23 February, 2020

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Autocatalytic Descent From Plural Democracy To Supremacist Authoritarianism

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

In a few days, Sri Lanka will celebrate its 72nd year of independence from colonialism. But behind the pomp and pageant of that celebration is a sad reality of an autocatalytic process – a small initial event triggering a chain reaction that evolves on an ever faster and bigger scale – that deformed a vibrant popular democracy, in which all its constituent communities were considered to be of equal status and were reasonably well off when compared to many of her Asian neighbours at the time of independence, and transformed it into a supremacist authoritarian rule, in which except for the Sinhala majority, and within it the Buddhist chunk, the rest have been virtually reduced to second class citizens. Along with this political descent was the systemic and systematic mismanagement of one of the most successful welfare states in Asia, which has now become so vulnerable to external pressures that the country’s independence itself is about to be mortgaged for economic survival. Sri Lanka today is a divided nation, economically debilitated and strategically cornered. The systematic erosion of the country’s democratic constitution and systemic mismanagement of its economy and resources have inevitably installed an authoritarian president, who, either through conviction or political necessity has not been able to free himself from the supremacist trap. 

Authoritarianism had been the political superstructure on which economic power houses were built in South East Asia. The economic miracle of the Asian Tigers won unanimous admiration of all international economic managers and super powers, with little or muted criticism of the undemocratic politics behind that miracle. One common element of South East Asian authoritarianism and why it did not provoke open attack from the civilized world was that it was based on economic rationalism and not on religious zealotry or ethno-nationalism. This is not the case with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa‘s (PRG) authoritarianism. It is overwhelmingly biased towards achieving economic miracle on the back of Buddhist supremacy.              

The initial trigger or the root cause of the autocatalytic decent from democracy to authoritarianism could be traced back to the supremacist philosophy championed by members of the Sangha right from the 1950s that Sri Lanka belongs only to the Sinhala Buddhists, that their ownership should be protected by every possible means, and in particular through the powers of the state. This supremacist idea, in a sense, originated as the natural outcome of nearly 450 years of colonial subjugation under Christian powers. However, that ownership claim failed to recognise the historic legitimacy of the country’s co-owners. Through a chain of action and reaction therefore, the single ownership claimants set on a collision path with minorities that drained the nation’s plural democracy of its substance, delegitimised the indigenousness of national minorities, derailed the path to economic prosperity, and defamed the country’s reputation internationally. 

From the passage of the controversial Ceylon Citizenship Act No. 18 of 1948, to a planned dismantling of all safeguards to minorities enshrined in the Soulbury Constitution, and through electoral gerrymandering, constitutional making, unmaking and remaking, and economic, educational and social discrimination, the domineering power and status of the Buddhist majority were brazenly entrenched. It was this entrenchment of supremacy on behalf of a dominant group in a plural polity that began the autocatalytic process, which manifested, among other evils, in cycles of inter-communal violence from 1950s to 1980s, a thirty year civil war till 2009 and a major act of terrorism in 2019. As long as the idea of a single group supremacy is allowed to prevail in state management there is no guaranty that the autocatalytic process would wind back or dissipate. Alternatively, to depend on security forces to reverse that process, would not only be un-affordably expensive given the poor state of the economy, but may even perversely bring about a police state, which is worse than authoritarian democracy. 

The supremacy-driven catalysis has drained the nation’s democracy of its substance. If peaceful transfer of power through periodic parliamentary elections is the only test of meaningful democracy, then Sri Lanka would pass that test with flying colours. Except for a coup attempt in 1962 and two JVP insurrections in 1971 and 1983 all of which failed abysmally, political power was always transferred from one regime to another through the ballot box. However, democracy is a lot more than regular elections and change of regimes. One of the most important ingredients of a successful democracy is de jure political equality without being undermined by de facto economic and social equality. This is particularly important in a plural polity like Sri Lanka.       

The unconditional surrender to the supremacist agenda by all national parties, with the exception of traditional left, has hollowed out democracy of its true meaning while preserving the carapace of periodic elections. To translate the supremacist idea into reality affirmative actions by governments were needed to provide a head start to certain sections within the majority community that lagged behind the others due to uneven development under colonialism. Had there been a set time limit and strict monitoring of progress for those actions hardly any would have reacted adversely against such measures.  But preferential treatment became a permanent feature under all governments. As a result, meritocracy, efficiency, accountability, transparency and such other requirements of good governance were sacrificed in favour of discrimination, nepotism, corruption and other corrosive evils that cumulatively led to public sector mismanagement, administrative inefficiency and economic debility.

Actions triggered by the supremacist agenda and legitimised by successive governments made reaction by affected groups criminal and deemed even unpatriotic. Thus began the autocatalytic process which over the last seventy plus years drained democracy of its substance, divided the nation, enfeebled its economy and jeopardised Sri Lanka’s long term stability and international standing. The communal riots, the civil war, acts of terrorism and all such ruinous occurrence germinated from the supremacist agenda. Although for over sixty years that agenda had been in operation from within the confines of the parliament, it was only after the end of the civil war in 2009 that it became a propaganda weapon in the hands of militant Buddhists, including members from the Sangha.  Supremacy at any cost seems to be their goal, and any weapon to achieve it seems justifiable in their view. The way this propaganda unfolded during the last presidential election and how that election divided the nation ethno-religiously is common knowledge.

When President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced during his election campaign that he wanted to change the political culture of this country and bring about a meritocratic, technocratic and clean government, there was a sigh of relief and optimism at least among the educated class and civic activists that the autocatalytic process would slow down and may even be reversed. Although it is too soon to pass any conclusive judgement on his presidency, one is able to witness already that features of ancient regime are quietly re-emerging. Nepotism in public appointments at higher levels, interference in judiciary, involuntary retirement of public officials, economic populism with disregard to its overall impact on the economy and with focus on victory at the next General Election, deployment of military forces throughout the country to prevent any violent reaction from the affected, and tolerance of excesses from supremacists, are signs of continuance and not change in the political culture as promised by PGR. 

In the meantime, international and regional pressures are mounting on Sri Lanka. Apart from the ballooning foreign debt and associated pressures from IMF and other lenders, USA initiated Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), Acquisition and Cross Service Agreement (ACSA) and Status of Forces Agreement (AOFA) are looming threats to the nation’s partially vacuous sovereignty. Behind the accusations and counter-accusations between the caretaker government and the opposition, is an inconvenient truth that it is a matter of time before US forces set foot on Sri Lankan soil. Regionally also, neighbouring India’s latest Brahmos-armed Sukhois-30MKI fighter jets stationed in Tanjavur in South India has placed Sri Lanka within its Indian Ocean surveillance radar. India has determined to counter with US support, China’s Indian Ocean penetration via its twin strategy of One Road One Belt and String of Pearls. Amidst these developments, Sri Lanka’s posture of neutrality in foreign policy is increasingly becoming meaningless rhetoric. The country is pressured to make a choice between India and US on one hand and China on the other. Do the supremacists have an answer to this dilemma?

While the pressure of debt servicing does not show any sign of easing in the short or medium term, politically motivated economic measures such as tax and tariff reductions, wage increase and public sector employment have made that pressure even more acute by creating additional budgetary problems. This economic weakness when combined with geopolitical pressures obviously threatens the country’s sovereignty. Any impartial observer of these developments cannot miss the link between the current situation and the civil war. That unwanted war was an outcome of the autocatalytic process triggered by a supremacist agenda. PGR, who came to power promising a clean slate in governance and economic management is still wedded to the same agenda. His policy of political exclusion and economic inclusion to the Tamil minority is an illustration of the supremacist agenda. As long as this philosophy prevails there will not be a solution to the national question and the country will remain vulnerable to external pressures. 

Araciyal pizhaththorkku aram koottakum – to those erring in politics dharma is the angel of death (Cilappathikaram).

*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business and Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia

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  • 9
    22

    Dear CT,
    When will you get Ameen and other Muslims of his ilk to accept the following two basic truths:

    1. We need effective methods to eliminate Islamist extremism arising from within the country’s Muslims, aided and abetted by Indian and Wahabi Muslims in the Middle East.

    2. What he calls’ Authoritarianism’ is in fact our way of safeguarding national security forcefully.

    So there is no point in making bogus allegations of our Sinhala Buddhist country. We have prevailed for 3000 years, and we will continue to overcome the Islamist bastadry

    • 1
      1

      Dr. Ameer Ali,

      Re: Autocratic Descent…

      The monks are happy. Why?

      Thanks for your article.You briefly touched on the core problem, the preservation and maintenance of Monk hegemony, the Para-Sinhala Para-“Buddhist “, ideology, by distorting Buddhism and insulting Buddha, called Buddha-Agama, Buddha’s Religion, which the imbeciles, mean IQ 79, subscribe to, for the continuation of the Monk hegemony, by prostration.

      Gotabaya and his cronies, latched on this, aided and abetted by the incompetence of Yahapalanaya, and succeeded in getting elected.

      What do the monks want? Hegemony. Ever since they hijacked Buddhism, they wanted Monk hegemony.They established the monks, Sangha, as the third gem of the Triple Gem, next to Buddha and Dhamma, and got the imbecile followers, prostrate to them for ever, and feed them.

      See how it was in Tibet before the Chinese invasion with Monk hegemony.

      Have anybody got to Nirvana, Nibbana, Heaven, Hell, Apaya etc. yet?
      The mean IQ of Paras is 79, and and this along with the shortcomings of Yahapalanaya,, gave an opening to Gotabaya Rajapaksa. What about Ranil W and Sirisena? They did their part as well.

      All the monks want us hegemony, prostrations, Dana, offerings, and regular supply of young boys and Samaneras.

  • 18
    6

    one should contact each and every one of the nearly 7 million Sinhala modaya’s as to why on earth they voted for this ganan kara sulran.?
    =
    not even 3 months has lapsed by the much-beleagured nation has undergone many a drastic change. if anyone who’s living in this sad sorry state or some clown of an idiot like me who is an avid blind loyal of a lunatic who cannot begin and end the day without scanning the various Lankan websites.
    =
    whether one likes it or not the air and the atmosphere since the 16th of November 2020 where the once adored beloved and well-known isle better known to the refined as the pearl of the Indian Ocean has become the heaven for the I.R.C. ganan karayo’s rata.
    =
    have any of you dudes that after this sad date there’s not even being said or televised criticizing the present sharks rearing sultan, his immediate family members and the rest of the rogues who are now in sheer abundance.
    =
    why, why, why and with a big WHY, I ask in utter bewilderment. ?
    =
    the government doctors, the postal and the railway employees who held the previous government to daily acts of economic torture and vandalism have suddenly gone into a sick, silent mode and they all seem to be in a mourning mode where their beloved mistresses have met with an untimely tragic death or having committed a hari-kari on themselves.
    =
    the daily CoL better known to the educated as the cost of living index has shot up to the moon and is now on its way to gain entry into new pastures one could safely say.

    • 4
      14

      Mr. ROHAN JOHNPILLAI,
      /
      Wait till end of April.
      You can make that count 9.7 million after the general election.
      /
      good luck.

  • 6
    15

    For you….
    2019 presidential election results appear like a miracle…..
    Wait till you see the general election results…..

  • 1
    5

    This man inviting a white van to his doorsteps! Asking Dhal :) :) :) :) :)

  • 1
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  • 14
    3

    Dr. Ameer Ali.

    Easily your best essay. A very clear mind.
    President Gotas formula……
    Achieving economic miracle on the back of Buddhist Supremacy………..
    This will be the last nail on the coffin!

  • 2
    0

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    0

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  • 0
    0

    The mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools, Sri lanka was sharpening the tools ( Authoritarianism) depending to china now depending is not for rising to fall adjust the action steps. The world knows the vision of the sri lanka with china now the responces is eminent for advance interests by supremist countries.

  • 11
    3

    Gotha will lose majority status at the upcoming general election. It will be a minority government after April

    • 6
      2

      Maharage

      “Gota will lose majority status at the upcoming general election.”
      Merely wishing or hoping that it will happen is not enough.
      Much work, action and strive is needed to ensure that end.
      Time to start is now?

      • 1
        4

        Uthugan,

        We only can wish and hope for it. But is for UNP to transform this wish into action, but Bond scan Dr. Ranil, together with Ravi K, and Royal Kalliya is conspiring with Gatha- Mara camp to undermine the unity of UNP before the general election and vitiate all chances of Sajith to emerge as the only leader who can challenge Pohottuwa’s corrupted regime and prevent an emerging military state.

    • 1
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      Precisely.

  • 6
    5

    Great Article about Saudi Arabia and all Muslim countries in general.

    • 2
      0

      Precisely.

  • 3
    2

    The author said and I quote:

    “….the rest have been virtually reduced to second class citizens. …..”

    That is why I fully support colonial foreign rule like what we had before 75 years ago.
    Then we all will become equal citizens. Ther is nothing called the ‘Majority’ or minority. We all will be just Sri Lankans, and such a state will unite everyone. The present state is akin to a cricket match having an umpire from one of the teams playing the match! A cricket match must have an independent umpire who does not have any connection to either team. The colonial or foreign rule is like having an independent umpire managing all communities of the country.

  • 2
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    I am glad to see a Muslim scholar quoting from an ancient Hindu Tamil text – the Cilappathikaram (More commonly spelled as Silappathikaram).

    • 0
      0

      Hi Stanley!

      “You’re glad to see a Muslim…,” what sort of gladness is this? People can quote and do quote from various sources for various reasons. Are you very new to this kind of things? I wont be glad if you quote anything from Islamic text or Buddhist sources. Do you think that a person with Arabic name has no or should not have knowledge of other texts than their own. Oh,oh oh poor Stanley.

  • 1
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  • 6
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    Great article. Ameer Ali has found the nerve for CT. It promotes reconciliation. Probably, you learned all these while living and employed in Australia.

  • 1
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  • 2
    2

    PLURAL DEMOCRACY: Ranjan explained it to Hirunika. It is Tapes too. He says Nayakathuma would do something to Buddhists (and Catholics as well) if he becomes the president. Bhikkus were truely harassed. Now he is living with 200 presidential guards and eight super luxury LIMOUSINES. a People’S leader hiding from people. eXCELLENT LEADERSHIP.

  • 0
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  • 1
    3

    With out the cooperation of Tamils and Muslims sinahalese alone cannot take this nation forward…why ?
    Today: more than 1 million Tamils in Europe alone .
    Sri Lanka need their support and experience to develop this nation.
    If Sri Lanka does not get this support; DEVELOPMENT is possible but it will be delayed ..like wise; it is only Muslim countries give interest free loans no one else .
    China helps not for any reasons but to get more interest ..
    Yet; Muslim communities too help Sri Lankan economy to some great extent…
    So; all communities should help this nation…

    Otherwise we will.need another 50 years to take this nation forward ..
    Consider all corruption among sinahzlee.
    It is sinahzlee who looted this nation but others .

  • 6
    2

    Dr Ameer seems to be spraying his ammo in all directions, without getting the real target on the crosshair..

    Just a few things in Bullet Points.

    When Soulbury left, Anglicans were in total control with the Sinhala Elite converts enjoying the fruits of the 300 year colonization, which made them the owners of large swathes of crown lands in their personal Property Portfolios, free of charge of course..

    Tamils who were good servants to the Colonials were well taken care of with plum jobs in the Public Service.
    And good Education and good Schools for their children.

    Dr Ameer’s ancestors were also doing well as usual, taking care of the supply side of the Economy .

    While the poor natives who are the real owners of the 2500 year old civilization were sitting under coconut trees, watching the days pass by, wile their missus were pounding the Paddy , if their husbands were lucky enough to bring some home ,after working as slaves in the fields owned by the White sucking Landlords .

    It has taken good 70 years for the natives to have some say in their own country,

    Even that progress was disrupted by the Tamils for 30 years from the 80s to 2010..

    After Tamil menace was eliminated and the Native inhabitants started getting some real time progress in Economics and their Standard of living , Dr Banda’s dear Daughter who is also an ex President got her loyal servant to help Dr Rani and his mates to put a stop to that progress..

    The Stopping they did was bloody marvelous, culminating in the destruction of Catholic Church in their final year of Yahapalanaya.

    • 0
      0

      so who is rajapakses? they are belong to same group who were produced by catholic colonials in three hundreds. years. Worst, they are Chinese tribe brought Sri lanka from Malaysia by colonial. So these Sinhalese who are siting under coconut trees know who they are? Why don’t you teach them?
      Do you know why western colonialists and others spies brought them to power?

  • 4
    2

    Dr Ali,
    Thank you for this perceptive analysis.
    I agree with you fully except for your exoneration of the traditional left, which has been cohabiting with the supremacists for decades.

  • 1
    0

    Sri Lanka does not have choice in selecting the foreign policy. It has to be what president said in his inaugural speech at Anuradhapura. Sri Lanka has to select live in harmony, live in peace, try to help our people live a peaceful and happy life. It is possible america becomes very aggressive and highly intrusive. If any country becomes so aggressive, then we have to hire Fidel Castro as the president. That is the last to preserve our type of life. As Sri Lanka is free, as everybody is talking, govt has to know what most of overactive people try to engage in.
    I heard, the Chines govt knows what Hong Kong protesters are doing because they also to the govt. So, their instruction, THAT IS OK BUT DO NOT BE THAT DESTRUCTIVE.

  • 1
    2

    Well done Amir Ali a very good essay and analysis. Don’t worry about the Muslim bashers .

  • 1
    0

    Debt servicing is a FRAUD. Ranil the clean man came TO CLEAN and he himself became a thief. They say, EPF, one fund alone had either THREE TRILLION OR THIRTY TRILLION. tHEY COULD HAVE CYCLED THAT MONEY. Instead, they borrow from overseas. Give contracts to overseas companies. Stash the proceeds overseas. Most have become useless as the western stock market and even the real estate market is not doing good.
    It is the same thing with MCC-Compact. I here, they do not like lands even from Jaffna and they only like land corridor connecting Trinco and Colombo on which they want to build a Fuel pipe line which becomes a heave security zone. So people are not allowed to move freely.

  • 2
    0

    Diego Garcians are suspicious now about they winning the land back, They say, the island is highly polluted and not healthy for human use. So, Sri Lanka may have to give some lands for temporary occupation.

  • 0
    0

    “This economic weakness when combined with geopolitical pressures obviously threatens the country’s sovereignty. Any impartial observer of these developments cannot miss the link between the current situation and the civil war.”

    Exactly. That is something I have tried to argue in the comment pages on CT, and I have seen TNA leader Sampanthan making the same case in parliament.

    Overall, a fine analysis by Dr. Ali.

    “Araciyal pizhaththorkku aram koottakum – to those erring in politics dharma is the angel of death (Cilappathikaram).”

    This translation looks good.

    My Tamil is a somewhat rusty, but I think it would be better to say ‘kootrakum’ instead of ‘koottakum.’

    And the original translation by R. RAMACHANDRA DIKSHITAR in the 1930’s is: “Dharma will become the God of Death to kings who swerve from the path of righteousness.”

  • 3
    0

    The Muslim MPs played a pivotal role in the collapse of Democracy in Sri Lanka.
    They abused the previlages and authority as members of Parliament to engauge in unethical illeagal practices. They paved the way for ISIS to take root in Sri Lanka.

    This culminated with the Easter Sunday Bombings that eventually led to the downfall of the UNP / SLFP government and the emergence of the SLPP led by Gotabhaya Rajapaksha as the only hope against internal and external threats to Sri Lanka.

    For democracy to flourish all communities should be thinking of the greater good of the country. Democratic governments should give priority to national security, without national security there will be no democracy.

  • 4
    0

    Ameer Ali,
    Native Sinhalayo are craving for an Authoritarian Rule because bloody democracy that you guys want has taken this country down the drain because it allowed ‘Para’ Demalu and ‘Para’ Muslims to play hell.

    Compare China that has an Authoritarian Rule and India that boast about a Practicing Democracy. In 1950, India was relatively in a better position than China. But see the present situation. China has provided basic needs to all the people while in India millions are rotting under dire poverty. In India, Modi pays money for Indians to use toilets.

    Almost all the countries that have developed fast in Asia have or had Authoritarian Rule e.g. South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia.

    President Gotabhaya Rajapakse, Sinhalayo gave you the chance to put this country in the right track. Do not miss that opportunity.

  • 3
    0

    Wahabi terrorism continues to be a banned topic…………..The ultimate aim of it is to target and subjugate vulnerable states and convert them to Islamic states forcefully and violently. The destruction of historical Bamian Buddha statue is part of that ideology. Countries like India are responding to the threat vigorously. Yet some try to silence us discussing it. It won’t succeed though. Let’s go to Middle East and complain about supremacist authoritarianism for a moment see what happens.

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