Friday, 9 June 2017
When troubles come, they come not single spies but in battalions. And these days, the woes of the State as well as those of the Government are legion. Two months ago, the tragic collapse of that colossal trash-heap let loose a stink about the way this and successive previous administrations have mismanaged garbage disposal – much to the dismay of petty politicos who’d rather not have their electorates know how laws are made, or domestic dirt-bags disposed of.
Then, a deluge, in the wake of which the flotsam- and jetsam-approach of ministries and departments mandated to safeguard public health and wellbeing were shown up for the third year running to be sorry travesties of what they could or should be – if we’re serious about ourselves as a modern nation-state and not some monsoon-swamped boondocks.
Quite rightly, public ire has focused on an absentee minister for the number of preventable deaths his ministry’s negligence or carelessness caused. Nothing changes. Certainly not the entrenched political culture and calcified values of a blasé ethos! So the mandarin stays put – in situ, in office, in clover – while his wards and charges went to watery graves. Aprés moi, le deluge?
In the limit, Government is looking increasingly like a right bunch of tits who know less and less about more and more. An unnecessary cabinet reshuffle. A kerfuffle over ministers missing in action and premiers pointedly pursuing their own life and liberty. The deferment of that obnoxious tax-burden – the supplementary estimate – as if to highlight how noble our self-sacrificing legislators who prop up Government are, to have postponed their cupidity – super-luxury cars at the taxpayers’ expense – to visit sick and dying electorates!
To add insult to injury, the devastating revelations in this very newspaper – that when it comes to managing the Treasury with the requisite accountability and transparency, there is little to separate one regime from another regimen. A Monstrous Regiment of Mismanagement in the Republic just about sums up the sentiments of thoroughly fed up citizens. Was it ever thus?
Somewhere between the hope that things would change for the better sooner than later, and the reality that the more some things change the more they remain the same, fell that shadow. Somewhere extant between the crushing blow of realpolitik that laid low the hopes of a far more glorious democratic-republicanism, and the bellows whereby conscientious defenders of the faith keeping fanning the flame of preserving with our worthwhile project, rises a new hope.
Despite there being much to be said on both sides, and despite much being said and done, damnably little has been done and been seen to be done to restore public confidence in a short- to medium-term project (‘Rescue Sri Lanka’) that originated with a people’s mandate – and, for a while at least, looked like it was gaining traction as a movement that would leave behind a monument to those who sought their fame courtesy its name.
Even though it has been manifest that a bickering opposition and opprobrious bureaucracy have stymied much of our present governors’ good intentions to restore the rule OF law and order (as opposed to rule THROUGH law and order and some designed chaos) there is some justification – one dares essay – to the carping and cavilling that goes on in café- and civil-societies. Especially (as the coffee klatsch republic of Facebook and cocktail circuit claques that clique and tweet together on Twitter and other social media feel) – not to put too fine a point on it in the aftermath of marauding floods and Finance Ministry fiascoes – that “wedak naehae”, “okkoma ekai” , “okkoma horu”, “okkoma boru”…
Egregious ennui and disgruntlement – and more’s the pity… because by now, the tide of discontent (and imbroglios and impasses) should have turned; and we should be past the rapids which beset new administrations mid-term, mid-flow, mid-stream, where the horses cannot be changed.
Move on – or
Could it be the case that parts of the ‘political process theory’ provide insights into why Good Governance has demonstrably failed in many respects– or, at least, is arguably failing in some vital spheres? (This theory, familiar to political scholars, scrutinises the worldviews, situations, and doings, which make a social movement influential, successful, paradigm-changing.)
There is little if any doubt that an unprecedented political opportunity for change presented itself in the starry-eyed decision of a past president to prematurely call for elections. The sociopolitical movement that subsequently sprang up to try and achieve a sea-change in the ethos of national governance began well enough, with broad swathes of support across several crucial demographics. But has since seemed to run out of steam such that its lack of staying power portends a return of the egregious regime that preceded this coalition’s promising politics…
Perhaps, in the national interest, key stakeholders in the movement loosely known and now increasingly lacklustrely referred to as Good Governance would do well to ask why the desired and demanded changes to existing political structures and processes have not happened in quite the way supporters expectantly hoped or the movement’s opposition anxiously anticipated it would. In today’s column, your writer attempts to superimpose the five pillars of Political Process Theory on the sociopolitical movement that is or was Good Governance to determine its success or failure.
Good Governance’s most important political opportunity presented itself not by its own design, but by default. The fault lay in the stars, and the stars were faulty – or rather, the stargazer who convinced a president to compromise himself with premature elections was to be faulted at least in part.
The success of the ensuing social movement – an opportunistic one, in the more salutary sense of the word – was made possible because of this chink in the armour of a politico-military-constitutional juggernaut. That thinkers and planners exploited the vulnerability in the monolith’s machinery is to their credit. And to the great relief of a burdened civil society conscientised enough to feel the tyranny setting in, the movers and shakers themselves were shaken and removed from office.
The previous regime had long postponed facing up to a growing crisis of its legitimacy wherein the civilised general populace (discounting the rabble roused by rhetoric and the hoi polloi hankering for kos polos) no longer supported the political, social, and economic milieu. A coalition of pragmatic opportunism was driven to broaden the political enfranchisement of those denied it and those previously excluded (like minorities and dissidents). And try through legal and constitutional reforms to dismantle the repressive, oppressive, suppressive structures that prevented the people from demanding change or expressing dissent.
In the early stages of its march towards a reformed nation-state, other organisations – political, social, cultural – were on the side of the angels, so to speak. Present among members of the community who wanted – no, demanded – change, were venerable monks and veritable mandarins among business chambers as well as professionals in state and private service as much as academics across a broad spectrum. These mini and minor movements in their own right served as mobilising structures for the growing social movement by providing membership, thought-leadership, discipleship to encourage those generals (like the current President who would be in the firing line if the best laid plans ganged aft agley), and fellowship to the foot soldiers of the revolution: the rank and file of voters notwithstanding.
Those civil society groups, community movements, and sundry organisations seem to have vanished into thin air these days… Show me someone who still champions the cause of ‘Good Governance’ as loudly and as lustily as they did in the heady times when “bliss it was that dawn to be alive, to be youthfully energised was very heaven” – and I will show you a structure that has cracked and crumbled, and a soldiery that has been sadly demobilised and lies dead or demotivated, but for a stubborn or persistent few in the ranks of Tuscany (Harsha, Eran, Ranil, might no longer quite figure in this pantheon?).
According to Political Process Theory, ‘framing processes’ are “carried out by leaders of an organisation in order to allow the group or movement to clearly and persuasively describe the existing problems, articulate why change is necessary, what changes are desired, and how one can go about achieving them”. This our sociopolitical movement did well before it secured political power, less well once in office, and maybe not at all and certainly far from frequently and forcefully enough now that its popularity is on the wane. Where once “Good Governance’s” ‘framing processes’ served to foster ideological stakeholdership among the movement’s members and admirers, these have fallen by the wayside.
External pressure from a ridiculously transparent Joint Opposition playing politics with the longest suit of self-interest and its jokers stonewalling reform most stubbornly has not helped – true… But it is not so much recalcitrant legislators and their lackeys militating in favour of a return of the Rajapaksas-as-rajahs status quo which has hamstrung the movement formerly known as Good Governance. Rather, even its most strident advocates’ “conscious strategic efforts … to fashion shared understandings … that legitimate and motivate collective action” ring hollow in the ears of its strongest supporters because of the depths to which realpolitik has lowered the standards of the previously sea-green incorruptible stalwarts whose integrity was guaranteed.
Today, it is almost taken for granted that power tends to corrupt, and moderate power corrupts miserably. It is the bane of moderate democratic-republicanism held hostage by pragmatic politics and men of principle captive to personal ambitions of a power-hungry statesman whom they will nobly not critically engage – let alone criticise – even in private.
While protest cycles are an important feature consolidating the rise of a particular sociopolitical movement, the boot is on the other foot today. All the protests, strikes, trade-union action, demonstrations, are against – never for, as before its ascendancy to power – the values of this coalition and its lamentably renegade villainy, as the masses see them or it. True enough, these fickle mobs are goaded by the grim reapers of chaos and anarchy behind the scenes, orchestrating a possible putsch. But the prolonged opposition to the prevailing political winds and the passionate intensity of the protestors have left the republic in a heightened state of stress and tension. So much so that the war-winning jackboot of a retired general was marshalled in the field against the more vociferous of these disturbers of the peace!
Granted: in the kind of democracy we all (well, some) craved, these destabilising activities are par for the course and therefore must be endured – as mob-idiocy cannot be cured even the Rathupaswala-Katunayake-FTZ-Chilaw-fishermen-shooting way. However, the ideological frames connected to Good Governance’s framing process have been shattered – and we see through a glass darkly the end that is almost inevitable. So, the present spate of protests serves not to “strengthen solidarity within the movement” or to “raise awareness among the general public about the issues targeted by the movement” – but to highlight how unpopular (and therefore how useless, in utilitarian thinking) such novelties and niceties are. No new members are being recruited to the cause – Great is the pity… It was a good idea as far as ideas go, but as ideas go it went… To the dustbin of history, maybe, as perhaps time will tell soon enough.
Last but by no means least is ‘contentious repertoires’: the means through which the movement makes and stakes its claims. Leave aside the landmark reforms for a moment – if that is safe enough to do under the rule of men entirely great where the pen is mightier than the sharp poky instrument shoved through gadfly editors’ mind-works – and what are you left with? Lamentably little by way of a lasting change to the always prevailing milieu! Laggards in the law and lackadaisical lackeys are still laughing all the way to their electorates – en route an unnumbered account in an anonymous overseas banking and financial institution. Leaving a few good men and women true to hold the fort and defend an increasingly indefensible idea.
Looking to the end, it seems the means are too mediocre to assure anyone that the reformist agenda can thrive. Looks like it can only hope to survive in a few stout hearts and cool clear minds, until a phoenix-like resurrection may be possible under a new dispensation that is not strapped by coalition pragmatism – and more importantly, perhaps, has cleansed its own house of the odour that august assemblies as much as Augean stables give when the horse has not bolted, and the Trojans were ransacking the Treasury until very recently.