Our 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.

The 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 power.

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 ranks.
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.

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