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Not good news!

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 12 September 2019 00:30

Meanwhile, in other news…

THERE ARE THREE KINDS OF PEOPLE: those who make things happen; those who watch while things happen; and those who wonder what happened! The first of these are perhaps evenly split between the best and worst of them… while most of us fall squarely in the middle – and some lag in the latter class of unconscious citizens.

The latter class – citizen unconscious of happenings as well as their import – are surprisingly large in number. Despite the rapid advent of the age of digitalisation and the spread of social media like jam or jelly on bread. How many of them would recognise unrepentant (I was going to write ‘rabid’ but good sense prevailed) presidentialism if it bit them in the street (I was going to write ‘bottom’ but thought the better part of valour is discretion) begs the question of how politically savvy the average citizen is… 

However much its apologists might defend it, unrepentant presidentialism continues to make a nuisance of itself. It promotes a culture of militant religiosity with its appointments and provokes a near-universal aversion to its gazette notifications. There is little value, for example, in pointing out that the state media had been under the chief executive’s purview since 2015. For that undertaking was under a different understanding in a coalition government – and the pact had been unilaterally abrogated since before the coup. Plus there’s the moot point about whether the defence that the president took over Rupavahini was to protect it from a meddling state minister for media – or meddle in its programming to promote his own status quo in the coming campaigns?

There is the minor rebuttal by the state media minister that the president’s meddling prevented the former from appointing suitable cadre to SLRC’s senior management. More to the point is how the chief executive’s allegedly “repeated obstructing” reforms at Rupavahini led to the internal crisis that caused the takeover. And bringing the state television organ under the defence ministry not only sets a bad precedent – actually, it underlines the president’s praxis since October 2018 – but also blows up the head of state’s bona fides as a caretaker governor. 

I think that far from being the interim administrator that he was meant to be, the incumbent in the most corrupting office of the late great republic is rattling sabre as a semiotic (I almost wrote ‘semi-idiotic’) means of virtue-signalling. On the flimsy grounds of the national TV corporation’s operations being compromised by the state minister’s inability to nominate proper managers – a lacunae provoked and fuelled by the president’s interference in the loss-making institution’s reforms programme – the president swooped in. And not for the first time either. Now, in one fell swoop, he has arrogated an important – vital, critical – state media organ to his campaign machine; put that upstart UNP non-cabinet minister in his place (he thinks); and bared his teeth to his political enemies to buff up a blotched escutcheon in the face of a dwindling voter base… 

Yes, some actors make things happen. Even if it means their “actions can be construed as a move against media freedom in the country” (to quote the state media minister, who watched things happen from the sidelines, seemingly powerless to arrest the anti-reforms slide). Maybe he is one notch above the rest of his party, who to date appear to be lumped with the ‘what happened’ lot!

The UNP certainly gives off a laissez-faire vibe. Their joint laissez passer (“let it pass”) may be essayed more out of pragmatism – a focus on the debilitating civil war in its camp – than a lack of principle. With that said, taken in conjunction with the lack of any red notices to the extent of impeachment being delivered to the presidential doorstep – especially their silence on that front in the aftermath of the coup – it smacks of a lack of spine, political sense or popular strategy for critically engaging the presidential juggernaut.

That latter worthy has taken great strides towards posterity remembering his term – I almost wrote ‘terms’, but the future is not vouchsafed even the most ambitious of aspirants – as one to be forgotten if not forgiven. He has not only almost single-handedly undermined the reforms agenda but accused his political opponents of reneging on the programme, which he claims in hindsight he had no hand in. You have to hand it to him – if such a saboteur was capable of graciously accepting a brown-paper parcel marked ‘it’ – as far as being a superb saboteur goes…

For its part, the UNP seems to require no external opposition these days. Not only are they imploding from an irresponsible civil war (funny how we call such atrocious behaviour by nice names!), but they are failing to interpret political developments in their absence – both in the House as well as at street-political level – as the hiatus that will define where the line could be drawn between democratic republicanism (for all its bungling) and a disciplinarian regime (with proud fasces brandished and best national interest bandied about in star class environs, no less…).

That ministers sometimes make political appointments under the guise of reforms is no excuse for the blatant interventionism of a president in his last three months of office – ostensibly. The fact of the matter is that the chief executive is on the wrong side of a constitution (not for the first time) that prevents the head of state holding more than three ministries. Or bringing just about any old department or corporation he fancies under his claws (cf. Section 51 of the 19th Amendment Act). It’s the kind of unrepentant presidentialism – in flagrant violation of the letter and spirit of the law – that makes onlookers wonder what’s happening and what will happen next… 

One thing is sure – the late great revolution of January 2015 will no longer be televised.

(Journalist | Editor-at-large of LMD | Writer #SpeakingTruthToPower)

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