Society in the Last Chance Saloon


Being erased is a good quality. Sometimes it can save people’s skin. Today, the country is plagued by both political and existential problems. The gods are proven to have feet of clay, so to speak. This is why the Cabinet had to be virtually “dissolved”, and we have a provisional arrangement proposed to us.

Now it’s time for politicians on all sides to come together to save the nation. But are there any signs that they are about to? There better be some because if politicians on all sides don’t think of the people, they are doomed.

This also applies to those on both sides of the parliamentary aisle. Commentators and political potentates may pretend to scoff at the idea, but it is obvious that the people these days have a very low opinion of all conventional political entities.

Conditions in the country over the past two months or so have ensured that.

War cry

The battle cry in the streets is that all political parties represented in Parliament must be bypassed, so that systemic change can be enacted.

As naive as it may sound, the people have a strange way of carrying out their vision, because they are supreme and are the conscience of the nation.

They are sovereign under our Constitution, and they are the final arbiters both constitutionally and by moral imperative in this democracy.

People have signaled that they don’t want things to be business as usual. They were pushed into this position. However, if the ruling party and the opposition parties think they could offer more of the same, they expect a very crude shock.

On the one hand, parliamentarians seem to be saying that any solution must be within the democratic framework. But how do they guarantee this? The events of the past week – with mass protests – should make any parliamentarian wonder if, in fact, the state order is running?

If it doesn’t work today, what is the guarantee that it will work tomorrow? There are not any. So if parliamentarians think they can offer more of the usual on either side of the aisle, they may be grossly misinterpreting the situation. The people don’t seem in the mood to offer them more chances.

In other words, while we all wish anarchy wasn’t the result of this winter of our discontent, the events of the past week tell us that we may have no control over that decision.

The opposition and the regime – whatever regime is in place when this article goes to press – are in the last-ditch saloon. The company is in the last chance saloon.

At the time of this writing, however, from the top management of Parliament, the signs emanating were one of bluster and denial. On either side of the parliamentary divide, the camps seemed determined to ensure that their own small political turfs remained intact in the best way possible. It seems so myopic, this turf mentality, when Rome is burning.

The risk for political entities adopting such a charade would be that if they don’t learn the lessons of the past two weeks, they may not stand a chance of saving anything, perhaps even their lives. This is stated in all sincerity because no one wants to see a bloodbath directed against anyone, MP or average citizen Perera.


But, it is possible that the events of the past week will lead to a pitched battle between the part of the population that wants systemic change – read “The People” – and those who are creatures of the system, i.e. say the Members of the Legislative Assembly. MPs seem shocked by recent developments. They did not expect that several chambers of ministers would be attacked.

The opposition is probably even more surprised. They saw themselves as the default successors, but began to question that assumption after the events of the past week. They were forced into it.

Wherever opposition types joined popular protests, they were ridiculed or told to leave.

They are desperate to claim ownership of the current wave of dissent. But they can’t. Those protesting in the streets wouldn’t care. JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake was practically booed and told to run away when he attempted to moonlight at a popular protest rally in Kotte. Sajith was asked to stay home. This follows the call for the president to step down.

Politicians of the conventional variety seem stunned by these protests. The social pact seems to have been torn.

Human condition

This could lead to several outcomes, but some MPs hinted they would not shut up if attacked. Of course they wouldn’t – no one would. Self-defense is basic to the human condition, and self-preservation is to be expected.

But what if MPs are outnumbered? What if the pillars of the system are weak and shaky due to the sheer force of what they are up against? This could lead to a usurpation of power, and perhaps not by democratic means.

This reality was glaringly obvious to everyone last week – politicians and citizens. In such a breach of the social pact, the resulting anarchy could impact anyone with the forces of chaos unleashed. Until now, the security forces have been the bulwark against such a descent into anarchy.

But this last pillar that keeps the system in the air could also be threatened, if the army decides to stand with the people. Protesters urged people in uniform to cross and join the “struggle”. The men and women of the security forces were generally unresponsive. But if things did not change on the ground, this reality of standing forces personnel could well change. If that happens, those who are now insisting that it could be business as usual might be very shocked.

This is why parliamentarians in particular must be aware of the fact that they are in the last-ditch saloon. A majority of them seem in denial. There have been a few voices like that of former minister SM Chandrasena who has made it clear that ‘no one is safe’ which means he and his colleagues in parliament on either side of the aisle are safe now because they are all targets.

The current regime, however, is responsible for maintaining law and order. But that’s as long as the government brief runs.

If people continue to suffer intolerable conditions such as power cuts, unavailability of fuel and face food insecurity of some kind, either due to a shortage of household cooking gas or astronomical prices of goods and diminishing employment opportunities, the social contract would be threatened to point out where the government’s brief does not run. The last time there was such a threat was during the JVP uprising in 89.

The people, however, were lukewarm on this occasion and gave up mingling with the rebels. This time, it appears that the rebels and the people are one, and when there is no real distinction between the leaders of the putsch and the people, the social pact is seriously threatened.

MPs need to be aware of this reality, regardless of party color. If the answer is a more partisan game in parliament – as the country suffers power cuts and more – there could be several outcomes, but none of them would likely bode well for the nation. , or for those who currently hold power in both the executive and the legislature.

It is doubtful that anyone wants things to get this bad, but if parliamentarians are sleepwalkers, they can be sleepwalkers to the point of self-destruction.

This is why the regime and the opposition are advised to act with caution. It is indeed their last chance sedan.


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