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Rajpal's Column

28th June 1998

Big fat successful political lies

By Rajpal Abeynayake

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Think about it, and there are two things about Sri Lankan politics that would strike one as queer. One is the thrill value of politics.

In other countries, sex sells, or crime sells. In Sri Lanka politics sells. That's why the newspapers are so full of it.

The other is the way this thrill is sustained. It's done by political speculation that would make bookies want to blush. It's a trade that has assumed proportions of a cottage industry. The papers specialise in it, but now it has been discovered by the political parties to boot.

So, politics itself thrives on speculation and the power of the thrill that is generated by wild , bizarre and common political conjecture. Okay, even if its not always wild and bizarre, conjecture keeps politics on the boil in this island.

The political parties have discovered another thing. Which is that this kind of conjecture is great. The theatre created by the speculation keeps the real issues in the background. The political parties revel on the discovery.

The tallest speculative story now going around is that Anura Bandaranaike will cross back to the PA. The safe bet is that this will never happen. But the speculation was such last week , that it was seen in many quarters as a fiat accompli. But more about that later. There is more bizarre reasoning, of much more import than the personal fate of Anura Priyadarshana Bandaranaike.

The real theatre at the current time is the cross talk that is being generated between the two main Sinhala political parties about the so called presidential elections that might come in November. This is a personal guess don't ask me why. But if it interests you one iota, , read on. Both parties do not really want elections of any sort now, for different reasons. The PA would rather not take the risk of having any election at all. The UNP is still in disarray, even though losing one more election would not make that much of a difference in the UNP equation.

That given, the UNP is not quite adamant about having the provincial council elections on time. Hence, the challenge to hold Presidential elections in November , after cancelling the PC elections which are due immediately.

If both parties want the PC elections postponed, so will it be. But, there is as much chance of a Presidential election being held in November, as there is of Chandrika Kumaratunga stepping down from the Executive Presidency and hoping to come back as Prime Minister.

If PC elections cannot be held now due to the war and the fact that attention has been drawn to this fact by the Mahanayake's will things improve to such a point in November that elections could be held for the Presidency then ? If the war is a reason to postpone puny PC elections, surely the war will be a reason to postpone the Presidential elections?

Already, much hoopla has been made about the fact that the government will keep to its promise if it accepts the challenge of the UNP. But, this promise too is dependent on variables such as the Mahanayake's, because what the Mahanayake's say at that point of time when the presidential elections are due will still be important.

In this fluid and evolving system of politics, rationalisations can be given to explain away promises given, at anytime, and not kept.

Take for example the fact that the government has not kept its promise to abolish the Executive Presidential system.

Expert rationalisations have been given at Cabinet briefing level for this colossal non event. Of course, it has been said that the PA cannot dislodge the presidency if the UNP is not behind it.

On the face of it, it is a rationalisation that will convince even the most sceptical folks. The fact is that most folks are not skeptical enough in the face of the new Sri Lankan political culture. They do not have the time to think beyond the mathematical rationalisations that appear in the papers. They are too busy being ordinary people, and their attention spans are too limited like they are in most ordinary folks.

If political promises were meant to be kept, the PA would not have tied the dislodging of the Presidency to the package. The value of specious reasoning is that it can fool almost all the people, all the time.

But, government spin doctors have it that the Executive Presidency cannot be abolished because the UNP is not voting with the governments proposed new constitutional package. Who tied abolishing the Presidency to a major constitutional change that involves creating politically autonomous regional councils? The government did!

And now, who says that the Presidency cannot be abolished because the UNP is not voting for the proposed constitutional changes? The government says so, not you, me, Tom, Dick Harry or Peiris. Except that Peiris.

But, you'd be surprised at the amount of NGO qualified political pundits who would now agree with the rationalisation that the government cannot keep to its promise of abandoning the Presidency because the UNP is not voting with the government. It is a shrewd political explanation, that has acquired currency with time. It is a rationalisation that has been repeated often enough and not been challenged by intellectuals. Therefore, it is a lie that has now, politically speaking, become the truth.


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