Com­mis­er­a­tions, Mr. Pres­i­dent: Korean Kim nuked your No­bel Peace Prize hopes

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - COMMENT -

Com­pared to the 200- year- old mother of all parliaments, Bri­tain’s West­min­ster, which blushes to be re­minded of her age like any old Grande Dame would blush crim­son to be told the can­dles will cost more than the cake, Lanka’s 70-year-old par­lia­ment looks like a teeny bop­per still to come of age.

And, go­ing by the re­cent wild an­tics en­acted there in pub­lic glare, a delin­quent kid at that. But can you re­ally blame it if it some­times acts punk and goes off its rocker, given the sort who ha­bit­u­ate its hal­lowed en­vi­rons?

But first a brief stroll down the streets of his­tory.

The Bri­tish par­lia­ment evolved to its present en­no­bled state with the sign­ing of the Magna Carta in 1215 when the feu­dal chief­tains re­belled against King John of Eng­land to wrest from him not the divine right to rule – that hap­pened later with Cromwell -- but to sub­ject its ab­so­lute au­thor­ity to the prin­ci­ple that the king shall not levy or col­lect taxes with­out the Royal Coun­cil’s con­sent.

No one, not even the feu­dal barons of those me­dieval times, set out to cre­ate a par­lia­ment on that ‘ scep­tred isle’ of Eng­land in the man­ner the Greeks of old had done in Athens? Like Hin­duism evolved in In­dia from the grass­roots thou­sands of years ago -- the only ma­jor re­li­gion that has no founder -- par­lia­men­tary democ­racy in Eng­land evolved sans any mes­siah to pro­claim its ad­vent or out­line its shape and form or de­clare its tenets. And, it took eight hun­dred years in the mak­ing to gain its present form, warts and all.

It took eight cen­turies of go­ing through the fur­nace, where re­volts were ablaze, where wars were com­mon strife and in­va­sions were but mares of the night to trou­ble the peace of ev­ery English­man’s peace of mind, to make the Bri­tish met­tle of democ­racy to prove the ster­ling qual­ity of its Sh­effield steel. Not to for­get, of course, that it also with­stood and tran­scended se­rial di­vorcee King Henry the Eight’s tem­pes­tu­ous love life which re­sulted in a born again Catholi­cism in Eng­land’s royal courts and in its sleepy shires : Angli­can Chris­tian­ity.

The Bri­tish earned their democ­racy with ‘blood, sweat, toil and tears’. They didn’t cod­ify it and put ar­ti­cles and clauses in writ­ing on pa­per. The strug­gles to earn their free­doms were writ in blood in the fleshy slab of their beat­ing beefy Bri­tish hearts. The Amer­i­cans had to un­dergo a bit­ter bat­tle to rat­ify the pro­posed Amer­i­can con­sti­tu­tion to merit their Bill of Rights over two hun­dred years ago; and the part it played in dous­ing the flames of an­guish the peo­ple bore dur­ing that dark pe­riod of the new found land’s in­fancy, when the new born na­tion was strug­gling to unite the vast land into one sin­gle en­tity and make it whole, has made the Amer­i­can peo­ple place it upon the na­tion’s al­tar and sing hosan­nas in praise of its sacro­sanct value.

But un­like na­tions which had paid in blood to find the Holy Grail of Democ­racy and hav­ing found it, trea­sured, cher­ished and guarded it, and were even pre­pared to die for it, thrice blessed Lanka re­ceived its fourth bless­ing on a plat­ter, even as she re­ceived her in­de­pen­dence in 1948 -- a de­part­ing gift from the Bri­tish left on a sil­ver tray, silk wrapped with a po­lite note to the then lo­cal po­lit­i­cal elite to make the best of it.

If In­dia’s great­est re­li­gious gift to Lanka was Bud­dhism, then the great­est po­lit­i­cal present the de­part­ing Bri­tish left be­hind as a sou­venir when it said its last farewell and took sail to Eng­land, was Democ­racy. His­tory will judge

If there was one man in the world who de­served to win the No­bel Peace Prize – next to Amer­ica’s Trump of course – it would un­doubt­edly have been Sri Lanka’s Sirisena.

For the first time in the his­tory of the No­bel Peace Awards a Sri Lankan Pres­i­dent was nom­i­nated and short listed to win the pres­ti­gious prize which also car­ries with it a cash re­ward of ap­prox­i­mately a mil­lion dol­lars for ser­vices ren­dered to world peace.

The Peace Re­search In­sti­tute of Oslo (PRIO) nom­i­nated Pres­i­dent Sirisena and had short­listed him to win this year’s cov­eted No­bel Peace Prize. For the last fif­teen years, based on their in­de­pen­dent as­sess­ments, this or­ga­ni­za­tion of­fers their per­sonal as­sess­ment of per­sons or or­gan­i­sa­tions that de­serve to be short­listed for the award. whether this na­tion had used it wisely or squan­dered it rashly.

How the peo­ple of Lanka has used both gifts, one an al­tru­is­tic gift from a benev­o­lent em­peror of a neigh­bor­ing coun­try to en­hance re­li­gious and moral val­ues amongst the na­tives; the other a part­ing gift from a de­part­ing con­queror to make a slav­ish race break free from its feu­dal bondage and rise free to walk the land as free men, en­dowed with dig­nity on par with the rest of en­light­ened hu­man­ity, for­tu­nate enough to be be­stowed with the knowl­edge that all men are cre­ated equal: that Democ­racy lev­els all in its air like death does in the dust.

But whilst 2,300 years of Bud­dhism have sunk deep into the Sin­hala sub con­science that to a great ex­tent the no­ble phi­los­o­phy, though at­ten­dant with a plethora of ri­tu­als, still in­flu­ences the thoughts and guides the con­duct of the ma­jor­ity of the masses, alas, the same can­not be said of the Bri­tish gift of democ­racy.

Once, per­haps 70 years ago when the na­tion dropped out of its bassinet where it has been cra­dled for over 400 years by for­eign dom­i­na­tion, the toy the Bri­tish left be­hind in 1948 for the new tod­dler to play with may have seemed fas­ci­nat­ing, es­pe­cially for the el­ders in the na­tives’ nurs­ery who had sucked the Bri­tish teat and drunk deep its milk and thus knew how to han­dle the play­thing with care.

But down th­ese last seventy years, it seems that Par­lia­ment, where Democ­racy is en­shrined and re­sides in­car­nate, has some­what lost its sheen of pris­tine virtue due to the in­vo­ca­tions made at its al­tar by the priv­i­leged few al­lowed to wor­ship therein, pe­ti­tions made solely to bet­ter them­selves and not the gen­eral wel­fare of the Lankan pub­lic, im­plo­rations made to seek more and more – both in terms of power and money – to bet­ter their own lot and feather their own nests to the al­most to­tal ex­clu­sion of the na­tion’s pub­lic.

And the fear is whether the shocked In their ci­ta­tion they said: “Sri Lankan Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena has ini­ti­ated a com­pre­hen­sive set of rec­on­cil­ia­tory ini­tia­tives to heal the wounds of the civil war which cul­mi­nated in a mil­i­tary on­slaught by the state mil­i­tary on the Tamil Tigers in 2009. Sirisena’s in­sis­tence on in­clu­sive rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, there­fore, stands out as an ex­am­ple to be fol­lowed, es­pe­cially in a sit­u­a­tion where sup­port of the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court and other tran­si­tional jus­tice mech­a­nisms is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing. In early 2017, the Sri Lankan Con­sul­ta­tion Task Force on Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Mech­a­nism re­leased its fi­nal re­port. This goes hand in hand with a range of other ef­forts, in­clud­ing a con­sul­ta­tive process of con­sti­tu­tional re­forms. Re­sis­tance from the po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion is real, and so are the prospects for fail­ure. The Pres­i­dent him­self is sus­cep­ti­ble to crit­i­cism, hav­ing held po­si­tion in the for­mer gov­ern­ment that over­ran the LTTE. A No­bel Peace Prize to Pres­i­dent Sirisena would fit a tra­di­tion of hon­our­ing prag­matic lead­ers who show po­lit­i­cal courage and it would draw at­ten­tion to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion as a key to sus­tain­able peace.”

Take a bow Mr. Pres­i­dent for be­ing the one and only lucky Lankan Head of State to be so nom­i­nated and so hon­oured. You have done Lanka proud, just by be­ing short­listed.

But, as they say “there’s many a slip be­tween the cup and the lip.” And when the No­bel Com­mit­tee de­cided on Fri­day and an­nounced that this year’s No­bel peace Prize would go to the In­ter­na­tional Cam­paign to Abol­ish Nu­clear and hor­ri­fied reign­ing de­ity had fled the shrine in dis­gust; and whether, per­haps, the na­tion pays its re­spects and of­fers its flow­ers to a nonex­is­tent God. Though those who hold the keys to this Or­a­cle of Lanka’s Diyawanna make us be­lieve in its om­nipres­ence and ex­ploit its om­nipo­tence to achieve their own vile mer­ce­nary ends.

Con­sider a short list of how the sovereignty of Par­lia­ment has been used to fur­ther the power and the for­tunes of politi­cians who dwelled in its cham­bers or ex­erted grip­ping con­trol over it – all done, of course, for the na­tion’s good, for the pub­lic weal -- as they will tell us.

In 1972, af­ter win­ning a record two thirds ma­jor­ity two years be­fore, the SLFP- LSSP coali­tion gov­ern­ment headed by Mrs. Ban­daranaike and led by the left­ist Dr. N. M. Per­era used the awe­some power the na­tion’s elec­torate had be­stowed upon them, to pro­mul­gate a new con­sti­tu­tion the peo­ple had never asked for. It cut the last string of the um­bil­i­cal cord which had bound Cey­lon to Bri­tain, turned the colo­nial name to Sri Lanka -- the re­splen­dent isle -- and sev­ered the right of the cit­i­zens of the new named land from hav­ing ac­cess to Eng­land’s Privy Coun­cil and hold it as the fi­nal court of Ap­peal.

It cracked down on the free­dom of free speech and na­tion­alised the Wi­je­w­ar­dena fam­ily owned Lake House group of news­pa­pers by us­ing its ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment to pass the As­so­ci­ated News­pa­pers of Cey­lon Lim­ited (Spe­cial Pro­vi­sions) Law No. 28 of 1973. It used the Emer­gency Reg­u­la­tions to seal, in 1974, the Davasa group of news­pa­pers owned by the Gu­nasena fam­ily -- for which act its founder Sepala Gu­nasena was awarded the Com­mon­wealth’s As­tor Award for de­fense of press free­dom in Sri Lanka -and used Par­lia­ment ev­ery month -- as the law de­manded -- to rat­ify the state of emer­gency; and used the same emer­gen- Weapons (ICAN) it barely came as any sur­prise. With Trump and Kim en­gaged in a nu­clear duel and with the ex­is­tence of the world at stake, it was ob­vi­ous that world in­ter­est – Amer­i­can in­ter­ests - would soar above all else; and that the ef­forts a Lankan Pres­i­dent made in try­ing to rec­on­cile 15 mil­lion Sin­halese with 2 or 4 mil­lion Tamils in an is­land less than 25,000 square miles in size would pale into in­signif­i­cance.

As the No­bel Com­mit­tee that awards the No­bel Peace Prize, funded by the for­tune its founder Al­fred No­bel earned as the in­ven­tor of dy­na­mite, would put it “noth­ing per­sonal but even a small NGO ad­vo­cat­ing nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment must take prece­dence es­pe­cially when Amer­i­can in­ter­ests are at stake.”

Com­mis­er­a­tions Mr. Pres­i­dent. It seems that one of the long range mis­siles that Kim Jong-un aimed to fly over Ja­pan and land near Guam off the Amer­i­can coast had gone out of con­trol and veered its way to blast at your doorstep and blow your No­bel Peace prize hopes cy pow­ers to ex­tend their five-year term of of­fice by a fur­ther two years.

Were th­ese done, was Par­lia­ment power used to bet­ter the lot of the Lankan ci­ti­zen or to sate the in­sa­tiable pri­vate mega­lo­ma­nia of politi­cians?

In 1977, af­ter the pub­lic had booted out the coali­tion in no un­cer­tain terms mut­ter­ing un­der their breath ‘good rid­dance of bad rub­bish, UNP’s J. R. Jayewar­dene blew in from the cold with a mas­sive five sixth ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment. He im­me­di­ately pro­ceeded to use his power in the House to rad­i­cally change the supremacy of Par­lia­ment by throw­ing to the dust­bin the pre­vi­ous regime’s con­sti­tu­tion and, in its stead, pro­mul­gated a new one which pro­claimed him as Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dent.

Per­haps it had been the need of the hour for a na­tion whose ro­mance with democ­racy was still to bloom to life­long mat­ri­mony, whose flir­ta­tion with democ­racy had proved dis­mal and whose hopes had sunk to the dol­drums. Af­ter seven years of a win­ter of dis­con­tent un­der SLFP-LSSP rule, they awaited the sun­shine JR promised he would bring with the new con­sti­tu­tion.

With hind­sight it can be safely said that it is JR’s con­sti­tu­tion that pulled the na­tion from the brink. It laid the very legal ba­sis for Lanka to come of age as a modern state. Whilst it per­mit­ted JR to avoid a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 1982 by us­ing its pro­vi­sions of a ref­er­en­dum to de­cide on the mat­ter, nei­ther JR nor his con­sti­tu­tion can be blamed if the pub­lic of this coun­try chose to vote for the lamp and not for the pot and thus en­able JR to rule as pres­i­dent. Plus it has served suc­ces­sive pres­i­dents and gov­ern­ments very well.

Whilst en­joy­ing all the pow­ers of the ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dency, it has served as a con­ve­nient scape­goat upon which to heap all the blame for their own fail­ures. And called for its slaugh­ter as the panacea for the na­tion’s mal­ady

In 2010, Mahinda Ra­japaksa used his two third ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment – gained not from the elec­torate but with the help of jump­ing MPs who needed no lad­ders to cross over the fence – for the ex­plicit pur­pose of per­pet­u­at­ing his reign as pres­i­dent for all time not only in the fer­vent be­lief in his own im­mor­tal­ity but in the ar­dent trust that, hav­ing won the ter­ror­ist war – as he said - sin­gle­handed, the Sin­halese held him as king and wor­shipped him as demi god and would al­ways vote for him.

In the run up to the 2015 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the then joint op­po­si­tion’s com­mon can­di­date Maithri­pala Sirisena also vowed be­fore the na­tion in 2014 to abol­ish the con­sti­tu­tion within 100 days but when he gained the pres­i­dency on the 9th of Jan­uary 2015, he found his own party di­vided with some in the Ra­japaksa nest, fly­ing to and fro from one nest to the other.

But it is to his credit that he man­aged to rally all forces and use Par­lia­ment to pass the 19th Amend­ment to the con­sti­tu­tion with more than a two thirds ma­jor­ity; and, in the man­ner Sri Sangabo of the Jatakas cut off his head and handed it over to a pass­ing stranger merely be­cause he asked for it, vol­un­tar­ily chose to emas­cu­late his pres­i­den­tial pow­ers purely be­cause he be­lieved the Lankan pub­lic wanted it.

But the sanc­tity of Par­lia­ment’s tem­ple where the sovereignty of the peo­ple lie en­shrined has not only been used – with the sin­gu­lar ex­cep­tion of Sirisena -- to en­hance and con­sol­i­date the pow­ers of suc­ces­sive pres­i­dents. It has also been abused to vul­garly in­crease the perks and priv­i­leges of its own mem­bers whilst cal­lously tax­ing the com­moner’s wal­let.

And, if the Ra­japaksa Gov­ern­ment was guilty of do­ing so to keep the mem­bers happy and sup­port­ive of their regime at the ex­pense of the tax­payer, so is the present Maithri­pala-Ranil regime guilty of the same of­fence. Th­ese last two and a half years, whilst the masses have been bur­dened by the es­ca­lat­ing cost of liv­ing with no cor­re­spond­ing rise in pay, mem­bers of the present par­lia­ment have em­barked upon an un­prece­dented earn­ing spree. They have used their priv­i­leged po­si­tion in Par­lia­ment to vote for them­selves duty free cars which can be sold overnight to earn for them­selves a neat cool 30 mil­lion bucks, granted them­selves a hun­dred thou­sand bucks monthly al­lowance to spend as they wish, an in­creased al­lowance for fuel and mobile calls and many more too nu­mer­ous to men­tion. One thing can be said to their credit: When it came to serv­ing them­selves with their own spoon, they haven’t stinted, but have used the par­lia­men­tary spoon as a trowel.

They have gained all this and more whilst ap­peal­ing to the pub­lic to tighten their belts and prac­tise aus­ter­ity since the na­tion’s in­ter­na­tional debt of over 9000 bil­lion de­mands the masses to live a Spar­tan ex­is­tence. They have gained all this and more only be­cause the peo­ple of this coun­try had sent them to oc­cupy the priv­i­leged seats of Par­lia­ment from which they had risen from both sides of the cham­ber to serve their plates full, go for sec­onds, top it up with dessert and still have room to hold au­dac­ity in their bel­lies to ask for more.

They are what they are to­day be­cause of Par­lia­ment. The sad part is that they at­tend in full force when the can­teen is open and shun it like the plague when the puffed pas­tries, cream tarts and the rich scones are not on of­fer for the day

Is it too much for the peo­ple to ex­pect them to show an iota of grat­i­tude to the House of the peo­ple’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the Par­lia­ment which has spoiled them with so much hos­pi­tal­ity, to show up at the sev­en­ti­eth an­niver­sary of its found­ing? Ap­par­ently yes, it seems.

This Tues­day whilst the na­tion cel­e­brated the sev­en­ti­eth an­niver­sary of the Sri Lankan Par­lia­ment – said to be the old­est in South Asia – one third of its mem­bers opted to give the birth­day bash a con­ve­nient miss. Their con­spic­u­ous ab­sence was not to make some silent po­lit­i­cal state­ment or to sig­nal their protest over some bee in their par­lia­men­tary bon­net. It was purely in­dif­fer­ence, ap­a­thy, a cal­lous dis­re­gard for the ed­i­fice that em­bod­ies the peo­ple’s sovereignty. There was noth­ing to be gained fi­nan­cially, per­haps, that day, no chance to vote for an­other pay rise in their favour and so they stayed away.

On Oc­to­ber 3rd Tues­day, the Pres­i­dent of the na­tion was present as the chief guest on this cel­e­bra­tory oc­ca­sion. Above in the Speaker’s gallery were the Speak­ers and Deputy Speak­ers of the Parliaments of SAARC na­tions in­vited by the Lankan Gov­ern­ment as hon­oured guests to wit­ness Lanka cel­e­brate seventy years of her Par­lia­ment’s ex­is­tence. Also present were mem­bers of the diplo­matic corp.

On the floor of the House the Prime Min­is­ter of the na­tion Ranil Wi­cremesinghe touch­ingly spoke in the House, ex­tolling the value of the Lankan Par­lia­ment and said: "To­day we are cel­e­brat­ing the 70th an­niver­sary of this assem­bly. We have not only safe­guarded 70 years of democ­racy but also set a record. We have a par­lia­men­tary tra­di­tion that goes back 116 years.”

But won­der what the dis­tin­guished SAARC guests and the diplo­matic corps, in­vited to wit­ness democ­racy in ac­tion in Lanka and a brim­ming Par­lia­ment packed to the full on such an his­toric oc­ca­sion, thought of the great “par­lia­men­tary tra­di­tion that goes back 116 years” that the PM spoke of, when they saw from their lofty perch the cham­ber be­low lay naked and bare with one third of its seats un­oc­cu­pied by its mem­bers.

Those seventy odd mem­bers who did not turn up to grace the oc­ca­sion had kept away on that World’s Tem­per­ance Day not for any po­lit­i­cal rea­son but purely be­cause they had noth­ing per­sonal to gain from at­tend­ing it: in the self same man­ner of those given to drink who did not turn up at their reg­u­lar wa­ter holes on Oc­to­ber 3rd, World’s Tem­per­ance Day, be­cause they knew the shut­ters were down and no drink would be avail­able on the ta­ble.

Next time Par­lia­ment cel­e­brates an­other mile­stone of its ex­is­tence, the Prime Min­is­ter would be well ad­vised to add a PS to the in­vi­ta­tion to the MPs of the House: That af­ter the cer­e­monies are over and the cake is cut and the can­dles blown with best wishes for the na­tion, a vote will be taken to in­crease the al­lowances to be given to ev­ery MP. That way, at last, he can en­sure a full house.

ICAN: Anti nuke trump scoops No­bel Peace Pri­ize

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