Govt. is not democratic, it’s just weak

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Usually, it's, victory that makes people lose all sense of proportion. Throughout history armies/nations/individuals that get a few wins under their belt go on looking for bigger and badder opponents and sooner or later get massacred. Think of the Wehrmacht circa 1941 or Napoleon's Grande Armée in 1812.

But the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) government is an exception to the rule. It has zero wins under its belt and has been humbled by a whole bunch on non-entities who would have bent over backwards to carry out any whim of Mahinda Rajapaksa, however it keeps on trying to take on bigger and badder opponents. And this is ultimately going to end badly and a number of people who had taken a lot of risks to bring this government into power will suffer because of the lack of, what the French would say, élan and sangfroid of the UNFGG leaders.

Trying and failing

Last week provided two excellent examples of this. As I predicted the week before the government cucked out regarding the Dambulla cave temple, after religious leaders called off the government's bluff for the, I don't know, 27th time? However without sitting down to think what went wrong and why these embarrassments keep on happening, the government is trying to attempt to bring in a bunch of sailors for alleged abductions between 2008 and 2009. This is not the first time the UNFGG is attempting to prosecute military men and they have failed in all previous instances.

During discussions between government officials and the Buddhist clergy of the Asgiriya Chapter on the controversy surrounding the Dambulla cave temple it appears that those representing the government agreed to allow the chief incumbent of the temple to continue issuing tickets for foreign visitors.

The discussion between the two parties also saw the rolling back of earlier directives of the Archaeological Advisory Committee calling for the closing off of five caves of the temple until conservation activities of the paintings and wooden statues of the Dambulla Cave Temple are completed.

Considering that the main concerns of the government were the necessity to repair and conserve paintings and wooden statues of the Dambulla Cave Temple so that it is not removed from the UNESCO world heritage list and the necessity for the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) to reclaim the ticketing process for tourists, which brings in between 2 to 8 million rupees a day, it is safe to say that the government indeed has cucked out.

Moreover how this played out has all the symptoms of UNFGG government's action against a serious opponent. This is how the scenario usually plays out. The government picks up a fight with some serious people, faces resistance and then without putting up any fight or a show of force, it slinks back and pretends nothing embarrassing happened. The government can pretend as much as it wants but people are quick to note these things and after two and a half years in power the government has virtually zero credibility. In a country like Sri Lanka, where saving face amounts to everything, once you lose credibility you automatically lose authority, as I said last week, for the, again I don't know, 127th time, 'sections of the Buddhist clergy had been increasingly defiant of the government in recent months, after figuring out that there would be no pushback from the government and the government's reaction to this declaration clearly demonstrated that it is, to borrow a line from Mao, 'a paper tiger'. So expect to see similar incidents over and over again, in the coming months.'

Credibility matter

Credibility is of utmost importance to anyone who is serious about getting things done. People need to believe that once you make statement you will ensure that your promises come into reality. Entities who keep on making promises that it can't or won't keep will not be taken seriously by anyone and once you gain a reputation as a non-credible person no one is going to take you seriously and you are not going to gain allies. If you look at States and organizations that are taken seriously, for example Hezbollah, China or Russia, the commonality between them is that they have always kept their word. Putin, or Xi or Nasrallah do not bluster or brag, if anything they understate. It's the opposite in the case of UNFGG government or the Trump administration, they brag, they bluster and make big promises but deliver nothing.

The State's role

A lot of liberals believe that disagreement is part of the political process, that people who disagree profoundly with each other can live together and that there is nothing wrong with continuous debate. But as German jurist and political theorist Carl Schmitt observed 'parliamentary debate does end, and someone gets his way while someone else does not'. He adds that 'the State's job is to provide not the coffeehouse for the debate, but the threat of a beating to compel the loser to accept the result.' And as long as UNFGG, whose leadership consists for the most part liberals or former leftists, refuse to realize what the State's job is and that politics, is inherently brutal and non-consensual by its very nature, it will continue to lose face.

This is why I am highly sceptical, and even worried about the political implications, of the decision to arrest former Deputy Director of Operations of the Sri Lanka Navy and former Navy Spokesperson, Commodore D.K.P. Dassanayake and a few other sailors for the disappearance of 11 youths in the years 2008 and 2009.

Let's be honest, no one at this point believes that anything will come out of it. This case is going to be dragged for a while, the Sinhalese are going to get pissed off when they see sailors, who had seen action during Eelam War IV, being dragged around from Court to Court, then there is a big possibility that despite all the assurances that these men will be released by Courts and that's going to piss off the Tamils. If this goes according to form no one is going to benefit, except the extremists of all sides, and this is going to create more resentment across the ethnicities.

Rathindra holds an MSc on Strategic Studies from S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU, Singapore, and can be reached via
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