Wijith DeChickera watches military parades pass by and wonders whether meritocracy, technocracy and  a militarised bureaucracy are de rigueur

The past month proved we live in the best of times, the worst of times. In this ‘tale of two cities,’ there are as many types of citizens and their worldviews. On the one hand, there are the eternal optimists – for whatever reason – for whom the glass is half full because of the sea change that seems to have swept over the uppermost echelons of government.

But on the other, cynics and sceptics – each with their own insights or axes to grind – see ‘the usual suspects’ skulking in the background (and sometimes at the national forefront as well…). That the honeymoon period dreams on is nowhere more evident than in corporate Sri Lanka, which by and large seems to have pinned its hopes on a ‘technocratic’ ‘meritocratic’ presidency to right the ship of state.

Maybe some of those wearing rose-tinted glasses would have been given cause to change their mind after a slew of not so fair or savvy appointments as an encore to an encouraging early start where key state enterprises were entrusted to sterling hands. Perhaps other grouses – issues of ostensible ethnic chauvinism – also rankle.

There is a mixed bag to sift and sort in the early part of the new government’s innings. Not for the first time in the tandem of island politics, the national side’s skipper and its deputy – though on the same team (in more senses than one) – seem prone to bat at odds with each other or even run their partner out.

The captain by his style of play deep in the field has shown that an iron fist in a surprisingly velvet glove may work wonders at reforming a traditionally lethargic and lacklustre bureaucracy. His vice captain sadly is still politicking.

To be fair, it’s still early days where political favours need paying off, which may explain those egregious choices of legislators to accompany the prime minister on his recent tour of India.

Also in contention is the outcome of a certain forensic audit. Not to be difficult but I’ll eat my hat and be considered a mad March hare like those rollicking schoolboys at their respective ‘big matches’ if any major player in the decades-long and ongoing Central Bank heist in broad daylight is arraigned, arrested and actually put away. We don’t play cricket.

MARTIAL OVERTONES Be that as it may, Sri Lanka is now evidently playing in the major league. An interesting occurrence at the Independence Day celebrations signalled to a watching world that an island nation fiercer than ever about its sovereignty was not afraid to deviate from a multi-aligned foreign policy in the making.

The presence of a Russian General of the Army as an honoured guest – arriving in state in a vehicle marked with five stars, no less – would have sent out ripples among the diplomatic community seated incognito.

In the past, our developing nation has courted the US under former president J. R. Jayewardene, led the Non-Aligned Movement under erstwhile premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike and responded favourably to China’s overtures under a previous Rajapaksa presidency.

Now, it would appear that heir of the former Soviet Union – an ally in the war of attrition against our long-drawn-out terrorist insurrection – is a favoured friend. On top of a recent visit by Russia’s foreign minister, this may signify more than an isolated incident.

MANDARIN OVERTURES Of course, the prime minister’s recent visit to India struck more than a chord with a national minded ‘Big Brother.’ Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa and his counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi have more in common in terms of driving a nationa-listic agenda apiece.

While the former’s strong indication is that a debt beleaguered nation looks to its neighbour to extricate it from a Chinese puzzle, a bad taste remains over miscreant MPs being part of the official entourage. Smacks of impunity under an old political culture?

MARCHING ORDERS Why embarrassments to the state of executive discipline and blots on the national escutcheon continue to be favoured by the prime minister’s good offices may prove to be a sticking point post parliamentary elections.

It remains to be seen if a lean mean presidency can cohabit with a feudalistic legislature where it’s not who you are but whom you know that counts in running – do I mean ‘ruining’? – the state of the nation.

If President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has half as much amour propre for parliamentary protocol as he exhibited to regimental colours at the military parade on 4 February, those hooligans in the house may soon be decorated with ‘the order of the boot.’

With that said, until the general election is done and dusted, don’t hold your breath that the prevailing political culture will experience a much needed detox anytime soon. Or indeed, that the ethos of investigating lapses under previous regimes would collar major white-collar criminals, high-ranking state officials or anyone other than small fry political opponents.

Of course, we could be proven pleasantly wrong and justice done by all parties concerned. Only time will tell as the electoral clock counts down.

An island nation fiercer than ever about its sovereignty was not afraid to deviate from a multi-aligned foreign policy in the making