The Opposition can either coexist, or co-perish | Sunday Observer

The Opposition can either coexist, or co-perish

The elections, Covid 19 and the economy are not issues that operate or are operable in separate compartments, though people pretend that they are.

However, in a strange way, the rampaging coronavirus is imparting all of us a lesson that we could take and learn from, or reject and suffer consequences thereof …

That one big takeaway is that politically we need to unite and that we must learn that art of real unity in the face of a common enemy.

There are signs it is happening elsewhere. Donald Trump was the hated evil totem that the leftists liked to target and vilify at all times. But as the coronavirus caterwauls through the U.S geographical landscape humbling everything and everyone in its wake, the Democrats are now extending Trump the support he wants for unprecedented preventive measures. Trump and Democrat foes such as Andrew Cuomo are cooperating and sometimes even praising each other.

There is bipartisan consensus that the common enemy has to be fought no matter what.

It’s the lesson that we Sri Lankans seem to be missing, but we still have that chance.

There is talk of unity in this country. But it’s just that. Prattle.

In fact, there is anything but the urge to unite.

The JVP leader speaks of solidarity, but hilariously in the same breath he lambastes the Government as he normally does out of a fashion.

The Opposition UNP on the other hand is quite blithely salivating. They see the coronavirus as manna from heaven in the face of their very obviously declining political fortunes.

This is a sad state of affairs but what’s new?

DEPARTURE DATE

The JVP was famously carrying out strikes and work to rule campaigns in the end phase of the war when our boys were dying out there but were on the brink of a victory that would end years of bloodletting and bring about a lasting peace.

One would have thought that the party that has lost public trust so dramatically that it doesn’t have any voter base to speak of, would have learnt its lessons.

But no. The JVP’s talk of unity is transparently self serving lip service, and in fact, there is not even a pretense being made of really leaving all differences aside for the sake of defeating a common enemy, the virus, which as President Trump says correctly, is an invisible foe.

Nobody hopes that the virus will be worse than the war. But as a Saudi Embassy gentleman is heard to tell an irate caller, you have to ask Mr. Virus Corona when his departure date will be …

Nobody knows, and nobody knows what havoc would be wreaked in the process. There is a very heavy economic price that has to be paid as a result of what’s happening and the nation has to be ready for the fallout.

But where is the preparedness on the part of the nation as a whole when some political parties are waiting to strike vulture-like over the debris left by an invisible enemy?

There has to be a greater call for unity. There has to be physical distancing to isolate the virus but that has to be compensated by a coming together of minds and that’s the only way to fight a common enemy. Sri Lankan politicians have never shown any inclination of uniting before a common enemy, but this can be a first time.

This enemy is alien. It does not have a human face. It is no respecter of persons. Various gleeful political players can clasp the virus close to their chests in order to spite the government, but that won’t prevent the contagion from mowing down their own families if it gets traction in a nation that’s too divided to treat it as formidable.

AS USUAL

The election that has been called off this week, is the one that’s seemingly jinxed. It would have had its chance in 2018, but there was the operation of law on that occasion. The subsequent November 2019 decision by the people indicated that they were deprived of an election that they sorely wanted in 2018.

That had its consequences as late as this year. A minority Government could not get monies passed for giving the people the basic relief they deserved. The Opposition in Parliament was clapping in unison at the opportunity it got to frustrate the wishes of the people for immediate relief. That was nothing short of ghoulish but it can be interpreted as business as usual.

It is not business as usual now. The COVID-19 contagion has demanded that the best instincts of man should triumph over partisan, selfish considerations. So far the Opposition does not seem to be upto the task. Worse, the Opposition seems to be paying lip service to unity when what’s called for is a genuine desire to lay aside partisan differences.

But the rest of society would see the need for a sincere national effort to confront this contagion. The elites who could lead a campaign for a national consensus are the Maha Sangha and the intellectual non-partisan conscientious objectors to business as usual.

PASS ESTIMATES

They cannot be silent at this juncture. They can knock some sense into people that are willing to push the self destruct button just because they cannot see beyond the possibility of their own petty personal political opportunity.

The virus doesn’t stop for stupidity. It also doesn’t stop in the face of the ‘operation of law’. The Opposition was against the supplementary estimate that the Government wanted passed after the November election, for the primary purpose of easing the burden on the people. It was the operation of law that required their support to pass those estimates.

The virus doesn’t take a bow and back off in the face of such man made folly. If the people had benefited from substantial relief at that time, they would have been at least that little bit equipped to withstand the marauding virus. But being deprived of that advantage was the price to pay for business as usual.

The Opposition which was loathe to pass the funds to grant some basic relief to the poor should know that there are countries that are giving out cash grants to almost everyone in the face of this global crisis.

It is sad that the interim Government we have with the President at the helm is in fact better than the government we had in Parliament because that government was stalled at every turn by an Opposition which was turning its back on a mandate given by the people.

This immediate situation has to pass before a fresh date for an election is announced, but the people need more than the customary joust between warring political players. A lot of them will need more than relief in terms of lower prices for consumer goods. They will need cash handouts, and nothing less.

This is a national emergency. So far the President has tried to rule with minimal disruption of civilian life. But if the situation escalates, and there is every chance it may, the rulers would have to lay aside the niceties and rule by fiat i.e: they would have to rule with something close to the equivalent of martial law, even. That will very probably not happen, but there is a whiff of a possibility that it could.

ADDITIONAL CHALLENGE

The Opposition should take the blame for the most part for this state of affairs. If the Supplementary Estimates requested by the Government were passed, the poorest sections of society would have had their most pressing concerns addressed, at least in the short term, and the Government would have had only one worry — containing the virus — on its hands.

In that context, the glee that is displayed mainly by the Opposition types over the postponement of the election is both ghoulish and poetic. It’s poetic because it indicates that these people already know that the voters are not going to forgive them for their crassness.

If there is no unity the Government would have to prevail on its own, in the same way that this same set of leaders prevailed during the war when the Opposition, particularly the JVP was sabotaging their efforts every step of the way.

In many ways it’s what the Government is doing now. It’s prevailing on its own. It’s an additional challenge because the bipartisan sense of purpose is absent as in most other countries, and what prevails is a bludgeon in front — the virus — and a dagger at the back, the Opposition. It’s as dangerous or even more dangerous as it was in 2009, but the Opposition will rue the day it basically decided to collaborate with the invisible enemy. They already rue the day they aided and abetted the enemy during the war.

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