Cutting off the nose to spite the face
Posted on November 27th, 2014

By Rohana R. Wasala

It is a royal thing to be ill spoken of for good deeds.”

  • Greek philosopher Antisthenes (445-365 BCE) commenting on the kingly prerogative, quoted with approval by Roman Emperor, Stoic philosopher and soldier Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE) in his philosophical work ‘Meditations’

Until Maithripala Sirisena and his followers from the SLFP joined them recently, the opponents of Mahinda Rajapakse seemed to hold it more important for the remainder of the comprehensive development programmes launched across the country under his stewardship to be open to the danger of being scuttled,  for the country to be ruled by someone willing to pander to Western whims which usually run counter to our national interest, for the zombie of dead separatist terrorism to continue to stalk the streets of the north indefinitely poisoning the minds of innocent Tamil youth, for the political and military leaders who rid the country of terrorism and ushered in steady economic growth to be hauled before an international war crimes tribunal for offences not committed, for the country to be plunged into political instability and for every other imaginable destabilizing mischance to befall the nation than that their bête noire should be elected to a third term by the popular vote. But they don’t clearly spell out cogent enough reasons that justify their call for the ouster of a president who performs satisfactorily well under difficult conditions  or for the abolition of the executive presidency which has proved useful in governance, and harmless when not abused. I don’t deny that there may be problems concerning both the office and the office-bearer. But why this helter-skelter hurry, by a motley group of politicians enjoying little public support for all their vehemence, to do away with the presidency and to send the president home, when more pressing problems vitally important for the very survival of the state remain to be tackled?

True, there may be problems concerning Mr Rajapakse’s style of governance. But he, who has done so much for winning the freedom and safety from terrorism that we enjoy today must be given a chance to fix them, particularly when the forces that supported it are looking for an opportunity to push the country back to chaos. There are problems of corruption, but these will not disappear with his exit. They must be tackled by the government with the equal participation of the opposition as a national issue. The great changes for the better that have been achieved within a comparatively short period of time must be appreciated, and the leader who made these possible need not be ostracized because he has accidentally trodden on Western corns by asserting internationally his personal dignity and independence as the Sri Lankan president.

It may be cold comfort for Rajapakse opponents that, with the rather bland episode of Maithripala Sirisena’s decamping,  the pre-election jiggery pokery staged by a rudderless opposition inveigling into its ranks strange bedfellows  made by necessity in a cobbled up, nondescript anti-MR front, the desperate urgency of their personal-hate driven cause  is likely to get only a semblance of respectability.

Mr Rajapakse was reported to have looked amused when he heard the news of Mr Sirisena’s defection. Whether the smile will remain on his face or leave it and settle on those of his challengers will only be seen after 8th January 2015. In any case, he laughs best who laughs last, as the saying goes. Whoever gets the chance to laugh last, the masses must be able to join in the laughing with a genuine sense of having voted in the right person for the job, and of having contributed to justice being served for everybody.

Unfortunately for the country,  the virtually leaderless, nominal opposition that we have has been unable to find a credible challenger of their own to take on the president giving the people an opportunity to clearly re-affirm or repudiate their trust in him and his party. That the contender, when the election is called, has to be one of his own closest lieutenants, goes a long way to prove that Mr Rajapakse’s major role in the country’s political stage is still being approved by the public,  and that there is yet no stage direction for his exit, despite probably unavoidable lapses in his rule (which are the common lot of any political power wielder in a democracy, though it is not that such lapses should always be excused).

Tendency towards corruption, abuse of power, having to please the ignorant electors, etc is of the nature of democracy mentioned even by the Greek philosopher Plato (c. 428-347 BCE) in his  most popularly known work ‘The Republic’. The book records certain dialogues his teacher, philosopher Socrates (469-399 BCE), had with some enlightened Athenian and foreign interlocutors about the meaning of justice, the just man, kinds of city-states (i.e. political systems), etc.  Among the political systems discussed the ancient Athenians had a form of democracy (different from what we call democracy today in terms of the composition of its membership and participatory rights). It is shown to be susceptible to defects like those suggested above. The discussion finally leads to the concept of a city-state (polis) called the Kallipolis which is ruled by ‘philosopher kings’, and which is considered the best, because philosophers are incorruptible as rulers; but the problem is that philosophers don’t want to do that job; to be a politician is not their thing. The ideally desirable situation is that ‘the ruler must be a philosopher as well as a king; and he must govern unwillingly, because he loves philosophy better than dominion’. So scoundrels would be peremptorily left out of political leadership under such a system (the exact opposite of what we normally have inflicted on us today).

Until philosophers are kings,” Plato writes in his ‘Republic’, and the princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, cities will never cease from ill- no, nor the human race, as I believe- and then only will our state have a possibility of life, and see the light of day…… The truth is, that the state in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is best and most quietly governed, and the state in which they are most willing is the worst.” (Quotes from Jeremy Collier’s translation of Meditations”, London, 1887)

Not that this ideal of a philosopher king became a common reality in Plato’s time or later, though it might have inspired just rulers in subsequent ages. But once in the post-Plato history of the Western world there appeared a ruler who most authentically exemplified the ideal of a philosopher king. This was not a Greek, but a Roman king: Marcus Aurelius of my epigraph at the top. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, adopted son of Emperor Antoninus Pius, became ruler of the vast Roman empire on the latter’s death in 161 BCE. Educated under the Stoic philosophy, he willingly eschewed kingly splendour and personal luxury in favour of scholarly pursuits and a frugal lifestyle. The Stoics were committed to the ideals of global citizenship and cosmopolitanism in preference to mere patriotism, but the practical realities of the political life Aurelius had inherited and trained for dictated against the perfect realization of his ideals, and he had to bear the criticism of his perceived shortfalls. It is known that he allowed the harassment of the early Christians, but it was done as an unavoidable political necessity, not as deliberate religious persecution. It looks like that politics and philosophy go ill together. But ‘Meditations’ reveals Aurelius to have been a truly compassionate, rational, cultured, and peaceful ruler. Of course, as Roman Emperor he had to fight wars, and he succeeded in many. Nevertheless, he should be credited with having personified the philosopher king ideal.

To return to the less exalted, more mundane, subject chosen for this essay, namely, the currently unfolding drama in the Lankan political theatre, which is politics in practice a la established local tradition: Although crossovers and defections are familiar events, why a situation like this should have arisen now while a uniquely successful executive head in Sri Lanka’s recent history such as President Rajapakse is at the helm is puzzling. Naturally, this is a moment we may expect plausible foreign conspiracy theories to be rife. Considering the future of the country as a nation, if this is a victory for conspirators with foreign involvement, it will be a loss for both the government and the opposition alike in different ways, though; but it will be an incalculably greater loss for the whole country which, unless nullified by the popular will, will have the potential to destabilize the state for a long time to come, a prospect very unpleasant even to imagine.

It is difficult to believe that Mr Sirisena made his move for the sake of the country as he claims. If that was his real concern, particularly at a time when a foreign engineered ‘regime change’ conspiracy seems afoot which will only serve antinational interests at the expense of the country, he should have stuck on with his leader as the latter did with his  even though she was particularly nasty to him for personal reasons. But, among average politicians Mr Sirisena has been successful in projecting a certain clean public image, considerably enhanced by his longtime political association with the president. Also, he has an authentic claim to his country origins, as opposed to, perhaps, his friend’s strategic rusticity (which is no harm).

One shade of public opinion is that, more likely, he felt impelled to challenge his boss out of personal frustration at Mr Rajapakse’s failure or refusal to appoint him as prime minister. Probably we should not blame the president for not appointing Mr Sirisena as prime minister. The reason is that, as is well known, there were a number of would-be PMs  for the post, some of them perhaps senior to and more powerful than Mr Sirisena in the party. It may be speculated that, had Mr Rajapakse given the post to Mr Sirisena instead of one of these really eligible aspirants, he would have remained but a more powerful disgruntled character would have caused a split much earlier, which would have  done more damage to the party and the country; that could be why the president picked on Mr Dissanayake, the seniormost member of the SLFP for the post.

Given the Ranil factor, he will have to agree to be led rather than to lead even if he eventually wins the election. To win the election Mr Sirisena must have much more credibility among the voters as a leader than Mr Wickremasinghe. As to credibility, Mr Sirisena doesn’t have much, only so much as he has derived from his connection with Mr Rajapakse. When all is said and done, Mr Wickremasinghe will enjoy more credibility than an apparently opportunistic turncoat who betrayed his popular leader over a personal matter. The only available replacement for Mr Rajapakse at the present time, if he must be replaced, is Mr Wickremasinghe with all his deficiencies and past failures. But it is good for the country if Mr Rajapakse remains in power for another term at least. This is my opinion for what it is worth.

23 Responses to “Cutting off the nose to spite the face”

  1. Christie Says:

    You should ask why did SWRD leave when he was in the UNP and was a minister? Who financed SWRD? Who filed his policies? by 1951 Sri Lanka was on the way to development like today.

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    Lorenzo,

    You said “People were grateful to him in 2010. He got the HIGHEST EVER vote percentage at ANY general election. That is ENOUGH.”

    Yes, indeed the people were grateful to him then.

    BUT, that is NOT ENOUGH, because

    1. What they did in Wiining the War and Developing the Nation Rapidly was not a mere flash in the pan to be rewarded with support in ONE election and a “Thank you, Goodbye”, but a huge undertaking transcending ANYTHING & EVERYTHING any government has done within our lifetimes.

    2. The CONSEQUENCES and PERSONAL LIABILITIES of PROTECTING the nation the Rajapaksa Family INCURRED on our behalf, will CONTINUE through their ENTIRE LIVES because of the Eelamist Diaspora, and the Western Neocolonialists exploiting the issue for their own gain.

    So, not only the Rajapakas, but we as a NATION, have incurred a Long Term National Mortgage in exchange for Preserving the Territorial Integrity and Sovereignty of our Nation, the Lives of our People, and gaining the FREEDOM to Rapidly Develop our Economy by allying with whomever we choose (e.g. China).

    Part of paying back that Long Term National Mortgage WE INCURRED is to PROTECT and DEFEND our HEROIC LEADERS who led the Patritic Forces towards that LEGITIMATE goal, executing their SWORN DUTY to PROTECT, DEFEND and UPLIFT their NATION and their PEOPLE.

    We SHOULD NOT, we MUST NOT, indeed we CANNOT, DODGE that Ethical and Moral DUTY by chanting a litany of overblown often fabricated PRETEXTS to abandon them, and hand them over to the tender mercies of Sri Lanka’s AVOWED ENEMIES!

    We should be CONDEMNED to ETERNAL SHAME as CRAVEN COWARDS if we abandon our HEROES!

  3. Lorenzo Says:

    Who said we will abandon war heroes? NEVER.

    But some TOP LTTE terrorists have become CLOSER to MR than ANY war hero!

    e.g. KP
    e.g. Karuna
    e.g. Pillayan
    e.g. Ganeson
    e.g. Geneva Thurairaja

    And guess who told Blake about “STF” involved in killing 5 your Tamil tigers in Trinco? Please find the WikiLeaks article.
    And guess who IMPRISONED the soldiers involved?
    Guess how LTTE (=TNA) became chief ministers in the north?
    Who allows Kasippu Joseph to frame our heroes on genocide and BS allegations?
    Who allows Ananthi Sasitharan to FREELY go around the world and discredit our war heroes?
    Who appointed LTTE Hack-him as JUSTICE minister?
    Who released 11,000 terrorists to kill more?

    Can we continue with this or we need a change?

  4. cwije Says:

    Watsala,

    What about 13-A? Waht is your opinion about it? Then we can assess your writings.

  5. Independent Says:

    Lorenzo,
    We know the answer to your questions but it is prohibited word. Patali says few people did all these going against the cabinet and popular opinion of the UPFA members. All these are unilateral decisions.

  6. Ananda-USA Says:

    Lorenzo,

    It is LUDICROUS for you to say “NEVER” and in the same breath follow it up with a LITANY of overblown BS PRETEXTS to justify abandoning them, and handing them over to the tender mercies of Sri Lanka’s AVOWED ENEMIES!

    You are simply being a HYPOCRITE when you do that! SHAME on you!

  7. Lorenzo Says:

    Come on Ananda.

    I’ve been factual. You KNOW these things.

    How can KP, KA, Ananthi, Kasippu Joseph, etc. be VVIPs when our FOOT SOLDIERS are not?

  8. Ananda-USA Says:

    Lorenzo,

    Your interminable TIRESOME LISTS are MEANINGLESS because they LUMP SIGNIFICANT items with INSIGNIFICANT issues and do not differentiate between them according to RELATIVE IMPORTANCE.

    REPEALING the 13A s SIGNIFICANT, but not MOST of the other issues you raise.

    You are just doing a SNOW JOB on the readers; so LEARN to PRIORITIZE! MORE is not necessarily BETTER!

  9. Independent Says:

    Lorenzo,
    Don’t be discouraged to tell facts just because of one Mr. USA.
    As Chandrasiri has pointed out elsewhere, one of the biggest betrayal was holding of PC election in the North.

    Most senior ministers in the government said not to do it. JHU, Wimal W said not to do it. Even Maha Sangha and a lot of patriotic associations said not to do it. President did it after listening to 3 or 4 people surrounding him because he had the EPs. The results ? In the 2010 general elections TNA won only 44% votes , Vanni 39% but 2013 PCs they won 78%, despite government spending 400bn on roads, rail, water , electricity etc. And it paved way to Ealam by proxy.

    2nd one (not by the president, I am sure he is not that bad) is the one you mentioned by the worst one around him, dobbing to the USA on student killing. It is not truth that he dobbed.

    Actually, everyone make mistakes but just accept and move forward is the civilized way. Don’t just accuse people as traitors for unknown, not documented reasons.

  10. Lorenzo Says:

    Here is another FACT.

    Who is the CURRENT LTTE leader? Look at the LTTE hierarchy.

    1. VP – DEAD
    2. Pottu Amman – DEAD
    3. Mathivathani – DEAD
    4. Chalres Anthony – DEAD
    5. Dwarga – DEAD
    6. Balachandran – DEAD
    7. Soosai – DEAD
    8. Ramesh – DEAD
    9. KP – ALIVE!
    10. KA – ALIVE!
    11. SC – ALIVE!
    12. DM – ALIVE!

    ALL living LTTE leaders are with the govt.! Isn’t it outrageous?

    Imagine Himmler, Goring, Goebbels, Blobel, Kramer, Heydrich, Mengele, etc. becoming VVIPs in USA or Israel!!

    Are we fools? Who is fooling whom? How about the THOUSANDS of civilians and soldiers KILLED by them?

  11. Lorenzo Says:

    Independent,

    Not Elam by proxy. It is real Tamil Elam.

    KP knows he is DOOMED if MR loses. So he will do what he knows best – suicide bomb attacks.

  12. Ananda-USA Says:

    Hey Mr. Dependent,

    EVERY FACT is not worth telling and listing, it is just dead wood.

    If there are IMPORTANT FACTS, by all means SHOUT them from the ROOF TOP.

    The problem is that Lorenzo just unloads his entire kit and baggage of TRIVIA here giving the same importance to both SIGNIFICANT and the INSIGNIFICANT.

    Come on, use some sense, for God’s sake, Mr. Dependent!

  13. Lorenzo Says:

    Bashing persons with opposing views is NOT the policy of MR. If anyone pretending to be pro-MR and bashes opponents or call them names, PLEASE NOTE it is NOT the position of MR.

    I think KP with the govt. is a VERY IMPORTANT matter. He is UNREPENTANT as my friend Ananda would say. He is the man who shipped bombs to kill thousands, artillery to kill tens of thousands of soldiers, APMs that costed tens of thousands of legs of soldiers, suicide bomb kits, etc.

    Then there is Karuna Amman who killed 800+ policemen in cold blood in 1990 and bombed the MOST SACRED DALADA MALIGAWA. UNFORGIVABLE. He too is with the govt.

    Even the MAHA SANGHA protested it. Diyawadana Nilame also protested it.

    HACK-HIM who has an ACTIVE MOU with the LTTE is also with the govt.

    DAYAN J who TRAPPED SL to the 13 amendment curse in Geneva in 2009 is also with the govt.

    SAJIN VAAS who attacked the BEST TIGER FIGHTING diplomat is also with the govt.

    We need to CHANGE these things. I’m sure MR also wants to CHANGE but his NEW COMPANIONS don’t let him.

  14. Independent Says:

    Mr. USA,
    I have my name only. Unfortunately you have a name and a surname ! So you must play within the rules , having “learnt of books and men” at your school. Anyway that it is INSIGNIFICANT.
    I trust we should not use white lies. If a traitor brother (as proven by Lorenzo and not disproven by anyone ) cum a senior government decision maker is not significant to be mentioned what is significant ?
    Anyway lets stop this and leave it like that and FYI my comments aim towards sustainable long-term betterment of my country and not insignificant short-term bashing, I am sure your intentions are the same and hope you are not Obama who betrays his own black peasants of your adopted country, Mr. USA.

  15. Independent Says:

    Lorenzo,
    May I add that one of those policemen who vanished was my friend’s brother in law. Every time I see his sister(who did not marry again), I feel the pain.
    Parents have compassion towards their children. Even when their children make mistakes they prefer to blame their bad company than the child himself. So, lets blame on NEW COMPANIONS. I agree with you.

  16. Lorenzo Says:

    Independent,

    I’m very sorry to hear that. As a Tamil, I apologize to you all on behalf of the crimes of KP and KA.

    Maithree Wewa!

    May You Be Blessed With Compassion!

    Sri Lanka will be Maithree Lanka soon. The Capital will be RAJARATA once again. Isn’t that wonderful! Bring back the LOST GLORY of SL when RAJARATA used to rule the nation! Join in patriots.

    When Brits ruled SL Colombo became capital.
    When JR ruled SL, Jayawardanapur Kotte became capital.
    When Premathasan ruled SL, Colombo (Keselwatte) became capital.
    When MR ruled SL, Hambantota became capital.

    Now is it time to bring back the past glory of RAJARATA.

  17. Ananda-USA Says:

    Mr. Dependent,

    What do you mean by “I have my name only. Unfortunately you have a name and a surname! So you must play with the rules”, and what does my school have to do with it? Don’t talk in inane riddles man!

    I agree that these things are not only INSIGNIFICANT, but are also IRRELEVANT; so why do you persist in mentioning them?

    If “FYI my comments aim towards sustainable long-term betterment of my country and not insignificant short-term bashing”, I am glad to hear it, but I see NO EVIDENCE of it. If that is your goal, stick to it … if you can … without REGRESSING into the same DARK PIT!

  18. Independent Says:

    Lorenzo,
    Thanks for that, but I see her very rarely or no chance at all. She is in Sri Lanka.

    You may say Karuna Weva, because Karuna means compassion. Maithree means “metta” or loving kindness or”pure love”.
    Yes, Rajarata is a good idea, if he wins but then rebels – that is my wish. JHU will guide him then.
    I don’t like the two ghosts sitting either side of My3.

  19. Independent Says:

    Mr. USA,
    Thanks. That goal cannot be accompanied by white washing, lying and insulting Gamarala. That is very cowardly. My goal is in my heart, I will approve good and disapprove bad. We may be from the same school but appears like very different upbringing.

  20. Ananda-USA Says:

    Mr. Dependent,

    Its uncanny, but you have all the BAD CHARACTERISTICS of the late unlamented blogger Nanda … perhaps you are an “Avatharaya” of that same person hoping to revive his fortunes under a different sheepskin!

    Forget the schools and the upbringing .. which you know nothing about, and stick to the facts relevant to the issues!

    BTW, what exactly are you “Dependent” on?

  21. Independent Says:

    Mr. USA,
    The way you attack, suspect people will surely attract enemies. Do you think everybody here have to respect you while you go on insulting people. I came back after 3 years here and spoken to many courteously, no one is as aggressive as you are. OK. stick to point then.

  22. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Excellent article. Outside of this article and due to it I have come to the conclusion one of the issues that stands between Sri Lanka and India is the issue of trust. India used her power which is considerable, to violate that trust between her and Sri Lanka. India betrayed Sri Lanka when she supported the formation of Elam.

    Betrayal by a friend or ally is one of the most painful human experiences. It then becomes extremely difficult to re establish the trust that was lost, especially if India continues to harbor pro Tamil Tiger outfits. India has done similar acts of betrayal when she deliberately helped to divide Pakistan to form Bangladesh. Then India wonders why her neighbors seek the ‘trust; of other powers outside of her domain.

  23. Ananda-USA Says:

    Mr. Dependent,

    The way I attack is partly determined by those who attack me. Offense is the best Defense they say.

    People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. You reap what you sow. Don’t be a cry baby.

    Don’t worry about me, just conduct yourself well, and stick to the issues. Then you will not have any problems.

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