Say 'no' to political opportunism
cynics, politics are not based on principles. While even a
cursory survey of local politics would seem to bear this out
somewhat, we would like to subscribe to the more enlightened and
idealistic view of politics that it is an activity that has to
be unswervingly based on the highest principles. While the
former perspective smacks strongly of Machiavellianism, the
latter point of view is more in keeping with the idealist school
of Political Philosophy, which has its roots in the revered
thought of the likes of the legendary Socrates and Plato.
In whichever way it is defined, there is no denying that
power is the stuff and substance of politics. Multi-party,
electoral politics conducted within a democratic framework are
aimed at the acquiring of power to govern, by parties and
persons, and this is the 'stage' that engrosses the generality
of the public in a democracy most, and is what they generally
refer to as politics. However, this theatre focusing on the
making and breaking of power to govern a country, is not free of
debate, discussion and opinion-moulding by groups, parties and
other social actors and what was interesting about the recent
debate about the now set aside private pension scheme was that
it attracted a very high degree of public debate and discussion.
The state articulated its point of view and so did the
Opposition and other interested sections. It could be inferred
that public opinion was drawn and attracted to the party in this
debate who proved most convincing and persuasive.
This is as it should be. A mature democracy is marked by very
lively and issue-based debate and discussion and up to a point
over the last few weeks, these essential features of the
democratic ethos were maintained by all sides to the debate.
That the state freely provided this space for free debate and
discussion, speaks adequately for its democratic credentials.
Right through the debate it refrained from exercising coercive
power or force, to bend the opponents of the pension scheme to
its point of view.
The law enforcers may have overreacted to the violence which
was unleashed at Katunayake by some sections, but this was an
act of misjudgment purely on the part of the law and order
authorities. It, in no way, takes away from the democratic
tolerance of debate and discussion exercised by the state. The
relevant democratic norms, that is, were maintained by the
But the same could not be said of the political forces which
unleashed violence on the Police and provoked some sections
among the latter to overreact to the violence, resulting in the
death of a protestor who was apparently not aligned to the
elements of lawlessness. This was political opportunism of the
worst kind and the criminal elements which set upon the law
enforcers were seeking to make maximum use of the situation
which had arisen with a view to optimizing their gains.
As we said yesterday, this mode of conduct of the
perpetrators of violence fitted in perfectly with the approach
to politics displayed over the years by some Southern extremist
political forces. This is by no means a democratic approach
because these sections were all too eager to turn the ground
situation at Katunayake on Monday to their advantage by engaging
in a bout of violence. And the use of force to confront one's
perceived opponents is not at all in accordance with the
democratic approach to politics.
However, there was an ample display of what may be called
Machiavellian cunning on the part of those extremist elements
who thus flexed their muscles and caused the death of a harmless
worker. This is the violent politics which has on more than one
occasion thrown this country into anarchy and sown inexplicable
misery among the people. This brand of politics should be both
denounced and disowned by all civilized sections.
The official Opposition would do well to refrain from cashing
in on this situation too. As far as we can figure out, the
Opposition did little or nothing to help clear any 'grey' areas
in the proposed pension scheme.
It is our conviction that it should have agreed in principle
to the scheme because it was essentially a worthy project. It
should have consented to the scheme under the condition that the
government engages with it in the future to rid the scheme of
any shortcomings. This did not happen and as customary, the
Opposition said 'no' to the project, evidently with the hope of
embarrassing the state, and making some short term political
In other words, politics in this country have changed very
little over the years. This is most unfortunate because nothing
of a progressive nature can be achieved as long as opportunistic
politics reign. When will our polity ever learn?