STATE OF THE NATION
A PANACEA IN THE TROPIC OF CANCER
Wijith DeChickera wishes to see more salutary developments sooner than later in a certain island paradise he calls ‘home’
It’s 2020 and all is well. Two months since a technocratic president was handed a celebrated mandate to drive a unique vision for national development. The inefficiency and lack of integrity of the erstwhile coalition government is a thing of the past. A prorogued house has resumed sitting and hopefully the business of parliament will soon include serious matters left in abeyance for a month.
This country is running like clockwork at the street level, and one trusts in technocracy to extend that ethos to state, bureaucracy and legislature. ‘Call 1954’ against corruption is a salutary start to eliminating waste or worse. But is all truly well? Or is there an impending power struggle between a driven executive with its wings clipped by a premiership that could overshadow it? Will a resolution to this potential impasse drive the powers that be to constitutional reform seeking to restore presidentialism to safeguard dynastic ambitions?
Or will discretion be the better part of valour whereby executive and legislature play ball with the popular vote? At least until its joint mandate can be strengthened by a general election landslide?
Since the answer is blowing in the wind and will do so for a few months, it behoves business – as an increasingly involved stakeholder in the national interest – to consider where Sri Lanka’s neo-experiment with the exercise of power is heading.
SOUND OF SILENCE The brief episode, which the history books are likely to label ‘good governance’ slightly ironically, ended with a whimper rather than a bang. Since its negatives (cronyism, corruption and retarded growth) overshadow any positives (constitutional reform and freedom of speech), a strange silence may fall as regards the reformist agenda.
Therefore with reluctance perhaps, we may be required to shelve hoary issues such as national reconciliation and transitional justice. Not because those ideas are unworthy or discredited; but because their champions have lost their social credit. And an ethnographic analysis of the resounding electoral victory of the incumbents continues to redound to a majoritarian ethic.
Simply put, the ethos of government – if unchecked – is in danger of going from triumphal to triumphalist or ethnic to ethnocratic. The greater danger is that it may drive the island from being a Bali to a Burma.
VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS Champions of the new administration may be up in arms at such a dire prophecy. And one can understand why, if so. I too can see the tremendous potential that a leader of the incumbent’s ilk possesses – in spades.
However, to challenge the deeply entrenched political culture of decades will take all of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s sense of self, drive and destiny.
So it’s not too early to map out a trajectory that will take Sri Lanka from a laid-back republic that’s lately become a middle income country to being the star of a hemisphere. Although one suspects it is too early from a purely political point of view to introduce the bigger picture perspective – especially to the powers that be themselves.
For one, they probably have grand designs of their own and are not likely to pause to consider a puny subversive view such as this. For another, they have their own preliminary battles to fight at parliamentary and bureaucratic levels, and that will take all their energy if not time. Last but not least, practitioners of feudalism and privilege will not welcome truth to power.
STEP FORWARD That is part of the most pressing problem on the way forward. If our arguably blessed and abundantly beautiful island nation is to become a joy forever, that kettle of fish will have to include some critical specimens in the cauldron. And if present indications are anything to go by, some of these creatures are already on the endangered species list.
Maybe it was appropriate for Malaysia and Singapore to suppress dissent at the start of their journeys to greatness. We’re too far down the democratic track for that. Perhaps we’d better look to hitching our wagon to a star that spells out fortune in terms of peace and prosperity with plenty of justice to boot. Rather than sacrifice the nobler civilisational ideals for short-term political gains.
On the sports and sociocultural fronts, the signs are stellar of late. Sri Lanka’s showing at the recently concluded South Asian Games showed that the island can go for gold – and win big. That a daughter of Serendip was crowned Mrs World 2020 showcased the beauty of its people and their potential. There was another feather in our cap with USA Today’s recognition that Taprobane is one of the best ‘warm-weather destinations’ in the world.
Oh that the kudos won’t stop there! On to the next level!
We have what it takes to wow all comers from Timbuktu to the Tropic of Capricorn’s Indian Ocean waters where 75 percent of the planet’s maritime trade will be in five years’ time.
So sitting on a goldmine of plenty, one hopes that the political leadership with the best potential to make our dream come true won’t make its critics sleep with the fishes – because critical engagement is the antibody in the lifeblood of a growing republic.