Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the worst President we’ve had. He is the worst leader, counting all presidents, prime ministers, ministers, chairpersons of local government authorities and maranaadhara samithi. He is the worst Sri Lankan ever. Let’s assume.
Let’s assume that as the all-powerful Executive President, all ills are attributable to him. Let’s assume that although this implies that he can lay claim to all positives, he had nothing to do with effectively handling the Covid-19 situation, the vaccination drive and enforcement of safety protocols which (by the way) eventually enabled and empowered those who hate him the most (and whose hatred is rooted in political preferences and other things that predates the current economic crises) to rub shoulders with fellow political travelers in demonstrations, protest marches, arson, theft and thuggery. Let’s assume that he did nothing at all.
No, let’s go further. Let’s assume that Covid-19 was an insidious creation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself, a virus which he unleashed on the world with the express intent of wrecking the tourism sector, effecting a serious dent in remittances by expatriate workers, restricting movement etc., etc. Let’s assume that all this in aggregate made himself eminently eligible to the tag ‘party-pooper.’
Today, we are in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis. Today, more than ever before, we have been forced to think about things like energy security, food security, food and nutritional sovereignty, the need for development banks and the folly of embracing uncritically and indeed nurturing to near perfection an import mafia. Let’s assume, though, that Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s rhetoric and action with regard to at least two of the above, namely renewable energy and environment-friendly agriculture, had nothing to do with such ‘needs.’
Let us not assume but acknowledge that regardless of intent, overall understanding and objectives pertaining to sovereignty that Gotabaya was largely unsuccessful. Let’s assume that this had nothing to do with the resilience of entrenched interests of corporate thugs and public racketeers, but let’s not assume but rather acknowledge that party and family played a massive role in scuttling good intention, not just about energy and agriculture but basic management of the economy, upholding procedures established to ensure fiscal discipline, robust and meaningful tax regimes etc. Let’s not assume but acknowledge that Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s greatest failure was that he could not (or would not) unfetter himself from party and family.
Forget all that. Let’s return to the first assumption. Let us repeat. Gotabaya is the worst President we’ve had. He is the worst leader, counting all presidents, prime ministers, ministers, chairpersons of local government authorities and maranaadhara samithi. He is the worst Sri Lankan ever. Let’s assume...
We should mention, at least parenthetically, that he is but (and at worst) a symptom of systemic flaw. At least that’s what those who can see beyond personality and party could (but probably for reasons of political convenience do not) conclude. Never mind. Let’s assume ‘Gota is the System’ and kid ourselves that getting rid of him gives us system-change. Well, let’s say it paves the way for system-change. Yes, let’s not talk about utter naïveté in these matters. Let’s assume, let’s conclude.
Now, treating all assumptions as established fact, let us wave the flag of the logical response: ‘Gota should go!‘ How do we move from there, i.e., beyond a slogan whose utterers aren’t political innocents and among whom are those who have benefited for decades (as a class and as individuals) or else are ill-educated about constitutions, constitutional reform and the whole brouhaha over amendments (the draft 21st was shot down by the Supreme Court, whose observations amount to law-makers being given a resounding F on the subject of ‘Constitutionality’)?
Of course, Gotabaya can resign. Can happen, but hasn’t. He can be removed, constitutionally. Can happen, but hasn’t. And so, we have pundits saying ‘the people, the international community and the Opposition’ have to come together to remove him. In essence, to secure the numbers necessary to remove him constitutionally. He can be ousted in other ways, but no one is seriously talking about ‘revolution here’. Revolution would include system-change and ‘system’ would include the economic theories (sic) that went a long way to bring us to where we are, dealings with the IMF and other Bretton Woods Institutions etc., but no one is seriously considering such options right now. It’s just ‘Gota must go,’ or ‘The international community, the Opposition and the people must get together and send Gota away.’ Thereafter, parliament (or rather ‘The Opposition’) can figure out who should be the next president. Lovely.
Let’s get back to the movers and shakers. The international Community, one. Do they mean, the US, UK, EU and other members of The Quad? Now if those are the addresses to which grievance are addressed and succour sought, good luck!
The Opposition, two, those who want Gota sent away utter not a word about capabilities of the current Opposition (never mind legitimacy which is ultimately measurable only through the ballot). The Opposition, if we just take the SJB and the JVP, essentially back-stabbed the ‘Aragalaya’ and ‘Aragalists,’ not to mention the fact that they deliberately planned to pursue their party interests by preying on general anxiety, fear and anger. Sajith Premadasa and Anura Kumara Dissanayake hilariously claimed that they would take up the prime minister’s post if Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned. Each ought to have been more honest and said ‘I become PM if Gota resigns, and then I have the inside track to the Presidency.’ Anyone who places bets on such dishonest people and parties (whose track records are as bad or worse than those of the SLPP) are ridiculously naive or at least politically suspect. The SLFP, then? Really?
‘The people,’ three. Now that’s a different category altogether. We cannot and should not say ‘yeah, right!’ or be dismissive in some other way. Democracy is about the people. How do we measure the weight of the people factor, though? The numbers at protests, the decibel levels of the rhetoric? Yes, in a way, never mind that among these ‘people’ are agents provocateurs and others whose political history doesn’t make one really cheer, especially given long and profound silence about what ‘the system’ has done and to whom for decades.
In a way, yes, ‘The people’ count. They need to be counted. Literally. My friend My friend Sugath Kulatunga, commenting on dubious individuals including ‘intellectuals,’ professionals, the
clergy and artists marking ‘presence’ at Galle Face, made a pertinent observation. “I believe [they] have had no lessons in Civics at school and are not aware that Sri Lanka is a democracy with a written constitution where tenets of majority rule and rule of law are enshrined.’
If you want to step out of all that, by all means. Just don’t dabble in constitutions and parliamentary affairs. A precedent set where a bunch of people even with legitimate reasons to protest (and the legitimacy of the protests are indisputable, let us not forget) browbeat the elected and obtain eviction without measuring the true nature of a) popular discontent, and b) agreement about the would-be successor’s ability to turn things around does not bode well for participatory democracy.
The silliness of all this talk about the Gota-Ranil combine being a failure is easily measured by a simple question: name another combine that can deliver. The truth is, politicians and parties as they stand today, given histories and fixations about economics, cannot deliver us from the evils they have showered us with. We might have to look elsewhere, but certainly not at the international community, the Opposition or ‘people’ who are deliberately left undefined.
Malinda Channa Pieris Seneviratne is a Sri Lankan poet, critic, journalist.
This article was originally published on Daily Mirror. Views in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect CGS policy.