“A very British coup” is a TV film by Mick Jackson based on a novel by Chris Mullin. It is about what happens when Harry Perkins, a third-generation socialist from a working class and trade unionist background, referred to as a communist by his detractors, is elected Britain’s Prime Minister. He argues for nuclear disarmament and open government. US interests combine with the old boys’ network to try and defeat Perkins with spies, tabloids and tapes; in other words all the ingredients that would make for a very British coup.
In the end, instead of resigning, as expected by the establishment, Perkins comes on television to announce that he is dissolving parliament. He admits without any hesitation that yes, he did have an affair with a woman, that was short and memorable but that he believes that the people should decide who should rule them, someone who is upfront about what he wants for the people or those who would pull all kinds of strings and engage in back-door deals to retain their hold on people’s lives and futures. In the final scene, Perkins is shown getting ready to go out and cast his vote, chirpy to the extreme. The result is left for the viewer to imagine.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is not a Harry Perkins, although there are certain similarities. What is pertinent about the film script is the challenge Perkins throws at his people. The relevance comes in the form of various external moves ostensibly seeking ‘truth’ about the military offensive against terrorism, viz the machinations that seek a mandate to investigate alleged ‘war crimes’, quite in contravention of the UN Charter and clearly prompted by malice. The report so biased, so full of conjecture dressed up as fact, so intellectually dishonest, so morally reprehensible, so full of contradictions, so replete with ridiculous extrapolations and insane exaggerations and so dependent on the claims made by highly unreliable sources that ‘truth’ and ‘reconciliation’ appear to have only rhetorical value and nothing more.
Kalana Senaratne (‘Revisiting accountability’ in ‘The Island’) and Bernard Goonetilleke (interview with www.asiantribune.com) have clearly pointed out the illegality, malice and limitations of both the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon.
The US Ambassador, Patricia Butenis recently hosted a party, inviting several key apologists for the LTTE bearing unconcealed hatred for the regime and with a considerable curriculum vitae in matters pertaining to regime-change attempts as well as efforts to whitewash the LTTE of crimes against humanity and of course to save the top leadership in the final days of the conflict. The agenda was simple: how to use the above ‘report’ to extract an outcome in Sri Lanka they can cheer about. No mention at all of the obvious problems of the report (as outlined above). It all points to malice and worse, the likelihood that the said document was either authored by these individuals under Butenis’ supervision (Wikileaks has revealed how the lady desperately tried to get Tamil politicians to demand an international investigation) or that the entire group (headed/facilitated by Butenis) comprise the main sources for the report.
All this adds up to two significant threats to democracy in Sri Lanka. First of all, even if Mahinda Rajapaksa was the worst tyrant to ever walk this beautiful land, he needs to be removed by the people of Sri Lanka for the wellbeing of the nation, not by any external power and certainly not to serve their ends, be it strategic, economic or political interests or pure, to exact revenge for having had preferred outcome in the conflict thwarted or to boost egos. Knowing well that it is a long road from here to the Haig and one with many ifs and buts to contend with, knowing well that a ‘Libya’ will be secured in Sri Lanka only with the greatest difficulty, these moves clearly seek to destabilize the country. Image-tarnish can impact economy, as would sanctions. The hope, probably, is that these will generate and boost dissent, cut into regime-popularity, pick up the opposition etc., and eventually effect political transformation.
This is an error. Sri Lanka does not have oil (as far as we can tell). Sri Lanka elects and elects-out leaders regularly or has the opportunity to do so. For all the flaws of Sri Lanka’s democracy, few will say that by and large the will of the people has not prevailed. The opposition is extremely weak, not on account of repression, but its own errors, manifest buttressing of the LTTE, directly and indirectly at critical times and a marked and scandalous readiness to go along with the political machinations designed by people like Butenis and of course her predecessor Robert O Blake. These are not booming times but no one is starving or suffering deprivations that might provoke food riots.
This gives rise to the second threat to democracy. The obvious and unadulterated malice on the part of these external actors and their principal local lackeys, all known to be pro-LTTE or virulently anti-Sinhala and anti-Buddhist not to mention engaged in all kinds of shady financial deals, rather than weakening the regime (as envisaged) in fact strengthens Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Government. Ousting Rajapaksa on account of failing to deliver on things such as transparency and accountability would be considered, rightly I believe, of secondary import to the need to block such meddling, interventionist moves.
All this is severely eroding the space to exercise citizenship. Ki-moon, Pillai, Butenis, Susan Rice and others, will not lose any sleep over these matters. They have and will turn a blind eye to the crimes against humanity perpetrated by friends, will cheer military juntas, dictators and cruel monarchs as long as they happen to be on the right side of the political divide. Sri Lanka can hang, along with or without Mahinda Rajapaksa for all they care.
The question is, do we care? They can live with Sri Lanka slipping into anarchy. Can we, though?
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at
Politicians never fail to seize such opportunities. They will say ‘country’ when in fact they are aware that ‘saving country’ includes ‘saving self’. It only erases the political space to talk about good governance, accountability and transparency, not to mention the horrendous flaws of the overall system that cloud proper and meaningful representation. People can and very well might rally around the President simply because they would feel that he alone is best equipped to ensure that we have a country with some semblance of sovereignty. They would feel that the alternative is slavery to foreign agenda and loss of nation. Without nation, they might conclude, the whole gamut of issues pertaining to democracy (such as representation, accountability, transparency etc.) makes absolutely no sense.