It’s an old and tired adage, the one about permanent friends and enemies in politics. What makes it ‘new’ in this instance, however, is the fact that the good governance hype whipped up by Maithripala Sirisena and those who supported him against Mahinda Rajapakasa generated a lot of hope. Things wouldn’t be the same.
There could be new friends of course but the doors would be closed to those with bad records, the voter was made to understand. And if anyone turned bad, he or she would be shown the door.
Well, six months of yahapaalanaya has given new life to another old adage, old wine in new bottles. Of course the bottle, so to speak, is made of old material, for the worthies who were posing off as saints had more than a few blemishes. ‘That’s in the past,’ the voter was made to understand. And new mechanisms would be brought in to ensure that old ghosts would not be entertained. Old wine, it turned out to be, in not so new bottles.
Bucks were made by the near and dear of a man handpicked by the UNP leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, bucks to the tune of several billion rupees. The Parliament was dissolved and this helped toss the relevant report on the sordid deal into the garbage truck. Coincidence, perhaps, but someone got breathing space, one should not forget.
Champika Ranawaka knows how it happened. He knows who is implicated. He has gone quiet. That’s ‘old wine’ stuff. The loudest voices from ‘civil society’ have gone silent. So it’s not about the ‘good’ stuff of governance, we have to conclude. It’s about who gets to do what. It’s about faces that are thought to be pretty, about friends and foes. Old wine.
If all politicians were made to read out in public statements they have once made about current political friends, i.e. when those ‘friends’ were on the ‘other side’, they might learn to watch their mouths.
But things have got so bad that it’s not even about a loose word here and there. You can say whatever you want and pretend that either you did not or that such contradictions don’t really matter. They are indulgent in part and obviously because the voter is as indulgent.
So when Mervin Silva is virtually embraced by Arjuna Ranatunga or has a few laughs with Rajitha Senaratne, saying ‘short memories’ or ‘old wine’ doesn’t mean much politically. ‘Hoo-hoo’ doesn’t stick for political skins are as slick as they are thick.
In the end, what a Facebook commentator said about Champika Ranawaka’s memory loss, drawing from the title of a book he wrote, can be applied to anyone and everyone in politics these days: ‘Power and Power’.
All this ‘same-old, same-old’ and all this ‘old wine’ indicates a serious situation in the country’s political culture. Maybe the conditions for greater insistence on accountability have not matured yet. Maybe the human resource problem needs to be resolved before we can legitimately demand better choices from political parties. But memory-loss is a condition that spreads.
There’s a terrible political moment whose anniversary came and went and indeed went unnoticed. It is a moment that few were made to forget in more than thirty years, again in a selective kind of politics of remembrance for other terrible moments were hardly ever commemorated.
But what happened to ‘Black July’ in 2015? Did the political economy of short memory suddenly result in a drastic devaluation? Did its currency decline because the old ‘old wine’ business took precedence? Or were all those vigils, seminars and chest-beating associated with July 1983 just part of a drama which really didn’t care about the victims or the culture that produced the tragedy? What does all this say about the political maturity of the nation?