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Yes We Can. But Will We?

| by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.”
Paine (The American Crisis)

( October 5, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Hopefully it is a fabrication, made in Medamulana, like the ‘news’ of America softening its stance towards Sri Lanka or Premier Modi wanting the TNA to participate in the latest All Parties Conference.

According to Irida Divaina, the JVP has decided to boycott the Presidential election, if Mahinda Rajapaksa is a candidate . The logic is that President Rajapaksa cannot contest for the third time and if he does so it will be an illegal act which in turn will transform the election into an illegal exercise. The JVP, it is being reported, will neither field a candidate in such an illegal election, nor take part in a joint oppositional alliance. Instead the JVP will conduct a national campaign, educating the voters about the illegal nature of the election.

In other words, the JVP will (implicitly or explicitly) advocate an election boycott. It will confuse, confound and demoralise the anti-Rajapaksa camp and deprive the opposition of tens of thousands of much needed votes. That such an outcome will benefit none but the Rajapaksas is obvious and certain.

This may be the JVP’s way out of its own political conundrum. Anura Kumara Dissanayake is a marvellous speaker, factual, logical and forceful. But his leadership is not enough to make an adequate turnaround in the JVP’s electoral fortunes. The Uva elections indicated, as did previous provincial polls, that the JVP will fare extremely badly if it contests the presidency separately. The JVP is obviously reluctant to support a UNP candidate. Since between them, Sajith Premadasa and Ranil Wickremesinghe, seemed to have killed the prospect of a joint oppositional platform, the JVP is trying to find a face-saving formula.

Did the Rajapaksas – or their allies – have something to do with the JVP’s surreally stupid decision? After all, the Rajapaksas reportedly bribed the LTTE for imposing an election boycott on Tamil voters in 2005. Vellupillai Pirapaharan would have made the decision because he was rearing to unleash the Final Eelam War, but he clearly did not mind making some financial gains, on the side. Mr. Pirapaharan was not a Rajapaksa stooge; he was not in cahoots with the Rajapaksas. He was, or thought he was, being diabolically clever. He was going to help Mahinda Rajapaksa into power, take Rajapaksa money and use it to defeat the Rajapaksa government in the battlefield. We know how that plan ended.

If the boycott-story is accurate, the JVP is remaking Vellupillai Pirapaharan’s deadly mistake. The Rajapaksas will use the JVP boycott to win the election and then, having secured familial rule by appointing a Rajapaksa as PM, will hammer the opposition into submission, including the JVP. Just as ordinary Tigers and ordinary Tamils paid the price of Vellupillai Pirapaharan’s colossal inanity, ordinary JVPers and their families will have to pay the price of JVP leaders’ hara-kiri logic.

Hopefully sense will prevail, and the JVP will abandon this suicidal-homicidal decision. But the very fact that such an inane idea has been mooted, plus the divisive and destructive conduct of Sajith Premadasa and his cohorts, indicates that the Uva Promise can well become a mirage, another tragic might-have-been. (Sajith Premadasa conduct is the opposite of his father’s. Ranasinghe Premadasa worked, harder than everyone else, for the party sans conditions. His attitude was “First we will canvass the entire country and then ask for our due place” .)

The outburst of post-election violence in Uva (which reached unprecedented levels) is another signal of coming events. The Rajapaksas are not going to go, lawfully and democratically. They will do everything they can, from trickery to thuggary, to stay.

“Better to destroy than to make free,” Schiller’s Grand Inquisitor tells a wavering King Philip in Don Carols. That would be the Rajapaksa attitude, as Siblings, Sons and Nephews ready themselves to face a suddenly not-so-certain future.

The Plague of Tyranny

Jean-Claude Duvalier, ‘Baby Doc’, died yesterday of natural causes. At 19 years he inherited the presidency from his father and ruled supreme for the next 14 years. Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier came to power electorally and transformed Haiti into a tyranny and himself into its president-for-life. Over the next several decades, the Duvaliers made Haiti into a byword for repression and murder, poverty and backwardness.

The still ongoing plight of Haiti indicates that getting rid of a tyrant might turn out to be the easy part. Recovering from tyranny is a far arduous task. Restoring to health institutions and human habits undermined by tyranny often proves to be beyond the frail capacities of newly liberated lands and their newly free people. The longer a tyranny lasts, the harder it is to build a democracy on its ruins. This is particularly so where tyrants have undermined and destroyed all countervailing powers and institutions, turning countries into their personal/familial preserves.

The inclusion of de facto Chief Justice Mohan Peiris in the presidential delegation to Vatican demonstrates (again) the degradation of one of the most fundamental pillars of the state. Today the upper judiciary is a mere appendage of the Ruling Family. If the Rajapaksas can be evicted next year, it may still be possible to repair the damage and restore the judiciary to health. But if Rajapaksa rule continues for many more years, the virus of subservience will infect the entirety of that august institution and even the memory of judiciary as an independent pillar of state will vanish. The next generation, including the next generation of judges and lawyers, will think it natural and normal for the judiciary to act as an instrument of Rajapaksa power.

As Joachim Fest pointed out, “At first the countless violations of the law by our new rulers still caused a degree of disquiet…. soon life went on as if such crimes were the most natural thing in the world” .

Rulers set trends. We learnt to drink tea from the British. The Sinhala-Buddhist morality espoused by Anagarika Dharmapala and his ideological descendents is more akin to English Puritanism, German Calvinism and Victorian values. The colourful costume worn by the Kandyan kings and aristocracy (which goes by the misnomer, ‘Mul Anduma’, original dress) was obviously copied from the European fashions of the 15th/16th century, brought to Lanka by the Portuguese. These days the kurrakkan shawl of the Rajapaksas has become a fashion accessory among the new elite and those aspiring to that status. Rank nepotism, abuse, impunity and intolerance are some of the Rajapaksa values which are percolating into larger society. Five more years of this contamination, and even the ousting of the Rajapaksas will not suffice to bring Lanka back to health and sense.

The Opposition has been buoyed by Uva. But Uva represents a potential, a chance, an opportunity and not a certainty. The Rajapaksas will do everything in their power to prevent the opposition from capitalising on Uva. The unresolved crisis in the UNP and the JVP’s decision to boycott elections are merely the first stumbling blocks in the opposition’s possible path to victory.

Uva opened a trapdoor. It can be widened into an exit for the Rajapaksas.

It can be done. But will we do it?

  1. JVP issues statement about presidential elections: If Mahinda Comes We won’t – Irida Divayina – 5.10.2014
  2. Quoted in ‘President Premadasa and I: Our Story’ – B Sirisena Cooray
  3. Not Me: Memories of a German Childhood