18th amendment, the Big fat snake and the bird in the cage
Posted on September 24th, 2010

Geethanjana Kudaligamage

Rajapakse, regional politics, “Eurocentric Developmentalism” and the western hegemony (Part 15-B)

(Continued from part 15-A)

Take a scenario in which a bird has been denied its freedom by confining it into a cage. And say, there is a big fat snake patiently waiting outside the cage to take the first opportunity to hunt the bird whenever the door of the cage will be opened to allow the bird to go free. In such scenario, the cage becomes not only the prison of the bird, but also the sanctuary of its asylum. Due to the presence of the snake at the door, now even the bird has began to view the cage as its only means of protection.

 Meanwhile, there are so many freedom fighters chanting slogans out there to rescue the bird and secure the freedom of it. None can argue them against the preciousness of the freedom of the bird. Well, we all agree about it. But the fact remains as to that the bird can exist only until the very minute that the freedom fighter opens the door to win its freedom. As a matter of fact, this freedom fighter is well aware of the existence of the big fat snake outside the door of the cage waiting to eat the bird at any given chance. Not only that, making matters even more complicated, the freedom fighter receives payments from the snake for chanting this slogan “ƒ”¹…”freedom for the bird’. Now the question remains as to what party benefiting this chanting of “ƒ”¹…”freedom’; is that the bird or the snake. Because it is pretty clear, that what the freedom fighter does not hear is the loud screaming of the bird demanding “ƒ”¹…”Take the snake away first before you open the gate moron!!!? Else let me remain in the cage’! The scenario becomes even more heinous and “ƒ”¹…”deadly hilarious’ because now the snake also holding a placard reading “Free the bird immediately”. Can anyone explain this situation? Shouldn’t this as well be a part of the debate of 18th amendment? 

Debate of 18th amendment will only misguide masses if vital facts are ignored

If vital facts are ignored, the direction of the current media debate for and against 18th amendment will only misguide the readers. The road to abandon the demand for the abolition of the presidential system in Sri Lanka and its related further strengthening of executive powers is not just an idea of Rajapaksas. Largely it came from the people of the south. Some even wrote articles questioning why this hurry to abolish executive presidency at this moment, implying this is not the right time for such change. The trimming down 17th amendment is also stemmed out of the same circumstance. The reason was that the large section of the society thinks that strengthening executive power is the only security guaranty that nation can rely on now to maintain the required stability at the moment of external aggression that has been intensified their onslaught colluding with internal elements. Any critique of 18th amendment however begs serious considerations of those circumstances. Why and for what reason native masses had to determine preserving executive presidency for another day and further strengthening its powers? Why they kept the ideal political model aside considering that the prescribed “ƒ”¹…”ideal model’ is going to be not “ƒ”¹…”so ideal’ within the current political circumstances and then to embrace a practical model suitable for addressing current affairs?

But the ongoing argument in opposition to the amendment denies a thorough explanation and an analysis of the power arrangements of the accused party and the counter power arrangement of the accusers. It has been locked in the trap on the one hand, in arguments explaining how a democratic system can be undermined of its function of good governance without a proper counter balancing mechanism in place. And on the other hand, the supporters of presidency bring counter arguments for the denial of opposite arguments neglecting the vital conditions of the socio-political ground situation of the system we are arguing about. First of all, picturing this as a binary of power hungry president and suppressed masses is certainly creating a monumental misinterpretation, misrepresentation and a misguiding premise. The spectacle is not that simple, but there are so many other complexities in this scenario of the amendment. Decision to strengthen the hand of the president of Sri Lanka is the outcome of the power struggle among variable of visible and invisible players of Sri Lankan polity. At least there were four or more internal and external parties involved in this power struggle. Without giving proper hearing to the socio-political atmospheric effects of the amendment, that eventually forced the people of Sri Lanka to determine to preserve executive presidency, we will never be able to understand it.

Among many factors, the “ƒ”¹…”will to power’ of indigenous native masses with identifying their “ƒ”¹…”political will’ with executive presidency is a new phenomenon that cannot be easily ignored. Whether it is politically right or wrong, whether we liked it or not, large majority of the natives see that only way to gain their lost right to self-determination of the nation out of colonial power structures and the onslaught of neo colonial aggression is resting in president Rajapaksa’s hands. Yet, the history must reveal if their calculations were right or wrong in future. But at the moment they believe it. As I said earlier, they have gone religious. However if anyone thinks that Milosevic model that betrayed the leader of a nation is the panacea for all our ills, current Kosovo story tells us that it is not.  

Actually 2005 election was a land mark election for many Sri Lankans in its significance of shifting power bases from the center of Colombo to the peripheral Lanka. The characteristic of Sri Lankan political culture is that it is not the government or the parties in power that holding sway over the nation, but the invisible hand hidden behind the colonial structure of it. That is the hand of the Colombians. They will hold the controlling arm of the political power of the regime.

They are there in sectors like Judiciary, police, finance, local administration, policy planning, business, media etc. etc; then colonial procedures of local administration does the rest of the job. The whole objective of this structure is to keep the influential parties to hold the control of the apparatus of the administration whoever come to power in the government.

Rabbit never had horns, but only quasi freedom in post colonial Sri Lanka.

The native never had a freedom as such called “ƒ”¹…”democratic freedom’. His freedom was only a quasi-freedom, just a notion of freedom that exposed its hollowness only when they confronted with something above them. The reason was because this quasi freedom always was contingent to give way to the supra freedom of the Colombian ruling class. If however they happened to confront with this supra citizenry of Colombo, then only they realized that they never had any freedom. They also realized that all citizens of their society were not equal before the law of the land. Rooster thinks that it is a bird until the moment it attempts to fly to realize the fallacy of the idea. But definitely there was freedom for the privileged Colombian minority. This colonial privileged minority had their real freedom, while the rest had their quasi freedom. Colombian freedom eventually had devised to deny the freedom of the native masses at will. Although we comfortably thought that we were free, we never been free.

 The myth of checks and balances

Let along 18th amendment, throughout the post colonial history we never had a system of checks and balances as such in Sri Lanka. It is still doubtful to expect any independence and impartiality from a corrupt bureaucracy produced by colonial traditions still active in the system will eventually perform reasonably in the institutions proposed in the 17th amendment. The problem here is not about the institutions, it is about the corrupt human factor that will definitely sabotage the will of the nation. It is not about the system we concerned about, but about the social and administrative traditions that have gone to dogs that we cannot rely on. Any structure can sustain only on a solid foundation. If the foundations are rotten, then however superior the structure can be still will collapse eventually. Existing social foundation needs a thorough purification before we establish such institutions. I know very influential government officials who believe whole heartedly that corruption need to be there for the development to be vibrant and alive. They think it is the driving force of people to work hard. What a way to normalize a corrupt bureaucratic fraudulence with theoretical jargon?

 Now let us see how our democratic traditions in the highest level considered about checks and balances. Where all these notions of checks and balances were when Ranil decided to sign CFA illegally and single handedly? Now he is also chanting about the need of checks and balances. Where were these checks and balances when JRJ’s thugs beaten Dr. Sarachchandra? Where they were when thugs of UNP created havoc in Colombo in 1983 to put the blame upon the native masses? Hundreds of thousands of young people were murdered at will in 1989, even without giving them a chance to prove if the victims were innocent. At that time the land was left in anarchy with the patronage of the highest level of administration. Were there any checks and balances at that point of our history to begin with? One of my friends, a lawyer, an honest citizen, had to flee out of the country because the then administration thought that he was a threat to their power.

We lost a creative brain that could be useful for the nation’s future progress. He was a formidable opponent of any form of injustice, a furious fighter who never knew what retreat or threat means. He was an adult we were teens at the time but we still recollected and remembered him as he was our idol in our teenage life that shaped up our adolescence later into current status. Everybody who knew him shared one opinion in common, that he was an honest man. Now what has happened? He has become an NGO leader. I personally believe that the creation of our NGO community with highly creative layer of our society is a dreadful system failure of our own. Our rotten system must take the responsibility of it. Our corrupt system with no iota of hope created the vacuum for NGOs to take in position. I hope my friend still has his honesty intact without being compromised it in the face of these lucrative sweet heart deals of the global capital.    

 Coming back to our main argument, how come there was no checks and balances when big sahibs among Colombians were steeling state property and going scot-free without paying billions worth of loans obtained from state owned banks? How regional level politicians in village level terrorized opponents if there was check and balance? This list can go on and on.

 The legislature is the next institution to executive presidency that functions in the task of fulfilling a major part of this apparatus of checks and balances. Now let us see the feudal legacy of our legislature.

I have heard an ugly story that tells us about the horrible feudal political culture of our society. It is about an incident in which Sir. John Kotalawala had kicked another member of parliament, said to be a former postal worker, just because he had called Sir. John “ƒ”¹…”John’. John had got mad not because this MP had called him “ƒ”¹…”Bandung Booruwa’ but just by his first name John.  If calling a person by his/her first name is such a crime in our society, it must be written in our constitution as well. Although this poor MP had no clue about it, John might have taken his name “ƒ”¹…”John’ as a synonym to “ƒ”¹…”Booruwa’ (donkey/ass) by his own creed, like “ƒ”¹…”Jimmy’, Tommy’ and Brown becoming synonyms to “ƒ”¹…”Balla’ (dog) in Sri Lankan context.

This incident had taken place outside the old parliament in front of all other members including S. W. R. D Bandaranayake. Did anything happen? Nothing. Why (?) because it is the true culture of the checks and balances of our feudal system of colonial democracy in which there were no countering mechanism of checks and balances of feudal power abuses where that maintained a specific privileged freedom for Colombians denying the freedom of the ordinary at will. The ordinary, even he/she is a member of the legislature, still becomes nobody before a mere stupid donkey ass Colombian, due to the protection of the unwritten constitution of our polity that could simply deny the existence of this MP turned former postal worker. The Colombian was always above the people’s mandate. People who voted for this postal worker could do nothing against the humiliating treatment received by their representative at the highest level institution that was supposed to safeguard the people’s will. Isn’t that the self same tradition of checks and balances we have now after sixty years of this incident?

If the whole legislature that supposed to make laws in order to discipline a society and then responsible for taking further remedial measures to protect any breach of laws they brought into effect, even did not do anything to safeguard its own member of parliament from this humiliating assault of a psychopath who had violated the law of the land before their very own eyes, then what else left there for us to say about the worth of our institutions? If the highest institution is prejudice and partial, and only protecting the right of the Colombian supra class, what we can say about the other institutions under it? These are the institutions eventually will set examples for future generation of this tradition? The reason behind the inaction of the rest of the members of parliament was because they respected above said unwritten constitution more than they believed in the written one. If that is the case, how can we expect their institutions that supposed to maintain checks and balances would safeguard the rest of the powerless? One cannot build national monuments out of bull shit. Likewise Sri Lanka cannot build impartial institutions out of the corrupt bureaucracy we have. If we think we can, then we must be dreaming in a fairyland. We need to clean the system first, and then we need an anti-virus mechanism with institutions.

Then in another incident, a highly influential current politician fearing defeat in Kalaniya electorate after his widespread extrajudicial criminal activities in that area during the insurgency of 1989 decides to contest in Colombo district. As a part of his controversial election campaign, one day he goes canvassing in Boralla area. This unfortunate incident takes place in a shanty area in front of Borella cemetery on Baseline Road. From this point onward I’ll tell the story how my poor friend said it to me. Although our stereotypical police department viewed other way around, despite his poverty, my friend was thousand times law abiding disciplined citizen than the elite politician in point. My friend lived in the exact location where this incident took place revealed it to me in his words like this in Sinhalese.

“The politician and his hundreds of body guards and catchers went to each and every hose in the vicinity to beg for vote.”

“The politician came to my house, although I would never vote this criminal, I politely received him”

“Then after he covered few more houses, this terrible incident happened. When he went to a house of another neighbor, the head of the household asked the politician, “ƒ”¹…”Ha danda mahattaya apiwa matak uney?” meaning “Sir, finally you remembered us now ha?” Politician’s face turned into red. We only saw he whispered something to one of his body guards”

“Moment after he left the location, about ten bodyguards of the politician began to beat the head of the house hold. Later they left if nothing happened, leaving the victim in a blood bath.”

That tells us the difference between the freedom the ordinary masses had and the Colombian elite politician had. Don’t forget, some of the body guards were coming from our police department as well. This tradition is pretty much normal and standard in Sri Lankan polity. Now this politician is behaving like a leading guardian of our freedom and democracy.

These scenarios reveal something disturbing to think of. It tells us that modern ideals can never flourish on feudal foundations. Ideals of freedom never have been established by dialogue and agreement in places where they established originally, but by bloody revolutions of freedom loving mass movements. The reason is clear, there were no location on this planet privileged had given up their privileges just without being decisively challenged them. In Sri Lanka ideals of democratic freedom was planted like a seed came from the sky. The soil was not ready to give birth to the expected tree of freedom. Instead it created a thorny shrub victimizing every creature coming along seeking refuge in it.

Sri Lankan democracy has been planted on a wrong foundation. It has been proved that the foundation is not ready to accept new realities; in which social equality and individual rights have been annulled by feudal power relations. A social system cannot change just by giving new names to it, instead, society itself must transform into new social structure demolishing old ones. Social realities creates systems, it cannot be forced other way around. In Sri Lanka, the age of freedom becomes free only for few in the top of the social ladder. Rest must still remain in the gutter. First thing we must do is demolishing this feudal foundation; we must reform our society first.

That is about the continuing tradition of our society, parliament and its members. Now let us see how about our judiciary?

First thing I must say is that any one goes to Aluthkade courts premises or its vicinity never comes back without either being transformed into another corrupt, or without losing the respect about our judiciary. A gutter of rotten garbage can produce only another rotting worm but nothing else. Proving that reality, not very long ago our media revealed about an incident in which a police officer finds a former chief justice hiding our constitution between his legs; and then saving his skin through the help of above said unwritten constitution of our society by a former head of state. Recently a parliamentarian revealed how a former president was tarrying pages of a police entry logbook to safeguard this CJ in point. Think how law abiding citizens our politicians are? If I use HLD Mahindapala’s metaphor for this, our president must have thought that, exposing the “ƒ”¹…”Cuban cigar’ of the CJ of the nation in open air was not a big deal.

I agree with the president on principles, so I also wouldn’t say that allowing a woman who is willingly partaking a session of smoking Cuban cigars is a monumental crime, because we are not such hypocrites. But my concern is something else. What is disturbing me is not only his abusing the very law he supposed to protect with the help of the head of state. But it is his state of mind arrogantly denying the existence of a law and utter disregard of the people of a nation who pays millions of rupees worth of privileges for his position out of poor tax payers money for the purpose exactly the opposite to his actions in this event. It is this state of mind of our CJ what is disturbing me the most. How he perceived about our law and his duty is the problem.

On the other hand, if that chief Justice needed to know how to do this smoking session without being noticed to the local authority, considering the local authority is also a part of his sphere of influence, what he could have done was asking this question from an O/L student of a Colombo school. The actual reason why I get goose bumps when I think about this is not for that our CJ pulling out his Cuban cigar out in a public place, no doubt it is also a comical thing to think about and therefore laugh unto death; but it is not the case. But the actual reason why I get goose bumps is because I am disturbed to think of the fact that our judiciary had been placed under a person whose intelligence proved to be below the average intelligence of an O/L student of a Colombo school. That is the other troubling issue I have.

In Sri Lanka there are two types of laws; one for the ordinary masses and the other for the privileged. For our judiciary, ordinary citizens can be punished if he forgets to fasten his top button of the shirt when he enters a courtroom of our judiciary, whereas Colombian privileged can do virtually anything without being noticed by the very law that punishes the poor for not fastening the button. That is the reason why there was no questioning of the loss of pages of their logbook, even up to now from the part of police department; because the police officers well aware of the difference between these two distinguish laws. In practical life, it was not the constitution that dominates the day-today life of the masses but colonial traditions. In which safety of the privileged minority in Colombo gets the paramount importance. That is the “ƒ”¹…”other law’ guided the institutions of law and order by age old colonial traditions of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka police department is based on this tradition of law rather than the written constitution.

One Charismas eve I had to go to a police station for some issue. I witnessed a visibly drunken police officer telling a decent looking man, (who had refused to get into the shell saying he was innocent and had never been in a shell before) “Why are you opposing to get into the shell? They are built with such a cost for you.”  Actually I wanted to tell the officer that, to my standard, he (the police officer) must be in the shell behind bars, rather than the man he was talking to.

Have the system changed afterwards? No. Did we have a wonderful society day before the 18th amendment? No. So then how can we say that the day of the 18th amendment was the darkest day in our history? It is only another day. But that is the darkest day for the Colombian manipulators who were hoping to waggle the body of the system by the tail of institutions of 17th amendment, like former CJ did. Can anyone assure that Colombians like former CJ are not going to be positioned in these institutions to topple the will of rural masses, to do what they couldn’t do through elections? These are the valid questions of the people.

(To be continued in part C)   

One Response to “18th amendment, the Big fat snake and the bird in the cage”

  1. De Costa Says:

    Execllent analogy. Perfectly matching the truth. Cage will be opened when the snake dies from starvation !
    Well done Sir Kudaligamage !

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