Remember those Gotha-Baya posters a couple of years ago when it the prospect of a Gotabhaya Rajapaksa candidacy was first talked of? The word was ‘fear’ and the implication was terror. It was ‘blood-dripping’ lettering that was used, remember? Remember how there appeared not too long after claiming that Ranil Wickremesinghe (the obvious choice of the UNP for president, at the time) was a baya-nethi agamethi (fearless prime minister)?
Remember the election campaign and how apologists for the UNP fronting as rights activists, academics, political commentators and journalists not only predicted (probably for propaganda purposes) a Sajith Premadasa victory but conjured dark and foreboding time in the (‘unlikely,’ in their view) event Gotabhaya won?
Not surprisingly, when some ill-intentioned Sri Lankan employee in the Swiss Embassy cooked up an abduction story, these worthies fell over themselves in an unholy rush to conjured a white-van narrative, remember? It was all about ‘prediction coming true!’ They fell flat on their respective faces, but that’s a different story.
What was the rhetoric, though? All the horror scenarios naturally began with the following: ‘If Got wins…’
‘If Gota wins, minorities will be hounded. If Gota wins we will have white vans. If Gota wins democracy will die. If Gota wins no more protests — protestors will be shot dead. If Gota wins there will be a hundred Rathupaswalas. If Gota wins it will be the end of reconciliation. If Gota wins we will become pariahs in the eyes of the international community. If Gota wins we will quickly move to military rule. If Gota wins there won’t be any more elections. If Gota wins there will be anarchy. If Gota wins, there will be a bloodbath. If Gota wins there will be corruption galore. If Gota wins all the crops will be safe. If Gota wins the gains made through the 19th Amendment would be rolled back. If Gota wins there will be a political witch-hunt. If Gota wins that would be the end of media freedom; journalists would be disappeared in their hundreds.’
That’s just a small segment of a long list of things dire, despicable, uncivilized and utterly horrific.
First let’s rewind to the first frame, i.e. the yahapalana times.
It’s not as though democracy was in full bloom before November 16, 2019. The Yahapalanists led by Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe, delayed the local government elections, refused to hold provincial council elections and made a mockery of representative democracy while thumbing their collective nose at the Supreme Court by way of ignoring observation on the unconstitutional nature of the draft 19th Amendment. They were hurrahed by by the likes of Sajith Premadasa, Champika Ranawaka, Eran Wickramaratne, Harsha De Silva, Rauff Hakeem, Mano Ganeshan, M.A. Sumanthiran and their sival-society retinue with Anura Kumara Dissanayake muttering sweet nothings in accompaniment. The Yahapalanists beat up protestors. Those who abhor such things looked away. Conveniently.
Reconciliation. Talk, talk, talk. Promises, promises, promises. Not ‘low’ but zilch on substance and tangible outcome. Even the strongest backers of Yahapalana machinations to barter sovereignty and vilify those who actually gave life and limb to defeat terrorism and create space for discussion and debate and yes, democracy too, namely the TNA, went silent on this subject after a while.
Law and order, crime and punishment. Well, the Yahapalanists didn’t deliver on such things. Indeed, they proceeded to rob the Central Bank, no less. The Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) was all about political revenge. That division took orders from Temple Trees or rather Temple Trees issued order and expected the FCID to deliver. It became a joke.
The international community and goodwill. Well, there was no international community ever. There were powerful nations using international forum to push specific agenda. If goodwill was about submitting to these, then yes, the Yahapalanists obtained with distinction. Pats on the back by masters and mistresses at cocktail parties in Colombo’s Diploland and of course photo ops with such ladies and gentlemen were probably considered great personal achievements, but that’s not about nation, national interest or the future.
The 19th Amendment. A disaster, was it not? The then Parliament was cajoled, threatened and wearied to the point of dozing to get that passed. And it effectively ignored Supreme Court observations regarding constitutionality, as mentioned above.
So where are we now? There were protests.There are protests. No blood-letting as eagerly anticipated. Elections are on the cards. A parliament that had clearly lost its mandate was dissolved. And we here the old yahapalana heroes cry in horror: (‘why election and why now, what with the Corona Virus and all that!’ Give me a moment. Ok. Thanks. Had to laugh. Journalists aren’t complaining. Minorities cannot say things have got worse. As for the 19th, even its architects mutter while navel-gazing ‘we were careless.’
Was the 19th dumped? No. Should it be? Yes. How could it be dumped? Well, numbers in a more enlightened parliament. That’s what’s been requested, right? What’s wrong with that? All things considered it is dangerous for any ruling party/coalition to have a two-thirds majority, but two-thirds is all about counting numbers AFTER an election; no one ever votes ‘for a two-thirds majority’ or ‘against a two-thirds majority’. People vote for (or in some cases ‘against’) a party/coalition. There are other ways to dump the 19th and we might get to that. For example, a referendum. We might even have more than one issue on such a ballot, for example, ‘repealing the 13th Amendment,’ and ‘repealing the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act,’ the former for the fact of utter failure if not sheer lunacy and the latter in the name of secularism, that things so cherished by yahapalana cheering squads.
The international community. Upset? Somewhat. So are we going to get bombed tomorrow? Will sanctions be imposed? Who knows? One thing is certain. What had to be said, was said. This government talked about the elephant in the room or rather the elephants in the room: LTTE atrocities, unconstitutionality of sections of Resolution 30/1 and who should own reconciliation in Sri Lanka (Sri Lankans and not the USA, EU, UK, UNHRC, TNA or the TGTE). It wasn’t going to be easy. What the Yahapalanists promised was something impossible to deliver and which, theoretically at least, might have paved the way for outsiders to ‘help deliver’. Disaster was on the cards. Disaster is still a possibility. So, at worst, no gain; at best a step in the right direction.
Gota has won. Are things really bad? Are things ok? Will things get worse, gradually or suddenly? In the present tense: nothing to complain about. Future tense: too soon to say, either way. These are, after all, honeymoon days and regimes are tested not in happy times but when things get bad. No blank cheques being offered here. However, for now, it is correct to say that Gota has been a terrible disappointment — to those who painted doom’s day scenarios in the event Sajith Premadasa lost.
Let’s leave it at that. For now.
This article was first published in the SUNDAY MORNING [March 8, 2020]