leaders don’t rule, they reign
Last week when we wrote about the fall from grace of two of the
western world’s powerful leaders, we hardly anticipated having
even more compelling proof of this so soon.
George Bush and Tony Blair both suffered defeats last week that
have eroded still more of their power and influence over their parties
and the people.
A series of election reversals across the United States must surely
have signalled the gathering gloom and doom for the Republican Party
that thought it was sitting pretty after George Bush won a second
term presidential election.
Two opposition Democratic Party governors won in New Jersey and
Virginia by surprisingly large majorities.
In California former film star strongman Arnold Schwarzenegger suffered
a body blow when his attempt to reform the state’s government
was rejected, the first time he has faced political defeat.
Things were much worse here in Britain as Tony Blair went down by
a 31 vote majority when Labour Party rebels threw out one key proposal
of his anti-terrorism legislation.
Against the advice of his Home Secretary, the Attorney-General and
the party whips, Blair staked his personal authority to push for
a 90-day detention without charges for terrorism suspects.
This is the first parliamentary defeat he has suffered on such a
key issue since coming to power in 1997. Many observers thought
that the vote would be close and that if Blair lost it would be
by a slender majority.
scale of the defeat surprised almost everybody and so last Wednesday
might well turn out to be the day when analysts begin to start writing
finis to the Blair leadership though doubtless he will try desperately
to cling on to what little authority he still has.
The knives surely are being sharpened and like Julius Caesar he
will not quite know when the blows will fall, though again like
Caesar, he cannot say he was not warned.
What all this tells us is that political popularity is a fickle
thing and leaders who believe that their honeymoons with public
and party are permanent arrangements might well pay heed to what
lawyers call constructive malicious desertion.
In the midst of a presidential election campaign in which, according
my informants in Sri Lanka, public mood is changing like the swing
of a pendulum, not many people are likely to be interested in the
fading political fortunes of two western leaders who jointly misled
their respective people and took their countries to war.
The presidential candidates and their faithful flag bearers are
probably too busy wondering what the future holds for them to care
about what soon-to-be-gone president Chandrika Kumaratunga recently
called, a “red cent”. She said she will not be taking
home a red cent when she leaves the presidential abode.
I believe her of course. Could anybody tell me when he or she last
saw a red cent? Perhaps we are being premature in saying what we
are trying to say here. Perhaps it is better said after the election
when the gathered herds of classmates, cronies, businessmen who
switch political sides more often that a windshield wiper, immediate
family, distant cousins, poster pasters and sundry hangers on have
gorged themselves on buriyani and roast chicken (at state expense
naturally) and are preparing to share the spoils of office and state
Expecting a president in the first flush of victory to read newspapers
except to admire his own visage and wallow in the plaudits of media
pundits -- free or otherwise -- jockeying for positions in a new
dispensation would indeed be a gratuitous hope.The days of a Ranasinghe
Premadasa who as a minister, prime minister and president read newspapers
with microscopic care and promptly acted on them are long gone.
In recent times lowly newsreaders and others on the periphery of
the media world have been elevated to lofty positions even faster
than a lieutenant from the volunteer force turning general with
the wave of a magic wand.
But somewhere among the motley groups of cronies, tom-tom beaters
and party panjandrums who will crowd the inner circles of the new
president there must surely be some who take matters of governance
and political rectitude sufficiently seriously to have the ear of
whoever occupies president’s house, often wrongly named the
presidential palace by ignorant foreign journalists.
Of the two leading presidential contenders one wants to be like
King Parakramabahu and the other King Dutugemunu. Whoever wears
the kingly crown after Thursday’s mother of all battles, it
is not likely that we will get an audience from any new throne-prone
king who curiously enough will be thrown up by an election process,
hardly the royal way of getting there.
So perhaps one of his courtiers -- and doubtless there will be plenty,
enough to raise a regiment or two – might like to play the
king’s messenger and convey a thought or two from London Town
where a battered monarchy carries on regardless. It is difficult
to believe that among the cacophonous sycophants positioning themselves
for places at the roundtable there is not one who looks beyond the
shores of Sri Lanka (hopefully not just one-third of it) and weighs
what happens in the rest of the world.
If there is such a being among the gathering hordes, would he please
play the grand vizier and whisper into his royal ear this first
message as he awaits his coronation. Other messages will definitely
follow on the next Sabbath.
But in the meantime will the two leading contenders for kingship
please tell their cronies and supporters to stop talking rubbish.
Their subjects, trying to keep the home fires burning as the cliché
goes, are tired of the promises made from platforms. Some of them
are impracticable like the JVP’s economic manthra that are
shibboleths in this globalised world.
To hark back to discredited socialist economics when even Marxist-Leninist
countries such as China are practising capitalist economics, is
to rot in the past. On the other hand Navin Dissanayake goes up
to the hills and talks of the UNP getting US and Indian military
forces to intervene in Sri Lanka to crush any LTTE uprising.
Perhaps the Nuwara Eliya air is affecting his thinking but if Dissanayake
had an ounce of understanding of American and Indian geopolitical
and strategic concerns he would not be making such inane remarks
and making things even more difficult for his leader.
It is bad enough the UNP trying to grab last minute votes by proudly
claiming that it authored the international safety net that corralled
the LTTE and its policies that led to the north- east split in Tiger
These eleventh hour heroics to turn the southern vote would only
serve to betray those who support a multi-religious, multi-ethnic
approach to Sri Lanka’s vexed politics.
Even more importantly it provides the LTTE with a valuable psychological
weapon at a time when it is losing the propaganda war. How could
the southern Sinhala political parties be trusted to negotiate a
lasting and mutually acceptable solution when even the UNP has been
instrumental in creating a split in the LTTE and is now virtually
gloating over it?
Let these thoughts sink in first before the curtain goes up on a
new era in our politics.