Whoever coined this blurb would hardly have expected it to be put to more meaningful use than promoting something called tourism. Since somebody first strung these words together, this land like no other has turned even more like a land like no other and no land will ever be so. That is, of course, if [...]


A land like no other, really


Whoever coined this blurb would hardly have expected it to be put to more meaningful use than promoting something called tourism. Since somebody first strung these words together, this land like no other has turned even more like a land like no other and no land will ever be so.

That is, of course, if climate change is not hastened by political mediocrities who wish to turn land earmarked for mangroves into playgrounds or some clueless wonders pretending to be the last words on everything do not blow this goddammed country and the rest of the universe into smithereens.

Already the people of this wonderful land, bespoiled by the power hungry and those who some hoped had hung up their boots forever, are informing the world of a peculiar revolution that is happening at home where basic ingredients of the Sri Lankan diet such as onions, chillies and coconuts have skyrocketed higher than Rohitha “Rocket Man” Rajapaksa’s ‘toys’.

Now if that is possible in this land like no other, it might not be long before Dr. Bandula Gunawardena is offered a double doctorate when our great academic wonders awaken from their supine rest and put together the thoughts of the Hon. Gunawardena, economist extraordinaire and a man who claimed a family could live on the bare minimum except his own, naturally. That was in 2012. Two years later he jacked up the amount somewhat but the basis of his recalibration was never disclosed.

When he made the stunning announcement that a family of four could survive on Rs 2,500 a month or some such nonsense but expounded no theory to buttress his calculations, the Nobel Committee should have awarded him the Prize for Economics like they did to Friedrich Hayek on his theories on recovering from the Great Depression, if I recall those lectures several decades ago in Peradeniya University’s Arts Theatre under Prof Das Gupta.

Keynes unfortunately died before the Nobel Committee decided to award a prize for Economics.

It is said that there is a great depression but they are not sure whether it is in the Bay of Bengal or in the land like no other.

Now that the Colombo University’s reputation is dropping even lower than the present temperature in the UK where snowfalls are dotting the landscape, there is one slender chance that it might be able to return to the Jennings years and somewhat later by seriously considering a doctorate in political science for Sri Lanka’s Elections Chief Mahinda Deshapriya whose remarkable theory that there is nothing wrong in appointing defeated parliamentary candidates as MPs through the National List.

If the reporting is correct — and one cannot always be certain having just read the response from Nihal Sri Ameresekere’s professional establishment to a TV station that tried to be too clever by half or engaged in some sloppy journalism — Mr Deshapriya who has the habit of breaking into ‘song’ as it were, often enough to judge by remarks by him I often read in the media, made this extraordinary observation.

Mr Deshapriya was quoted as saying that candidates who failed to enter parliament could not be considered as those rejected by the people. How absolutely true! But then what are they pray. Some marvels to be elevated to a supreme status and awarded National Honours. Here is a thinker who should be in the front rows of the government benches.

This is no joke. If he was with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson whose idiosyncracies are driving the Conservatives round the bend and the country up or down the garden path depending on which garden it is, with the help of some chap called Cummings whose comings and goings seems even more intriguing.

Seeing some of the guys and dolls including an Attorney General from some peculiar Buddhist Sect which makes her a strange religious figure in the midst of Church of England and Catholic types, Mahinda Deshapriya with the greying hair and flowing beard should sit with great assurance beside dear Boris with his goldilocks which seem more disciplined now than the tonsorial style of Sri Lanka’s Attorney General.

Now that we have introduced the Big Chief — I mean the Election Chief — let us explore the curiously convoluted political logic that drove the great man to respond to a question from the media.

Having sat through the entire constitutional-making process in the Constituent Assembly that produced the 1972 Constitution and followed whenever possible the making of the JR Jayewardene Constitution of 1978, one learnt to ask oneself an important question. What was the intention of the constitution-makers in doing what they were doing.

Surely that provides a crucial clue to the content of the supreme law and the manner in which it is drafted. When the ‘National List’ was to be introduced, I recall asking President Jayewardene about the intention in having individuals nominated as MPs. If I remember correctly, he said there were many capable and professional persons including women who did not want to face the hustings, who did not want to get involved in the hustle and bustle of electioneering.

However these persons could make an enormous contribute to discussion and debate in parliament with their knowledge and capabilities which now remain buried and rarely put to productive use.

This seemed to be President Jayewardene’s intention which was logical and valid. He was trying to cajole intelligent, professional persons with various skills to serve the country. They were persons who wanted to stay away from the glare of publicity without being involved in daily politics and the clashes between and among parties.

It was a similar idea that led to the establishment of a second chamber though there the intention was to have representation of different ethnic and religious groups and even clans that might have seats in parliament.

But the Deshapriya logic not only defeats the intentions of the constitution makers but also the democratic process. Deshapriya claims that those who could not gain admission to parliament with the consent of the people have not really lost because they have contributed a vote to their party and therefore they have made a contribution.

Then why bother to contest at all. One can sit on the sidelines, get a few people to vote for him and his party and creep into parliament from the backdoor and even become a minister depriving those who actually paid with their sweat and their (not to mention other’s) money to enter parliament via a genuine democratic process.

To pick up some political strays who have been moving from one political party to another because they have little public support and still get into parliament because of a president or party leader who is a friend or wants to pay for past favours, is hardly the kind of democratic structure or process the country wants or needs.

It is an insult to the people who are said to be sovereign but whose sovereign power has been stolen or diluted by the kind of jugglery and manoeuvring that is advocated and defended by Deshapriya.

Maybe he has somebody in mind who he likes to see enter through the backdoor. Having an election chief who seems to want to devalue the election process and have the defeated in parliament and living on public money is a person the country can do well without. If not, this country will further strengthen the saying a country like no other.

(Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor, Diplomatic Editor and Political Columnist of the Hong Kong Standard before moving to London and working for Gemini News Service. Later he was Sri Lanka’s Deputy chief-of-mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London before returning to journalism).


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