Much as I’d like to see the back of a regime that has taken the one time bastion of democracy in southern Asia to the cusp, in not into, the cauldron of dictatorship, I cannot, in all conscience, subscribe to the hope/prediction that Sri Lankans are going to follow the Tunisian example and rise up against a dictatorship without precedent in this country.
To the inevitable question of ‘Why’ I can only revert to what I have said before.
Let me explain.
In May of 2009 I went to considerable lengths, in an article titled “Sri Lanka: A Liberal Democracy Or An Absolute Monarchy?” published in the now-defunct Montage magazine, to put down why I thought there would not be any necessity for the Rajapaksa regime to appropriate dictatorial powers because they had already been readily ceded to it by the people of this country.
Almost two years have passed since then. Let me repeat the reasons I then advanced, going on to add on to, modify or embellish them where I believe such is justified:
The Westminster Model of representative democracy was obviously not firmly established in the country at the time that the western-oriented elites believed it to be. If it had, we would not have seen the emergence of the Bandaranaike Dynasty which provided a stepping stone for Mahinda Rajapaksa and his clan.
The (justifiably) much-maligned Colvin R. De Silva/Sirima Bandaranaike and J.R. Jayewardene constitutions of 1971 and 1978, respectively, would not have seen the light of day if the broad mass of Sri Lankans had truly bought into Western-style Democracy. The people of this country would have rejected both out of hand instead of, as they did, passively accepting those obscenities parading as tools of democratisation.
The fact is that, while the horrendously-escalating cost of living is now achieving precedence in the public mind, the criminalisation of governance in this country – extra-judicial executions by those traditionally referred to as the ‘custodians of the law,’ the disappearances of ‘inconvenient persons,’ the absolute erosion of the rule of law and the harassment of dissenting media – does not appear to cause the kind of concern that would have been the case in a mature democracy or even in one that valued those very basic principles of democratic practice.
We do not have an electorate that can be described as politically sophisticated. The implications of the absurd expenditure of public funds on self-promotion and out-and-out plunder of national resources, inclusive of disposal of prime real estate in the nation’s capital, does not make any real impact on the public consciousness. The proof is that, if it did, you’d already have had riots in the streets.
Sri Lanka has no real history of political upheaval in recent times. The one exception is probably the 1953 Hartal which was an uprising driven by a refusal to accept what were seen as the patently unfair economic policies of the government of the day. The events of significant strife since then were two communal riots – in 1958 and 1983 — in which the Sinhalese, visited mayhem on the minority Tamils. Even though, apologists for these Sri Lankan Kristallnachts still keep trotting out specious excuses for conduct which was, to put it mildly, abhorrent and inexcusable, the two events were simply pogroms which had nothing to do with democracy or the lack thereof in governance.
A population brutalised by the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), breathed a collective sigh of relief at its end and appears prepared to let the victors do whatever they please, inclusive of an unparalleled pillaging of the national treasury, as long as the Tiger continues to be kept from the door! And there is very little sign of any potential change in that state of mind.
There is also now the fact of a government that is absolutely unprincipled and ruthless in its conduct. There is ample proof, if proof be needed, that to support the Rajapaksa Regime is to prosper and be permitted impunity of conduct without equal even by the standards of a Marcos-ruled Philippines or a Suharto-run Indonesia. You can, literally, get away with murder if you do the bidding of the ruling junta and pay the requisite personal and financial tribute to the ruling family and its minions. It’s as simple as that. The Rajapaksa Regime has exercised the carrot and the stick in a manner probably without precedent anywhere in the world. And I do not make that statement lightly.
8) The propaganda juggernaut that began rolling before Eelam War IV was over was run super-efficiently, embracing Sinhala triumphalism while demonising any and all that were seen as standing in the way of the Rajapaksa enterprise. This was further accelerated with the attacks on Sarath Fonseka when he had the audacity to run against his patron for the presidency, culminating in his arrest.
9) Parallel to this was a readiness to completely ignore the laws of the land and the constitution while bringing in legislation that served no other purpose than to shield the ruling family from anything resembling accountability and responsibility for their actions or retribution for their sins of omission and commission.
10) Finally, the most effective and comprehensive insurance that the current government has against a fate similar to that of the unlamented Tunisian dictatorship is the fact that our government has recruited the most reprehensible elements of the Sri Lankan political establishment into its ranks. Every single one of these will support it, literally, to the death because not to do so would place them at risk of paying the ultimate penalty in the event that the government falls. Couple this with the security forces of the most militarised country in the world under the control of one of the Presidential siblings and this government’s defences are about as impregnable as they can get.
Are you surprised, dear reader, that, in those circumstances, I am loath to predict this junta being removed from power?