Dear reader when I first started work on this article the aim was to find elements of government that would move a regime or leader towards dictatorial rule. No leader has ever confirmed he or she is a dictator however we all know who they are in history and presently. Many who write into the Colombotelegrah and other free media (I use the word very carefully – as I don’t believe there is such a thing as a free lunch!) who are campaigning for establishment of secular, liberal, democracy has been making this allegation that Sri Lanka is fast moving towards being such a state. What I aim to do in the below article is to present some points and element one sees in dictatorial leaders and regimes. History I believe is the best teacher and history repeats itself with a doubt.
When I first started my interest in politics back in the last 80’s and then choosing politics as part of my degree one of the things that I always looked at from a past tense was dictatorships and authoritarian rule; because for some reason I really failed maybe due to my ignorance that we could ever have emerging dictatorships in the 21st century the UN all the regional organisations, 24/7 media the internet all seem to be progressive tools against such a force. Dictatorships and authoritarian rule seems a fading concept reserved to the history books.
What makes a dictator, what keeps them going ; what motivates them is it power or money if so surly that must have a limit or are they that don’t have a limit’ or satisfaction in life that fall on to this category? Rewind back the time and lets go back to the 1920’s a 34 year old Hitler was languishing in prison after an unsuccessful attempt to over throw the German government but yet within decade he was the chancellor and one of the most powerful people in Europe; How did he do it? He received two buffets of fate, first the German defeat and then the resulting financial ruin. If you look at dictatorships around the globe unfortunately fate has played a major role. President Rajapaksa also had fate very firmly on his side in his rise to power, take the late 80’s and 90’s and if you asked or said to anyone if Mahinda Rajapaksa was presidential material any answer other than a firm “NO” would have been a good measure of one’s Sri Lankan political knowledge. I am making a very public confession here the strength having come from getting to know the quite recently that President Premadasa foresaw that Mahinda Rajapaksa would make lot of trouble for the UNP. In the late 80’or early 90’s when I still in my teens I read on the daily news that Mahinda Rajapaksa was confirmed the highest honour in Buddhism and I got this thought that one day he might become the president of the country. The reason for this was how come this award was missed by the president of the time or any serious politicians in this era, this showed me his ability to avoid radar and work through stealth until the time was right to unveil.
Another important factor on all dictators is that they don’t have any skills at all, they may have a modest education but beyond this very little interest in any one particular subject some may think that dictators are “micromanagers” this is a wrong assumption dictators do develop an art by which they are able to put in influence on any or every area of government or military business but yet maintain an airy of indifference to the day to day running of government and military. Where by the fault when things go wrong is always someone else’s baby. This is again very true with President Rajapaksa ask what his pet subject to be and it could be anything. Each and every other president had a pet subject JRJ was very much economics and foreign affairs and his desire to be more than the President of Sri Lanka a statesman. President Premadasa the Gam Udawa scheme writing books and poems etc. President Kumaratunga about liberal values (it is arguable how much was achieved if not any) but one must except President Kumaratunga genuinely tried to bring about the reconciliation process and the constitution she brought (even though I do not agree with it) was symbolic of the regimes thinking. In Mahinda Rajapaksa you see someone who puts his hand into everything but yet manages to distance himself from everything at the same time; he likes things to be named after him likes and to invite a lot of people to see him at temple trees. He is lucky that he has got three brothers and three son’s this and by also using his extended family and few cronies in an intricate way he is able to control and keep same sustained within the him and his clan. Many also refer to JRJ as a dictator who boast that the only power he did not have is to make a man a women and women a man however in his constitution he limited the a president’s term to two, the 82 referendum is another story all together.
Modern day dictatorships are born as champions of democracy and liberalisation if you were to look at the Arab spring everyone thought this was turning point of the Middle East to democracy yet one could not have been more wrong the result is the power growth of groups such as ISIS and Al Qaida. Dictatorships especially the corrupt family driven type leaves the country in a cycle that is very hard to break if you look at Iraq and Libya one sees this very clearly as both under Gaddafi and Saddam what they did use is a very organised dismantling of state institutions law and order, administration that once they are gone nothing remains if you look at the Arab spring Tunisia and Egypt the modus of the government operation remained intact after the dictators have got rid of in Egypt this is much to do with the military control rather than anything else. President Rajapaksa was also a champion of human rights and without repeating many of you know of his exploits. One only has to read the first inauguration speech of the President to see this, this speech is very similar to the what former President Gaddafi had to say about political decent in his country, Libya is the sole country in the world that has no political prisoners, because political problem was solved in a radical, historical and final way as all the people attained power. He also liked to tell that he did not have any power and that it was the people of Libya that had the power and that he was mealy guiding them. The gradual demise of institutions and the system of checks and balances within government is a very strong sign on where the country is heading this ends up with a system of no recourse without Rajapaksa support.
Dilutions of power this is a very clear indication of a regime that is on or in the road to dictatorship the classic of this example is Gaddafi who after being dragged out a drain would only say to the militant what’ wrong with you? What is happening? eight months of bombing and murdering of children and women just to be in power in his mind the position was trivial as that! And this is why dictators are different from normal politicians where normal politicians watch the weather and wait for clam dictators want to ride the storm it is the storms that help them make the majority of people sing their tune so this is why crisis is so important to them and without it the wind will be loss. All aspects of society are used to create the storms religion, ethnicity, food, health, education all serve this purpose only. Trivialisation of issues where it is not in the regimes interest is a classic examples when speaking about the riots in Aluthgama in the eyes of the president “it is a small issue” that attacks on meetings of human right activist and other groups “ a matter between two parties” yet his ministers and ambassadors are going around meeting after meeting explaining of this issues between communities and indeed the president himself it is believed ordered no more than three helicopters to bring in Muslim leaders for discussions over Aluthgama can you not dear reader see the contradiction?
What is the interest in groups such as the BBS to the government very simple they create the essential storms to justify its existent; as I have said many a times if the international pressure on Sri Lanka is dropped this regime will be most unhappy as they will quickly need to create another storm.
“I guarantee you that the impossible always succeeds” “the unlikeliest is surest” Hitler and with all dictators it seems to be the same where normal politicians look at governing the country through some process of reason the debate being how? As Lenin questioned who, whom? Who would control whom, the market the economy? To dictators these are not questions what they are good in doing is capitalising on failure. This is the politics of catastrophe and for dictators this is what works example no sane German would have voted for Hitler’s politics of catastrophe unless Germany itself was in catastrophe. The ability to ride storms and desire to do so it what makes a dictator. If you look at Sri Lanka at the time of the rise of Rajapaksa politics the Sinhala national politics was in tatters with all the Sinhala and Tamil leadership eliminated by the LTTE and also with their polls boycott Rajapaksa moved into Temple trees. Rajapaksa’s ability is proven by the fact that both in domestic policy and interracially he plays the same card that enemy of my enemy is my friend it that which won him the support of even people like Lasantha Wickramatunge who himself states that he supported his candidature from the SLFP; the strange thing is he should not have even been allowed to contest with the Tsunami funds misuse allegation hanging over him.
No alternative to repression Dictators through the storms and through catastrophic policies both domestic and international create and prove to other governments and their own people that if not for the repression the only chaos would remain. No distinction between oneself and one’s family and the country Gaddafi in his final speech made this observation of why the people should be grateful to him “in the past Libyans lacked identity he said “ when you said Libyan they would respond Libya – Liberia? Lebanon? They did not know Libya but now they say Libya Oh Libya – Gaddafi” even though this is true the association was more of an embarrassment than of pride and this embarrassment is what I think drove very middle class people to come out and throw this Dictator out lock stock and barrel. This is very through in Sri Lanka the people who ask for drinking water, fishermen asking for fuel subsidy, factory workers asking for welfare protest based on wining such basic fundamental rights are put down violently at the same time thugs with connections to the regime are let loose on minorities and other opposition activist.
Violence to sort out differences Dictatorships actively promote violence to sort out differences and this cycle is very hard to break even after the collapse of such dictatorships as once sees today in Libya and Iraq that is the thing one should be most scared about. Long after the evil has been got rid of the seeds of hatred and the seeds of divide remain this works in two way firstly as a means of choking the new found freedom and secondly to question the getting rid of evil one sees this often in relation to Libya and Iraq when the prudency of getting rid of Saddam and Gaddafi is questioned. It is without doubt that in Sri Lanka that the law and order in the country has completely broken down the trust in the judicial process has been destroyed and people do not believe even if they are right without political patronage anything can be achieved, in country if a majority of people think like this whatever the label say it is a authoritarian rule the populations mind being trained to accept authoritarian rule.
State of sanction ignorance through the controlling of news media and allowing corruption and making it the only way together with support to the regime the only way one could achieve and succeed in life they build a whole generation of liars and thieves with the regime at the top of the pyramid. This system makes everybody tainted with corruption so one cannot dare to challenge where it is very easy to make the hunter the hunted the whistle blower the perpetrator. The example of the police constable who dared to stand up to the deputy minister is a classic example whatever the motivation of the constable the question should be if the deputy ministers driver broke the law or not and if the minister behaved in the manner alleged but what happen was a full scale inquiry into the finances of the said constable and he being interdicted. The lesson is simple we will over look you building glass houses but do not dare to throw stones. This is how silence is brought by making corruption rampant the best qualification in such regimes is that you are corrupt which means you will remain loyal. In the time of Gaddafi one of the biggest massacre of his own people happed at the Abu Salim prison where around 1,270 prisoners were machined gunned over a period of two hours just for asking to be allowed to live as human beings yet none of the residents or the families of the guards who lived around the complex dare speak about this crime was it the fear so pervasive or was it that the regime trained their mind that it was ok not to care about anyone the state does not sanction juxtapose this with the concept where the society that believes that its greatness is measured by the way it treats its prisoners and the vulnerable sections of the society. Two concepts line two sides of the same coin both achieved through the education of society. In Sri Lanka we have over the past years witness the raise of violence against women, prisoners and people who try hard to make their voice being heard being subjected to same. Re-location of people is also another important tool authoritarian rulers use this is to make people insecure in their own homes a very basic theory of human needs as defined by maslo shows the people will first of all try to achieve the basic of needs what dictators like is to keep the population in this basic level so they do not have time to think other than except what is told by the regime North Korean rulers have mastered this art.
Religion and state, dictatorships usually view organised religion as a threat which the state would have no control over thus there is always the tendency either to ban same or make a version of it that encompass the states ideology or goals religion is usually turned into either a weapon of the state to bring repression or where this is not possible banned. Gaddafi interpreted that Islam was a socialist religion he ordered that Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Cathedral be turned into a mosque he banned the Muslim brotherhood because he saw them as a threat he declared Ramadan and Eid himself and once even changed the names of the month, making Libyans so confused that they did not know what day it was. By linking the political support to religious patronage one is able insert lot of pressure on the masses in Europe we had this as the right to rule being a divine right not to be questioned and monks and religious leaders who supported this got showed with gifts and royal patronage. Religion also is a tool to create storms one of the things dictators most like is to create is the mongoose and cobra situation of putting arch rivals in the same room making them fight at the convenient point in once agenda from the cabinet to society religion plays a important role towards this.
All dictators are builders and rebuilders from Hitler to Saddam to Gaddafi always used building and projects for the so called development of the country as way of satisfying the own ergo of the regime and way to reward the cronies the tax payer was always cheated in the end the real story behind each of these schemes is that of corruption and deceit. From a car for every family scheme of the Nazi’s to the eighth wonder of Gaddafi one sees the same characters. And in most cases the projects lack basic logic in the planning, procurement and execution the U$ 20 Billion irrigation project of Gaddafi when the whole rest of the middle east address the shortage of water problem through desalinisation Gaddafi choose to address this through his man made river project by pumping water from the deep desert underground wasting enormous public resource. The recent news stories we can clearly see the waste of resources that is happening in Sri Lanka from the new airport to the port when internal transport systems like the railways and public transport being in such a mess the wastage of wealth and resources is enormous from the foreign service to public commissions to presidential advisors but yet the cart moves on? Why is this?
This is also part of that sanctioned ignorance recently I was included in a discussion on facebook about the opening of a Subway sandwich shop in Colombo and one of the comments were that we now only need Starbucks to come here! This just show how much fellow Sri Lankans have been made to alien to the needs and situations of communities and people around them this neglect is the reason why rape and misuse of public resource can take place.
History is once best teacher whatever you constitution says or whatever the rulers might say the proof of the pudding is in the eating what you see happening around you are the best signs above are some pointers you can use to see if your country is moving towards a dictatorship. Changing the course of dictatorships is not easy but as Margaret mead famously said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has”.
The question that communities facing dictatorship should ask in the same question that Lenin famously asked that is “What is to be done?” Principal among these is that society, community is made to worry about the rights of the neighbour before your own this is the only way that a real peoples power can be build after all human beings can only find salvation on being part of a community; that we belong to one another. If not our state would be similar to what the great philosppher, Thomas Hobbes, called the “the state of nature” in which human existence is no more than the “war of all against all” this is the state that dictators love to create and which provides them the all important oxygen to survive.
Move communities from sanctioned ignorance and lizard brain syndrome the American writer Seth Godin describes it as follows “the lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry and horny. The lizard brain wants only to eat and be safe. The lizard brain will fight (to the death) if it has to, but would rather run away it likes a vendetta and has no trouble getting angry. The lizard brain cares what everyone else thinks because status in the tribe is essential to its survival” this is the ideal society for a dictator. Leaders are an reflection of the people they govern ironically leaders and regimes tend to take longer to change than the people dictatorships can only be got rid of from a bottom up approach not a top down the important thing is to gel the population into one issue and where it has been successful politics have been always been second nature to the objective at hand. The issue with politics is that it is a divisive tool unlike a social or political issue which is a uniting factor it is though this that a broad front can ever be formed to challenge the status core, East Germany to bring down the Berlin wall Tunisia, Egypt, Libya are all examples.
When this happens like the people of Bengahzi wrote on the walls “Gaddafi – You are the weakest link – good bye” dictatorships will fall becoming the weakest link.