STATE OF THE NATION
‘OH LIFT US UP WHERE WE BELONG!’
Wijith DeChickera notes the downside of parliamentary politics today and says some buttons need to be pushed for a more uplifting experience
Recently, a dozen MPs got stuck in a lift. Try as they may – and some cried loudly – they couldn’t get out. After some 15 minutes of infamy, the bunch of big babies was rescued. Some had advice for the speaker of the house as to how to escape a similar predicament. Others wanted the lift replaced.
And the country wags who commented on it wanted the MPs replaced. We know what it’s like to be going nowhere – slowly.
While the patience of the people wears thin, parliamentarians continue to live the life of Riley. They seem to have everything they need to lead a pleasant not too pressing existence.
All round them, there’s a struggle – from growing discord in the north to abject poverty and plantation workers unable to make ends meet (and labouring for such paltry wages that the largesse of corporate Sri Lanka, which shamelessly exports their hard day’s work at a premium, seems a pittance).
Maybe part of being an MP calls for oblivion to the cries of the people parliamentarians claim to represent. It’s easy when you’re part of a political super-class that has all the perks and privileges, and very little responsibility.
Tell your average elected representative that the exercise of power without accountability is the privilege of the oldest profession – it gets you nowhere much… except perhaps, libelled in the Hansard or blackballed by the old boy network.
Really, it’s a bit like being stuck in a lift with a bunch of malodourous MPs. We thought the nation was clambering aboard a perfectly serviceable elevator four years ago. But now we’re stuck between floors en route to the executive suite.
Part of the problem is that there are too many people on board: 225 plus one superfluous operator is one – or 225, take your pick – too many… for all the good they/he do/does. However odious, until a new constitution comes along – if and when – we’re stuck with them.
AN ANGRY PREZ Most infuriatingly, the common candidate of four years ago is proving to be the chief exasperation. Aware that his political career has fallen through the roof, he’s now trying to make as much of a nuisance of himself as possible before an ignominious exit.
The cavalier proposal to implement the death penalty – and never mind what it could cost us in terms of image, trade concessions and aid – is a prime example of his perfidy. Carping unjustifiably about the Constitutional Council is another, reflecting pettiness at past raps on his knuckles via the judiciary.
If he’s trying to cock a snook at the UNP, he’s failing admirably. If he’s leaving for posterity the tattered rags of power corrupted small-mindedness, he’s succeeding miserably. One wishes he would leave the buttons on the elevator alone – and take the stairs.
PRIME PITCH The prime minister for his part is showing signs of desperation to jettison an inconvenient arrangement. A half-baked attempt to form a national government with a party chairing a single seat in parliament was fumblingly dropped and the idea shelved for the nonce. Let no one hold their breath and hope that the United National Party (UNP) has grown up – today, it’s as it was then: neither united (but sullenly unitary) nor national (and increasingly Olympian).
A single example of its deviousness – a staunch refusal to hold local government elections – will suffice to disabuse us of its democratic credentials.
It’s not as if we need another costly series of polls to elect another spurious lot of governors. It’s not as if the president’s insistence on a presidential poll first is anything but a desire to put a spoke in the wheel of the UNP’s wellbeing.
It’s just that from a citizen’s point of view – and let’s leave democracy aside for a moment – these trips to the polling booth are an exercise in futility for a polity grown weary of the usual suspects being recycled.
USUAL SUSPECTS The swirl of an emaciated Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and a budding Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) puffed up with pride brings an eddy of sea change into something rich and strange.
If it floats, it’s another marriage of parliamentary convenience compounded by a pragmatic need to retain the presidency and hand the premiership back to a former president. If it sinks, no one will smile – this despite the desperation of the former to come to the party and the latter to capitalise its swelling ranks.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) continues to wash everyone’s dirty linen except its own in public. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), in the guise of transitional justice, holds us back from developing a truly trans-ethnic national identity by doing the right thing for the wrong reason. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) is singularly inconsequential. The bane of communal politics is whitewashed by coalition practicalities.
So we’re stuck in the same lift! There’s no way out but to sweat it out.
But while we wait, let’s use every means possible – big biz chambers, professional associations, civil society movements, free and social media – to impress on all parties concerned that we’re not impressed by their parliamentary performance.
There are some alarm buttons we the people still have left. Let’s lift our nation state up where it belongs; not remain in the doldrums with deadbeat MPs in the house.