25 June, 2022


Democracy Or Dynasty?

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Sri Lanka at the cross roads. People may see different dimensions depending on different vantage points from which they look at the cross roads. However, at the presidential elections, it is a key choice between democracy and dynastic-authoritarianism.

The emergence of authoritarianism subordinating traditional parliamentary democratic institutions was linked to the executive presidential system. It also had an ethnic as well as a class dimension. Those were different to the ethnic or class dimensions that we could see prior to the advent of the presidential system in 1978 or under the parliamentary system. The protracted civil war, based on the ethnic conflict, was a result of the new situation beginning 1983. The effective subjugation of the organized working class or trade union movement or any other popular movements also was a result of the same process. Or otherwise, what was the purpose of authoritarian presidential system, one may ask? The usual answer given is development or the open economy. However, the hidden or related objectives were different.

The presidential-authoritarianism is repressive both on the ethnic and class dimensions. The Governor’s interference in the Northern Provincial Council activities as the President’s representative, and Rathupaswala military intervention are two examples.

However, so far the system depended on ‘free and fair’ electoral processes whatever the inbuilt constraints within and added to the constitution. It is still the case, but has become weaker and weaker. It might disappear soon.

Nature of the Regime

The specific nature of the present regime is not mere presidential-authoritarianism. It is presidential-authoritarianism + dynasty. A close family and a surrounding clique have become pivotal in the wielding of power, at the center and in many provinces. It may be called dynastic-authoritarianism for convenience.

One may ask at this stage, whether I refer to the constitutional system or the regime? The State is different, of course shaped or constrained by the constitution. The answer: I refer particularly to the regime form, based on the constitutional system. Keep it in mind that regimes create constitutional systems and then the constitutional systems shape the regimes. The relationship is dialectical.

How the regimes are created? The regimes are created normally through social and political forces. But it is apparent that leaders (Heroes?) and even families also create or determine the regimes. This is exactly the case at present. Do people have a say in creating regimes? Yes, they do have both through democratic and extra-democratic means. However, in the case of parliamentary processes, what is created is not exactly a regime.

A regime is a cohesive ruling group and if the parliamentary processes are strong what is created is not exactly a regime. It is a government and a representative body. The term regime does not comfortably fits with a proper parliamentary process.

Could we see a JR or a Premadasa regime? Not exactly. Less so in the case of CBK. Could we see a Rajapaksa regime? Most certainly.

Emergence of Dynasty

Dynasty is normally referred to the succession. However, it is more than succession. For example, Mahinda Rajapaksa has not handed over power to Namal Rajapaksa. Not yet. However, he has accorded immense power to Namal even without a ministry. The present dynasty, so far is mainly on the horizontal axis. As we know, his brother is the strong man in the defense and security establishment. His elder brother controls the Parliament. Another one, the economy. It goes beyond the immediate family. A nephew is controlling a province. There are hordes of relatives in the Foreign Service and in state agencies.

What is wrong in a family, one may ask? Why anyone envious? The Buddha emphasized the importance of family in his Singalovada Sutta. Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) emphasizes it. However, that is not to wield political power or usurp a country or resources of a country. In politics, it is natural for family members to get attracted. However, there should be ethics and constraints. It is not merely a matter of scale. Here what we have is a total control. Nearly a 60 percent of the national budget is controlled by the Rajapaksa family.

How has this happened? Well, these Rajapaksas are a strong family. They have been in politics for generations. These nepotistic tendencies are within our (feudal) social traditions. They are all over the world. That is why democratic constraints are necessary. I was once asked to write Mahinda Rajapaksa’s biography. First I was tempted and then dropped it, having seen the ugly side.

How has this dynasty come about at this juncture? It is partly coincidental. The size of the family for example. It is partly a product of the intense war. Even Prabhakaran was or would have been the same on the other side of the fence.

But this Rajapaksa dynasty is mainly a construction or a creation. This is where the danger lies. They are only at the midstream of this project. This ‘conspiracy’ of premature election is a very significant step of this project. A major past step was the 18th Amendment. Now this election (strictly speaking illegal) requests a ‘new mandate.’ That is what is called in the presidential proclamation. For how long?

If MR is elected at this election, he will rule for 8 more years. If MS is elected, his term will be for 6 years. This is a difference, many have overlooked. Is it democratic?

Even Maithripala has stated that the term of the Head of State should be 4 years. If elected, he would become an elected Head of State (with necessary powers) within 100 days and not a continuing Executive President. He would not be a ‘broomstick’ in anyone’s imagination, however!

If Rajapaksa is elected, he would rule the country for 8 years and bring a new constitution to entrench the dynastic-presidential-authoritarianism. It would be like the 1974 Ne Win constitution in Burma. Ne Win however didn’t have dynastic ambitions, only military-nationalist or ‘socialist’ ambitions. On the authoritarian front it would be the same, couched in populist jargon, even a misguided Marxist might get attracted to.

However, the whole project is 40 years late. Even the Chinese might reluctant to buy it.

Ideological Influences

My initial research for Mahinda Rajapaksa ‘biography’ (which I dropped later) revealed that he was strongly attracted to Kim Il-sung thinking in the early 1970s when he was a young parliamentarian. Il-sung’s selected works were translated into Sinhalese and even serialized in the Lake House newspapers those days. Particularly the concept of Juche attracted him, and also Il-sung’s personality cult. Juche roughly means ‘self-reliance’ and in the present context, ‘home grown solutions.’ Rajapaksa must have closely followed the Kim dynasty thereafter: Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un.

Minister Pavithra Devi Wanniarachchi worshiping the President

Minister Pavithra Devi Wanniarachchi worshiping the President

Of course there were other influences. He was in close association and solidarity with Col. Gaddafi. MR visited him both immediately before and after Nandikadal, whatever the reason.

Winning the war was a major prompt to create the Mahinda Rajapaksa personality cult, with huge cutouts, portraits, songs, worshipers etc. Even the Ministers began to worship the President. The following picture is a good example.

Modern dynasties are created first constructing personality cults. Arnold Ludwig in his, “King of the Mountain: The Nature of Political Leadership,” said the following on the purposes of creating personality cults.

“The main purpose of a government-sponsored personality cult is to get the people to believe that their ruler has extraordinary, even divine-like qualities so that they will follow his lead or be too scared to rebel.” (p. 75).

It is not only the leader or hero who creates the unbelievable image, but his cronies. Ludwig further said, “Rulers want the people to think well of them. So when they get a chance to influence the attitudes of their people towards them, they naturally want them to believe that they are wonderful as they imagine themselves to be. After the people begin to repeat what they were programmed to say, the leaders often forget that they were the ones who programmed them to say it in the first place.”

Breaking the Trap

I do hope that people are not ‘too scared to rebel,’ like Maithripala Sirisena or before him, Sarath Fonseka has done. And hope they have shaken off the deceptive image or impression sufficiently that the propaganda machinery has created about the ‘Hero.’

What is necessary, for the moment, is just a rebellion at the polling booth by casting their vote against MR for usurping the country. Last time in 2010, it was too early and complicated. Today, it is the right time. Otherwise, not only the present, but also the future generations would suffer.

There is some hope.

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Latest comments

  • 5

    “It is presidential-authoritarianism + dynasty.”

    So we get Ranil and Chandrika back?
    No authoritarianism, No dynasty of course.

    • 8

      Do we have any other options than choosing the lesser evil ?

      Do you want law and order to be fallen to the manner you see it today ?
      Do you want criminals to get bred to the manner you see it today ?
      Do you want any of their guys (ape miniha) to represent you even if they are just bar keepers, baggage boys, former senior soldiers/leftinent or army/navy men to represent you while hiring high cost companies to do even their least task (like formulating speeches) by abusing collosal amounts of tax payers funds-while Rajarata people and rural poor let fall into much deeper ?
      Do you simply want thugs to give you commands in the next 8 years too ?
      Say they talk about brilliant intelligence services of the current regime shaped up LTTE terror, but why they failed to control men with a lready issued warrant arrests leaving airport ? The latter is what Commonawealth states raise loudly today ?
      Their current chair person – MR to see beyond and respect democratic values of the srilanken people ?
      Have you ever heard any other previous leaders abusing powerful sinhalese text in National anthem for their advantage of election campaign ?

      Is the only person (MR) to love this country ? Are people that naive to get it ????????????????????

      • 1

        “but why they (intelligence agencies) failed to control men with a lready issued warrant arrests leaving airport ?”

        You are dead right. Not only that.

        why did they fail to monitor all the politicians going to Singapore and coming back and changing sides? Where did they go and whom did they meet. Have their bank accounts been checked?

        How did all the Muslim MPs and Ministers and Sampanthan also join them in Singapore?

        Mangala S boasted that the secret discussions were done “near” the Temple Trees, meaning the US embassy opposite!

        It is a disgrace.

    • 0

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  • 1

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  • 1

    The election manifesto of NDF and UPFA are out. They do more to confuse vital issues than clarify them.

    In this election, it is not the loyalty to party or person that matters. It is the loyalty to the country to resolve the issues at hand that matters most.

    Voters will then be forced to attach diminished importance to party identification.

    If any of the other 17 candidates in this election bring to the forefront of public discourse the political issues and societal problems that NDF and UPFA have failed to bring, the voters will be attracted to them.

    In the US Presidential Election, such candidates had a major impact on election outcomes. In SL the impact would be much greater.

    In the US presidential election in 1992, Ross Perot, an independent candidate got 19% of popular vote. H.W.Bush, the incumbent president lost the election.

    If any of the 17 candidates or all of them get 19% votes, neither NDF nor UPFA will be able to get 51% votes necessary to win the election but recontest with clarified stand on social and political issues.

    Let us practice democracy and wisely exercise our voting right.

  • 2

    Ranil wants to become the exec PM even without our inhabitants’ knowledge, let alone their Vote..

    CC Sira a has signed off the EP to Muslim Hakeem, without asking anyone, let alone the voters.

    Ranil and Sira have singed the pact to give TNA the North , just to keep them quiet so that the voters don’t know what they are voting for’

    Are these the characteristics of the Democracy which you want to flog to our inhabitants ?..

  • 5

    Agree whole heartedly with writer. A well wrtten article.

    What the people should realize is that this Maniac is not fit to govern in Peace time. The main amendments he has made to the Constitution in the last nine years are the 18th amendment and repeal of the 17th amendment. What was the purpose of this? It is to facilitate unlimited continuation of his Presidency and the exercise of ultimate control over all facets of public life through unhidered, unrestrained, unilateral appointments of stooges, lackeys, acolytes and henchmen to critical Bodies including the Judiciary. Thus he is able to manipulate and subvert the will of the people to his advantage at ‘fake’ unfree and unfair elections he holds from time to time. If he is re-elected, he will further amend the Constitution to ensure the establishment of the Dynasty referred to by the writer.

    Wake up people! Make your voice heard on the 8th and chase this ruthless Dictator away. You may not get another opportunity to do so. Let us reclaim what is left of our Democracy.

  • 3

    I don’t know why essays have to be written on this subject. Any blind man can see that MR and his clan has taken the country back to 20 centuries into the past as far as governance is concerned. This is not a democracy but a feudal state. All these elections and all other con tricks are just stage props to hoodwink the rest of the world.

  • 2

    Pavitra worships Mahinda all right, but where does Mahindananda look at??

  • 3

    Democracy in Srilanka has always been selective that is only Sinahlese enjoyed all the benefits of it. Not the Tamils.That’s why they cry out loud when Mahinda destroyed it. Now if my3 wins democracy will be restored no doubt but will Tamils get a vote on the military presence?

  • 1

    “A close family and a surrounding clique have become pivotal in the wielding of power, at the center and in many provinces. It may be called dynastic-authoritarianism for convenience.”
    This is why the EC has been preventing the release of Declaration of Assets forms –
    when it is most needed for the public to decide the 3rd Term. I now suggest it should be overcome by the 18 other contestants voluntarily publishing theirs, to challenge MR to declare his in good time:

    Speaking of corruption and the luxurious life style attached to it will Mr. Sirisena make some comments on these, which I am sure he is partly aware of – at least to garner some Votes weighing the pros & cons of 2 glorious Terms:

    The baggage-boy and the King jointly have done well – even a future COI will not touch them. Culled from comments in CT reveals this wealth:-1. 7 helicopters and a company called Cosmos Avaiation + Offices – $500,000 x 7 = $5,000,000 2 Owns a luxury 15 roomed luxury mansion at Horton Place Colombo 7 (with large swimming pool,jacuzzi and elevator facility – $500,000 2. 100 roomed Luxury Ameythist Resort in Passikudah – $2,000,000 4. Owns a 79 room resort in Maldives – $1,000,000 5. Owns a fleet of Benz,Jaguar,and other luxury vehicles. – $2,000,000 6. 23 room mansion in Toorak, Melbourne, in the millionaires’ row. – $3,000,000 7. The block of 16 apartments in Pitt Street, Sydney City Centre. – $2,000,000 8. Part owner of the racehorse Black Caviar, (Australian Thoroughbred undefeated in 25 races) with the Emir of Kuwait. – $2,000,000 9. A vineyard (350 Ha) in Borossa Valley, South Australia – $3,000,000 Totals only 20 M USD!! 1. Sajin’s palatial house down Horton place Colombo 7 is located in the private road right opposite the Laksman Kadirgamr Institute of International Relations.It bears assement no.19/2.Just a look at the palatial house reveals it’s luxury.An unauthorized guard house at the top of the lane blocks free movement of cars on that road.The dozen or so of back up vehicles inconvenience the neighbourhood but no one dare complain for sheer fear. 2.Sajin is always provided with an escort by armed Commandos who always follow this rouge in 2 government owned Land Rovers.In addition a black Land Rover with thugs dressed in white short sell even shirt and black pants also follow .So tax payers are paying to protect a thug !!! 3.Sajin also owns the massive building down down Dudley Senanayake Mawatha ( formerly Castle street) Colombo 8.this building is located in the lane next to the MINI Showrooms, the first private road to the left as one travels from the Horton Place / Kynsey Road traffic light junction.The building is is the second to the right on that private road.It now houses KOICA a Korean company that pays Sajin Rupees three million a month.Formerly this building housed Cosmos Aviation Services which operates Sajin’s fleet of 7 helicopters.What a tragedy , afellow who could not afford to pay1800 bucks on his Volvo car fiancé now travels in one of his own helicopters when he visits his luxury 100 roomed Ameythist Resort in Passikudah. Who will inquire and punish this thug who has made millions out of the deal setting up Mihinlanka alone.

    Plus Comments by Tommy in CT on 27-11-14 “ Don’t forget to add Sajin’s fleet of luxury vehicles such as 3 Black Range Rovers costing Rs. 60 million each, a Mercedes Benz 400SEL worth 58 million bearing registration no.CAA 6019 and a full option Maroon colored Jaguar worth Rs. 54 million and a Long wheel base Land Rover Defender bearing registration No.KC 2283 worth Rs. 31 million. The Mercedes Benz 400 SEL and the Jaguar were made bullet proof at an additional cost of US$ 431,000 a piece at an exclusive company in London specializing in such work.This project was handled by Sajin’s sidekick Mohamed Zuraish Hashim ,the chain smoking wheeler dealing businessman living at 63, Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha, Colombo 3. Then don’t forget the US $ 9 million that Sajin made as commission for signing agreements with 3 US based Public Relations firms.The man coordinating this was Majintha Joseph Parakrama Jayasinghe who works in the Protocol Section of Foreign Ministry, as Sajin’s bag carrier.Jayasinghe works almost exclusively for Sajin , at a small private office at the BMICH , Colombo 7, paid by the foreign ministry.Majintha secretly revealed details of the deal to Ratnatunge of the Sunday Times who he got to know why working for Lakshman Kadirgamar, and being Baggage Boy for his wife Sughandhi.Sughandhi and Ratnatunge are extremely close friends Then don’t forget to look at stashed millions of dollars in the Seychelles where Sajin was responsible for opening an Embassy although Sri Lanka has no interests to have.”

  • 1

    Aha! At last one of them has seen the crux of the matter which is Democracy or Dynasty. Very good, Very good. The Sinhala Buddhists are at last beginning to open their eyes.

  • 2

    Dear Dr.Fernando:

    Democracy Or Dynasty

    Democracy is what Sri Lanka claims to be but Dynasty is what Sri Lanka would have ended up with if MR had played his Cards right. But Greed for Power and Money got the better of him and with his extended family the task of creating a Kingdom seemed possible.

    There were early sings of MRs corrupt intentions as illustrated below but the majority were prepared to forgive his past deeds. Prabakaran was a creation of Sinhalese brutality and MR was a creation of Prabakarans Adventurism.

    **** Rajapaksa was educated at Richmond College, Galle before moving to Nalanda College Colombo and later Thurstan College, Colombo. He also had a few cameo roles as a movie actor in Sinhalese movies and worked as a library assistant at Vidyodaya University.
    Mahinda Rajapaksa has been accused of corruption by the opposition before his election as President, citing the “Helping Hambantota” case, where he was accused of appropriating close to USD 830,000 into a Treasury approved private fund, known as Helping Hambantota, to help the victims of the Boxing Day tsunami in Hambantota – his hometown and electoral district. Before the election, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka put a hold on the case. Later dismissing the case, Chief Justice Sarath Silva said the court case had been brought as soon as Rajapaksa was nominated as a presidential candidate.

    ***I take issue with the following and give you my reading of things to come:

    If MR is elected at this election, he will rule for 8 more years. If MS is elected, his term will be for 6 years. This is a difference, many have overlooked. Is it democratic.

    I say that if MR is elected he will not rule for 8 years as the chicken will come home to roost and make no mistake he will be jetted off to the HAGUE . The danger for the Tamils is a win for MS as there will be period on uncertainty and I am sure you have noticed MS is ditching and dithering on many issues including the Executive Presidency and Tamil Rights.

    So I am afraid what we are going to have is neither Democracy NOR Dynasty but pain and suffering for both communities for a while longer. The Tamils will be prepared to endure the pain and suffering for a little while longer but I cant say the same for the majority as the new found affluence all made possible from $640 billion borrowed from China will go up in flames.

  • 0

    I would have rooted for Rajapakses, dynastic-authoritarianism and all, if not for the BBS and Anagararika Dharamapalism(racism at the fore).

    Instead of Sri Lankans being one Nation irrespective of races (even under the auspices of Sinhala-Buddhist culture), Rajapakse attempted to make it official that Sinhalese race came from North India. They therefore disregarded and sidelined the South Indian element of all Lankans.

    Both BBS and AG are/were terribly anti-Muslim. It is true that Sri Lanka cannot have a fanatical culture of another land on our shores, (on top of any majority one – that being a bit more legit, anyhow), but the problem could have been solved in more multifaceted and sophisticated manner, other than to invoke the name of AG in ceremony with the Chinese, and disgrace Buddhism with BBS. Rajapakses have lacked that Unifier-Aptitude, and opted for the artless approach.

    I prefer the US understanding of things, to China’s quest for global power which does not involve much holistic dimension for global equilibrium and sustenance- the West in the end having a better take on globalism due to long historical expertise. Nowadays, the West is more in tune and understanding of Sri Lanka’s predicament with terroristic-separatists than they were 5 years ago.

    We hope that whoever takes over will be non-aligned and resist the temptation to indulge in project upon project (from either US or China), with the subsequent project a sorry necessity to uphold the previous project.

    If Rajapakses win, I hope they will change their ways in the midst of all their triumphalistic glory. I hope that when they bend down and kiss the soil of Lanka, they will know that that soil is of the flesh and bones of a million-year unique race of South, South-Asians.

  • 2

    That woman under the table…. is she trying to do a Monica Lewinsky? If so, her task is easier as she doesn’t have to struggle with trouser buttons.

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