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Land of unholy political matrimony 

The pernicious perversion of party policies for personality politics is the pervasive principle of political posterity. In Sri Lanka. 

Last week, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his immediate predecessor, incumbent Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) coalition Government Parliamentarian and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Chairman Maithripala Sirisena, exchanged veiled threats on different platforms, albeit not directly at each other, but which nonetheless have the effect of boomeranging on the duo. 

A troubled Rajapaksa, speaking at the opening of a bridge, citing past precedent, took the opportunity to remind his predecessor that the option of taking action against those in the Sirisena led former Government – including specifically Sirisena, the then-Prime Minister who is a current Opposition MP, and the Cabinet of Ministers at the time, who have been clearly implicated, according to Rajapaksa, in the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry that probed into the corpus delicti of the Easter Sunday terror attacks of 21 April 2019, including due to their negligence of related responsibilities, which were deemed tantamount to the failure to prevent the said bombings despite ample prior forewarnings – through an Act of Parliament, is available, if expeditiousness of the ongoing judicial process into the matter and the revocation of the rights of those responsible, is required. He noted that if that was what was wanted, they were prepared to make good on such delivery as they had the power to do so, possessing a two-thirds majority. 

Not one known to take the high road on such matters, speaking in the Parliament in response to various allegations leveled against him by a Minister, Sirisena reminded the ruling SLPP-led Government of which he is a part of, that the two thirds Parliamentary majority it enjoys is entirely owing to the SLFP’s Parliamentary group of 14 MPs led by him, and that to therefore be mindful of such when taking potshots at him and their group, as all post-Independence Governments had collapsed in part due to losing the support of key coalition partners due to intra-Government internecine conflicts along the eventual way of all such political flesh. Hence, Sirisena called on those to whom his statement was addressed to, to think deeply, in a complex fashion, intelligently, in an enlightened manner, and with erudition regarding the two-thirds majority that they so mightily speak of. 

Another factor compounding Sirisena’s “don’t attack us who are also a part of the Government under the very same Leader (a reference to Rajapaksa) whose image Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage is attempting to shore up” situation is the fact that the Sirisena-led SLFP has, since Rajapaksa’s ascendency to power, for the most part, with only a few exceptions, been politically ostracised by the SLPP, both at the national and grassroots Local Government level, with Sirisena in particular being given the cold shoulder by being deliberately excluded from any position of power befitting an ex-President. Yet by the same token, as openly noted by Rajapaksa – whose words uttered on the day chose however to err on the side of the Government having faith and trust reposed in the judicial branch of Government when it came to the matter of taking action in connection with the Easter Sunday massacre and the Government thereby purportedly adopting a policy of non-interference in the judicial process – is the very fact that it is the incumbent administration that is providing a safe haven to Sirisena with regard to Easter culpability. “Therefore, be careful what you wish for,” were Rajapaksa’s very words. 

Together, these words spoken and their meanings unsaid, assemble the exquisite corpse (the game) of that yet-to-be-composed requiem on the meting out of justice to the 260-odd Easter dead and the associated living dead. 

Aside to the vainglorious braggadocio and fragile egos that belie such political chest-beating, and taking into note the fact that there are only very few post-Independence Governments that have been formed without colluding with other parties, one way or another, there is the question as to the basis on which parties, in particular political parties, with seemingly disparate, or for that matter exceedingly consonant, policies and ideological persuasions, align themselves, to achieve homogeneity. There are obvious answers. They range from simple necessity in order to establish political power and a corresponding need to ensure political survival and gain – which is incidentally also synonymous with personal survival and gain – to a loftier, yet most often than not, ultimately misguided, attempt to work together towards a shared common agenda or set of objectives. There is also another equally obvious answer that has an almost Arendtian ring of the banality to it – that is the ready sacrifice of any political policies and political principles held by individual political parties (and which form their political identity), untethered as they are from any notions of policies based on values and the principle of integrity, in the face of changing political climes and fortunes, at the altar of democracy. 

If democracy, among its mélange of shape shifting iterations, is also a form of governance, is the form of governance a version of democracy? If this is the case, the bedrock of all that is allegedly democratic in terms of the representative democracy aspect of things, rests on the nadir of a particracy – denoting a de facto machine of Government, monopolising power through forming, as present and past regimes have shown, multi-party strategic alliances, which when rent from uncompromising ideological or other differences, translates into the ultimate Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. In that sense, Sri Lanka has essentially been in the grips of a mono-party State, where every party claiming to represent the people has had less affinity with the public interest and some affinity to each others’ interest. To paraphrase former UK Premier Henry John Temple in an address to the House of Commons, there are “no eternal allies”, “no perpetual enemies”, only “eternal and perpetual” “interests”, the pursuit of which “is our duty”. It just so happens that much to the nation’s chagrin, these “interests” of political parties and their leaders and those vying for the same, are rarely in the public’s best “interests”. The operative rule of thumb should therefore be, as noted by American political sociologist L.J. Diamond: “In a democracy, one group does not always win everything it wants. Different combinations of groups win on different issues. Over time, everyone wins something.” 

The pernicious perversion of party policies for personality politics is the pervasive principle of political posterity. This however should never be the case. Instead, let us offer its inverse as a model or perhaps, tool – the conspicuous conversion of personality politics within and into the confines of party policies is the perspicacious principle of political prosperity. Simply put, the more a political party is internally aligned in terms of the bond forged together between the polarities of personalities and the intricacies of policies and vice versa, and their confluence with the shared values of common denomination and the principia of ethics, the more it is aligned with its purpose itself, and thus less prone to lose its essence should any politics-based requirement of transference or transmutation of a political kind, including the formation of political alliances such as coalition Governments, occur. Of course, it is wishful thinking on the part of those susceptible to political abstraction and the desiderata of pragmatic theorising that these policies of political parties have a basis in democratic values and that their implementation is in keeping with the principle of integrity. This, however, should be the case.