Are political commentators a bunch of humbugs?
Posted on November 7th, 2018

Bodhi Dhanapala, Quebec, Canada

The daring but calculated political moves of Sri Lanka’s president have given a golden opportunity for the so called political scientists” and constitutional experts” to come out of the woodwork in numbers,  to  elucidate matters for plebeians like myself. Sirisena, declared a Mugabe by the Economist,  called a Naive  Godaya” and ridiculed even by the likes of Nalin de Silva,  has proved that he  is a master of political chess, capable of eating hoppers wih Kautilya and get  Machaivelli  to  cook noodles at the Temple Trees for him, and kick out Machiavelli  when the time came.

Like most Sri Lankans, I read the political analysts  driven by the need to understand the drama that is unfolding in Sri Lanka.  However, whether you open the pages of the Island Newspaper, Daily Mirror, Colombo Telegraph or Lankaweb,  on finds roughly the same set of pundit pontificating with great certainty, seemingly forgetting that they had themselves argued for the very opposite in previous parallel circumstances. One is reminded of George Bernard Shaw’s remark that if you ask ten such analysts for directions,  they would point in twenty different directions.

The Island, 5th November carried an article by Dr. Jayadeva  Uyangoda where he says  that Sirisena

was actually the last hope of democracy in Sri Lanka, at a time when Sri Lankan politics under the existing regime, was moving in the direction of what we political scientists call ‘hard authoritarianism.”

So, we are told that, contrary to G. B. Shaw’s adage, political scientists do seem to agree on something. But then, I see articles by Dyan Jayatillke, another political scientist” who likes to mention the name of Gramasci or take  tit bits from Cuban scripts  to justify his position where he  takes a diametrically different view. So, the analysts  don’t even have the unanimity that even astrologers manage to cobble together. Shouldn’t these people give us our money back?

Plato, the author of the Republic, was surely one of the earliest political scientists. Uyangoda seems to have forgotten that hard authoritarianism” is claimed to be an essential quality of the ruler, as long as the ruler  was also a philosopher! Unlike Plato, Uyangoda has his own prescription for the ideal prince
and this does not involve any philosophic capacity. Let us continue with Uyangoda, who says

To stop that nightmarish drift (towards authoritarianism), a regime change was needed. For a regime change, a credible presidential candidate other than Ranil Wickremasinghe was needed. A man or woman who could personify the democratic political hopes of future generations of our citizens, particularly the young ones and first-time voters, needed. The new leader had to be one who had not earlier tasted political power as a government leader, and therefore unsullied by a record of corruption, abuse of power, megalomania and personalized rule, and limitless political ambitions”

So, are we to believe that a long-standing  general secretary of the SLFP and many-times minister had never tasted political power as a government leader, and never knew corruption? If we go back to 2010 presidential elections, and the danger of authoritarianism, one has to look at what Uyangoda said of the common candidate Gen. Sarath Fonseka!  Furthermore, in Sirisena’s address to the nation he accused Wickremasinghe of his authoritarianism, cliquish decision making  and participating in a bank-bond heist. So, according to Uyangoda’s logic, I would conclude that Uyangoda agrees with Sirisena that a regime change” is needed. If so, why is Uyangoda claiming even personal despair!

There is not one word in Uyangoda’s recipe about the excessive executive powers of the president which was a main theme of the 2015 election, allegedly engineered by the West. Instead he prescribes that we search for a specific kind of person for the leader!

One has to go away with the feeling that political science” is some kind of science where the guiding principles are deep secretes and we never see the rational principles guiding them? Or, like the Wizard of Oz, it is nothing but a put up job, with no substance to it what ever when you look close? Sheer humbug? The only professional political analysts are the NGO spokesmen who utter the views of their pay masters and get paid, while getting free column space in our newspapers.

Let’s look at another political  analyst, Dr. Kumar David. He analyzes Sirisena’s moves in 2018 as a Putsch” and a  secretive power grab. He has to go back to the 1922 Italian Fascist movement to even understand what has happened. However, according to Dr. David, Sirisena’s 2014 Hopper move on the political chess board was  a selfless act of political heroism. That it was a regime change financed by the West exploiting local grievances and ethnic divides  is never mentioned by this political observer who claims to watch the international picture. I do not remember if he quoted Rosa Luxemberg or Althuser  to prove” that 2015 was indeed Kosher.

In 2010 Dr. David was even able to produce dialectical arguments to demand that everyone should vote Sarath Fonseka, the ideal person” to save Sri Lanka!  He ridiculed the old left” for hanging onto the Rajapaksas just to safeguard their perks”. Unfortunately, Dr. David has over the years proved that his dialectical materialism can be used to prop us neo-con regimes like the UNP, or defend fascist terrorist one-man dictatorships like the LTTE.

Dr. David is not just another political scientist. He is a distinguished engineering professor and text-book-reading revolutionary, and hence I expected him to be more capable of rational and quantitative thinking well beyond the usual haul of social scientists”. But no. His political prejudices overwhelm even his engineering training. I realized this when he  began to adulate the LTTE terrorists for their technical prowess when they put out a baby plane assembled from a kit and sent it to bomb Colombo! Although now retired, at the time I was a teacher  in a Quebec technical college, and I knew how a few of our  students – a bunch of buddies –  would get together to pass their summer holidays building a plane from a kit that they can buy for a few thousand dollars. So, the LTTE aeronautics was no big deal. But perhaps Dr. Kumar David  may have had some atavistic or other sympathies that blinded him to the facts, and so it is understandable that he viewed the Rajapaksas as the very devil, while Prabhakaran was a liberator?

If we leave aside the political scientists, and look at the constitutional lawyers”, we might expect  a greater level of objectivity. But alas NO.  If you knew the political disposition of G. L Peiris and that of Prof. Savirti Goonaskera (two colleagues of the Colombo Law faculty), that was the only necessary and sufficient condition needed to say how they  interpret the 19th amendment with respect to President Sirisena’s actions. We could also predict how the whole of  the Friday Forum” would react, even without knowing the individual opinions! Of course, there are rare analysts who do not fit in. I would have predicted that Laksiri Fernando, Kumar David and Jayamapathy Wikramaratne to be in the same camp in interpreting the 19th amendment, and in the camp opposite to that of Dyan Jayatilleke and Wijayadasa Rajapaksa.   Laksiri Fernando’s  case turns out to be the exception which proves the rule.

Constitutions aside, if the President thinks that the  Prime minster is planning to kill him, and if they detest each other, shouldn’t the President remove the prime minster as soon as possible? Amazingly, no political analysts has addressed this common sense question.

So, why don’t these people very humbly say that they are expressing their considered personal opinions, instead of pretending that what they say has a theoretical basis” in political science”, or constitutional law”? Why does Dr. Uyangoda have to put out grand-staged statements like what WE POLITICAL SCIENTISTS  call hard authoritarianism”, where it seems that the WE” refers only to a few political cronies who are as lost as he has been, possibly since 1971 in a political wilderness of their own making?

Sri Lanka has had a political philosophy far superior to  all current political science”, inspired by the Buddha’s teaching of universal love and the Lichchavi approach.  When Uyangoda and others gave it up  1971,  and when Philip Goonawardena, N. M. Perera and others gave it up in the 1930s, and embraced the immoral idea that the end justified the means”, Lanka  took to the path of confrontation and violence.

Bodhi Dhanapala, Quebec, Canada

One Response to “Are political commentators a bunch of humbugs?”

  1. Nimal Says:

    In a truly independent country we must have a free and open debate, any political commentator should be allowed give one’s opinion and let us sperate the truth from fiction and let the other commentators expose the dishonesty of a commentator.
    Let the people decide then.

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