Gun-shy Opposition | Sunday Observer

Gun-shy Opposition

11 September, 2022

Even though technically the Government seems to hang by a thread due to defections to the Opposition, it appears that essentially politics in this country is at a hiatus. The Opposition is treading carefully and no party or political camp wants to be held responsible for scuttling crucial talks with the IMF that are on the verge of success.

So hiatus it is. The usual cut and thrust of political discourse is muted, and the policymakers are on tenterhooks hoping that the status quo would prevail until the IMF agreement is inked.

Those defectors from the Government are also not enthusiastic about an All Party Government. But yet they seem to be unaware that if they take their campaign against the Government to a logical conclusion, they may soon be in an All Party Government emerging from Opposition ranks and not those of the Government.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe is seeing the dénouement of a period of economic and political turmoil that was unprecedented even for this country. The SLPP, the current governing party probably makes a long-term calculation that being associated with governing is not necessarily beneficial at this time. At least those who defected may be making that calculation.

None of the above — from those in Opposition or Government — seems to see the need for a stable Government at this point. The hijinks are over. The rebels who launched protests have hung up their boots. Were they wearied of protests or did they run out of options?

It appears that most of all they want to get out of the way. Nobody wants to be accused of standing in the way of the IMF agreement and a return to relative stability in the country. Memories are short. The work of the rebels may have been cheered on and they may have been immortalised in public lore. But it does not mean that they cannot do any wrong in the public eye.


However, power-jockeying fatigue is afflicting all. It’s more likely that a new Government could be formed by accident these days, than by design. If there are enough defections from the Government benches, there would probably be a new Government whether anybody likes it or not. But that’s a default and not a position arrived at through either consensus or conspicuous effort.

The SJB the main Opposition has been marked by its tendency to want to keep its powder dry. This is a position that perhaps — curiously — the governing party wants to disturb. If the SJB keeps its powder dry long enough, it would perhaps mean the party would have a fresh outing at the next election. That has always been the calculation.

But now that there are more defections from the Government benches each day, the Opposition cannot be wedded to its stance of opposing and not touching the hot potato of governance with a bargepole. The defections may eventually force the hand of a reluctant Opposition and make them get onto the task of governance, though they may have to do it almost kicking and screaming.

What does all this say about the political culture of this country? That despite the bluster, when push comes to shove as they say in the local parlance, there aren’t many politicians willing to take responsibility in a bad situation. Whatever may be said of Ranil Wickremesinghe, he seems to have been the only politician eager to get his hands on the prize and exercise power despite the obvious negatives that were associated with the situation. Some would say that he had little to lose because he was already starting from a the minus-end of the measuring tape, having no seats in Parliament except his own which was a bonus seat.

That notwithstanding, he was not fighting shy of taking the job despite the gravity of the situation, and this provided he sees the country through the immediate crisis would stand him in good stead in the future — the mere fact that he was seen to be virtually the only current career politician who was willing to take the gamble, come what may.


The current political hiatus though it may be seen as a sign of general weariness with the protest and the general situation of uncertainty, could also be seen as a crisis of confidence.

The various virulent anti-Government forces including unionists and civil society activists ran out of road in their campaign in one sense and in a another, they completely ran out of roadmaps, plans and strategies.

They don’t want to be making too much of a noise these days, lest they be seen as totally irrelevant and crying out for the sheer need for some sort of relevance. For any sort of serious contender in the political stakes, that’s not a very nice place to be in.

They also run the risk of being seen as the protesting establishment. Or to coin a description, the protest establishment. If their role is to be seen as ‘professionally protesting’ at the drop of a hat, that is not a good look, to put it by way of the commonly used argot of two-second attention span age of modern electronic media.

The politics of this country may be complex, but at the end of the day, it’s weighted towards the establishment. Even the protests so called are established protests insofar as those who are protesting operate within certain boundaries, self-imposed or otherwise.

Some may say that the plus side of all this is that if there is one quantity that Sri Lanka is known for, it’s the constant of ‘political stability’ despite everything.

That may sound a joke in a country which post-independence has had two insurrections, a battle against terrorism, impeachment-moves and the very recent deposing of a President who momentarily exiled himself.


But as they say, that may be the beauty of it. Politically this country is ‘establishmentist’ as much as Pakistan is military dominated. This fealty to the establishment is what runs through as a constant in all the drama that unfolds and the recent events, if at all, are a confirmation of that fact if nothing else.

It’s Sri Lanka’s strength as well as weakness. There is nobody to break the mould, because almost everyone is comfortable playing a predestined role.

The current political breather when all and sundry are pretending to be engaged and hoping that nothing happens, is a sign that Sri Lankan politicians love the comfort zone in the end. Of course they dare take chances and they do their utmost to bring a regime crashing down, as long as it’s within their comfort zone and they don’t get too much of an adrenaline burst doing it. Into this scheme of things sometimes occasionally descends a Vellupillai Prabhakaran or a Wijeweera, and then it’s as if all hell has broken loose because these are the types that do not know what establishment means. But often in Sri Lanka, these types of people are beyond the pale, and even by the yardstick of a revolution, they do not pass muster.

So it is that we are a country of failed revolutions and grotesque insurgencies that most would only support at the point of a gun. The conscientious objectors in this country, the anti-establishment figures so called, are on perpetual holiday.

Once in a while they burst out in a blitz of energy, but then they are aching for better times — the status quo ante — where they could go back to being pillars of establishment protest. There is no establishment in a way that doesn’t love protesters of this sort. They are the mirror image of the establishment itself, and in a narcissistic way there is mutual admiration between the Sri Lankan establishment and anti- establishment.