This is the winter of political discontent. Certainly, it is so in the so-called United Kingdom and the United States, neither of which is united right now except in name. Nor is it much better in that country like no other where the political games are being played everywhere from the tennis courts to the [...]


Twists and turns make tragic and farcical politics


This is the winter of political discontent. Certainly, it is so in the so-called United Kingdom and the United States, neither of which is united right now except in name.

Nor is it much better in that country like no other where the political games are being played everywhere from the tennis courts to the law courts. Political leaders and aspiring ones are turning into stale versions of ageing and decrepit stars of stage and small screen.

When the political campaign for the presidency is really launched, bunches of promises will be freely available at most supermarkets clearly labelled “buy one get three free”.

Those who followed the 2015 presidential election, which turned out a little known politician as Sri Lanka’s leader, would hardly forget that the promises made to the people and before the deities five years ago still remain unfulfilled — either stealthily ignored or simply forgotten.

But then we are reminded of promises he did not make but from his new perch of moral ascendancy he offered to the nation as a parting — we hope — gift. That was to hire a hangman (or is it two?), buy a couple of new ropes to replace the dead ropes that were sold to the public at election time and sign off on hanging four drug peddlers still languishing in prison.

His media and bureaucratic panjandrums who have been hanging on to this master preacher’s every word and broadcast his every virtue had probably been waiting for the other hangings to publicise his moral actions on behalf of the nation. They were waiting for the glorious day. And they are still waiting.

Some say in justification of the writ filed in court calling for cancelling the Election Commission’s Gazette notification announcing the presidential election is for a worthy cause. It would give the president a sixth year affording time for his most moral duty to be performed. That has been thrown out by the Court.

One promise among many that many recall today is the one made by our president that after one five-year term he will retire to his native village and rest on his laurels.

FILE PHOTO: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves his Downing Street office in London, Britain, October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

But now we were told that a courtier went to court praying that the gazette notice announcing the date of the election be cancelled. While some claim it is because of the unfulfilled moral duty that his hangers-on like to see an extended term, others attribute it to other reasons.

It is said that while pouring over a world atlas the leader’s henchmen have discovered several small states that our rulers and their progeny have missed because of their rather poor knowledge of geography. So now they wish to visit before these islands submerge under climate change.

Take for instance the Falklands in the deep southern Atlantic or the Cook Islands in the South Pacific some 1000 miles from New Zealand where I almost went to edit two newspapers and run the news division of the country’s radio station.

Maybe they are still to visit Samoa — western perhaps — or the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific where I conducted journalism training workshops for South Pacific journalists. Or better still Hawaii where I spent five months at the university’s East-West Centre.

Now if they had asked me I could have given useful advice on some of these hardly known places to make their visits worthwhile. Instead they sought the legal process that might pave the way for an extended stay.

One might add that not everybody has faith in the judicial system. Those in Sri Lanka, who have closely followed the long drawn out tragi-comedy called “Brexit” that is still being played out here after almost four years and is continuing like those unfinished teledramas in Sri Lanka, watched with such awe and attention by those with time on their hands and little in their heads.

Last month, a full bench of 11 UK Supreme Court justices chastised Prime Minister Boris Johnson for providing the Queen with false advice and misleading the monarch to prorogue parliament for an unprecedented five weeks.

Even after being battered by the Supreme Court Johnson showed little respect for law or parliament when he turned that respected democratic institution into a piece of theatre of the absurd, threatening to ignore the Court’s verdict which also said that the extended prorogation had violated the rights of parliament..

Johnson rushed back from New York — where another embattled leader, the ludicrous Trump, egged him on — andturned up in parliament breaking into a tirade in language that would surely not have been heard in the House for centuries, if ever. For the reading pleasure of those unacquainted with Etonian English, the Hansard would record all that for posterity.

He even turned his back and left the chamber when the Speaker urged him to wait as a point of order was being raised. That is the contempt he has for parliament which he thinks can be twisted and turned to his liking.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous verdict was not expected even by those who predicted a government defeat. One aspect worthy of comment is that none of the 11 justices refused to sit on the bench and instead recused themselves for one reason or another. They performed their sacred duty as they had sworn to do unlike in some other courts of law.

What transpired in the Commons the day after the verdict which dismissed the prorogation of the British parliament, certainly did not even approximate what Sri Lanka has witnessed in its own parliament where proceedings sometimes turn into a melee as school children are given first hand lessons in hand-to-hand combat and language most foul.

Boris Johnson’s language and ‘oratory’ did not descend to the levels reached by the Weerawansas and others of his ilk. Nor did the Incredible Hulk — as Johnson called himself — threaten to throw his bulk at Labour Party opponents or even the more moderate and sober Conservative members who have since quit the party in sheer disgust at the conduct of a verbal thug in Etonian colours.

To Sri Lankans who wish to catch a flavour of what went on that day let me quote from the Guardian’s parliamentary sketch writer John Crace whose scathing piece was headlined “Even Boris Johnson’s dog wants out as PM keeps up losing streak”, with the strap line reading “The prime minister skips parliament and misses his seventh defeat in seven votes.”

“After the previous night’s toxic debate in which Boris Johnson had set yet another new low for standards in public life – hard to believe, but even sociopaths can have a talent to surprise – the Speaker first called for calm and respect from MPs from all sides. He then allowed an urgent question from Jess Phillips on the language and role of the prime minister in creating a safe environment in the country and parliament. Good luck with that”.

In the UK, annual party conferences are over. This year Boris Johnson’s keynote speech sounded and read flat despite the few recycled jokes that had his father and current girl friend launching a bevy of cabinet mediocrities applauding. Last week’s parippu would still have tasted better.

But last week when Prime Minister Johnson presented his new proposals for Britain to leave the EU, its chief negotiator Michel Barnier dismissed them as unacceptable.

Johnson had earlier said that if he cannot get Brexit done he will “lie in a ditch and die”. Whether he won rounds of applause for that I do not know. Over the years the media have noted many lies so this may be included in the list.

Just as Johnson has hugged radical populism and turned the Conservatives in that direction in order to seize power, some in Sri Lanka will not hesitate from turning despots into redeemers and reformers so that so-called patriots could fatten themselves and their generations to come.

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