By Emil van der Poorten –
The danger of ‘Regime change’ seems to be the constant lament of those seeking to create the ‘Miracle of Asia.’ They drag out the term whenever there appears to be anything resembling critical mass building against the most corrupt government in the history of modern Sri Lanka. They apply to the term the most pejorative hue that one can imagine.
The corruption and violence has soaked down to the bone of the Sri Lankan body politic
On the other side of that particular fence are those claiming that ‘Regime Change’ would return Sri Lanka to a more humane, democratic model guided by such concepts as the rule of law, government commitment to human rights, and equity throughout society irrespective of race, creed or gender. Each time they invoke the term, they seek to imbue it with a magical quality, which suggests it would usher in some kind of ‘Sri Lankan Spring.’ However, particularly since what has followed the ‘Arab Spring’ in the matter of reactionary and Islamist fundamentalist tendencies in Libya and Egypt despite both of those countries throwing off decades-long repressive and corrupt regimes, there has been some re-thinking of what might follow similar change in Sri Lanka if the family hegemony that passes for constitutional government is, by some miracle, replaced by a type of representative democracy more like that which prevails in the established democracies of the West and which was to a great extent the norm in Sri Lanka in its first thirty years of independence.
The question, therefore, is whether what can peacefully replace the present maelstrom of corruption and violence is, in fact, going to be close in structure and practice to those of Western Europe and North America. Contrary to the blatherings of the Wimal Weerawansas, Patali Champika Ranawakas and others of their ilk who are clearly dictating political and philosophical direction in this country right now, China, Russia, Cuba and the rest of those alleged socialist or communist countries are not communist, socialist or even close to anything resembling egalitarian in the manner of their governance and certainly not models to follow. Not to put a fine point on it, we are faced with Hobson’s Choice in this regard in that ‘the West’s’ is the only model available to us if we don’t want the kind of despotism of which the Rajapaksas have already given us a first taste.
As unpleasant as that reality might be, that is the plain unadulterated truth. And for those who constantly tell me to ‘burgher-off’ (and I use an euphemistic equivalent in order to avoid the censor’s wrath here!) to some geographical point due north or south of here, may I suggest that, if they believe that Putin’s Russia or China or Zimbabwe are the ‘in’ places to spend the rest of one’s life, they should be organizing legal or illegal means of migration to those destinations for themselves and/or their families? Let’s start putting our money where our mouths are, chaps!
On a more realistic level, can we emerge from the mire into which every level of national endeavour has sunk – both in the government and private sectors – to establish a modicum of financial honesty and non-violent administration after the most reprehensible elements of a dictatorship have seemingly taken over the Sri Lankan body politic?
There are isolated examples of developing democratic miracles in some parts of Africa and South and Central America that suggest that such mind-boggling sea change just might be possible. One would be optimistic in the extreme, though, if they were to expect such change to occur swiftly where pillage of the public purse and venality without equal is now, literally, accepted as ‘the reality’ and one that is likely to prevail for the foreseeable future. If it ever happens, it is going to be nothing short of miraculous. It will, realistically speaking, be extremely slow and will require Job’s patience on the part of the citizenry to wait out the process that needs to unfold.
The change will have to begin with that most difficult of processes: change in the national mindset which has accepted without question the corrupted, twisted and nightmarish scenario that prevails across the land. The required change needs to be initiated through the establishment of a structure that returns democratic process and practice to the realm of national governance. The establishment of that framework is a sine qua non for even the hope of a democratic future for us and our progeny and our progeny’s progeny.
The corruption and violence has soaked down to the bone of the Sri Lankan body politic and what makes its removal most difficult is the fact that those wielding the most power and influence at the moment will, of necessity, have the largest part to play in that monumental change. While they might not be those who have initiated and drive the corruption, they are, more often than not, the beneficiaries of the venality of which this land has to be cleansed. The Colonel Sanders Chicken Run analogy comes to mind here!
A complex conundrum? You bet! One beyond solution? Perhaps not, if enough people of goodwill put their shoulders to the wheel, and let me, in that context invoke a most appropriate quotation from Margaret Mead at this point:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
If that sounds like unrealistic “pie in the sky” speculation address your mind to the fact that the Bolsheviks (Majority) who succeeded in overthrowing the Czarist government were, in fact, Mensheviks (the minority) and it was certainly a minority – the middle class – who brought about revolutionary change in France in the late 18th Century. In fact, every event that effected sweeping change in man’s modern history was initiated by a few, a small minority of the population.
What is lacking in Sri Lanka in the matter of dealing with massive corruption and dictatorship at the moment appear to be a few good people with a determination to effect the change that the entire nation is crying out for. They have to be prepared to undergo some inconvenience and, perhaps, worse, in order to bring about the change that a whole nation is crying out for.
I do not buy the theory that the approval rating for a group of people who got rid of what was basically a rag-tag band of fascist brigands is going to persist forever and continue to shield rapists, murderers and thieves and, most tragically, destroy the very soul of an ancient civilization which its people are justifiably proud of.
I will repeat what I have said more times than I care to remember recently and which I will continue to repeat ad nauseam: those of you who DO have significant protection by virtue of the class or economic group you belong to, whose ‘connections’ with those who are pillaging our nation precludes your being terminated ‘with extreme prejudice’ have a DUTY to step out from behind your protective barricades and speak power to truth or whatever term is to the matter of leading the national cleansing process.
The ripples of change have to begin somewhere and I am stating the obvious with regard to where that can and should be. This breast-beating by all and sundry, wailing the ‘woe is me’ refrains of “The opposition parties are ineffectual, Ranil Wickremesinghe is Mahinda Rajapaksa’s best friend, Sarath Fonseka has given evidence of Fascist tendencies” and similar gibberish which serves no purpose, are doing one thing and one thing only: they are presenting excuses for inaction. That must end.
In any event, if you are looking for change in the current Sri Lankan context, the last thing you need is a mirror image of those who constitute the problem and whom you are seeking to get rid of! You need the alternative. People of goodwill and determination must man the barricades. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will Sri Lankan democracy be re-built in a similar time span. But it CAN be done because it MUST be done. For ALL of us to survive in what can, once again, become the Pearl of the Orient.