21 November, 2019

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A Fear Of Democracy

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

Sri Lanka inherited the system of parliamentary democracy from the British, one of the positive legacies of their colonial rule. Even though the original Westminster model was given up, first in favour of a republican constitution in 1972 and that again in favour of an executive presidential republic in 1977, political party system and the principle of electing peoples’ representatives to legislature have basically remained intact with periodical gerrymandering. In societies like Sri Lanka, where communities are not ethnically, linguistically, culturally and religiously homogenous, and where the voting strength is not balanced among them, parliamentary elections often provide opportunities for minority communities to form conditional coalitions with winning parties in order to maximise advantages deemed beneficial to minority constituents. The Indian community in Malaysia and Muslims in Sri Lanka in particular, are clear demonstrations of such coalitions. 

This strategy of bargaining and compromising with minorities is not favoured however by certain sections within majority communities, who are committed to secure absolute control over practically every sector of the country, be it political, economic, cultural and even religious. From the late 20th century and in several Muslim majority countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Algeria and Egypt, radical Islamists have openly expressed their condemnation of democracy and called it a Western evil introduced to secularise politics and to keep Muslim nations permanently under Western subjugation. These Islamists are also afraid that democracy allows room for other religious minorities to influence and dilute government policies to make them advantageous to non-Muslim interests. Ironically, after experiencing several setbacks these Islamist radicals themselves now realise that they cannot capture power except through the ballot box based on the democratic principle of one person one vote. Yet, there is a general fear among political scientists and observers that if these Islamists ever capture power through the ballot that would be the final fall of the curtain on democratic elections under Islamist regimes.   

In Sri Lanka, the Sinhala Buddhist supremacists, who intend to Buddhisize the country in all aspects and weaken the political bargaining power of minorities seem to entertain a similar fear about parliamentary democracy. Over the last few decades they have become particularly dismayed and alarmed at what they consider as disproportionate influence that Muslim parliamentarians in particular had enjoyed in almost every government that came to power since 1947. Even though the first executive president, JR Jeyewardene, could not be called a typical Sinhala Buddhist supremacist he too disliked the role of minorities in the parliament including the leftists, who on several occasions were able to defeat or amend legislations, which otherwise would have proved detrimental to the interests of minorities. This was one of the reasons why he brought his new all-powerful presidential constitution with provisions for proportional representation.

Even that mechanism has not yielded the expected outcome for the Buddhist-supremacists. For instance, the coalition between SLMC and SLFP and the mega-ministry that M. H. M. Ashraff held in the Chandrika government became a particular eyesore to this group. Had it not for the menacing LTTE terrorism, anti-Muslim agitation would have started long ago. Again, in the 2015 presidential elections it was virtually the unanimous support of the two minorities, Tamils and Muslims that defeated a pro-Buddhist-supremacist, Mahinda Rajapakse, in 2015, and finally, it is the crucial support of the representatives from minority communities that is keeping the present Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his government afloat. In fact, one of the Muslim ministers who resigned, and against whom allegations of fraud have been lodged by Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), has openly said that it was his refusal to support Rajapakse’s opposition in its attempts to bring down the government that triggered those allegations.    

It is in this context that one must understand the fundamental reason for the current anti-Muslim propaganda and wave of violence by members of BBS and their co-supremacists. They have a daunting fear that in the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, if the Sinhalese Buddhist votes were to split between two or among three or more parties and their candidates, votes of the minority communities would decide the victor.  This would be a disaster for the hegemonic aspirations of the supremacists. Hence, they have adopted two inter-related strategies. One is an uncompromising and open attack on Muslims, and the other is to cultivate friendship of convenience at least with Tamils of the East. On the first, the attack on Muslims had already started in the aftermath of the civil war. The Aluthgama riots in 2014 could be called as the opening salvo from the new front. After shifting the theatre riots to Amapara, Gintota, Digana and Kandy, the anti-Muslim mob received a fresh and more virulent impetus in April this year. That barbaric Easter carnage carried out by a fanatical bunch of Wahhabi indoctrinated Islamists from National Tawheed Jama’at, which consumed the lives of hundreds of innocent Christian worshippers, presented the supremacists a golden opportunity to resume their campaign from where they left, but with greater venom. Readers would be familiar by now with details of this cycle of violence and therefore need no repetition here. What is surprising is the unholy silence of the President, Prime Minister, non-Muslim members of his cabinet and the leader and members of the opposition when the riots were intensifying. Their unanimity in refusing to condemn the perpetrators of this violence and the street vendors of Buddhist supremacy will leave an indelible and bloody mark on the pages of Sri Lanka’s modern history.    

The strategy of cultivating friendship of convenience with Tamils is a new scenario in the political drama of supremacists, which opened a few weeks ago in Kalmunai in the Eastern Province. The demand for a separate council to the Tamil majority Kalmunai west was an old issue that remained unresolved because of the unwillingness to compromise between Muslim and Tamil leaders of that area. Suddenly, the supremacists saw an opportunity here to widen the rift between the two communities, while at the same time promoting encroachment by Sinhalese into Tamil dominant zones in the north and turning even Hindu temples into vihares. Not surprisingly, a new generation of Tamil leadership aspirants from the east are falling into the trap in order to gain short term advantages from the government. Ironically, it is the same businesslike strategy that Muslim leaders resorted to and gained numerous benefits to their community. But it was at a time when far-right Buddhism did not emerge as a political force to reckon with. The budding Tamil heroes are intending to adopt the same strategy now but under changed circumstances. In the calculations of supremacists splitting the minority votes would enhance the odds in favour of their own presidential candidate.   

In all these manoeuvres, one can discern the hidden fear of democracy in the thinking of BBS & co. Their agenda for an absolutist Buddhist Sri Lanka is no different from the Islamists’ goal of an absolute Islamic regime.  The philosophies of both are equally fundamentalist and intentionally confrontational. Like radical Islamists, who wish to convert non-Muslims to Islam, as ISIS did in its so called caliphate, the secretary of BBS wants to “mould” Muslims in this country to suit his supremacist agenda. He may be thinking of the Chinese government’s re-education program for Uygur Muslims. 

The big question however, is whether these absolutists and confrontationists carry with them the overwhelming support of the silent majority in the countries in which they operate. In Sri Lanka, the vast majority of Buddhists are not confrontational or intolerant in their thinking and behaviour. Having changed governments several times democratically, the Sinhalese Buddhist voters are too smart to fall into the supremacist trap. This country, until the rise of these far-right ultra-fundamentalist Buddhist elements, had remained committed to preserve its plural polity and religious tolerance. In a parliamentary democracy no one politically remains a permanent majority or permanent minority. That is the beauty of democracy. Let Sri Lanka maintain that golden rule. 

In the meantime, the nation faces far more serious problems than the claim for Buddhist supremacy, especially in respect of its economy, environment, sovereignty, and above all welfare of its citizens. Tragically, neither the supremacists nor the current rulers and not even the opposition has put forward any systematic program of action to tackle these issues so that voters could make an informed choice when voting. In the absence of such a program the only issue on which political campaign proceeding is over ethnicity and religion. This in short is the nation’s tragedy.         

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Latest comments

  • 4
    5

    A fear of Democracy or fear of Buddhism and Islamism?

    • 3
      9

      The most serious problem is suppression of Sinhalese the owners of the country
      for plundering it.

    • 4
      0

      its FEAR OF ‘KAAVI ROWDISM ”…. KAAMADURUs WITH HIV DISEASE ARE CURSE TO SRILANKA..PANSAL ARE FULL OF GAYS AMADURU

    • 1
      0

      Dr. Ameer Ali,
      RE: A Fear Of Democracy

      1. “What is surprising is the unholy silence of the President, Prime Minister, non-Muslim members of his cabinet and the leader and members of the opposition when the riots were intensifying. Their unanimity in refusing to condemn the perpetrators of this violence and the street vendors of Buddhist supremacy will leave an indelible and bloody mark on the pages of Sri Lanka’s modern history.”

      2. “The big question however, is whether these absolutists and confrontationists carry with them the overwhelming support of the silent majority in the countries in which they operate.”

      Thanks for an excellent article.

      Note: The Native Veddah Aethho are the original inhabitants of the Land.

      The Para-Sinhala are taught and brainwashed from an early age that the Para-Tamils Para-Demalu, are outsiders, foreigners, interlopers in the (Para) Sinhala Buddhism Faith Island, as told in the Mahawansa. The hatred was always against the Para-Tamils. There were no Para-Muslims, and later the numbers were small, and they were not Wahhabis and Islamists, until recently. So, the Para-Sinhala hatred that was directed for well over 2,000 years, is now in addition directed against the Muslims as well.

      For the President, Prime Minister, non-Muslim members of his cabinet and the leader and members of the opposition, who are Para-Sinhala, the Para-Muslims are not” US”, “THEM” and therefore the indifference. During 1956 , it was Para-Sinhala Only, exclude Para-Tamil strategy. SWRD exploited that.

      Now it is Para-Sinhala Para-Buddhist Only strategy. That is why the President, Prime Minister, non-Muslim members of his cabinet and the leader and members of the opposition kept silent. They are the extension of the rioters, but it is the SLPP, the one that is trying to exploit it fully, just like SWRD did with Sinhala only.

  • 16
    1

    Why should the government cater to minority issues or majority issues? What do the minorities want that the majority doesn’t want? The government should focus on the thing that we all want: a safe and stable country where everyone has a chance to improve their lives.

    • 12
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      Mohamed the Atheist:

      “What do the minorities want that the majority doesn’t want?” – Black Abayas (LOL, just kidding)

      Govt doesn’t focus on what we need. Politicians are busy making what our needs should be. As a result, majority of us prioritize religion over safety and stability of the country. In our democracy, it is easier to win elections renovating temples, mosques or kovils while not improving anything else.

  • 4
    0

    Dear Amir,

    Funnily enough absolutist Buddhist and Muslim position already exist.

    All you have to do is look at from another angle.

    Click on my name to see what I mean.

    Much appreciated

  • 2
    2

    Asian Kings dominated governments were more far democratic and respected the society than the Western Roman democracy which is very corrupt. Sri lanka is the only country which has appointed a India Tamils to look after the National Languages, language unification blah..blah..blah. I do not know what he did except Zaharan blew up.
    Srilanka is the only country Politicians, the International community all promote Ethnic and Religious politics. There is Tamils only TNA, Muslims only political parties, but BBS is wrong. Minorities talk about minority specific politics but Sinhala people (Now Sinhala Catholics are included, I heard, Non-European POPE is not popular among the western community, probably, he is not doing the western agenda).
    Just like sinhala parliamentarians, Tamil Politicians and diaspora, there are muslims too who destroy muslims from one side from another they promote ethnic and religious disharmony because that is what West want.

  • 3
    0

    “But it was at a time when far-right Buddhism did not emerge as a political force to reckon with.”

    What is far-right Buddhism?

  • 3
    8

    Sri Lanka is a country where majority Native Sinhalayo have to work according to the whims and fancies of minorities, Demalu and Muslims. For example:
    • When Sinhala which has been the official language until British changed it to English was made the official language after colonial rule ended, Demalu demanded Demala language also should be recognized as an official language. Majority agreed.
    • When the Government introduced the Sinhala letter ‘Sree’ to car number plates, Demalu opposed. So ‘Sree’ was removed and letters of ‘Para Sudda’ were introduced. Demalu had no problem with the letters of ‘Para Sudda’. What an unpatriotic bunch.
    • When Demalu said they want to sing the National Anthem in Demala, Sinhalayo agreed.
    • When Demalu said they want to keep ‘Thesawalamei’ which is a Malabari customary law brought to this country by slaves, Sinhalayo agreed.
    • When Muslims said they want Shariah Law, Sinhalayo agreed.
    • When Muslims said they want ‘Madrasas’, Sinhalayo agreed.
    • When the President said 19th Amendment should be scrapped, TNA and Muslim Congress politicians say they want it and Sinhalayo will allow them to keep it.
    • When TNA said they want a Federal Constitution, despite objections from majority Native Sinhalayo, dumbos in this Government agreed to that demand.
    • When Vigneshwaran said ‘NO SINHALESE IN THE NORTH’, the Government agreed to that and did not help the Sinhalayo who were expelled by LTTE from Yapanaya.
    • When TNA told to reduce Army in the North, the Government did that.
    • When TNA said not to teach history in schools, the Government agreed.
    • When TNA told to remove the name of King Gamini Abhaya aka Dutu Gemunu from history books, the Government did.
    • To please minorities, the National Flag of Sinhale was changed.

  • 4
    3

    Sajith’s father President Ranasinghe Premadasa is responsible for the pathetic situation native Sinhalayo have gotten into today. When the Proportional Representation system was introduced the initial cut off point for any party to qualify for parliamentary representation was 12.5% but Ranasinghe Premadasa reduced the cut-off point to 5% on a request made by M H M Ashraff of the SLMC before the 1988 elections. The reduction was with political intent and resulted in ethnic-based political parties with ethnic-based agendas to enter parliament and legislatively weaken and destabilize Sri Lanka incrementally to what it is today. The guy who did this to this country is a traitor and should rot in hell.

  • 8
    4

    The so called Majority ( racist among them) have destroyed this nation.

  • 3
    1

    A country or a nation is not only minorities or not only physical wealth. In order to bring up the children, there should be a culture and discipline. Face book, Liquor, Sex, Drugs, Night clubs are not the culture or discipline. Why ever govt in the world sponsor to some religion. Besides, Thailand, Myanmar and Sri lanka, even Indonesia has it’s problems from the International community. The reason is they have so many resources that can be exploited.

  • 3
    4

    Ameer ALI: IT is only sunnis and Tamils are dumb. They got caught. Other muslims are back in the track. See Dubai is richer than Saudi Arabia. why ?

  • 0
    3

    Sinhala voters must gang up and must get rid of all the International community trained sinhala politicians who are destroying the country. A new set of Sinhala politicians must be elected and, eventually, they must represent the electorate and the majority needs and not the international community needs.

  • 1
    2

    Another attempt by Mr Ameer to paint black aas white?
    /
    He says, “This strategy of bargaining and compromising with minorities is not favoured however by certain sections within majority communities…”
    /
    A look at all Sri Lankan governments since the 1970s then raises the question as to how Muslim ministers like Hakim, Fowzie and a dozen or so others managed to secure ministerial posts in every government since that time! It is widely known that Mustapha (who was closely aligned with the Rajapaksa dispensation), together with his father, was the key operator of the 2015 aligning of the Muslims with the Yahapalana movement. He was the last to return from Singapore and change sides.
    /
    Every majority political party and politiciam has cow-towed to the so-called ‘Muslim vote’, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s traditional support coming from Maligawatta area. Rajitha Senarathne is the currently most shameless follower of the wagon.
    /
    So this fraudulent campaign of Mr Ameer to rewrite our political and social history is getting a bit stale, to tell the CT readers frankly.

  • 0
    0

    A fine analytical piece Dr. Amir Ali. This sums up the present scenario on the Political stage right now.
    ……..In a parliamentary democracy no one politically remains a permanent majority or permanent minority…..
    Would this be another way of saying that in Politics there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies?
    Would this be valid in the present context? The divisions between communities are deep and well entrenched!

  • 1
    0

    In the run up to elections, whether PC or Presidential.

    ALL CANDIDATES MUST DECLARE THEIR ASSETS.

    WHICH SHOULD ALSO BE VERIFIED BY INDEPENDENT AUDITORS.

    ANY BREACH OR LAPSE OF THE AFOREMENTIONED RESULTS IN DISQUALIFIED PERSON RUNNING FOR TEN ( 10 ) years!

    There should be ABSOLUTE RETRACTION OF THE “ national list “.

    Any persons whom have had a court case against them PROVEN. SHOULD NOT BE ELIGIBLE TO PARTICIPATE- EVER.

  • 1
    1

    Mr. Ameer Ali
    You are right – an increasing number among the Sinhalese have developed a fear of democracy. Our democracy has allowed sections of people to band together based on ethnicity/religion and collectively vote in elections.
    En block opinion is anti thesis of Democracy which must be understood as against majority opinion. Sinhala politics, you may acknowledge that, is nearly 50-50 devided save fringe groups and seasonal variations. It is extremely unwise for all Muslims to organise themselves to vote for one party offending the other. You are also sacrificing your individual member’s right to secret ballot. If you sport a beard or cover your head or a pottu on forehead I know which party you voted for. This should not be – once the election is over it must business as usual. (In France along with the Islamic head cover they also banned wearing crucifixes, the idea being not to be idenfiable religion wise within the society at large.) If I were a Muslim leader not affiliated to any political party and concerned only with the welfare of the community I would advise my people to vote freely between major political parties including Muslim Congress and JVP. At this juncture Muslims need the goodwill of the majority of the majority. Your case is different from that of Hindu/Christian Tamils. Rein in your politicians.

    Soma

  • 3
    1

    Dear Jambu!

    You may not know that the black stone in Mecca had been there even before Lord Buddha was born (to human mother-father through their sexual relationship)

    You definitely not know that the black stone was a small part of meteorites. By the way Muslims don’t worship the black stone.

    • 0
      0

      Mr Navdi
      At the moment Israel/American rapid deployment anti aircraft systems are guarding it. As you know end aim of Shias is to seize control of Mecca and Medina.
      (For your information there are 33 billion gods to protect Buddhism in Sri Lanka.)

      Soma

  • 1
    1

    Ameer Ali

    “The Aluthgama riots in 2014 could be called as the opening salvo from the new front.”

    How about the attack in Dambulla on Friday, April 20, 2012 by mobs led by monks? The Khairiyah Jummah Mosque was stormed preventing the Muslims from performing the Friday Prayers.

  • 2
    0

    Enough, enough and definitely enough of the garbage of Sinhala, Tamil & Moors and the rest. Think SRI Lankan as first. The race religion and culture comes second. Remember, majority , if nor all the Sri Lankans came from the same root, Mother India. Look at what the divide and rule have done to the beautiful country which is slowly heading down the precipice. Stop it right now. Cast away your ill feeling and corrupt mindset (only among few minorities of Sinhala, Tamil & Moors) and build up the nation. Majority of the Sri Lankans are not only intelligent and are intellectuals. Think Sri Lanka , FIRST and do not let your critical thinking mindset be hijacked by politician or religious goons. Emotions have a place, but let it not run your heart.

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