29 November, 2020

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After The Post-Election Euphoria

By Izeth Hussain

Izeth Hussain

Izeth Hussain

After the euphoria caused by what was for most people (though not for me) the unexpected election victory of Maithripala Sirisena, we are now in the post-euphoria phase in which we feel the need for sober assessment of what it’s all about and what the prospects might be. It’s quite confusing, pointing to a need to get down to the fundamentals. But first of all, since we Sri Lankans are a people who know how to be grateful and to give credit where credit is due, let us all acknowledge a vast debt of gratitude to the unsung hero of the hour, the local Nostradamus who predicted an MR victory and thereby enabled a thundering booting out of the Rajpak Gang two years ahead of time. Earlier under JRJ we had the Jay Gang, after which under Premadasa we had the Prey Gang, and since 2009 we have had the Rajpak Gang.

I am not being facetious. I am pointing to facts that are crucially important in our search for the fundamentals underlying the present political situation. Our democracy has a tendency to be deeply flawed partly because our majority ethnic group, the Sinhalese, seem for the most part unable to grasp the idea that democracy is not just the will of the majority, that the “tyranny of the majority” exercised against the interests of the minorities amounts to a negation of democracy, and that democracy makes no sense at all without the observance of democratic values and norms. Furthermore our democracy can sometimes break down almost completely with the Government showing contempt for the rule of law and other democratic norms. The Government then morphs into a gang.

What is the explanation? It is partly a question of personality. JRJ and Premadasa were men of power who were clearly addicted to power, and it was not at all surprising that when they got the upper hand they exercised power often in a brutal and unprincipled manner befitting gang leaders. But MR was famous as a champion of human rights, and did not seem addicted to power. Nonetheless he too became, in many ways, the leader of a gang. I believe that the explanation is that our democracy is not an indigenous growth: it was conferred on us in 1931 under the Donoughmore Constitution. But we did make a success of it between 1948 and 1956, and also in intermittent periods since then. The probable explanation for this is that democracy is not just a creation of the European Enlightenment but something that answers to deep universal human needs and aspirations. But the problem is that democracy keeps breaking down in Sri Lanka. I argued in my last article that no democracy can be established on an enduring basis without a vigorously active civil society. Consciousness of this fact of fundamental importance should become an integral part of our political culture. It should even figure in the school curriculum.

Maithripala Post ElectionThe Maithripala S victory is generally seen as a victory for democracy. I think that this is quite correct, which no amount of statistical casuistry about the voting pattern can conjure away. The most telling fact in this connection is that neither of the two major parties representing the minorities, the TNA and the SLMC, sought an agreement with MS about resolving our ethnic problems. An obvious reason is that doing so would have provided racist ammunition for the Rajpak Gang’s election campaign. The more positive reason, I think, is that both the TNA and the SLMC understood the importance of democracy for the solution of our two ethnic problems. If MR had won there would have been a relentless drive towards an absolute dictatorship, and our ethnic problems would have been aggravated, not solved.

I believe that the nexus between democracy, or rather anti-democracy, and ethnic problems should be regarded as one of the fundamentals that we have to grasp in coping with our present political situation. In this connection we will do well to consider the record of the Western countries, all of which have fully functioning democracies. Many have huge immigrant populations, France alone having five million Muslims, but we hear of no serious ethnic problems in the West. There are several separatist movements but there are no civil wars, evidently because the strategy used to cope with them is that of democratic accommodation. In Sri Lanka we had no ethnic problem from 1948 to 1956, and that was precisely the period when we had a fully functioning democracy. After that we had an ethnic problem, and that was precisely the period when our democracy was deeply flawed by the equation of democracy with the “will of the majority” without regard to democratic values and norms. Our worst period of anti-democracy was from 1977 to 1988 when the Jay Gang practiced State terrorism against the Tamils. It led to the thirty year civil war. The next worst period was from 2005 to January 8, 2015. The prospect for a political solution to the Tamil ethnic problem, which seemed very bright in 2009, vanished completely and we have seen the stunning creation of yet another ethnic problem, the Muslim one. The nexus to which I am pointing seems to be of fundamental importance. Accordingly we should witness at least an alleviation of our ethnic problems if a new Government proceeds towards a fully functioning democracy.

The ebullient joy of my first paragraph above reflects what many Sri Lankans have felt in the euphoric phase following the recent elections. The morning after, the time for taking account of unpleasant realities and making sober assessments, has to come. The first unpleasant reality that I would note is that the most important reason for the MS victory was the minority vote. The minorities were the king-makers, true, but that does not mean that they can throw their weight about and be wholly optimistic about the future. The reason is that we might expect the continuance of the solid majoritarian consensus between our two major parties that in the last analysis the Sinhalese should reign supreme in Sri Lanka. So, the fact that the minorities have been the king-makers has no great importance. Another unpleasant reality is that MS won mostly in constituencies where the UNP has been traditionally strong, which could mean that MR had behind him a solid Sinhalese racist constituency.

It might seem therefore that the outlook for the minorities remains dismal, that the SLFP Opposition will stoke up racist hatred against the minorities in advance of the General Elections which are expected, and that the Government will feel compelled to compromise so as to avoid a haemorrhage of its Sinhalese votes. That argument assumes that the Sinhalese are essentially racist and that therefore they will remain racist forever. But that essentialist way of thinking is itself racist, and besides it is totally unrealistic because no human group remains just the same forever. I believe that more and more Sinhalese have been coming to feel the need for reasonable accommodation with the minorities and the forging of some degree of national unity, the alternative to which could be very horrible in the long run.

What should be done? I believe that a political solution on the basis of 13A will not be possible without a tripartite understanding between the Government, the Tamils, and India. That will take time, but in the meanwhile much can be done to remove the grievances of the Tamils and the humiliations heaped on them in the North. The Government has made a good beginning by asking the military Governor of the NP to resign. As for the Muslims, I have shown in a series of articles that it is nonsensical to talk of their posing an existential threat to the Sinhalese, and that there are no intractable problems between them. In conclusion I must emphasize that the solution of our ethnic problems will not be possible without vigorous activity by the civil society, and that the struggle to solve our ethnic problems should be seen as part of the struggle to establish a fully functioning democracy on an enduring basis.

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    Izeth Hussain –

    RE: After The Post-Election Euphoria

    All those who felt downtrodden and helpless under the Medamulana Mahinda Rajapaksa Family Dictatorship ans MaRa Crony Governance, felt relief, euphoria and quietly celebrated and slept well.

    “Our democracy has a tendency to be deeply flawed partly because our majority ethnic group, the Sinhalese, seem for the most part unable to grasp the idea that democracy is not just the will of the majority, that the “tyranny of the majority” exercised against the interests of the minorities amounts to a negation of democracy, and that democracy makes no sense at all without the observance of democratic values and norms.”

    Thanks. This election is part of growing up as a nation and getting educated for the majority Sinhala Buddhists, and other non-Sinhala Buddhists Sinhala-Christians, Sinhala-Speaking and Tamil-speaking Muslims, Tamil Hindus, Tamil Christians,, Malays and others as well.

    “In conclusion I must emphasize that the solution of our ethnic problems will not be possible without vigorous activity by the civil society, and that the struggle to solve our ethnic problems should be seen as part of the struggle to establish a fully functioning democracy on an enduring basis.”

    A properly functioning democracy, with Checks and balances with Law and Order and Accountability is the key.

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    “I believe that a political solution on the basis of 13A will not be possible without a tripartite understanding between the Government, the Tamils, and India”

    How about the Sinhalease?

    Without the support of the Sinhala people, there wont be any political solution to the ethnic problem.

    You cannot simply legislate equal rights to the Tamils.This need to be won over from the Sinhala people.

    The Sinhala people has been brain washed to think Anti Tamil,over the years by JRJ Gang and Rajapakse Gang

    The major hurdle is for the Govt to flush out this Anti Tamil raccism from the mindset of the majoriy, the Sinhala people

    This need to be done in a softly softly manner, by sending simple and soft messages to the Sinhala people.

    Imposing foreign ban on NE saying that the Tamil diaspora is planning to resuurrect LTTE is a form of soft message to corrupt the sinhala people’s mind.

    Lifting the ban and appointing a civilian as the Govnor is a soft message to de clatter the Sinahala people’s mind.Banning and dismantling the BBSmay be another soft act.

    A series of small acts like this will send the right message to the Sinhala peole. The serious matters such as 13A , demilitarisation of the NE will take a longtime to implement.

    First objective is to sell the Tamils as equal partners of the governance of the countyr, equal partners of the economic development of the country etc etc.

    The TNA and the diaspoara should also act in a manner to send the right soft messages to declatter the racist bias that have been implanted in the Sinhala people.

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    IH

    I am sorry that there appear to be some fundamental self-contradictions in your piece.

    You say: “….our majority ethnic group, the Sinhalese, seem for the most part unable to grasp the idea that democracy is not just the will of the majority, that the “tyranny of the majority” exercised against the interests of the minorities amounts to a negation of democracy…”

    And then you conclude: ….That argument assumes that the Sinhalese are essentially racist and that therefore they will remain racist forever. But that essentialist way of thinking is itself racist, and besides it is totally unrealistic….”

    I think it would be unfair to suggest that the “our majority ethnic group, the Sinhalese, seem for the most part unable to grasp the idea that democracy is not just the will of the majority…….”

    The ground reality is that MR/Gothabhaya merely used the Muslim card for political mileage via BBS, and did not expect it to blow up in their faces.

    However, one needs to ponder what the terrible post-election scenario could have been if a different candidate who did not have MS’s clean profile contested.

    In my view, while the minority votes did matter, the excellent analyisis by Tisaranee Gunasekera in her last piece very clearly showed that MR lost a huge chunk of Sinhala voters all over the country.

    In simplistic terms MR who had a majority of 1.8m votes in 2010 lost be nearly 0.5m votes this time round, which suggests that he lost about 2.3m votes in his bid for re-election.

    I have suggested in some of my comments on CT that the voter-mix for MR this time were:

    1. Bribed in various ways

    2. Threatened and intimated

    3. Led to believe that Tigers and the West would take over the country

    4. Extremist elements provoked by the likes of BBS

    5. The very high density of Sinhala rural lower middle class “non-intelligentsia” (who cannot clearly comprehend, and blinded about the depth of corruption and nepotism, but merely driven by loyalty to MR who defeated the Tigers and brought peace to SL)

    The last category (the majority of whom voted for MR) are innocent and ignorant. They are not innately racist. They were clearly misled by MR.

    I venture to suggest that the voter-mix for MS was fundamentally a protest vote comprising of:

    1. Moderate Sinhala middle-class urban inteligentsia

    2. New voters

    3. Hard-core loyalists belonging to the various parties who supported MS

    4. Tamils who were vigorously persuaded to vote for MS by the TNA

    5. As far as the Muslims are concerned for the most part they voted en-bloc against MR. The Muslims had long decided to vote against MR. Neither the SLMC nor any other Muslim party really had any say. It is obvious to any simpleton that Hakeem and Bathiudeen simply jumped ship to safeguard their own selfish political futures!

    The way forward now for Sri Lanka to avoid ethnic conflicts in the future is simply dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!

    Promotion of racial harmony and tolerance in this Sinhala-majority nation would be best served under the leadership of the Buddhist clergy led by the likes of Reverends Sobitha, Amila and Rathana.

    As a first step I would like to propose that the new government immediately establish a permanent “National Council for Racial Harmony” which should include respected clergy from all sides of the divide, besides other respected members from civil society.

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      MNZ – thanks for your detailed comment.I don’t think there is a contradiction. It does seem to me that most Sinhalese have not understood that the “tyranny of the majority ” amounts to a negation of democracy.Anyway the important point is that that misconception is not part of the essence of being Sinhalese.They can come to have a correct understanding of democracy.
      There are several interpretations of the statistics. The important points are these.80% of the Tamils voted against MR and even more of the Muslims. He won 55% of the Sinhalese votes, but that was a steep drop from the 65% at the previous election. He certainly did not lose only because the minorities voted against him.
      In any case the minorities are not going to call the shots. The two major parties will prevent that. I hope to make clarifications on this very important in my next article .

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        Dear Mr. Husain

        Kindly give us an example of a Islamic majority country for the Sinhala majority to learn about democracy and treat the minorities accordingly.

        Soma

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