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Joy by Presidential decree

There appears to be no end to President Mahinda Rajapakse’s pompous self-regard. Having won the election and steam-rolled through the possibility of lifelong presidency, the president, through his ever obliging government, proclaimed the entire week, to be one of festivities, in order to commemorate his swearing in for a second term. The planting of a million trees, 4000 kilograms of the finest kiribath and a spree of honourary cricket events in Hambantota are but a small section of Mahinda Rajapakse’s self-congratulatory celebrations.

The fact that the cost of basic food has sky-rocketed in the past few months, to the extent that many of his supporters are struggling to buy a loaf of bread, has been conveniently forgotten. The protesters campaigning for wage increases have been reduced to a distant din and the dependency on IMF’s support to a bad dream. Of course, in all this, the plight of internally displaced Tamils, still in camps or temporary shelter, has little chance. The country’s problems, however big or small, have all been pushed aside to commemorate the president’s day. As Caesar in Rome, he offers the people games instead. What the President wants, the president gets, and this time his orders are to celebrate.

Schools were ordered to close on certain days, examinations postponed and public holidays imposed. Foreign media outlets, such as Al Jazeera and the BBC, which had until recently had a number of restrictions imposed upon them, were invited to film the pretentious affair. School principals were reportedly instructed by a government minister to facilitate the broadcasting of the president’s speech during the swearing in ceremony, so as to ensure all school children will have the mandatory opportunity to listen to him.

The landscape, which had been littered with its president’s conceited post-war face, has now been revamped with the latest issue of posters touting presidential smugness. Along with lavish fireworks in Colombo, three ships docked ceremonious at the new Chinese-built harbour. It seems even God was asked to join in: auspicious blessings were invoked at special prayers.

Beyond the outrageous egocentricity however, is the president’s stealthy creation of a quasi-religious monarchical rule. Perhaps most notable of all is the striking paucity of fierce criticism or dissent at the president’s plans, not only from those who face severe economic hardship, but those who would consider themselves liberally minded intellectuals, who argued against the 18th Amendment and ought to have felt patronised by the imposed gaiety. It all begs the question; is all this merely a reflection of the state’s stranglehold on free speech or a sign of the dissenting Sri Lankan’s hopeless acceptance, or indeed, conditioned embracement of the Rajapakse reign?