Sieg Heil, Satty!

by Sunday Leader editorial, January 23, 2005

Speaking at Hambantota last Wednesday, President Chandrika Kumaratunga [whose nickname is 'Satellite'], as she has done so often before, proved The Sunday Leader spot on target once again.  There will be no elections for five more years, she said, knowing full well that her six-year term is billed to end November next.  Tsunami or no tsunami, Kumaratunga is widely expected to leave no stone unturned in seeking a constitutional amendment to facilitate her continued existence in politics.  Faced with a constitutional impasse, Kumaratunga has been widely predicted to seek extra-constitutional means of remaining in office.  Few however, had expected her, like her mother before her, simply to call off elections and sit tight regardless of procedural nicety.

It is a moot point as to whether or not it is in Kumaratunga's fiat to decide whether or not to have elections. The presidential election follows automatically at the completion of the term of office of the President, and this is therefore a matter entirely for the Elections Commissioner. The President may, of course, call elections early, but it is not given to her to call them late. Kumaratunga however, as evinced by her second surreptitious swearing-in, has demonstrated to everyone's satisfaction that she has no intention of quitting office unassisted. When in power, the Bandaranaikes are like limpets, not easily dislodged.

While many would laugh away her statement as yet another bit of balderdash from this master of the art - Chief Justice Sarath Silva put it in a nutshell when he said of her, "katé brake nehe" - few would put it beyond Kumaratunga to have a more sinister agenda in mind. Although it was a tragedy for the 38,000 people who perished, and for their families, for Kumaratunga, the tsunami has been a major inconvenience. After all, with all this turmoil in hand, is she to rush into a referendum, at the cost of Rs. 700 million just to legitimise keeping her own seat warm? As for all the cute talk she gives us about not wanting to engage in divisive politics - her stock in trade - the mind boggles at how a referendum could keep the country from being anything but divided.

Kumaratunga's speech at Hambantota last week was a scream from start to finish. Even as the world's donors were meeting in Paris to plan a moratorium on Sri Lanka's debt, it seems that Kumaratunga had been busying herself plotting a moratorium on Sri Lanka's democracy. And she did not stop at that. Adding to the bizarre explanation of the tsunami by the leaders of some faiths as a punishment sent by God, the President had her own two cents' worth to add. It was, she said, a punishment sent by nature to chastise the leaders of the country for failing to use natural resources wisely. The leaders - whoever they are - have, it seems, done wrong. Therefore, 38,000 people had to die, and another million rendered homeless, so as to teach the country a lesson. That, at any rate, is Kumaratunga's perverted logic.

How she had the brass to utter such tripe to the homeless of Hambantota and escape having stones, or at least a tomato thrown at her defies imagination. As often as she has bad mouthed J. R. Jayewardene for his disgraceful inaction in the early days of the July 1983 riots, one cannot picture Jayewardene going before the Tamil people in August and telling them that their plight was a punishment from God, nature or anything else. You have to be sick in the head to do that. We might well say then, that Vijaya Kumaratunga's assassination was a punishment sent by fate to teach young Yasodara and Vimukthi a lesson. Is that the message our worthy leader has for the grieving parents who lost their children in this tragedy?

Besides, is it not ironic that the poor and the innocent should be punished for the inequities of the rich and the powerful? After all, the misuse of natural resources is something that is in the domain of politicians, not the impoverished souls who eke out a living on the south-eastern littoral. If anyone should be punished, it is the politicians. Yet, not even a provincial councillor was killed in the tsunami: for the most part, those affected represent those who earn less than the national per capita GNP of two-and-a-half US dollars a day - the poorest of the poor. The people who ought to have been punished were far away in London, living it up with their brood, despite being warned by their own Daily News that tragedy was imminent.

Indeed, the Daily News, ever anxious to hang on Kumaratunga's every word, chose judiciously to expunge her more tasteless remarks, sanitising much of the rest. The censors of the kept press had done their snipping, desperately engaged in damage control after the President had shot her mouth yet again. Ironic it is that Kumaratunga has become an embarrassment even to her own party.

Since the tsunami, one after another of the world's leaders have come here to see for themselves the damage and pledge their support. So much has the spontaneous outpouring of support been that the rupee actually revalued significantly against international currencies for the first time ever. Now, in desperate haste, plans are being drawn up to help translate international goodwill into dollars. Sri Lanka is constrained to be on its best behaviour - a beggar with a pathetic face - so as to entice the world to cast pennies into our pot. And how does our worthy President meet that challenge? By announcing a moratorium on democracy and by appointing her pals and cronies to head the relief effort, bypassing all transparent channels open to her.

Not surprisingly, many donors have downright refused to contribute a penny to the fund she herself started, as damning an indictment of the degree of honesty in her administration as there could possibly be. And last week, Kumaratunga herself proved them right by sending her Army Commander off to Iran with US$ 150 million in hand, to buy arms. Quite apart from whether Sri Lanka needs weapons or not in this hour of crisis, surely her timing has been impeccable? The Paris Club meets to forgive Sri Lanka's debt so the government can rebuild the lives of those afflicted by the tsunami, and the very next day the government goes off on a weapons buying spree.

The donor community would be well warned to bear in mind that the people of Sri Lanka are watching them closely. How many cents in every dollar they give for relief and rehabilitation will reach the pockets of the homeless and the jobless? How many will go into arms to help prop up a regime that has already announced the suspension of democracy? Our own Mrs. Hitler has torn off her whiskers and announced for all to hear that she intends to hang in there - for the good and benefit of the nation, of course - for another five years. Brace yourselves then, for another five years of Mrs. Debacle. Whatever the tsunami was, almost everyone is agreed that she has been the ultimate punishment for Sri Lanka. Prepare then, for the despot of despots. Practice the Nazi salute (at the same time bringing your heels together with a sharp click), in front of the mirror if necessary, and learn the new greeting of our land: Sieg Heil, Satty.

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Posted January 25, 2005