By Tisaranee Gunasekara
“Today there was total confusion in Sri Rajapaksistan (formerly Sri Lanka) when thousands and thousands of people changed their name to “Rajapaksa” to get into Parliament or even get a job… Hospital authorities report that all new born babies are being named Rajapaksa by their parents (also called Rajapaksa)….
The police and the courts are having trouble with most victims and offenders being called Rajapaksa, said Inspector Rajapaksa…. Emerging reports indicate that the Mahanayake Theros and the Bishops have changed their names to Rajapaksa….Ranil Wickremesinghe of Cinnamon Watta C7 will henceforth be known as Ranil Rajapaksasinghe” (A 2007 anonymous e-mail titled “Aiyo Rajapaksa”)
The President celebrated the emergence of Rajapaksa Dynastic Rule with a portentous gesture. He reinstated Mervyn Silva as Deputy Minister. That obnoxiously insensitive step signalled the President’s willingness to violate any legal or moral code to assist a loyal henchman. Under dynastic rule, faithful courtiers prosper, even when they break the law. The triumphant return of Mervyn Silva demonstrates that unquestioning obedience and adoring servility are sine-qua-non for survival and prosperity in Rajapaksa-land.
And, post-18th Amendment, we are in Rajapaksa-land. Had the 18th Amendment removed presidential term-limits without enhancing presidential powers (via the negation of the 17th Amendment) or had it enhanced presidential powers but retained presidential term-limits, the damage done to Lankan democracy would not have been terminal. But the two juxtaposed cannot but ensure – and indeed are meant to ensure – that future Lankan elections will have a preordained conclusion. The Ruling Party will always win, because the 18th Amendment not only destroys the autonomy of the Elections Commissioner by giving the President the right to hire and fire him; it also emasculates the position, thereby enabling the Ruling Party to abuse state property, including the state media, at will. Elections in which the rulers always win, officially, are a staple in many countries, from Zimbabwe to Myanmar; with the 18th Amendment we too join that distinguished throng.
This momentous defeat would not have been possible without the fatal injuries inflicted on the independence of the judiciary by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. She hand-picked Sarath Silva and made him Chief Justice, in order to debase the role of the judiciary from independent arbiter and protector of the law, the constitution and citizens’ rights into an advocate and enforcer for the executive. Silva eventually double crossed her and was double crossed in turn by the man whose political fortunes he saved and promoted, at two critical junctures.
By then the anti-democratic vision of the former president had come into fruition, even though its fruits became the property of her successor (such as getting the 18th Amendment through sans a referendum). A country in which the legislature and the judiciary are subserviently dependent on the executive, the public service is supine and the media is threatened, elections alone cannot ensure democracy. In fact, in such a country elections will be parodies, democratic illusions to mask and justify tyranny.
The Rajapaksas are superlative at language rules. At his recent meeting with media heads, the President reportedly opined that the removal of term limits will dilute presidential powers! Either dilute has opposite meanings in the normal lexicon and the Rajapaksa lexicon or the President is too cognitively challenged to realise that increase is not decrease. Rajapaksa also stated that the replacement of the powerful Constitutional Council with the toothless Parliamentary Council – tasked solely with offering opinions to the President which he is at complete liberty to ignore – will ‘ensure the supremacy of parliament in a better way’ (Ada Derana).
By the same (Rajapaksa) logic, would the absolving of Mervyn Silva for the crime of tying a Samurdhi official to a tree amount to justice being done ‘in a better way’? It is certainly the Rajapaksa Way, as we, Lankan citizens turned Rajapaksa subjects, will realise, ere long.Last week, the police arrested the wife and the two brothers of a printer who, on the orders of the UNP, printed a not entirely apocryphal poster of Mahinda Rajapaksa with a Hitlerian visage — because the printer could not be caught. Arresting family members for the supposed crimes of a man was the norm in absolutist-monarchic times, as was the tying of supposed miscreants to trees. When presidents turn themselves into de facto absolutist-monarchs, it is but natural for monarchical values and practices to return, with a vengeance.
Compliance with the Rajapaksas is the only way to avoid trouble and prosper in the Rajapaksa-land. And our political class is learning fast, as the shameless conduct of the UNP defectors and the supine surrender of the ‘old left’ demonstrate. The SLFP, having ceded its rights, will settle down to obey with alacrity every whim of every Rajapaksa. Using stealth and deception, the Rajapaksas will continue their process of constitutional metamorphosis, one anti-democratic amendment at a time, thus evading both public scrutiny and the referendum a new constitution will require.
Ideally the UNP and the JVP should work together to resist this descent into tyranny via anti-democratic constitutional amendments. Unfortunately, the UNP will remain immersed in its leadership squabble, which, incidentally, helped ease the passage of the 18th Amendment. In reaction, the JVP may become more sectarian. The opposition will follow the UPFA in making itself irrelevant politically, leaving the Rajapaksas as the sole arbiters of Lankan destiny.
Without the chronic disunity and incapacity of the German opposition, the Nazis may not have succeeded in destroying Weimer democracy from within. And a portion of the blame accrues to the German people, for surrendering their political rights and moral inhibitions, in return for Nazi promises to make Germany great (and those promises did work, phenomenally, for a while). Still the main culprits are not the German Left or the Right but the Nazis, who, having come into power democratically and entrenched themselves in power electorally, moved inexorably to destroy democracy from within.
The Rajapaksa Brothers have managed to wound Lankan democracy, possibly fatally, thanks to innumerable sins of omission and commission by everyone of us. The UNP and the Opposition are certainly culpable, especially for losing the winnable battle over the 18th Amendment. We, the People, cannot disclaim responsibility either because the Rajapaksa process of subverting democracy from within is being partly sustained by our witting or unwitting consent (The Tamils made the same choice vis-à-vis the LTTE/ Pirapaharan). But the primary culpability must be located in the Rajapaksa Province.
From the inception of the Rajapaksa Presidency, the Brothers worked, consciously and deliberately, to undermine Lankan democracy and achieve their familial and dynastic ambitions. In the Rajapaksa future, political disempowerment of all but the Ruling Family will coexist with economic repletion for the wealthy and well-connected and economic deprivation for the have-nots. The consent of the Sinhala majority for this iniquitous system will be obtained by feeding their ‘national-pride’, by intoxicating them with the belief that, as members of the victorious and dominant ethnic group, they are privileged and special, despite economic deprivation. Tamils will be compelled to abandon political demands in return for a modicum of normalcy and a sliver of economic improvement. The Rajapaksa utopia will be our common dystopia.