Friday Forum! Quo vadis? Running errands for someone?
Posted on September 19th, 2019

By Rohana R. Wasala

Friday Forum’s observations on Presidential Elections And The Peoples’ Options” (sic) published in The Island of September 3, 2019, are far wide of the mark. This is not surprising in view of their past press releases about related or similar topics. The ‘peoples’ in the title implies that the internationally respected intellectuals of that body view Sri Lanka as a collection of nations (‘peoples’), not as a single Sri Lankan nation/people consisting of a number of different racial and religious communities living in peace and harmony, which in fact, is taken for granted by 95% of the Lankan population today as before; the few extremists that there are exploit for their survival the few easily remediable anomalies waiting to be attended to by a patriotic political leadership on an independent national basis free from foreign involvement. The last-mentioned task was being unobtrusively addressed before it was unexpectedly cut short in January 2015. The Friday Forum worthies seem to be cheering on the perpetrators of the disastrous ‘reconciliation’ politics of the Yahapalanaya whose real purpose is now being revealed to have been, all along, anything but reconciling communities. FF’s perfunctory analysis of what they consider to be the truth about the current Sri Lankan political context and their blindly prejudiced assessment of the three presidential candidates whose names had been suggested by the time of their press release is as misleading as to their ill-considered endorsement of the January 2015 regime change. 

However, though their assertion that Sri Lankans are facing  ….. a multiplicity of crises, bereft of political leadership with appropriate commitment, integrity and skills to resolve them” is correct about the current administration, whose members are running around like a headless chicken that is about to fall dead, the tone of the whole statement reflects no contrition over their past judgment. It is an utter falsehood to claim that Sri Lankans are trapped in religious and ethnic divisions…”. The truth is that they are caught up in a mess created by the government. Simply, there are no real divisions like that except what is threatened in those directions by the intentional or unintentional acts of commission and omission on the part of the incumbent political authorities. External and internal forces hellbent on destabilizing and destroying the Sri Lankan state have always identified the so-called Tamil national problem as an ethnic one whereas the reality is that it is a political one (federalism/separatism Vs unitarism) with far-reaching  economic, social, and diplomatic ramifications, something that was being settled peacefully after the defeat of armed terrorism in 2009. The Sinhalese majority and the Tamil and Muslim minorities have been living in perfect amity and mutual accommodation for centuries; they did so even during the three decades of civil war. The deadly Wahhabi incursion is a relatively new problem. It is evident that both the present government and the previous one must take ultimate responsibility for the Easter Sunday violence and for the potential escalation of the problem in the future. It should be investigated whether or not conscious negligence of responsible sections of the incumbent administration and the misdirected application of the policy of political correctness towards certain communalist Muslim politicians (who abused it) by the previous government led to the April 21 mayhem. The present government is also being hampered by the same hypocritical policy, which made most politicians turn a deaf ear to the early peaceful warnings of the monks, among others, about the cancerous growth of anti-Buddhist religious extremism. However, except for a handful of misguided extremists among Tamils and some brainwashed religious fanatics among Muslims,  no ordinary Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim citizens, have anything to do with these problems. But it is these innocent ordinary citizens who become the ultimate victims of all the violence caused by extremists.

The current rulers are panicked because they are aware that only a miracle can save them from the certain electoral defeat that is awaiting them.  Some opportunists among them appear to be exploiting artificially inflated issues such as alleged ethnic and religious divisions to prolong their stay in power at least until they are able to complete their international commitments, which run counter to the national interest. It would be obvious even to the casual observer that the recent pronouncements and propaganda gimmicks of these elements and their nominal opponents like the JVP reflect a dangerous and deliberate politicization of alleged ethnic and religious divisions for their own survival. These elements that include people in the most powerful positions go among the Tamils in the North and the Muslims in the East and make statements that are clearly prejudicial to the amelioration of communal relations between the majority and the minority communities. The overwhelming majority of ordinary Tamils and Muslims in the northern and eastern provinces as well as elsewhere in the country are intelligent enough not to trust these Sinhalese Buddhist leaders who unjustly condemn fellow members of their own race as racists and religious extremists just for the sake of wooing Tamil and Muslim minority support at elections. If any Sinhalese Buddhist leaders thus betray their own people, can the Tamils and Muslims believe that they will be truthful to them? Should they trust their own communalist politicians who falsely accuse the innocent Sinhalese of racism just to get elected to parliament for their own selfish ends as the unfolding events are now convincing them? 

The FF statement next makes mention of a number of valid criticisms of the Yahapalanaya including the following:  unprincipled, shortsighted, election-results-oriented fiscal policies, unwise and inept handling of foreign policy that makes the country vulnerable to a new form of colonisation recently experienced in Africa and South America, the breakdown of law and order, the public’s loss of faith in the effectiveness of institutions entrusted with law enforcement and administration of justice, lack of awareness of government policies and actions among the citizens, and the resultant failure on their part to hold elected politicians accountable for their actions. 

While hypocritically disapproving of the Joint Opposition’s retrospective attacks on the way a new government was elected in 2015, the FF circumvents the legitimate reason behind the JO’s condemnation of that election. Shouldn’t they accept the obvious fact that the ‘new form of colonisation’ they are warning against had already started its work by then? Be that as it may. These yesteryear academics seem to have a good sense of humour: they set themselves on par with the young people who will vote for the first time” in the matter of exercising their franchise. They warn that they and these young people must not be misled by the political rhetoric of a group that supported an illegal and unconstitutional grab for power in 2018”. The luminaries must remember that today’s young, unlike them, are not so ignorant as to think on those terms; they know what actually happened on that occasion. There was no consciously illegal and unconstitutional grab for power” on the part of the former president; the motives of the current president are always shrouded in mystery, though. Joint Opposition criticism of the government is not mere political rhetoric”.  Contrary to what the FF panjandrums pretend to believe, the charges of abuse of power, extrajudicial abductions and killings, interference with the judiciary and other institutions, etc which were alleged to have taken place during the pre-Yahapalanaya government still remain unsubstantiated despite the present rulers’ desperate attempts to find incriminating evidence to support their allegations.  

The FF dignitaries express their disappointment and anger at the failures of the current government, but they caution us that this should not lead to a rejection of what they call the small gains on democratic governance that have been made”. There cannot be any talk about the size of alleged gains where no gains have been made that didn’t exist before. But if they insist that certain gains were made (their definitions or concepts of ‘gains’ may be different from ordinary mortals’), they  need to explain why ordinary Sri Lankans have to be content with small gains”; what prevented the current administration from making adequately large gains in terms of good government, or restraining (not to talk of eliminating) drug trafficking, and bribery and corruption, for instance. Nevertheless, though few people would be convinced even about the so-called small gains”, let us not grudge the FF members the cold comfort of ‘small gains’ in their wretchedness at their own abysmal failure to fulfill their obligations as intellectuals to their 22 million fellow citizens (the local population).  

They warn that Sri Lankans should not allow their acute disappointment with the government’s failures on the national security front to reject democracy itself as a form of governance. The problem is that the Yahapalanaya has destroyed the democratic form of government as well as national security by politicizing them. Given this reality, the FF warning begs the question: ‘What is your definition of democracy?’ For their cautionary words imply that, in their belief, the serious security lapse that led to the bloody Easter Sunday attacks was due to the Yahapalana rulers’ strict adherence to democratic norms! That is something hard to accept. Could the security lapse itself have anything to do with democracy? According to the neutral media sources I follow, the well-known rift between the prime minister and the president was most probably a contributory factor. 

We must not elect through a democratic exercise of our vote, political leadership that will sacrifice democratic norms in the name of promoting national security.” No one will disagree with this, but to those who are familiar with persons and politics in the current Sri Lankan political scene, it conveys more than what it says. By the phrase ‘a political leadership that will sacrifice democratic norms in the name of promoting national security’, they could only be hinting at the (from the FF point of view, catastrophic) eventuality of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa being elected as executive president. But the irrefutable truth is that the sort of firm, no-nonsense leadership that only a democratic, as well as a disciplined and decent leader like Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, can provide is indispensable for restoring democratic governance to the country after the Yahapalana depredation. Democratic norms should not be violated. But, isn’t it an equally valid argument that we must not fail to properly deal with terrorists in the name of protecting democracy? A country must physically survive for democracy to be protected. For ensuring that, its national security is of paramount importance. No elaboration is necessary for anyone to see that the national security that was established while restoring political stability and democracy to provinces that had lost these due to terrorism, has greatly weakened under the Yahapalanaya. The abuse of authority and the violation of people’s basic democratic rights have become the order of the day today, though they came to power falsely accusing the previous rulers of the very instances of misgovernance that they are responsible for at present. 

People are asking for a strong leader to reverse this trend. A strong leader needs not be undemocratic. An honest disciplinarian administrator who is feared by habitual shirkers is an asset to the country. These venerable FF members should not allow themselves to be misled by false propaganda about Gotabhaya. I don’t for a moment believe that they have any mercenary motives, though foreign money has been playing a big role in creating the political and economic crisis that the country is currently going through. They must appreciate the fact that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who has proven his mettle, has become a symbol of hope for a thoroughly disgruntled population. People are restraining their anger about being so doggedly and for so long denied their right to vote for a change. 

Talking about the (probable presidential) candidates, the FF press release rightly emphasizes the importance of examining their eligibility for the job of leading the nation. This, of course, must begin with the lower grades of representatives: local and provincial council, and parliamentary hopefuls. Then it may be stipulated that a candidate for the presidency should possess at least the minimum educational or professional qualifications that are prescribed for MPs. To the Yahapalana loyalists including the FF personages, the institution of the executive president is the greatest stumbling block on the road to good governance. The reality is that the country cannot afford to do away with it at the moment without precipitating the virtual disintegration of the state. It should be abolished, if it must, only after putting in place mechanisms to prevent that catastrophic outcome. This cannot be accomplished by the current parliament with the current president as executive head of state due to obvious reasons. 

The abolition of the executive presidency is not at all a public demand. It is being demonstrated how a wayward parliament  that is controlled by forces inimical to the national interest and that is at loggerheads with the president is a greater danger than the nationally elected executive president, particularly after the 19th Amendment that whittled some of his powers; even before, under the presently operative 1978 constitution, the emergence of a dictatorial president for life was not possible. What is the situation today after ….some changes that have benefited the country in the last four years” which these cloistered intellectuals attribute to Ranil Wickremasinghe’s leadership? The answer is quite clear to the concerned ordinary public. The overwhelming majority of them are unaware of the existence of a group of do-gooders called the Friday Forum.  So, the FF opinion will hardly reach them to make an impact on them.

The writers of the FF press release which we are dwelling on may salve their conscience with only a gingerly reference to the notorious Bond Scam committed by Ranil Wickremasinghe’s longtime bosom friend Singaporean Arjuna Mahendran with or without his knowledge. They deliberately ignore the fact that there were two such scams in 2016 for which both the principal Yahapalana champions (Wickremasinghe and Sirisena) are alleged to be directly responsible. The FF intellectuals let off their errant champion of democracy with a mild rebuke befitting a normally well-behaved adolescent schoolboy who has committed a juvenile offense. The press statement implies that for them Ranil represents the most viable presidential material; Anura Dissanayake is looked upon as the second-best choice in their estimate as potentially equipped with a ‘manifesto’ that is being developed by an expert committee. The reputed academics view Gotabhaya Rajapaksa only as a Presidential candidate who has several cases against him pending in the courts of Sri Lanka and in the USA”, and who has been ‘anointed’ by ‘the head of his own family’ (both assertions against GR, we are convinced, are mere calumny). I never expected such balderdash to be uttered by the FF academics. Strangely, they make no mention of UNP deputy leader Sajith Premadasa in this context. But, currently, he is emerging as the most popular UNP presidential nominee among the party’s rank and file, though not in the country at large, a reality that is not acceptable to his boss Ranil Wickremasinghe, hence apparently unpalatable to the FF as well.  

None of the former strange bedfellows who got together at the end of 2014 to topple the Rajapaksa administration have a convincing case to present to the electorate to urge them to give them another term. They have not demonstrated any clear vision or plan of activity for stimulating economic development, forging communal harmony, or strengthening national security. Five years of Yahapalanaya or Good Governance dismantled most gains made in these vital departments during the previous five years since the end of terrorism in 2009. Terrorism is raising its ugly head again in the form of violent Wahhabi extremism. According to a senior academic monk, some twenty executions have taken place in the eastern province under Sharia law (he says he has documentary proof of this) for such offenses as adultery, lending money at interest, being a member of the government army, etc. Islamic terrorism adversely affects people of all religions including traditional Muslims. 

A paradoxical situation that could be suspected is that though possibly sponsored by divisive forces, the Wahhabi terrorism will cause all peace-loving communities to unite against it in order to defeat it. A very senior monk who used to be consulted in the privacy of his temple by a number of past prime ministers and executive presidents complained recently that while terrorists are being handled with kid gloves, Buddhist monks who traditionally raise their voice in defense of the nation are put in jail for unintentional minor infractions while engaged in peaceful protests; war veterans are said to be similarly ill-treated, he said. Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus identify a common enemy is Islamic extremists, which does not augur well for Tamil separatists. 

At the upcoming elections, the contest will be between the SLPP-led and the UNP-led groupings/fronts/alliances. Since anyone associated with the Yahapalanaya will not win the presidential election, the second faction will have no chance against the first. The moribund SLFP under the volatile Sirisena who betrayed it in 2015 will be too weak to make any significant enough positive or negative contribution to the certain victory of the SLPP-led front. The JVP candidate and the many independents will be largely ignored by the voters, but their collective poll will most likely affect the size of the victorious margin of the SLPP candidate.

So, to my understanding, Gotabhaya stands to win. It is his advent on the scene that has infused some confidence into a nation in despair (Hopefully, the West-oriented FF will appreciate the significance of this understatement, taking into consideration the current uproarious political context in Sri Lanka). 

Gotabhaya has established his credentials with the people who matter, that is the voters of Sri Lanka, as a patriotic scion of a respected political family, an able administrator, a decorated soldier, a disciplinarian, an intellectual, a visionary, and a technocrat and team leader. He is democratic and law-abiding. His strictness in adhering to his admirable principles could make him look like an authoritarian ruler to the uninspired, but that is not his fault. Therefore he is a worthy national contender for the post of executive president, particularly at this critical moment in the country’s history. FF’s representation of Gotabhaya as a fugitive from justice in Sri Lanka and US-based on unsubstantiated (or actually unsubstantial because false) accusations is most unfortunate. It will only strike a chord with the failed Yahapalana apologists and their sympathizers and backers abroad that exclusively form their audience. 

There is enough evidence of geopolitics-driven Western interference in Sri Lanka’s internal problems which is narrowly focused on the American national interest. None apart from a few MPs from the SLPP have shown the courage to talk about this brazen foreign interventionism, the deadliest and the most intractable issue the country is facing today as a sovereign nation. Only Gotabhaya among serious presidential aspirants has evinced his awareness of the problem and is equipped to deal with it properly. Addressing the Third Annual Convention of his futuristic Viyath Maga (Professionals for a better future) Organization held at Shangrila Hotel Colombo on September 8, 2019, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa quoted from a book as if from memory (which speaks for itself):

Parag Khanna විසින් ලියන ලද THE FUTURE IS ASIAN නැමති පොතෙහි දක්වා ඇති ආකාරයට, Today all of Asia’s empires and powers are seeking national revival. None will bow to others. The future Asian geopolitical order will thus be neither American nor Chinese led. Japan, South Korea, India, Russia, Indonesia, Australia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia will never collectively come together under a hegemonic umbrella, nor unite into a single pole of power that is neither bandwagoning with China or balancing against it. Instead, they are on a high alert against the excessive US and Chinese influence in their affairs. Asians in particular, have realized that their intense economic integration and rising prosperity require geopolitical stability”

According to Noam Chomsky (‘Who Rules the World?’, Penguin Books, 2017) there are two categories of intellectuals: conformist intellectuals who ‘support official aims and ignore or rationalize official crimes are honored and privileged in their own societies while the value-oriented (intellectuals) are punished in one way or another.’ Chomsky is, of course, talking about the American society dominated in this matter by its political/ruling class. The FF intellectuals seem to belong to the category of conformist intellectuals. They would have been more ‘honored and privileged’ had they been living in America, where Noam Chomsky is not so honored or privileged but has often got into trouble with authorities, as an active politically engaged value-oriented intellectual. 

The title: Readers are cordially invited, for the heck of it, to ponder, if they like, on whether the intended contradiction between the biblical connotations of Quo Vadis – Where are you going? – me vadinne koheda? –  and ‘Running errands for someone?’ – katahari kade yanavada? – is meaningful in this context.   

One Response to “Friday Forum! Quo vadis? Running errands for someone?”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    I can’t understand why a completely useless group of dirt is given space in news media. What they think is irrelevent. They have nothing to do with Sri Lanka. Junk.

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