Jawaharlal Nehru wrote thus: ‘Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will’. if one examines how each of these players, Maithripala Sirisena, the President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, former President and 50-day Prime Minister (PM) and Ranil Wickremesinghe the current PM, at least on the surface, look more like jokers who did not know when to play and when to quit, except perhaps Ranil Wickremesinghe who chose to wait it out allowing the others to continue to play their suicidal game. Barefaced violation of a country’s constitution is no game of cards.
- Instead of Ace, he decided to play a joker and thereby became a joker himself
- Ranil,without showing his cards displayed a grim countenance
Yet, when her current and former Chief Executives have opted to indulge in such unabashed acts of defilement, one is always prompted to find metaphors to describe the bizarre situation that results from such violations and corruption. And if one parallels what was enacted on October 26, 2018 to a cruel game of cards, one is seldom detracted from the fact that history abounds with some unmistakable precedents of numerous incidents wherein ruling clans had resorted to unsavoury deals and conspiracies in order to lengthen and strengthen their tenure in the throne. Whether when Ceylon was ruled by Kings and Queens or during the 500 years of subjugation by colonial powers or even after so-called Independence in 1948 as a sovereign nation up to the present time, the pages of history tell us how and why our rulers resorted to such brutish alternative means of usurping political power. But history is useless unless one chooses to learn from it.
History apparently has not taught our leaders anything. Anyway that history is dead. But today we are experiencing some events which are palpably unusual, yet when our own history tells us that such unusual events had occurred in our past, then only do we learn that we have failed to learn, period. Rarely do I quote Marx, yet in this instance, am compelled to be reminded of one of his famous quotes: ‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce’. The political farce that was played out before a docile public during the infamous fifty days was indeed a tragicomedy enacted by our leaders. Some displayed incredible stupidity in their total lack of understanding of constitutional confines within which an Executive has to exercise his powers. Having been elected to office on a platform of accountability and transparency, been voted in by an angry public who were disenchanted with the previous regime’s lack of the same in addition to a definitive tramp towards an autocratic family-rule, he decided to unclothe himself of that ‘Yahapalanaya’ garb. In the game of political cards, he, instead of playing his Ace, decided to play a joke and thereby became a joker himself.
Come MR, being assured by some political vagrants that he could muster the required 113 in the Legislature, by hook or by crook, by offers of money and portfolios, by cajoling and corruption, the first joker, the Executive, took the extraordinary step of swearing him in as Prime Minister of the country. He must have guessed that it’s another perch of land in the historic dry zone city he (mis)represented.
When the other joker, MR stepped into the arena, all the vile and avaricious character that was kept under control was unleashed inside the most sacred of the House of the People’s Will, Parliament, by MR’s own loyal disciples. Entangled in the web of greed woven by MR himself over the past two and half decades, these unruly and uncouth loyalists made a total mockery of parliamentary traditions so closely followed and held aloft by its founders and MR’s predecessors. The second Joker opted to disregard the ostensible desecration of our values that has been passed down by our parents to their children. Any semblance of decency and decorum was the obvious victim.
MR, the second Joker did not have any other card to play. Having discovered to his immense grief that he did not have the required 113, he had allegedly instructed his loyalists to prevent a vote being taken in parliament. They failed. In their attempt to prevent the vote inside parliament, they let themselves loose to the astonishment of all who watched the proceedings in earnest and showed what animals they could become in the face of certain defeat. It was in this act of uncontrolled conduct of vandalism that they exhibited their intolerance of justice and fair-play; it was in this frenzied behaviour they unfolded the hidden side of their demented character(s).
For these loyalists, defeat was no option. Having sucked out the flesh and blood of our economy during the 2005 – 2014 period and being seriously alleged before the courts of law in the country, they saw no way out other than grabbing power by whatever means and allowing the court cases to vanish with no trace left behind. Well, it was not to be. As American science-fiction writer, Robert A.Heinlein wrote: ‘Never underestimate the power of human stupidity’. The Rajapaksas were not only corrupt and autocratic; in fact they were also stupid. For them to risk and gamble their political capital they built on the successful conclusion of a 30-year war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) is plain stupid. What demon possessed them in the period from October 26 to December 16, 2018, one may never know. But the sheer sense of insensibility is colossal. At least in the short run, it may cost them dearly, not only for MR, but also for any other member of that family. Who destroyed whom, whether it was Maithri did unto MR or vice versa, one might never find out, for eventually both suffered irrevocable damage to their standing in society, their dubious incongruity in political principles and most of all their very core of character.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, the other card in this game might not be a Joker, yet the Cabinet he proposed in the wake of the melodrama played out in the open gives more than an indication that he too has hardly learnt anything beyond the fact that he could certainly withstand the stupidity of the other two Jokers. Whatever one might accuse Ranil of, one cannot say he is stupid; insensible and insensitive to the masses, may be; but stupid, no. When Maithri and MR were behaving as if there was no tomorrow, Ranil played a waiting game to its exquisite end. What baffled everyone’s mind during this crisis was how and why Maithri and MR engaged in a sequence of events, which they presumably thought was not ultimately consequential of the original decisions they entered into. That tells of an untrained and inexperienced mind. Being veteran politicians, both Maithri and MR displayed a remarkable lack of strategic thinking, a hurried and consequentially faltering execution and a stupendous absence of patience.
Ranil, on the contrary, played somewhat a strategic game, without showing his cards and displaying a grim countenance, which he usually has irrespective of the circumstances. In this political poker game played out from October 26 to December 16, 2018, Ranil was no Joker, nor was he an Ace. American novelist cum journalist said:“Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well”. Ranil did not have a good hand; the President was opposed to him; MR was with the Opposition; but he knew that the Speaker and the Supreme Court were waiting on the threshold of some momentous decisions and they, the Speaker and the Supreme Court, were the Aces, as trumps, so to speak. Ranil gambled and played his cards like a seasoned gambler. The false notion of ‘the people are with us’ enunciated and repeated with Goebbels-like Mantra by the Rajapaksas was proven wrong. The people at large- not the fringe elements on both sides- were docile and unmoved. They too waited patiently and with an extraordinary sense of balance when, come December 16, exhaled an audible sigh of relief.
The Aces that were the Speaker and the Supreme Court combined to trump the stupid and the avaricious. Once again it was proven beyond any shadow of doubt that lack of basic understanding of our Constitution and the laws and regulations that flow from it is more than a must when governing our Democratic Socialist Republic. Governing the whole nation with divided power as the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary is no joke.It’s not over a limited land mass that contains within it just a couple of thousand inhabitants and one or two village tanks and townships. R. Premadasa, the President elected from the UNP in 1988 had no university degree; by conventional standards, Premadasa was an uneducated politician who came to power through the power of the UNP. The truth is far from it. Though Premadasa had no formal education, he was a tremendously focused man whose attention to details of governance was bettered only by JRJayewardene.Premadasa Exceptionalism, which has not cascaded down to his son, at least yet, was a working, living organism. It has not manifested itself yet and is tragically unlikely that it would.