articulation sounded hollow in the light of the massive corrupt practices they have been alleged to have committed.
The circus of those alleged malpractitioners of government power and people’s trust have ended up in gross violation of all civilized practices of fair and balanced political leaders. Our government coffers did not belong to the Rajapaksa family and on the same note, they do not belong to you either Sirs. If the same accusations and allegations are in any way, shape or form hurled at your government, then Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister, something has gone badly wrong somewhere. People are getting increasingly anxious and that anxiety is driving them to the edge of patience.
Their patience on the delivery of justice that results in punishment to the malpractitioners of government power is waning.
Their understanding of how merciless and rapacious the Rajapaksas were when in power has reached its zenith. It is not only the English-speaking cocktail cockroaches in Colombo who have understood the dimensions of that corruption and dishonesty; the ordinary trishaw drivers, bus conductors and drivers, those who expend their physical labour to earn a miserable day’s pay, the average man who runs a small boutique to make ends meet for his family, the university graduate who managed to secure some kind of employment in a government department, the farmer who ploughs his farm day in and day out but fails to market his paddy because there is a glut in the marketplace, the unemployed lad who leaves his home with the first break of rays of the sun on an arid zone in search of employment, they all have been patiently waiting for justice to arrive at the doors of the Rajapaksas. And their patience is indeed weakening.
So, Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister, what is your answer to these folks? Has the paradigm shifted? If yes, in which direction? These are legitimate questions, these are valid probes that both of you have to answer collectively or individually. The expectant voter at the 2015 Presidential Election is still expecting results.
This bit for you Mr. President: You seem to be too engrossed in the decimation of your Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). In a narrower context, your efforts might be taken as legitimate and moralistic. SLFP is your party. It was formed on your birthday. That is the party that made you the politician you are today. That is the very party that gave you nomination and made you a parliamentarian first and afterwards a Junior Minister, Minister and later the Party Secretary. But that is all in the past. From a point of view of learning lessons, that past does matter when you measure your present and future decisions. But when elected, your first and foremost responsibility and duty is towards those who elected you. Who did so? It was an overwhelming majority (bordering on 80%) of Tamils and Muslims and 100% of the UNPers. If any effort is being seen to be made and all your attention is towards pacifying a voting bloc that did not vote for you and are still continuing to question your leadership in the country, then the entire political dynamic takes a brand new turn and tends to stagnate every programme and scheme you intend undertaking.
Satisfying that voting bloc and securing its continuing loyalty and support is supreme and nobody has any right to question such an approach whatsoever. That is decisive, bold and daring leadership. For the first time since independence, the Tamils in Sri Lanka can have a sense of relief in that both you and your Prime Minister are not only friendly and empathetic towards our Northern brethren, a proactive reconciliatory approach has been adopted and it is as visible as it can be, both in the media and among the Tamil leaders. Please do not waste that political capital you have so intentionally built and cultivated. The present set of Tamil leaders seem to have total trust in you as an honest leader. Despite your origins belong in the SLFP - known for its extreme nationalistic stances in the realm of national politics - you in fact are the first SLFP leader to adopt an approach based on realistic political and national values. Wasting such a unique opportunity would be a national sin.
Nevertheless, although we have a very long way to go, my hats off to you for the exemplary stand you have taken in the context of the Northern Tamil question.
Now may I address you, Mr. Prime Minister?
You must be the most patient political leader this country has seen after your famous uncle, J.R. Jayewardene. Despite the enormous number of obstacles thrown at you by your party men and women, you withstood all that as a calm and dignified leader. You measured every one of your moves, planned and plotted your electoral strategy and built a loyal coterie around yourself. Your mind is sharp and alert at all times, but your approach to serious crisis-building issues seems to be out of touch with the common man’s sense of street-smartness. It is with a profound sense of grief sadness and sorrow that I write to you because you are beginning to show signs of fatigue and apathy.
Once again, I need to remind you that you might not get another chance at State-management again. Waste of political capital is a mortal sin. The anger the voter has against you is building because you give away your usual folly - looking after your only closest buddies and those buddies are building a wall around you. When such a wall is built around a political leader, it becomes increasingly hard for new ideas and concepts to penetrate.
Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister,
John Kennedy wrote in his celebrated Pulitzer Prize-winning volume of short biographies of American Presidents, ‘Profiles in Courage’: Politics is an adventure, an adventure in which one joins hands with the masses for the service of man. Your commitment to politics must be based on such lofty principles. Otherwise, both of you too would be judged as average politicians who wasted political capital built around a lifetime of politics.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org