Adieu 2013, the year of the ‘VVIP Citizen’

Tuesday, 31 December 2013 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • A customary salutation to the year gone by…
Well, at least for the sake of nostalgic continuity (if nothing else) I must pen-down my two cents worth on the eve of yet another year, particularly in deference to those dear friends who constantly bombard me with sentiments like “Chrishi, why aren’t you writing now?”; it’s not that I’d given up you see, but I just didn’t think anyone cared anymore, but leaving all that aside momentarily, here goes! 2013 in a nutshell I guess for most of us the year has seen the customary “uneven curves” of regularly fluctuating variables on the horizontal axis of life, when plotted on the vertical axis of politico-socio-economic (or “polisocionomic” as we called it) gains or losses, not that dissimilar to other recent years; of course I speak of my “ordinary” fellow Sri Lankan with the constitutionally guaranteed status of “citizen” (within the contemplation of Article 26 of the Constitution) and not of the recently erupted ad hoc class of super-citizen surviving mainly on political patronage (paying political homage mostly), which funnily enough appear to extend to even some fractions of the opposition, who are also “well looked after” by those pretending to be their rivals. These “VIP citizens” periodically grace us with an audience, either at the higher echelons of social activity like night car races, or even on ordinary days the occasional buffoon is seen careering down our roads at the same breakneck speeds with uniformed idiots waving their arms (I mean both kinds – biological as well as automatic firearms) frantically, sirens blaring, running even the red lights and breaking all known traffic laws; some even have self-printed VVIP signs proudly displayed large as life, most of this at our taxed expense. Now we were taught at that old school this tale of the monkey in praise of his own tail, so why not display “MPHOT” on their windscreens instead; but then the monkey at least had a tail to tell a tale of! I have now lost my patience with these “security show-offs” and decided never to give way to such moronic behaviour on the road until such time a public proclamation is made, officially, as to the need for such speed (and endangerment) or security. This of course has one exception, that it does not apply to security assured to the Head of State, as His Excellency is justly entitled to such status ex officio as the first citizen and it is our duty to ensure his protection; all others however (the last time I checked) fall under Article 12(1) of the Constitution, which provides for equality and equal protection before the law; I’m more than willing to face arrest, trial or even imprisonment (if duly convicted) for standing my ground on this, I maintain that no one else is “more equal” than the rest of us! Declination of our sovereign status If you’re feeling the anger by now, I can assure you that this is shared commonly amongst many of equal mindset, but we somehow don’t say or do anything about it; except perhaps within the sanctity of our safety net of evening cocktails when the bubbly gets the better of our tongues. It has personally been the greatest test of patience to suppress these frustrations and remain silent, and even these few words now owe its origin mainly to a recent visit to the beautifully landscaped university premises at Peradeniya; where I delivered a guest lecture to young law students raring to take on the challenge of protecting and preserving what they have read to be fundamental to everything else; the rule of a society governed by laws applied equally to everyone. I wish them all the best as they assume office this year and thank them, and their intellectually stimulating campus environment for inspiring an “old pen that had almost lost its ink”. We appear to have lost track somehow, of the fact that the sovereign power of this great nation rests with us, the people, equally and it is inalienable. Though this power of the people is meant to be exercised through the three organs of government (executive, legislative and judicial), equally placed upon the principles of “separation”, a keen eye will note that through well manipulated moves such as the cross-over (some allege “buying over”) of opposition members and unlawful interferences with the judicial process; a gradual devaluation of these two organs of government has been achieved whilst further strengthening and elevating executive power. A cursory glance at the morning paper cartoons will show the utter contempt and ridicule our elected legislators are subjected to in the public eye and there is a similar loss of public faith in institutions administering law; whilst executive power is imaged and portrayed to be the singular source of strength, the panacea for all ailments. Whilst such orchestrated moves may very well serve short term political gain for one party or a regime to remain in power, the longer term sustenance of political system in a nation-state cannot be achieved by such destruction of public faith in institutions of government; a democratic process must grow and be nurtured in a citizenry, it is only then we will learn to understand and appreciate the value of institutions, not personalities! Oh… when will we ever learn? I propose that the year in its totality be dedicated to a great warrior for the cause, Madiba who some have even equated to the titanic statures of Gandhi and Lincoln, considered fathers of their own respective nations and dearly loved by their citizenry as such. Though opinion may remain divided on this, let me simply carry my vote and quote Odysseus (of Troy) and say – “if they ever tell my story, let it be said that I lived in the times of giants...that I lived in the times of Nelson Mandela”. We must thank him for much, a great lesson amongst many being his “political detachment to the lures of office”, that he knew when to leave; he didn’t sacrifice the interests of the people for his own personal gain, or that of his family and friends and seek ways of extending terms of office! We were at a recent ceremony to mark the retirement of a great lady after several years of dedicated stewardship, where similar sentiments were expressed, that she had picked the right time to go, when the question was “why are you leaving?” rather than “when are you leaving?”; but I guess they don’t make them any thicker than our brethren in politics today! One can only marvel at their valiant efforts to remain in office despite all but the kitchen sink being thrown at them; some even partially disabled medically, gone well past retirement age or suffered continuous losses at their vote bases (whether in government or opposition); yet their singular commitment is to somehow stay and “serve us”; how noble, aye? Of course we must engage in the reciprocal question as to our own thinking as a citizenry, for minds far superior than ours in the science of politics, such as the great Aristotle himself have long established the principle that in a democracy, “... we shall be governed no better than we deserve…”; meaning it is us, the people that elect our representatives. So even if we provide for media spin-doctoring of certain parties and candidates, carefully executed campaigns (see above) to change the public mindset or even the parties themselves substituting “their choice” for ours (as at an election our choice is actually preceded by the party – the people elect from those listed by a party); leaving allowance for all of that I am yet convinced that should a massive majority of people truly will it, they can kick-out even the most corrupt regime. This in fact has been a primary personal reflection of recent times, self-examination of sorts, as to what seems to “bother” me with the status quo apparently doesn’t seem to matter for the majority? I am yet grappling with question and one that I daresay those of equal mindset who are genuinely disturbed with “the system” as it functions now must try and answer; why “bother” when the majority doesn’t seem to care? I’m due to participate in an “International Visitor Leadership Programme”, on invitation by the US government in February & March next year. This “IVLP” is to be conducted by the US Dept. of State on the theme “Rule of Law & Judicial Reform” commencing in Washington with scheduled visits and meetings in a few other states. If things flow as proposed and I eventually do cross the Atlantic, it will be very interesting to see if I can find some direction from that democratic system, to assist me to answer at least some of these questions, so I can at least compare to my own “home system”. Whither 2014? Talk is ripe of elections to come, the provincial ones confirmed with yet others (general or otherwise we are yet unsure) being spoken of. There are also discussions of another joint coalition to face these elections, an ad hoc set up made up (apparently) of several “forces” who commonly share a vision to overthrow the seemingly unshakable regime of the day. I am personally not convinced whether this is the right answer, for it looks more like another “quick-fix” attempt to hide a greater sin; the impotency of any opposition group to sustain itself and mount a real challenge. The long term solution to the real issue, which is the inability to form and preserve a functional opposition (a condicio sine qua non to a functional democracy) is what must be tackled speedily and effectively; one that is ready and geared at any time to pose a cogent threat to a government of any day. I speak of course of a classic definition of an “opposition” with shadow cabinets and ministers founded on a well structured countrywide network armed with alternate policy and constructive critique to place before the electorate, to keep a regime in power “in check” at any time; do we have that? At present we have the major group UNP in tatters unable to solve their own internal issues and as a result losing both their elected members who continue to cross-over and severe drops in their numbers who traditionally showed up at the pools. The “3rd force” that was, JVP who appear to talk sense most of the time are unable to convert that to a decisive vote with the electorate. The recently emerged DP led by former Gen. Fonseka which appeared on the scene with a giant leap at the election within just a few months is yet to prove itself capable of sustaining that momentum; now that they have been around for a while and the electorate has had a chance to see and hear them, can they build on that gain or was what we witnessed simply a repetition of that old cliché of the “new broom”? With all these questions remaining 2014 appears to be certainly a “happening” year, polisocionomically speaking! Thus on that relatively cheerful note (amongst all our other woes) may I wish all of you a peaceful and content new year, and this land that we all share a common love for, the best of fortunes ahead for the greater good of its people!  

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