24 July, 2024


How The West Is Losing Sri Lanka

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Doesn’t anyone read public opinion polls anymore? Don’t they make news anymore? I’m not referring to opinion polls run or commissioned by the government – any government—or its affiliates, but opinion polls in reputed non-state publications, especially those on vital topics. Surely no topic could be more topical than the international moves being made on Sri Lanka, the pressures being brought to bear and the choices that may need making. It is not there isn’t much debate on this matter in the local media—indeed there is. What is visible is any concern over what public opinion might be in this regard and what is not available is any evidence of what the public, the citizenry at large, think on these issues.

If I may immediately contradict myself, that’s not strictly true. Somebody was concerned enough, and there is finally, some evidence from a credible source, of what public opinion is on the external pressures on Sri Lanka as well as the various local political responses to these pressures.  I strongly urge all politicians, policy makers on and researchers of Sri Lankan affairs, DPLs, foreign journalists covering the country and local commentators on politics to study the empirical data, in a spirit of learning and with a little bit of humility, because anyone who claims to be overwhelmingly concerned about democracy, informed by democratic values, and motivated by the interests of the people, should pay some attention to what the people actual do say, think and feel on issues of the national interest.

The latest number of Lanka Monthly Digest (LMD) to reach me (belatedly), its December 2011 issue, has Kumar Sangakkara on the cover as the Sri Lankan of the Year, which is an apt pick indeed. The LMD has been a periodical of repute since its appearance in 1994 and is a prominent voice from within the country’s vibrant corporate sector. Regular commentators in its pages include Jehan Perera, hardly an ideologue of the ruling coalition. Therefore I take rather seriously its regular item Talking Point, Voice of the People, presented by the LMD Business Desk, and features this time, the LMD-TNS opinion poll on the issue of international pressure on war crimes, human rights etc. The survey is conducted by TNS Lanka, the local affiliate of TNS which bills itself as the world’s largest customised research agency and is part the WPP group which has offices in 106 countries. The research methodology was a random sample and face to face interviews of respondents between 18 and 55 years of age , with an equal gender divide and covering Colombo and the provinces ( or ‘outstations’ as it quaintly calls them) in equal proportions.

Does the Secretary General of the UN have the right to appoint a panel to report on the final stages of the war? 78% say NO

The questions are full-on and the results are dramatic. Are you in favour of the Government’s reaction to allegations of human rights abuses? 97% say YES. Do you feel that certain nations in the West are applying double standards in regard to alleged ‘war crimes’? 85% say YES. Does the Secretary General of the UN have the right to appoint a panel to report on the final stages of the war? 78% say NO. Has the Opposition adopted the right stance as far as Sri Lanka’s defence in the face of these allegations are concerned? 80% say NO. (p45)

Little wonder then that the LMD Business Desk reports that “a staggering 97% of people interviewed by TNS pollsters across the island say they are in favour of the Government’s response to allegations made by the UN panel and some Western nations”. (Ibid)

It goes on to disclose “that the West practices double standards is highlighted, and it is no surprise that 85% of the poll participants believe this is also the case in the present scenario.  ‘The West very frequently publicises false statements’, ‘Western countries only act in their best interests’ and ‘some Western countries support terrorists’ are some of the opinions expressed during the nationwide survey.” (ibid)

Strikingly important as these results are the questions and answers that follow is even more significant to students and practitioners of politics.  These pertain to the political behaviour and prospects of the Opposition, the preferred foreign policy perspective of the public and the commitment of the citizenry to democracy.

What then does the public think Sri Lanka should do, as a counter-hegemonic strategy? “Looking at the bigger picture, poll participants believe that Sri Lanka should seek the support of friendly nations such as China and Russia, who as permanent members of the UN Security Council have veto powers. They say it is also important to set a mechanism in place to counter such allegation s through the international media – with the use of online forums and so on.   Reorganising the country’s foreign diplomatic service ‘to work efficiently and make strong representations against such allegations’ is also recommended by survey respondents.” (ibid)

This criticism or more accurately, defensive counter-criticism of the West is not a manifestation of congenital or culturally conditioned anti-Westernism, unlike in the case of the Southern chauvinist fringe. Almost 30% of those polled called for ‘building and strengthening ties with the Western countries’.

Fascinatingly, the poll results reveal not merely the secret or a secret of the popularity of the government, but of the unpopularity of the opposition.

“Criticism is also levelled at the opposition almost by a similar majority (80%) of respondents who are of the opinion that ‘the opposition is working towards gaining political advantage’ out of the present situation when the government has locked horns with the mighty West.” (p45)

Here lies the deadlock, because the unambiguous diagnosis, obvious prognosis and clear prescription for the Opposition are completely at variance with the stance, ideology, self-image and proclivities of the main opposition party under its current leadership. Bluntly put, the UNP has always been seen as pro-western and soft on sovereignty, with the significant exception of the Premadasa presidency. This perception is indelibly ingrained under Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe and those associated with him. This public perception is a fatal electoral affliction at times of heightened public sensitivity to issues of sovereignty and perceptions of Western bias—times such as these current ones.

Anti-government strategists are probably betting on the oil price shock and economic crisis to generate a meltdown of the administration’s patriotic support, while the Opposition and its existing leadership stand pat and occasionally stir the pot. However, the slightest awareness of comparative politics and contemporary history would show that economic hard times do not cause patriotism to evaporate, only to combine in unusual combinations, generating unorthodox displacements and choices, not all of them predictable or palatable.

The colossal indictment of the Opposition contained in the LMD-TNS opinion poll cannot be countered by ritualistic bows to race,  religion and language (a la DB Wijetunga and IMRA Iriyagolla, the UNP’s ‘nationalists’), because that is not what it is about, going by the data—the figures of approval and disapproval far exceed any ethnic, religious or linguistic demographic. Contrary to both the pro-Western opposition and cosmopolitan intellectuals on the one hand and the Sinhala ultra-nationalists on the other, this is manifestly not about Sinhala –Buddhist nationalism or chauvinism; it is about Sri Lankan patriotism.

The figures reveal that this overwhelming and overarching patriotism is by no means part of an authoritarian still less totalitarian mindset. Those critics who contend that the Sinhalese are making today, the same trade-off that the North mistakenly made for thirty years, namely ‘the defence of ethno-national pride for democratic rights and freedoms’, ignore – incredibly—the fact that the Tamil people were under the totalitarian jackboot of the LTTE, unlike the South which had, as does the whole island now, a multiplicity of mass media, civic associations and political parties. Therefore any analogy is ridiculous. Moreover, the polls data shows that the mass of our citizens are unhappy and unwilling to make any trade-offs which affect democracy and identify the strengthening, deepening and widening precisely of democracy (internally), as the ultimate and abiding answer to the (external) threats to sovereignty.

“But if we are to close this chapter once and for all, Sri Lanka’s democracy must be strengthened; law and order must be restored…” A plurality, 51% of those polled recommend as the ultimate solution to the external challenge, that we “strengthen the country’s democracy and be more transparent in all activities”.  (Ibid)

That is a clear indication of a domain in which the people wish to see reform, improvement, and change for the better. For our people then, democracy is the answer, and they will recoil from any attempt to resort to any other measures in defence of sovereignty.

The data of this valuable and credible exercise in public opinion polling shows that Sri Lanka’s people cherish national sovereignty and have a democratic vocation, i.e. they cherish both national and popular sovereignty. They stand firmly for an independent, sovereign democracy; a democracy that is not supine and which stands up to the West, but also a patriotism that is more democratic and transparent. Theirs is a democratic patriotism or a liberal nationalism of the centre. It is a vision of a country that is free from interference from without and is no less free within: that’s a good description of a sovereign, liberal or social democracy.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 0

    Dayan, what you say about the opposition is just cheap politics once again. The leader of the opposition has repeatedly extended his full support for any international threat as long as the government makes “honest and responsible attempts” to safeguard the sovereignty of the country. Because the govt (especially the president and his brother – defense secy) are grossly violating human rights as if they are some village thugs in some lawless land, a responsible opposition has to strongly oppose those. It’s unfortunate that the pseudo-patriots like you conveniently assign the traitor label to any opposition to your master. Keep licking the bones.

  • 0

    Erm, shouldn’t that read How Sri Lanka is Losing the West? It says a lot about Dayan’s preferences that he should anticipate a realignment with totalitarianism while pointing accusatory fingers at the UN and the West. As previously observed, this tactic is meant to divert attention from the crimes of both the GoSL and Sinhala chauvinists, the pot calling the kettle black. And if the figures he quotes are right then that simply reflects the supremacist views of a tyrannical majority, the root cause of Sri Lanka’s woes.

    • 0

      Hey RW, Its not about ‘ Dayan’s preferences’ that the LMD-TNS conducted the poll; it was about the Sri Lankan people’s preferences. So what you read is what the citizenery said, not what I prefer. ‘Tyrannical majority’? Man, there aren’t 97% Sinhalese in Sri Lanka; there are 74%, of which 67% are Buddhists, so the 97% MUST represent Tamils and Muslims too. That doesn’t seem like a ‘tyrannical majority’, that seems like a democratically ascertained public sentiment.

  • 0

    Those of us who are genuinely concerned about the universality of human rights and the principle of common humanity are mostly well-aware of the hypocrisy of western capitalist nations when it comes to war crimes. We are only too conscious of the paucity of objective reporting by agencies such as the BBC when it comes to scoring points of ideological one-upmanship against the west’s enemies. We know only too well that , in the capitalist system, the Rule of Law is weighted in favour of property, the state and the multinationals. We can see how western hypocrisy makes it easy for those such as Dayan Jayatilleka to point an accusatory finger: “Let he who is without sin amongst you cast the first stone!” Yet, despite the despair we might feel we must warn against this race to the bottom that is taking place where universal human rights are concerned. Just because western capitalist nations are exposed as using double-standards over war crimes, that IN NO WAY detracts from the universal principles concerning war crimes against humanity. Those principles are eternal and non-negotiable. They are based on the rights of ALL human beings to be protected from genocide, on the sanctity of life. Something, by the way, which is essential to the teachings of Buddhism. Just because one man commits murder, that is no justification for the rest of us to do the same. Clearly to do so would be insanity! Similarly, if others are hypocritical about war crimes that’s their karma. It should not allow the rest of us to follow their path into a hell on earth.

  • 0

    It would be interesting to find out if the organization which carried out the poll ask the people of the North and East whether they would prefer a separate state for the Tamils through a referendum.

    • 0

      That was a 30-year long question, conclusively settled in May 2009.

  • 0

    What the hell this so called “political scientist” is talking about? Every kindergartener knows how this rogue king conducts polls! From Presidential to the village prelate selection poll there are only rigging and rackets. I am 1000% sure these LMD people have been bribed by the king of bribes who thinks bribing is democracy! Moreover when you have a compromised subjugated and subverted media and media freedom and therefore truth never reaches the ordinary masses and also when the masses are 24/7 fed with utter lies of a perverted despotic government and also when Dayn’s very own articles including this smacks of shameless distortion of facts and wholesale laundry type stench muck and blemish removal and whitewashing the despotic government and moreover when the people disappointed deceived mislead stranded oppressed and made to go through hell due to the corruption waste plundering maladministration and inefficiency of this moronic regime take to the streets to express their “opinion poll” Dayan must have just arrived to Earth from Jupiter or some other planet to write this bullshit and pretend not knowing what his imbecile government of losers doing to them, that the innocent people begging for a bottle of kerosene to eke out a living are being used as targets for shooting practice by the idiotic paid mercenaries and killers of the killer regime!

    By the way has this LMD conducted an opinion poll in the North and East along the very lines cited by you and what are the results? It would be very interesting to conduct an opinion poll along these lines as well:

    Are you in favour of the Government’s reaction to kerosene price hike agitations and various other protests against government’s corruption malpractices and peoples just and right demands for salary hikes and other democratic demands?

    Do you feel that the government is applying double standards in regard to its treatment of Rajapaksha family, its cronies lackeys and bootlickers vis a vis ordinary citizens and independent and opposing entities?

    Does the Secretary brother of President have the right to poke and interfere into everything in the country and do you think he is sort of doing the dog’s duty by the donkey?

    Hasn’t the Opposition including all the other cohorts of democracy been suppressed oppressed silenced by the use of all the powers of the state executive armed forces police state funds and machinations and the underworld thugs and do you think this is democracy or is there any democracy left in Sri Lanka now?

    Do you think Sri Lanka is now under a de facto Prabakaran from the South and all your democratic rights have been clipped and curtailed and usurped by a despot and in view of such fact and moreover because law and order does no longer exist in this unfortunate land and you have nowhere to go for redress because all the legislative bodies and law enforcement arms of democracy have systematically been usurped by one family do you welcome the move by the UN against Sri Lanka government-not against its ordinary people..hah!-because such democratizing measures are likely to open space in Sri Lanka for its people to elect a democratic government of their own and get rid of the current rogue government that came to power by election rigs and all other corrupt means?

    PS: It is quite apt and timely that the theme of Dayan’s article “How the West is losing Sri Lanka” should read as “How people of Sri Lanka are losing everything they had and the emergence of a rogue dynasty by crooked means”

    • 0

      Hey Gabriel, you obviously don’t live in Sri Lanka or you’d know that the LMD doesn’t belong to any ‘rogue king’, and has long been recognised as one of the two top journals of the private sector. If it weren’t independent it wouldn’t have named Kumar Sangakkara the Man of the Year–the most important thing he did last year was to deliver the stinging, scintillating, sensational Colin Cowdrey lecture– Instead it would have picked a govt stooge! The poll itself was conducted by an affiliate of a top global polling agency. And what’s the relevance of your question? Why on earth should it conduct a poll of the people of the North and East, any more than it should poll the people of the South or any other province or provinces in the country? It was a nationwide sample, to ascertain the opinion of Sri Lanka’s citizens.

  • 0

    Jayatilleke Mathyah, go back to school and learn what Democracy is. You seem to have gotten everything pathetically wrong. Well, after all, you have to be loyal to your masters, don’t you?

  • 0

    “…….President Mahinda Rajapaksa now ranked 4th in TIME 100 poll…….” ?#@%$!!

    “..Mahinda Rajapaksa with over 151,000 votes naming him as the most influential person in 2011 has got more than 182,881 votes as total in which nearly 30,884 voters have outlined that he is not an influential leader. However the votes for Rajapksa has been increasing in TIME 100 poll during last seven days amidst with even more criticism and reports about Sri Lanka and Rajapaksa lead state regime’s appearing on TIME Magazine’s online space.

    In a modern Information Communication Technological era where global people have mostly voted the singers, dancers, song writers as the most influential people in top 5, Mahinda Rajapaksa has surpassed all political and military leaders in TIME poll making the island nation a strong emerging country in the world politics and economics…”

    That was not from a description of a fantasy but a last year’s incident in the internet space. Though there are rumors as to how he obtained these votes this was an opinion poll where Rajapaksha has raced to the top notch surpassing every scientist, researcher, professional, human rights activist, religious leader, philanthropist so much so that Barak Obama was at 40 odd place!

    Let us for a moment forget about the ensuing controversy and what happened to Rajapaksha and his 4th ranking in the next two three days and focus our attention on an incident two three days of age under the leadership of the same top-notch-reached leader!

    “…….Chilaw Funeral Held Under Tight Security…….”

    “.. The funeral of the fisherman in Chilaw who was killed by police fire last week, was held yesterday under tight security.

    Anthony Warnkulasuriya (35) a father of two, was killed while he took part in a protest against the fuel price hike announced by the government.

    Over 10,000 people turned up to witness the funeral which was held at the Catholic burial grounds in Chilaw.

    The police, STF and riot squad was on standby in the Chilaw town to ensure that peace was maintained. The funeral however went ahead free of any violence.

    Amidst fears of violence breaking out during the funeral, the police obtained a court order from the Chilaw Magistrate for the family to ensure the funeral is conducted peacefully…”

    That was how an opinion poll went on and the saga of a politician who raised to top in opinion poll and his behaviour afterwards. You know, these opinion polls are rubbish as the Rajapaksha fiasco witnessed. Any Johnny can play foul in these things especially when political spellbinders like Rajapakshas with notorious conduct and character are involved. Let’s for a moment assume the poll was true and people expressed these proportions. Then except for 2nd opinion all the other opinions are lamentably wrong and those who opined them are as tyrannical, nationalist, compartmentalized, ignorant, limitedly perceptional and foolish as Dayan himself is!

    Dayan, have you ever read what these allegations of HR abuses are and what the UNHR body expected your regime to honor the treaty? If you did then you must either be a horrible donkey that does not understand English or a hypocrite who turns a blind eye on the facts and allegations but blow the trumpet of lies to the gallery to please the despot and earn a contemptible living on filth like a pig.

    What the hell do you or these morons who opined know about the rights of UN Secretary General to appoint a panel? Did these “nationwide samples” morons obtain a copy of the duty list, functions, responsibilities and operation manual of Ban Ki Moon before they replied to LMD’s 3rd question? And what is wrong there when Ban appoints such a panel to advise HIM about something? It is due to the fact that you have committed those excesses and breaches that you are jumping up and down on this issue without any rhyme or reason.

    And what stance do you want the opposition to take against these allegations? Do you think the opposition is there for you to nail to the wall when you want and still come to rescue you when caught with your pants down? The opposition has made its stance known, it you don’t know the whole country has made its stance known now which is why the regime is trying to revive the slain tiger and re-impose emergency laws to suppress peoples’ uprisings against the your failed regime.

    By the way the structure, flow, direction, significance and gambit of the questions used in the poll is suggestive either that LMD has picked up these “stooge” questions to gain political advantage for the regime from gullible Sinhala chauvinist fools with the connivance of LMD or that the LMD which Dayan has taken a laborious effort in applying cosmetics, makeups and perfumes for showcasing is full of fools who do not understand the full ramifications, human rights considerations, international politics about these questions or inalienable political and human rights of people and about various human right treaties that are in place to protect citizens of the world. One could conclude the regime has given these questions to LMD for the opinion poll because they very well come into alignment with Dayan’s and regimes line of thinking and action.

  • 0

    Dayan has forgotten that the West does not need Sri Lanka, but Sri Lanka definitely needs the West. MR’s dance with the Chinese has failed to improve the lot of the majority on the island.

  • 0

    as you compare it in this article.. roughly about 97% of lankens including also all ethic groups DO support a regime which is becoming a tyrany rather than a democratic state. Meaning only 3% educated people will remain hopless.

    Alone appointing a SECURITY FIRM in terms of the provision of security to the Univesities is a major infringement. Uni staffers incl. dons will suffer more of this kind of unanimous decisions in the years to come. There will be no future in the country for the educated people anymore.

  • 0


Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.