STATE OF THE NATION
CITIZEN CARNIVAL VERSUS POLITICAL CIRCUS
Wijith DeChickera knows ‘it’s not cricket’ in every sense that the waves of popular protests have yet to yield the desired result all-round
Sri Lanka has not seen anything like it. There were civil rights protests in the past and important cricket matches are often spectacles with carnival vibes hard to describe.
This however, combined the electric atmosphere of cricket with worthy causes espoused by civics – to produce spectacular and salutary effects.
Truly spectacular was the unprecedented outpouring of humanity with the emotive elements of Avurudu feasting, Ramadan fasting, Lenten sacrifices and Easter Sunday’s reproachful remembrances.
Really salutary was that despite the highly charged emotionality of throngs around the presidential secretariat, these were essentially peaceful demonstrations undertaken in a spirit of islander solidarity – sans reprehensible political partisanship.
However the ‘party’ of citizen protests may end – though at the time of writing, the tide taken at the flood was still full – the ‘Occupy Galle Face’ movement highlights noteworthy trends in our country’s burgeoning civic consciousness.
For one, it demonstrates to the powers which be that the people who elect them are able, ready and willing to stand firm and united in darkened hours of all-round ‘power failure’. Many who flocked outside the president’s office faced severe hardships at home while they chanted slogans demanding that the nation’s chief executive step down forthwith.
For another, a watching world observed spontaneous overflowing of strong emotions that grew organically to not only mount panoplies of apolitical protestation but studiously deny political opportunists and would-be agitators their places in the national spotlight.
The glare of watchful social media and the legal profession’s observant eyes ensured neither of these elements played spoiler to colourful, creative and concerted efforts of civil society to seize the moment… and have their field day past midnight and up to dawn.
There was sullen silence among critics who suggested that Sri Lankans tend to forget ‘issues’ in a news cycle. This protest tested the mettle of our islanders’ mentality when the cost of corruption became clear and present dangers. Pity though it had to wait for such to spark off the protests!
People’s resilience in the face of executive obduracy in not resigning redounds to their credit, decrying their head of state’s cynical recycling of ‘the usual suspects’ in his patriarchal, geriatric cabinet at the time.
The popular uprising dominated headlines at a time when those other culprits in the national debacle – 225 MPs who apathetically adjourned a ‘holiday parliament’ – abdicated their responsibility by the electors whom they represent so abjectly. The concurrent revelation that only 10 in their ranks had transparently chosen to publicly declare their assets must strengthen a nation’s resolve to audit its legislators while they jockey and horse-trade.
It was also clear that the customary sycophancy of voters had been taken ill and patronage usually enjoyed by the political class would suffer a setback for a long while. If there is an earnest desire in the hearts of champions of this welcome societal mindset change, it’s perhaps that Sri Lankans will never revert to lionising politicos ever again.
A consummation devoutly to be wished is that the gamut of actors on the national stage culpable of bringing a nation to its knees, and the gates of bankruptcy and beyond the edge of the same abyss, as well as those responsible for the parlous state of the nation will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law permissible and conscionable.
The range of actions to be taken could span a spectrum from impeachment of an arrogant, insensitive president to public prosecution of fiscal and monetary officials guilty of wantonly abusing their high offices.
They’ve at best misled the state to blindly implementing politically expedient policies; at worst that resulted in the fuel, food, forex, fertiliser and pharmaceutical imbroglios, as well as sullying Sri Lanka’s hitherto unblemished 74 year track record of never before defaulting on its sovereign debt.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s blasé ‘admission’ that Sri Lanka should have sought IMF intervention far earlier – as much as the ‘confession’ that his government’s fertiliser policy was pathetically flawed – came as too little, too late… by an administration that was too stubborn to act sensibly.
‘People’s rage is reasonable!’ So resign, Sir?
As the country as a whole united by design to vote with its feet to demonstrate strong disapproval of how their all-round security was robbed, people will now have to unite by default to face the long grind of clambering back from a restricted default rating ahead of seeking bridging finance from friendly agencies to the distant future goal of regaining access to international financial markets.
Telling tone-deaf governors ‘we told you so!’ as regards negotiating defaults on repayments of sovereign dues as far back as a year or so ago – in tandem with working with the IMF on a debt restructuring or demand contracting programme – may be the only relief available to the experts and professionals who sounded repeated storm warnings to no avail.
However, there may be the prospect of eventual justice being meted out if the sea of humanity still protesting serves to remind Sri Lanka’s political trustees that taking responsibility for national crimes committed is one thing – being held accountable for the same is the people’s right too.