Our Spectator Democracy | Sunday Observer

Our Spectator Democracy

14 October, 2018

Nothing can be said about our politics that has not already been said about hemorrhoids. It is truly a pain in that part of the human anatomy. Hypocrisy is the single synonym for ‘pragmatic politics.’

Contemporary political science identifies several types of democracies. What we have today after January 8, 2015 is a spectator democracy. Before that in the five post-civil war years we had a zombie or a voodoo democracy. A meaningful democracy needs institutional resilience. Two constitutional experiments in 1972 and 1978 put an effective end to conventions of precedent and continuity.

Today, we the people are in the amphitheatre watching the ‘Yahapalana’ President and ‘Good Governance’ Prime Minister practising and enacting democracy. Our role is to watch them perform and give or deny applause.

I am not particularly smart with the smart phone. Yet, with the meagre know how I have acquired in Facebooking and Whatsapping, it appears to me, that the ruling duo earn a ‘helluva lot’ of applause of a different variety.

The 19th Amendment was enacted in the first hundred days. In the first hundred days the bond boondoggle was also precipitated. The upheaval that followed was fatal. The government lost its credibility. The finest example of this assertion was the recent sermonizing by five eminent money bags who politely insisted that the Government did not know its business at a make-believe fireside chat at the Hilton, Colombo.

The Prime Minster is remote, unresponsive and unaccountable. The other day we saw it in Parliament. When asked to explain the fuel price formula, he delivered a homily on the geopolitics of fossil fuels.

He operates through handpicked confidantes. With the release of the Bond Commission findings, the Government lost its sense of direction. The reform agenda was replaced by protests of honesty and integrity of the would-be reformers. Loyalty to the party and allegiance to its leader superseded truth and conscience.

The President is preoccupied in reclaiming a constituency he never owned in the first place. He claims that his mission is to reunite the SLFP. If that was his political imperative, he should have served himself a few more hoppers and remained at Mahinda Rajapaksa’s dinner table.

Instead, he allowed himself to be adopted as the common candidate. It was to dislodge the former President. When we persuaded him to be the common candidate, we did not request him to make personal remarks about stallions from the stables of Buckingham Palace.

Quite unsolicited, on the day of his swearing in, he assured us that it was the first and the only time he contested for the Executive Presidency. The poor man was reeling under the weight of the immensity of the task. On that fateful day, he sure meant it.

Politicians are ordinary humans. They can go back on a statement gently without resorting to haughty moralizing tantrums. The holier than thou attitude is a telltale sign of crass hypocrisy.

Under the war winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa, we did not have a ‘spectator democracy’. We were not expected to watch or applaud. Our consent was taken for granted. We had to comply. It was a ‘voodoo democracy’ of Mahinda Rajapaksa, his brothers, his children and his extended family.

The nauseous, stomach churning governance by their successors has made us so desperate that we have erased from our collective conscience, the terrible memories of the ‘voodoo democracy’ of the Rajapaksa family. Lest we forget, we lived in a virtual bubble, hermetically insulated from global connectivity.

Of course, Mahinda called himself a democrat. It was a funny kind of democracy. We lived in self-imposed compliance of the regime. We were terrified into screaming patriotic slogans.

We admired with great awe the leader who saved us from destruction. While a good segment of society willingly goose stepped on command, an equally substantial segment was reconciled to wait to bide their time under the repressive heel of the ‘mercenary enforcer state.’

We thought we gained a respite on January 8, 2015. In ending the ‘voodoo democracy ‘of the Rajapaksa family, we set out on an expedition, the end of which we could not know in advance. Now we know. ‘Yahapalanaya’ is not merely a hackneyed utterance. It is a plain, palpable obscenity.

In the light of cold experience, we know that the UNP – SLFP coalition is an alliance devoid of a coherent policy or principle.

We have arrived at a pivotal point. What kind of hypocrite should we choose in 2020? There is the hypocrite who promised to end corruption. There is another hypocrite who claims that he alone can extricate us from the debt trap. Then comes the toweringly tall hypocrite who claims not to have laid a finger in the cookie jar. In the shadows await the hypocrite who wants to unite all patriots and smash up the rest of the world.

This is not a cynical rant. This is an honest, down to earth assessment of our contemporary political sweep.

Pretending that any one of the current aspirants for the presidency is undeniably sincere in purpose or intent would make us far more hypocritical than the entire lot engaged in politics.

All is not lost. The mandate of January 8, 2015 is for the abolition of the Executive Presidency. President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe can recoup some of their lost credibility by agreeing to convert their spectator democracy into a plebiscitary democracy. The Supreme Court has ruled that the 20th Amendment can be passed with a two thirds majority and a referendum. By endorsing the 20th Amendment the good governance coalition could salvage some of its lost credibility.

Unfolding events offer us more than adequate proof that politics can never be a sincere vocation. The practice of politics requires some degree of hypocrisy. We could live with that. But this brazen hypocrisy?

Last week, we read about a meeting between President Sirisena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the residence of parliamentarian S.B.Dissanayake.

It was speculated that the meeting would lead to other weighty developments including “a change in the political landscape of the country.”

Splendidly voluble, obtusely verbose S.B.Dissanayake has denied that the two had met at his residence as was reported. The former President has denied the meeting on the alleged day and date but not the encounter per se.

The glib denial has not stopped the guesswork or conjecture. People know better. They do not expect S.B.Dissanayake to be accurate with the truth. S.B is a versatile trapeze artiste. Give the devil his due. He is constantly in the circus, pushing the limits of fakery and distortion in public life.

What about the two adversaries who are alleged to have attended the hush hush encounter? Both men have tasted power. They both know that those who seek power do so not to relinquish it to another.

The Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella has assured the House that “there would be no change in the Government as claimed by the Opposition”. He has even gone further. This Government according to him “was not prepared nor had it any mandate to form a government with the political parties that were rejected by the people.” Now that is really thick.

Mr.Kirielle has forgotten who S.B.Dissanayake is. SB was rejected in the Kandy district that Mr.Kirielle represents. SB was appointed on the UPFA National List. Mr.Kirielle was quite comfortable with rejected SB as a Cabinet colleague in the purported ‘National Government ‘ that exists merely to reward loyalty with ministerial perks.

The National Government is the epitome of political hypocrisy. Forget catching crooks. The past three years offers adequate evidence to show that spectator democracy is a game that both sides are well equipped to play. Nobody is cash strapped.

Nobody has complained of lack of resources to mobilize mass protests on the streets. It is good to know the truth. The battle for hearts and minds is well oiled. Oligarchs spawned by the ‘voodoo democracy’ are already in the business of conquering mental and emotional territory of the tribe. Political propaganda is a subtle business. Anybody watching our electronic media would know how easy it is to attack and seduce mass perceptions by erecting walls around weak arguments. We must pin our hopes on the 20th Amendment.