On How To Oppose

"If there are a great deal of people who are dissatisfied and are screaming against what is perceived as state excess, that strikes me as a textbook situation in which mass discontent is awaiting proper and inspiring leadership for marshalling that energy into a proper cogent oppositional exercise."

by Rajpal Abeynayake

(September 20, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Of all the dialectical arguments with regard to the future trajectory of opposition politics in Sri Lanka what has struck me as most quaint has been the position taken that, sans a proper opposition with solid ideological moorings which can serve as the bulwark against state excess, the best thing to do would be to put up and shut up.

While that may not be exactly the way that the theory is being posited by some, that is where this argument adduced by certain pundits, if taken to its logical conclusion, would leave us the people.

Mass discontent

If there are a great deal of people who are dissatisfied and are screaming against what is perceived as state excess, that strikes me as a textbook situation in which mass discontent is awaiting proper and inspiring leadership for marshalling that energy into a proper cogent oppositional exercise.

Such leadership is by and large absent in the Sri Lankan reality today and about this there cannot be much disagreement. However, this is no reason for (a) what should be the corrective forces for political change to morph into a near clone of the governing coalition i.e.: for opposition to cast itself as Rajapaksa lite and (b) for collective civil society voices to stop pointing at what’s wrong with regime excesses such as the recent 18th amendment about which, barring few exceptions, there is general unanimous civil society condemnation, even as I write.

Banshee screaming has however not been this writer’s strong suit and I have written very clearly in the past that those who thus banshee-scream are irrelevant nattering nabobs who almost serve purposes of comic relief along with their joined at hip twins, the pedestrian journalistic commentariat. Banshee-screamers such as those who wax hysterical at anything and everything done by the regime in a Pavlovian reflex, not stopping to analyse the whys, wheretofore and the productive alternatives available, are irrelevant enough to be laughed at and regarded as sideshow irritations at best. i.e.: they do not count.

But those who are serious enough to engage in the dialectic and find out what is not making the opposition -- any opposition -- in Sri Lanka tick, should consider not merely the questions of patriotism or recent electoral preferences but also more general questions of how the government seeks to dominate, and why the opposition seems to perennially capitulate.

In order to do this it is not merely essential but imperative to consider the Rajapaksa second term and what has been promised as delivery items, and the ideological underpinnings of those second term promises, as distinctly opposed to what was achieved in the first term including the war-victory that was so famously signed sealed and delivered.

Why was Gen. Fonseka incarcerated through a court-martial process, and as we know it now from the breaking news, found guilty for the second time? People provide various answers among which are plain revenge as a motive, which of course if we accept as a theory, requires us to also acknowledge that the legal proceedings against him would not have occurred if it was just the army that was interested.

The revenge motive can probably be set aside even though human emotions cannot be discounted in matters pertaining to decision-making in statecraft. But to be serious, a very good case could be made by the government regarding Fonseka, about his being a liability in terms of nullifying the war victory by giving evidence at international war crimes tribunals, as he claimed he would. That would have as a result embroiled the army and the state in unnecessary and detrimental protracted quarrels with the global community, and so probably, this may have been one reason Fonseka was grounded.

But there could have been other motives as well, or at least a dual purpose idea in getting the court-martial process initiated. This is where the second term trajectory and ideological underpinnings of the government’s economic policy have to be fully considered in any evaluation of regime and opposition’s political dynamics in the near to long-term future of the Sri Lankan state. This is also where many of the analysts who stuck to the one-dimensional deconstruction of the patriotism factor and voter fealty associated with the first Rajapaksa term completely missed the bus.

Mahathir style democracy

So to get to the point, it is beyond abundantly clear that the Rajapaksa administration has promised a Mahathir style or a Singapore Yew route to delivering the Promised Land. To put it plainly then, only a moron would miss the important exact raison d’ etre in this context, of installing the 18th Amendment, and for removing the presidential term limits as the first step towards ensuring a Mahathir style democracy deficit, later hopefully to be offset by a Mahathir style economic miracle.

The main opposition figurehead Fonseka’s incarceration and what is hoped to be achieved by it in this context a la Anwar Ibrahim and the trumped up charges of sodomy against the latter in Malaysia, is not too complicated even for the simpleton of the banshee-screaming persuasion to comprehend.

So if this is the trajectory of the regime and its possible strategy with regard to containing opposition it does not take much time to realise, proceeding from there, that at the end of the day this has little to do with patriotism, delivery with regard to the war or any tectonic change in the basic politics that undergirds the transaction between ruler and ruled in Sri Lanka’s current political context.
That is not to say that the current political opposition with its deracinated and plainly aloof and elitist ways of alienating the masses, has not failed. The current opposition/s failed, period.

That is history now as much as the war is history even though human beings being human beings, the very suggestion that the war is history would be met with not entirely misplaced opprobrium. But it doesn’t serve the purpose of us in search of the objective realities of contemporary developments to be overtly swayed by the hold of recent history, on our emotions.

So, as much as the war is history, the failed opposition is history too and the only opposition politics that has a future in the country should necessarily be new, and should be informed of the fundamentals of the regime’s second-term vision and the attendant strategies. To cut to the quick, if Malaysia and Singapore are the experimental models, to talk of electoral preferences and political repositionings to win the mass mind could probably be as ridiculous as to have been dreaming of Glasnost in the middle of a Stalinist purge. That is not to say that the only alternative available to a possible Mahathir style dictatorship/quasi-dictatorship is revolutionary upheaval and populist street uprising -- at least not yet. But a real brand-new opposition should plan for all eventualities, and should be able to invent itself as an engine for change that calls the regime’s bluff, rather than as suggested in some quarters, seeking to reinforce it.

Now, all this has nothing to do with the old effete opposition and its wretched appeasenik tendencies either. Tell a Friend