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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Minister Sanath Nishantha’s death & tsunami of discontent : A harsh wake-up call

(27 Jan 2024 Editorial, The Morning)

“For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” – Hosea 8:7

This ancient Biblical proverb is described in the modern-day Wiktionary as follows: “Every decision has consequences; a person’s actions will come back to them; if one starts trouble or takes actions in spite of the discontent they cause, one will incur negative consequences.”

The tsunami of discontent that has engulfed social media platforms following the demise of State Minister Sanath Nishantha appears to have taken the regime by surprise. Numbed to complacency by its own propaganda that disgruntlement over the state of the nation was limited to a few Opposition supporters, the tsunami of uncomplimentary comments following the fatal motor accident of the Minister has shown that the regime, having sown the wind, is now reaping the whirlwind.

While the explosion of social media post-mortems continue on the fatal crash that resulted in the death of State Minister Nishantha, the general message of those post-mortems appears to have jolted the regime out of its perceived complacency that all was well in this land. The spontaneous ‘celebration’ on social media following the death of the controversial State Minister has served as an eye-opener and wake-up call for the regime on the extent of the simmering discontent it has tried its best to keep under wraps through such mechanisms as the Online Safety Bill and Anti-Terrorism Bill.

What the regime must necessarily understand is that this explosion of hate and contempt directed towards the late Minister across social media platforms does not translate or equate to the celebration of his death per se, as often misunderstood, but rather ordinary people venting their anger at the status quo or the general scheme of things.

The lack of empathy and grief over the untimely demise of an influential member of the current dispensation must surely have opened the eyes of the rest of the governing party members as to their fate and that of their next of kin. The Sri Lankan people, known the world over for their kindness and empathy, have never been this insensitive; it is the politicians who have made them so.

The insensitivity and lack of empathy on the part of the ruling class of this country, who continue to heartlessly pile burden upon burden on the people and thereafter even take away their basic rights through odious legislation, will necessarily come with a heavy price tag, as it is now finding out the hard way. The deteriorating quality of leadership has not helped the cause either.

It will be recalled that when SJB MP Chaminda Wijesiri resigned from Parliament a little over two weeks ago, he had an interesting explanation for his action. Wijesiri stated that the current Parliament had outlived its mandate and that people should be consulted without delay. More interestingly, he said that the public was cursing all 225 MPs, including their children, and that his children did not deserve such ill will. Wijesiri’s parting words were ominous, that the children of parliamentarians do not deserve to be blamed for the downfall of the country, due to the actions of the MPs.

Even though most ruling party MPs laughed off Wijesiri’s observations and dismissed his resignation as yet another ‘deal’ of some sort, the MP appears to have been spot-on with his assessment and has managed to retain his dignity with all that he stated manifesting on social media following the demise of Sanath Nishantha. It can be argued that things need not have turned out this way, had the leaderships both past and present been strong enough to rein in errant MPs. Had that happened, both history as well as the people of this country would have been kinder in recording their legacy.

Poor leadership, where ministerial excesses including thuggery are routinely ignored, can only result in negative repercussions, incurring the wrath of the people as evidenced by the Sanath Nishantha saga. At the end of the day, no country or society can survive without hierarchical discipline. If those entrusted with high office fail to maintain discipline, then it is just a matter of time before anarchy kicks in. No amount of Police crackdowns or other law enforcement engagement can restrain a people determined to correct what they see as wrong.

The ‘Aragalaya’ movement, which the regime has taken great pains to paint as a distant memory, appears to be very much alive and kicking judging by the mass-scale rejection of the current dispensation on social media. It is no one but those in authority who must accept blame for the public’s anger towards them, having failed to deliver on any of the promises made to the masses that assembled at Galle Face demanding system change.

Leaving that aside, it is unfortunate and indeed the nation’s misfortune that no leader in the recent past has been strong enough to call out an errant MP or demand their resignation over unruly conduct. Had that happened, it is likely that family members of such errant politicians may have been the most grateful, given the unpleasant circumstances the family of the late State Minister has had to endure.

Just this month there have been numerous examples of such leadership from nations such as Vietnam, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, etc., where errant ministers have been promptly shown the door. Given this lack of leadership in Sri Lanka, there is no way that this nation, mired as it is in the throes of what is erroneously described as an economic crisis when the real crisis is one of governance, can hope to turn the corner unless and until the leaders of this country put discipline at the top of their agenda.

In a nation where the leaders themselves brazenly disregard court orders without consequence, such as those found guilty of bankrupting this nation going scot-free, where those convicted of gross negligence paving the way for the Easter attacks neglecting to pay the prescribed fines and yet walking free, where some clauses specified to be included as amendments to the Online Safety Bill have allegedly been left out leading the Opposition to cry foul, where the Minister of Public Security announces that he does not give a tuppence for the concerns of the United Nations, among many other such examples, shows the extent to which the governance system is failing the people.

As the ‘Aragalaya’ indicated, there is only so much that people will tolerate and inequitable application of the law based on the doctrine of might is right, as notoriously espoused by the late Minister, will only lead to further complications, if not yet another social eruption against the system. Those who may have consoled themselves in the misguided belief that dissent has now been restricted to a few sporadic protest marches would surely have been jolted by the tsunami of adverse reactions to the State Minister’s fatal accident.

The fact that the Government failed to secure 113 votes in Parliament for the passage of the Online Safety Bill – the number that is required for a governing majority in the House – must surely cause concern for the leadership. This concern appears to have manifested in the President’s order to prorogue Parliament as well as the sudden invitation for an all-party conference.

Unfortunately, the invitation has come one year and six months too late – the time when the incumbent assumed the presidency and the nation was hoping for such an invitation. Obviously feeling the heat of public disapproval in the wake of the Minister’s unfortunate demise, being an election year, the best way out for all concerned is to consult the people at the earliest. Let the people decide the way forward.

The Morning

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