Thursday 29th June, 2023
There is no general consensus as such on the term, politics, which is variously defined. One wonders whether, in this country, it could be thought to mean the art of thriving on human misery, for Sri Lankan politicians are adept at weaponising people’s suffering and the resultant resentment to further self-interest. No one, we believe, can match the SLPP grandees’ adeptness at wearing their hearts on their sleeves. They can dissolve into tears at will and pull the wool over the eyes of the public; this ability has stood them in good stead, and helped them make an early comeback after a crushing defeat in 2015. They are all out to dupe the public again, and they might even succeed in their endeavour.
Having ruined the economy, inflicted untold suffering on the people and gone into hiding thereafter to all intents and purposes, the SLPP politicians are crawling out of the woodwork. This time around, they are masquerading as a company of knights on a mission to help commoners in distress. They have taken up the cudgels for the Samurdhi beneficiaries who have been left out of the recently-introduced social protection scheme called Aswesuma. They are sure to milk this issue dry and gain some political traction in the process.
The SLPP politicians had to stop visiting their electorates for fear of being set upon by the irate people who are struggling to dull the pangs of hunger. It was their inability to face the public that drove them to go so far as to have the local government elections postponed indefinitely. The ongoing protests against the Aswesuma programme have provided the SLPP MPs with an opportunity to go among the public again by craftily pledging solidarity with the latter. The past few days have seen these politicians beating their chests and ranting and raving about the exclusion of so many Samurdhi recipients from the Aswesuma programme, and bashing the public officials to humour the protesters. It has been reported that Samurdhi officials and trade unionists are scheduled to meet former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, seeking his intervention to have their problems sorted out.
It was the SLPP that enabled the passage of the Aswesuma Bill in Parliament. The Opposition did not call for a division, and the Bill was passed without a vote as a result. Thus, no political party, represented in Parliament, can absolve itself of the blame for what has reportedly gone wrong with the Aswesuma scheme.
The SLPP is running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. It is holding on to power with the help of the UNP while claiming to be on the side of the public. It has reached a stage where it apparently does not know whether it is running or hunting, in a manner of speaking. One can only hope that the public, especially the protesting Samurdhi beneficiaries, will see through the wiles of the SLPP politicians.
The SLPP has sought to kill several birds with one stone by championing the cause of the aggrieved Samurdhi beneficiaries. They are making the most of public resentment to recover lost ground on the political front, and settle scores with the UNP, which it is trying to discredit by laying the blame for the Aswesuma controversy solely at President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s door.
The incumbent government is like a visually-impaired beggar shouldering a fellow mendicant with mobility challenges. The SLPP has some political strength left to stand on its feet, so to speak, and the UNP has a little vision but lacks political mobility. Their symbiotic relationship has worked, and the government is able to trudge on. So far so good.
No political marriage is perfect, and strange bedfellows tend to fall out and go for each other’s jugular with the passage of time. Competing interests and ambitions have taken their toll on the unity of the SLPP-UNP alliance, where cracks are widening with the SLPP criticising some of President Wickremesinghe’s key policies and projects openly and undertaking to prevent them from jeopardising the interests of the public. Interestingly, they are now doing what they did during the UNP-led Yahapalana government.
No benefit accrues to Citizen Silva from clashes between the SLPP and the UNP, but they arguably provide some comic relief amidst doom and gloom.