by Karu Jayasuriya
These are extraordinary times. Just as spontaneous actions of defiance in East Germany by its peoples led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and eventually to the demise of oppressive Communist regimes all over Eastern Europe 22 years ago, youth on the streets of Cairo and Tunis are toppling dictatorships that just weeks ago seemed indomitable. These historic changes that we are witnessing in the Middle East, are a fierce wakeup call for tyrants across the world, especially those who assume that their rule is unchallenged and will last forever
Like many dictators and autocrats, the ones in the Middle East were projected as benevolent, sole options of stability in volatile regions and the darlings of foreign states that did not care to bother about the predicament of the populace of those who were ruled by tyranny. They like other autocrats elsewhere shared many a common thread. The dictators of Tunisia and Egypt made a mockery of elections. President El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia has been ruling that country since 1987 repeatedly winning fraudulent elections with astronomical margins. This was before he was ingloriously kicked out a few days ago. His counterpart in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak has reigned since 1980. Just a few months ago the political party of Mubarak, apparently emerged victorious in a national election claiming over 90% of the popular vote, a phenomenon that has been happening for decades. The absurdity of these claims are now laid bare, as millions of angry crowds march on the streets demanding that these unpopular leaders step down.
Mubarak and Ben Ali ensured that their families and a few cronies associated with the administration were the sole beneficiaries of development, plundering their country’s wealth and monopolising political power while the masses suffered without jobs, prospects of development or hope. The first lady of Tunisia is reported to have taken over a ton of gold when she fled with her husband days ago. This is while the average Tunisian suffers struggles to make ends meet on a daily basis. Accusations against the Egyptian regime of Mubarak are no better. Like most dictators, the strongmen of Egypt and Tunisia also hoped that they could pass down their thrones to their sons or family members, making a mockery of the people’s will to choose their leaders. In the name of stability, the international community also backed these dynastic intentions. Yet in the face of people’s power even the most ardent backers of these dictatorial regimes have withdrawn their support and endorsed the free will of the people, proving that perceived support in the global community for tyrannical regimes is fragile and easily suppressed by the popular will.
It is with great humility that we call upon the leaders of our country, who are currently intoxicated with their seemingly unchallenged hold on power, to open their eyes to the reality of what is happening in countries where the will of the people have been suppressed for too long. It is advisable for our rulers to bear in mind that they are serving at the pleasure of the masses, even though that representation has been repeatedly distorted by corrupt and fraudulent elections.
The current regime has made it a hallmark to ally our country with some of the worst dictatorships in the world. We call on the present administration to look at what is happening in the Middle East. Dictators who just a few weeks ago seemed unshakable, are now fleeing their countries in shame. Years of tyrannical rule are coming to an end because the people of those countries decided that it is not worth waiting for the crumbs thrown at them by corrupt rulers.
We are a country with enormous potential. Today that potential is being misused by a few individuals for their own gain. In the name of development, billions of rupees are being misappropriated while the masses are eagerly awaiting any benefits coming their way. Despite supposedly impressive economic numbers, the people are being buried under the weight of the cost of living. Families are being thrown onto the streets in Colombo in order to make way for luxury hotels, for which a few in the administration are getting enriched while the masses are left to fend for themselves. Our own Tamil brethren in the North are still suffering for want of basic needs.
Opposing politcal views are being suppressed. Independent media is under threat. Several journalists had to pay with their lives, whilst some have left the country for their safety. Election laws are being grossly violated and state media abused to an extent never seen in the history of this country.
The introduction of the 18th Amendment destroyed all democratic institutions. Masses are being deprived of their fundamental democratic rights. The consequences of these short sighted actions will have to be faced by all of us and our children in the future.
It is high time the government realized that the rulers cannot deceive and suppress masses forever. When things go beyond tolerance, people will start clamouring for their rights and freedom.
The events of the Middle East bear witness to this truth.
(Statement issued by Karu Jayasuriya – Deputy Leader, UNP)