Winter of discontent
Posted on July 4th, 2016

By Rohana R. Wasala

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York.– 
         Opening lines of the Shakespeare play ‘Richard III’ uttered by (the Duke of) Gloucester who later became King Richard III

‘Listening to discontent’ by Sanjana Hattotuwa (Sunday Island/June 26, 2016) attempts an answer to the writer’s own query: ‘What is it about this Government that makes them so unwilling and unable to speak with, and listen to the public?’ A friend of mine who had read this article quipped: What if they don’t have anything to communicate? My reply to him was: they certainly have something to communicate to the people, but they don’t seem to have anything that they can communicate to the common people without alienating them further.

The writer’s thesis that ‘communication is key to reform’ and that ‘it begins with listening’ is a self-evident truth in a democratic society if what is to be communicated is an acceptable ideology. The communication meant here is between the rulers and the ruled, the government and the people. Three elements are involved in the thesis statement indicated by ‘communication’, ‘reform’ and ‘listening’. What is there to be communicated, what reforms are proposed to be implemented, and what is there to be listened to? , that is, what are the complaints, grievances, problems, etc. to be addressed. In the specific context we have implicitly in mind, that is, in the essential interaction that ought to take place between ruling politicians and the ordinary people who have temporarily delegated their sovereign power to them to rule on their behalf (for in theory sovereignty lies with the people), the government leaders must inquire into the people’s complaints and grievances, while acknowledging their compliments, if any; they must set before the people their ideological preferences, and the policies they want to adopt in order to remedy the shortfalls the masses are pointing out, and they must thus try to win their support for required changes (reforms) to be introduced in relation to different aspects of governance such as the basic law of the country (i.e., the constitution), economic strategies, national security, etc. The question is why this interaction seems to have gone by default at present.

‘The government today believes citizens don’t know what they want. It is elitism of the worst sort, where instead of leveraging class, caste and power to engage and to the extent possible, convert, we have instead a few who believe they alone have the solutions to what ails the country; that they alone can garner the buy-in from political elites to support their solutions; and finally, by doing this, that the people will invariably follow’. This observation of the writer seems to be correct! Actually, the citizens know what they want (and, more importantly, what they need as well): what they want is to live happily in peace and harmony with  each other, free from the fear of terrorist bombs, dwelling, working, or travelling wherever they like in their island home without let or hindrance; what they need are good jobs, houses, schools, hospitals, roads, harbours, airports, and other things that are essential for a decent life in the modern world.

The author of the piece correctly observes: ‘A government wins or loses public confidence by marketing ideas, and the delivery of promises’. The spreading public outcry against many of the current regime’s policies is an indication of  what people are thinking about it. In my opinion, the previous government under its charismatic leader won public confidence overwhelmingly ‘by marketing ideas, and the delivery of promises’ (This is my view, not Sanjana’s obviously). My assertion here is based on the successes the previous government scored at periodically held elections: people were told what the government was going to achieve for the country as promised, and through sound policies, it did make its promises good. It is true that the elections were staggered in order that the government could maximize its electoral gains. As a strategy for winning elections, this was the antithesis of hoodwinking the voters by attractive pre-election promises which the candidates did not mean to fulfill after success.

A good idea badly communicated can cause anger and opposition among the people, the writer argues, explaining it with examples: ‘Take federalism, the dreaded f-word in politics; or in the recent past, the perception of human rights. As a political idea around the configuration of the State, or framed as the protection of basic human decency and dignity (and importantly, in line with core tenets of the dhamma), both find traction even amongst those who would violently decry embracing federalism as an organising principle of any future Constitution, and by those who think of human rights as a Western, neo-liberal agenda to name and shame those in the previous government, or imprison “war heroes”’.

Here I cannot agree with him about what he implies to be public perceptions in Sri Lanka of the concepts of federalism and human rights. His dragging in of ‘the dhamma’ is irrelevant, and only betrays his cynical ignorance of the dhamma. The Sinhalese Buddhists should not be expected to go and meditate while their house is being robbed. Lawyer Manohara de Silva, PC, during a recent lecture at the Yuthukama Colloquium, referred with approval to a simple explanation that a Buddhist monk had given of the difference between a unitary state and a federal system: ‘unitary means one government, federal means a number of governments’. It may be a very simplistic characterization of the concept, but it states an essential truth. The problem is about the applicability of federalism to our country. The federal system seems to work well for big countries such as America and India, with powerful central/federal governments, but it will definitely be a problem for our small country because of important factors that are unique to it, such as the ethnically intermingled composition of the population, the proximity of Tamil Nadu which is home to some 80 million Tamils, the demand for the re- merger of north and east, which will invariably be vulnerable to separatist pressure, and so on.

The late Lakshman Kadirgamar  clearly rejected the idea of a separate state, which he considered to be a threat to the Tamils as much as to other communities. The common perception that federalism can be fatal to Sri Lanka’s survival as it is, that is strong among the general public, not exclusively among the Sinhalese, cannot be ignored by constitution reformers. The opposition of the majority Sinhalese and others to federalism is not unreasonable; it is not due to their narrow-mindedness or tribalism or barbarism or any of the many common negative attributes that the Sinhalese are usually insulted with.

We know that, in the last phase of the fighting in 2009, army casualties unnecessarily escalated because they had to fight amidst (expected) lethal odds (landmines, booby traps, ambushes, restricted arms use, etc.) in order to save civilian lives. They rescued 300,000 entrapped Tamil civilians (many LTTE cadres who had shed their combat uniforms among them) and brought them to safety; some 11,000 combatants were  rehabilitated, some were even found foreign employment by the government. Vicious racist Tamil Diaspora  misinformation (supported by the manipulative Western media) project an image of Sri Lanka’s security forces that is the exact opposite of what they really are. Please, don’t grudge the war heroes the well deserved dignified, respectful epithet ‘war hero’, an honour  involuntarily accorded to them in token of gratitude by the multiethnic general public. The Sinhalese must have the freedom to live normally like any other ethnic group without having to apologize to the world for doing so..

Talking further about the present government’s failure to communicate, the writer rightly comments that communicating what something is and indicating what something is not are equally important. He  adds that  ‘it (the present government) is supremely bad at both’. Comparing Maithri and Ranil, the writer asserts: ‘The President is more charismatic, the Prime Minister more cosmopolitan and visionary.’ I regret to say that I categorically refute this false assertion. I don’t want to waste my time and column space explaining my reasons for saying this. But I wish to say that I unhesitatingly subscribe to the common view prevalent among ordinary Sri Lankans that the former president had all three qualities in abundance, which accounts for his lasting popularity both in Sri Lanka and in friendly foreign countries, and his often practically demonstrated concern with the welfare of people of all classes, races, religions, not only in Sri Lanka, but abroad (It is not for nothing that a street in Palestine is named after Mahinda Rajapaksa).

I totally agree with the writer’s idea that both the Prez and the PM ‘are political animals, with decades of experience in realpolitik’ (the problem is that they now appear to be pulling in opposite directions) and also with his assumption  about the common ground that they occupy with regard to their preoccupations. Their shared desire to keep the Rajapaksas at bay is the first of these preoccupations he mentions. In addition to this determination to balk a Rajapaksa return to a position of power, ‘consolidating power over the long term, managing the expectations of yahapalanaya and the need to keep a motley coalition together by the glue of incentives, which include for example luxury vehicles’ form the other segments of the common space the two share. What the yahapalana expectations are I have no idea of. All that they have been morbidly preoccupied with is rubbishing the image of the popular leader they ousted by poisoning the minds of the foolish gullible minority of the electorate using wild allegations of corruption. But there were no substantive criticisms for his opponents to make against him. While Rajapaksa remained among his own people, closely interacting with them, his opponents had to rely on outside help to replace him. ‘What are corruption charges when weighed against the immense benefits his rule brought to the country?’ is the rhetorical question common people now ask.

According to the writer of the article ‘Listening to discontent’, the government’s failure to communicate, its ‘silence’, will help no one except ‘those who wish to regain what they lost on January 8, 2015’. This supposedly dire consequence is not so universally feared as imagined by the diehard ‘change’ converts . Who gained and who lost on January 8 are questions that are engaging the attention of the thinking public. The January verdict had been decided on by anti-national conspirators. The yahapalanists are acting as if they have nothing to communicate to an impatiently waiting public  – nothing by way of a clear vision, plan of action to set things right, save perfunctory promises.

One Response to “Winter of discontent”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    In a NUTSHELL, the VALUE of Sarath Gonseka to Ranil and the UNP is PROVIDE A MILITARY UMBRELLA to PROTECT Ranil’s UNP gosl from ousted from power in the EMERGING WINTER OF DISCONTENT!

    NO MORE, NO LESS!

    ………………………..
    Fonseka vows to stop Mahinda’s bid to re-capture power *Now two armies can jointly combat corruption – Ranil

    July 2, 2016, 9:09 pm

    by Zacki Jabbar

    Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka has vowed to stop the attempt by his arch rival former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to re-capture power.

    Having obtained UNP membership, Fonseka who is also Regional Development Minister and former leader of the Democratic Party, said during a welcome ceremony held at Srikotha last week, that the verdict of the last Presidential election indicated clearly that the people wanted an end to the corruption, violence and crime that thrived under the Rajapaksa Presidency.

    If that verdict was allowed to be reversed, it would be a travesty of justice by the large number of voters who had backed the then Joint Oppositions campaign to restore good governance and the rule of law, the war veteran noted.

    Fonseka warned that that an attempt was being made by the Rajapaksas to revive their brand of “corrupt and murderous politics”. “The dangerous Mahinda Chintana should not be allowed to raise its ugly head again.

    Pointing out that there was unfinished business to complete, he said it could be achieved only through a party such as the UNP which had the strength, courage and conviction to prevent a re-emergence of the corrupt and dictatorial Rajapaksa regime.

    Fonseka thanked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for inviting him to join the UNP and also for the support provided to his 2010 Presidential election campaign.

    Proclaiming that he did not believe in stabbing people from behind their backs, the Field Marshall recalled that he had even spoken out against his then Commander in Chief, President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

    The Prime Minister said that with Fonseka’s entry into the the UNP, the “two armies ” could jointly fight poverty, corruption and other issues that affected the people”.

    “Fonseka supported the UNP when it launched a joint campaign to restore democracy. I believed that he should be in Parliament. So , we got him appointed on the National List and subsequently, I invited him and members of his Democratic Party to join the UNP. The two armies can now work together in addressing issues affecting the masses including poverty and corruption”, Wickremesinghe said.

    The people elected Maithripala Sirisena as President to create a new country. The goals included the creation of one million jobs, development of the education, health, agricultural and fisheries sectors among others. It is not an easy task, but together a great deal could be achieved, he said.

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