By Emil van der Poorten –
With a presidential election very obviously in the cards in the near future, there has been a flurry of activity – at least in the media – connected with the expected event.
What should fascinate anyone observing the Sri Lankan scene are the various scenarios being predicted, all based, seemingly, on the fiction that elementary standards of democratic practice will prevail during this event.
To describe such an expectation as “bizarre” would be to understate the case when every bit of evidence points to the fact that the government and its acolytes cannot, in any shape, form or fashion, even consider the prospect of losing political power and, with it, protection for the criminal enterprises that they have conducted with absolute impunity and success during the tenure of the current regime.
What are the real implications of the bandits who are involved at every level of political power simply losing that power to a similar group of a different political hue? While it might cause tremors of seismic proportions for some, that scenario, at its simplest level, will not mean a change for the better for the vast majority of Sri Lankans forced to live in the steadily-worsening slough of despond which its rulers try to pass off as some kind of democratic paradise.
Consider what being subjected to “governance” by people adhering to the same pattern of absolute lawlessness that prevails today really means: a new bunch of thieves and thugs usurping the authority of those currently practicing the same dark arts. What that will amount to is a transfer of impunity from one lot to another with Joe Public in the crossfire of a conflict which has the prospect of setting new standards in the matter of violence and brutality. Add to that mess the prospect that those removed from the hog-feeder of privilege that passes for a national treasury will not go gently into the good night while they still have access to one of the largest armed forces in the world! As a side-bar, I’d suggest to those readers still living in a fool’s paradise where putting flowers in the barrels of guns pointed at them, seeking to turn swords into ploughshares etc.,etc., will only work in a situation where some element of civil discourse still prevails. That is not the reality in the Debacle of Asia!
Yes, I am suggesting the obvious: that a relatively well-looked after “security service” under the absolute control of a man considered the most powerful in this country will not hesitate to shoot down anyone having the temerity to insist that the ballot is more powerful than the bullet. What was done to Sarath Fonseka when he ran against the head of the junta, what happened in the Free Trade Zone, what happened to fishermen protesting their livelihoods being put at risk by Chinese vessels being “legalized” in their plunder of fish stocks under the Lion Flag, and what befell the peaceful protesters at Weliweriya could look like a Sunday school picnic compared to what lies in store for us if the current bandits are dethroned at the ballot box with anything less than a landslide victory for decency, honesty and good governance..
You might well ask why I am making the prediction that there will be gang warfare on the streets and byways of this land if that scenario just described comes to pass. The answer is very simple: because this is the ONLY means of livelihood available to the thieves that that are running amok in our country. THEY KNOW NO OTHER MEANS OF EARNING THE KIND OF MONEY THAT AN “ORDINARY” CITIZEN CAN ONLY IMAGINE IN HIS WILDEST DREAMS. To go from the kind of wealth in which they currently wallow to nothing, overnight, is obviously beyond unacceptable. The reaction to anything or anyone so much as even potentially presenting such a challenge is easily predictable. Consider also the fact that each and every one of the hierarchy from Ministers at the national level to the pandankarayas in the Pradeshiya Sabhawas, have armed “security” personnel at their disposal and the picture should get a little clearer. What they have to continue to impose their will on an unarmed and peaceful population is weaponry ranging from relatively old-fashioned side-arms to sophisticated assault weapons. This is not some science fiction scenario that I am describing. It is the simple mundane reality that faces any Sri Lankan desiring a return to the rule of law (if you still remember that term!), peace in the country and a minimum of honesty in the conduct of public affairs.
There is also the prospect of revenge-taking by those who were perceived to have stood in the way of those who have ravaged this country over several decades past, some of whom have already paid a significant price for such dissent. Apart from journalists, such as Lasantha Wickrematunge, who were terminated with extreme prejudice, as that nasty expression has it, there are those who were forced to seek political asylum away from their country of birth, those who were deprived of their livelihood if they had the gall to continue to live in this country and one who went from (Eelam-war) hero to “zero,” literally overnight. It is only reasonable to expect that they are going to seek their pound of flesh if they see the opportunity as presenting itself.
There are also those who have already been marked to walk the plank of the Rajapaksa galleon of state for whatever reason and feel they’d be well advised to exercise whatever skills they’ve cultivated to reach dry land. This seems to have led to a mad rush to seek something akin to PhD’s in “spin-doctoring” in their rush to both have their cake and eat it too, trying to protect their behinds from the current gang of bandits (if it returns to power) or a new band of similar orientation but different political hue. I can only suggest they check on what befell a fellow called Sarath Fonseka and another (uniformed) one called Vaas Gunawardena (and his son). By the time this piece sees print, they might well have to add the Rev. Rathana Thero, the dissident spokesman of the Jathika Hela Urumaya, to that list. On the other side of that coin you might examine a shooting star named Grero who won an election as a UNP candidate on one day and joined the Rajapaksa Regime the next in a jet-propelled “conversion!
But what about the seemingly sane and intelligent majority of Sri Lankans who don’t belong in the preceding categories?
Spending time theorizing about how this ethnic vote will split or how that religious group is going to react to a Pontiff’s state visit to Sri Lanka is simply a waste of time. The reality is that any election will be made yet another charade by our governing junta and will, then, be hailed as (yet another) “triumph of the people” even if the vast majority of those people have neither sought nor so much as participated in that “triumph.”
No change worth its name was ever brought about by a bunch of ninnies who sat around contemplating their navels and regurgitating polysyllabic words to lend “respectability” to that exercise. We need to devise strategies to take back the power that it is ours to wield and that task is going to be difficult enough without the opportunists and navel-gazers getting in the way. In any case, time is of the essence and, as a first step we need to create critical mass by bringing together all those individuals and organizations who are minorities when they stand alone but are a huge majority if they come together. Think of those needing a restoration of minimum standards in education, those seeking a similar outcome in health services, pensioners who have been devastated on every front, the working people who’ve had their EPF and ETF funds stolen. The list goes on and on. Enlightened self-interest can and must drive action for sea change even in the face of assault rifles. There is potential for a juggernaut of democratic change to be set in motion if people in this country simply realize that it can be done and choose those politicians who’ve proved their honesty to fulfill their hopes (and there still are a few of those around!). Once there is a massive groundswell of realization that this violence and theft must and can be stopped, not even assault rifles can stop what comes out of a ballot box full enough of pro-democracy votes. The biggest enemy of those opposed to the wholesale corruption and violence that is our lot at the moment is defeatism: a belief that any election can and will be stolen with ‘jilmarts’ of one kind or another. This does not have to be so if we get out in large enough numbers and cast our ballots for clean government and basic competence. We can and will win because we are the majority, a vast majority.
To the obvious question that the previous paragraph will probably provoke: “Isn’t a violent overthrow of this government the only solution to our present predicament?” my answer is simply that any such change will simply create chaos and violence and bring about yet another round of the very things we are trying to get away from. Our predicament calls for more than such simplistic solutions.
We cannot wait any longer. Now is the time to bring together every voice for honesty, peace and good governance, making every one of them heard loud and clear.