In the 1990s a southern politician, Mahinda Rajapaksa, led many demonstrations, one of which we remember was the Mothers’ March in protest against Sinhala youth detained by the UNP government during the JVP insurrection. This writer, at that time, as an editor of another newspaper, wrote an editorial headlined ‘Demo-no-crazy’, condemning a ban on such demonstrations. It irked the ire of the pukka-sahib ex-planter, the then Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne who referred to the writer in parliament by innuendo in not too complimentary terms.
On September 8, 2010, the black day for Sri Lankan democracy, the exercise in demo-no-crazy completed a full circle. The same Mahinda Rajapaksa — this time on the other side of the fence — went through another act of ‘demo-no-crazy’ by banning a UNP demonstration in the defence of democracy.
There are many crazy things done in the name of democracy in this merry isle but such action is rationalised as perfectly democratic acts by its perpetrators and fellow travellers. This happens because of the exploitation of cardinal flaws in democracy through demagoguery.
Demagoguery, as quoted in The Sunday Leader editorial last week is the preaching of doctrines by those who know that what they preach are quite untrue to those people who they know are idiots. However repulsive it may be to accept that the public by and large comprises idiots, every day the democratic process, demonstrates that it is true. Winston Churchill a saviour of democracy in the last century once remarked: The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with an average voter.
What better illustration could there be than listening to the defence of the 18th Amendment by the Rajapaksa faithful. We have Mahinda Rajapaksa who raved and ranted for long years against the executive presidency now being praised for strengthening democracy by doing away with the two term limit and permitting a third term! Specious arguments are being made that abolishing those independent commissions envisaged under the 17th Amendment and replaced by commissions fully under the control of the Executive President is good for democracy!
The powers of the president of America to make his own appointments to key public office are cited as being similar to powers vested under the 18th Amendment forgetting the rigid checks and balances of the American system, particularly the power of the media in contrast to the performing artistes to the tunes of Rajapaksa band in the Sri Lankan media and also ignoring a new feature of Sri Lankan democracy where a near 75 per cent of the government machinery is now under the direct control of the President’s family.
Sri Lankan demagoguery is madly careering into the unknown. The latest proposal is to bring the Colombo Municipal Council under the Urban Development Authority (UDA). And who is heading the UDA? The Defence Secretary, the brother of President Rajapaksa who is the Minister of Defence. Where in the world is the administration of a country’s capital brought under an Urban Development Authority and what has urban development got to do with a Ministry of Defence? And what are the citizens of Colombo doing about the proposal to take over their city by one individual?
All this is happening in the absence of a semblance of an opposition whose members are in a mad scramble to get over to the government ranks when not engaged in internecine party squabbles over their party leadership. Whether it is dissatisfaction with the leadership or the delights of official perks is hard to say but the helicopter rides provided by an obliging and considerate President speaks volumes.
Meanwhile another novel development in democracy is being witnessed where the numbers in government ranks of former UNPers could exceed any other party in the government coalition. This of course is an ideal situation of a repeat of the Trojan Horses story but then the horses involved are asses.
The media is dumb and would make noises only in appreciation of the crumbs that fall off the High Table, the public is deaf, dumb and are suffering from a bout of idiocy, the Opposition members are chameleons in a hurry to change party colours for government perks and demagoguery has become the religion of the people. Hear it morning, noon and night over the radio, read it in the newspapers. The King and the ‘Royal Family’ can do no wrong.
‘We won the war’
However listen to the other side. Those criticisms directed against President Rajapaksa and his government have been motivated because he is from a village in Medamulana. That’s why the intelligent people of the country believe in and voted for him. Not only for that. He with his brother won the war.
But has the war been won? Why are there troops still on the streets? Why is the Emergency being continued? Why are we developing apoplexy over ‘expatriate Tamil traitors’? And why are Tamil youths still being held in detention camps without bringing them to trial?
Two former diplomats, John Guneratne and Nanda Godage told the Lessons Learnt Commission that thousands of Tamil youth have been held in such camps for a long time. Our doubts about lessons being learnt from the Lessons Learnt Commission are indeed justified when what happened to the much celebrated All Party Conference is considered. One lesson to be learnt from the All Party Conference is that such a conference was a wonderful device to fob the people and those beyond our shores that an attempt was made to find a solution to the ethnic problem. Who remembers an ethnic problem?
Why worry about such problems now that ‘the war has been won’? That’s the thinking of the ‘people’.
But why did the ‘war’ erupt and continue for over 25 years?
The life and soul, pith and substance and the engine of growth of Sri Lankan democracy is Demagoguery.