The path of realpolitik to the plain of reform

Wednesday, 8 June 2022 00:25 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

RUING THE DAY? Regret is a part of life... the key is to keep it a small part...! 


The English writer D.H. Lawrence once wrote: “If only we could live two lives: the first, in which to make one’s mistakes; and the second, in which to profit by them...”

Wishful thinking – for many, if not most, of us? Not that a certain someone amongst us doesn’t want to profit by his mistakes! Let this pass, he urges, until I too can pass. Pass? 

But there is no guarantee that seeing his term in office through will redeem the president’s present reputation or result in any encomiums to redound to his name in posterity. And there are the small if not insignificant matters of sir, state and system ‘fails’ which cry out for social justice... if not criminal prosecution.

Better late than never, our would-be leaders must learn that accountability in governance means taking the blame as willingly as hogging the credit – and paying the price, which we the people are now paying.

However little our circumstances suggest there would be satisfactory redress for mistakes made that led to this mess we’re in, there’s always hope that things would work out well in the short (rather than the medium) term. 

It doesn’t take a prophet of the calibre of our prime minister to essay that ‘things will get worse before they get better’. 

But it does take a politician with a certain stamp of genius (some may call it a lack of conscience, spine or empathy) to tell us – better yet, show us – how best to extricate ourselves from our predicament.

Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara have played their cards. Here’s hoping it won’t end like a ‘house of cards’ in which the ‘designated survivor’ is a man or political machine and not the people’s movement or national-salvation project they claim to desire to serve.

With that said, our elected representatives have as much credibility as a chicken thief caught in the coop with their hands full of feathers – and perhaps less shame. 

Therefore, it is incumbent on the people at large, the more responsible elements of the polity and a disenchanted electorate that may have to face a poll sooner than later (if the franchise is to be redeemed in the national interest) to have a quiet think together as to how to go forward from here. 

I leave my own thoughts in the spirit of ‘come, let us build’ – in a trust that our famous island resilience would afford us a smidgen of courage to tear down what is ruinous... without razing to the ground what good is left... so that out of the ashes, we may rise again. 

The real

If there is one dichotomy that’s harder to resolve than mitigating the ‘Economic Armageddon’ ahead of us, it’s disentangling the Gordian knot tying up economic stability with political legitimacy.

On the one hand, there are those who would argue that Gotabaya Rajapaksa had a genuine mandate from a significant majority – and that it still holds... Not because he is the technocratic saviour they once thought (though no more do so bar a blind few). But a democratically elected governor for good or bad. And that can count for something in the cynical eyes of the international community. Not least the IMF who arguably value stability over legitimacy. 

In this light, it’s not entirely ironic that a prime minister singularly lacking in electoral gravitas serves as a key agent in bringing an iota of stability (and sensibility) to a government desperately lacking in legitimacy – if the baying of the bloodhounds at the barricades is to be believed.

On the other hand, there are those who would plead a democratic ‘via media’ – a safer, quite sensible and far more satisfying ‘middle path’ – whereby parliament doesn’t have to feast with panthers for much longer. Or learn how to handle that tricky long spoon, without which we get into all sorts of trouble while dining with the devil.  

The ideal

That ship – re-enacting the ethics and instruments of 19A – may have sailed when the leader of the opposition first refused to accept the proffered premiership unconditionally and then seemingly changed his mind when the seat was offered to another. 

He and us with him who espouse ‘principled politics’ may have missed the last bus on which it could have been possible to negotiate a short-term ride... on which it could or should have been permissible to negotiate a safer ride... and a supposedly tolerable short haul... before the driver was permitted to debus – with what little grace he could muster after some reprehensible driving and nonchalant confession to incompetent bungling.

Those wagons are no longer circling; and a sorry (sorry, I meant abysmal) chief executive seems destined to a busman’s holiday until 2024 at the expense of the bone weary protestors.

But that does not mean there aren’t other bandwagons on which we can still clamber aboard for the rougher ride ahead. And one of these – for what it is worth in these tough times – is the rickety and notoriously unreliable vehicle of constitutional reform. It’s a bus we missed many times before, and have the ambitions of individuals and aspirations of parties to ‘thank’ for.

Now it will mean moving heaven and earth – and House – to distinguish between the wheat of party-apolitical moves to rid us of the rot (the executive presidency per se plus a chance for ‘Gota’ to ‘go home’); and the chaff of sinister attempts to dilute the people’s sovereignty with spurious personal ambition. The latter courtesy a private member’s motion whereby a recalibrated presidentialism (and together with it, the opportunity for political dynasties of any colour to live to fight another day) can be smuggled in through back doors left open.

Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe won’t be the last legislator to fall prey to the insidious allure of that all-powerful office. He shan’t be the last if Ranil Wickremesinghe – architect of a few good ideas fallen out of favour because the petitioner doesn’t practise what he preached – has a final word.

The ‘realpolitikal’

This is only the beginning of a real battle for our very survival as a democratic republic and an economy worth talking about in a global milieu where nation states can be driven into the ground quite deliberately or carelessly – take your pick. 

But to find a meaningful middle path between embracing ‘realpolitik’ without unconscionably abandoning the ethos of the #Struggle on our streets today will be a bigger challenge for leaders of tomorrow with a larger vision than a president not many want or a prime minister no one elected.      

| Editor-at-large of LMD | ‘Come, let us build’ | 


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