All the presidents’ mien

Monday, 21 January 2019 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

OUT WITH THE USUAL SUSPECTS: From have-been tyrants to would-be statesmen, the usual suspects are lining up for the Great Game. The introduction into the fray of a former speaker, an erstwhile strongman bureaucrat and his parliamentarian sibling may have thrown a spanner into the works of the abolition movement?

I’m conflicted about the presidency we have. Do we need it like a fish needs a bicycle, or a baboon needs a parliament? Has the opportune time come for stakeholders as diverse as civil society led by a free media movement, conscientious objectors to executive decisions and the JVP, to push 20A through the House – and get rid of it, once and for all? Have would-be statesmen done tinkering with it to meet their petty, partisan or personal agendas? 

Whatever the answers are, there are evidently no shortage of takers come the next presidential election. In the right hand corner, predictably enough for the conservative element in our polity, there’s Ranil Wickremesinghe. The sea-green incorruptible who’s probably less deserving of his reputation as Mr Clean than the general public suspect. Sorry to burst your bubble, but I’ll break out the bubbly when the bond scam is laid to rest – together with Lasantha Wickrematunge’s ghost.


Trio, triad, trinity

And now, from out of left corner, come not one, nor two, but three skeletons at the feast from an erstwhile regime. And all of them bearing the once loved now dreaded surname of Rajapaksa. 

Chamal, the most statesman-like of them, arguably, is the least likely in my book to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Basil, the Ronnie Biggs of our time, may have his eye on the main chance and another big heist – all at the same time (if his promise to put an SLPP president in the hot seat in 2019 is anything to go by, taken in tandem with the JO’s agitation on his behalf). 

Gotabaya, the dread bogeyman of irritating minorities and errant dissidents alike, brings both an admirable fervour to the task of nation-building and a despicable disregard for individual rights in favour of state prerogatives – while loudly denouncing the treatment meted out to him individually by the US’s national security concerns. 


Pretty presidential pickle

So not to put too fine a point on it, Sri Lanka is in a pretty pickle at the next polls – the usual suspects all lined up, and no leaner cleaner faces to be seen for a country mile. And I haven’t even mentioned a certain political personage averse to the cavalier hurling of bras, the purchase of booze by the fairer sex and a tendency to go nuts on the national carrier’s taste in snacks (and don’t get me started all over again on the fiasco of the great coup that wasn’t!).

How does the average Sri Lankan feel about this white elephant? (I mean the executive, not the incumbent. But hell yeah, him too! Sorry.) 


How the hell, O hoi polloi?

On the one hand, the hoi polloi in tandem with certain minority demographics probably feel it is their last best hope in terms of being a bastion against the fall of night. Of course, they forget Dambulla, Aluthgama, Gintota, Digana and the rest of the Kandy District if they’re pinning their hopes on a president being able to forestall the forces of Ragnarok – where, despite the best efforts of the shining ones, darkness falls. On the other, there are the common or garden liberal democrats who think that we would do far better under a prime ministerial system of governance. And if it’s to be an executive premier, who better than the chief architect of a constitution being created for just that very purpose?


Republican rabble

In the middle of the road are rabble. Ranging from one end of the spectrum, where true republicans still believe in the overarching good of a head of state above the heads and shoulders of parliamentary democracy at one end; to the scurrilous appealers pleading for the release of that felonious monk at the other.

Well, we know what happens to those who hog the middle of the road. If they’re on foot, they get run over. And the poor souls inveigling the president to release the venereal – sorry, venerable – saffron brigadier are looking pretty pedestrian indeed.


Plebes, patricians, proletariat

So, do the rest of us – plebeian and patricians alike – need an executive presidency? I suspect that Maithripala Sirisena, savvy about wreaking national havoc but not quite a savant at reading the political entrails, desires to retain it; assuming he has a halfway decent chance at it, all over again. 

The Rajapaksa clan, being evergreen brothers in arms, would each like a stab… perhaps in each other’s back… if the conspiracy theory that Gota, Basil and Co. are being fielded as spoiler candidates to split the blue votes is true at all. 

But surprise, surprise, the increasingly outspoken M. A. Sumanthiran – a champion of many demographics of minorities – would see it gone. So would Ranil, he says: statesmanship tasting like sour grapes in his noble mouth.


Thou and I

That leaves you and me, gentle reader. Forget the felonious monk and his notorious ilk. They’ll always have a prime minister whose arm to twist on some day, in order to let the demons out of hell. Focus on the best of the rest of us who have had it up to here with presidential privilege. 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it up to here… and not recently, either, having been in favour of it since every mother and her son – who was the last? CBK? MR? MS? – came in on the ‘promising to abolish the presidency’ platform.

It’s time now. The political stars are aligning, in conjunction with the people speaking. A constellation of eminent persons has concurred. It only remains for a galaxy of not-so-bright players to be conquered by the proletarian (read JVP) impulse. 

“Ecrasez l’infame,” as true blue and green republicans – to say nothing of their red brethren – would have it: Erase the vile thing! It has sat there and rotted too many leaders from within for too long, for all the good it has done this republic.

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

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