By Kumar David –
Jacinda Arden’s star is rising, the sun is melancholy over Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s dream of an empire where he and his military will be masters of all they survey. Both scored landslide victories – actually Gota’s in Nov 2019 and the SLPP alliance’ in August 2020 polled a larger share than Jacinda’s 49%. There is one more similarity but otherwise the contrast between what they stand for and where they intend to take their nations could not be more stark. That similarity is that Jacinda’s government and the Gota Administration both got hold of COVID by the scruff and snuffed it out. Well at least I hope so; when and where a feared second wave may strike and whether it will be dreaded ‘community transmission’ one can never say. Nonetheless, this shared achievement must be recognised.
The similarities end there. What are the differences between PM Arden and President Rajapaksa?
a) Jacinda stands for an open democratic polity; she is not a dictator in waiting.
b) There is nothing like the draconian 20th Amendment that she intends to foist on the people and authoritarianism will go against every fibre of her being. For Gota, absolute power is the objective.
c) Jacinda is committed to pluralism; racism is anathema. Often, she went out comfort hurt people – non-white non-Christians. Minorities do not live in fear in NZ.
d) JA’s administration is not hand in glove with the military.
e) Both are pragmatists but JA does not rule by personal fiat overruling established procedures and norms
f) Gotabaya commands a slavish Parliament and a servile Cabinet, Jacinda does not
g) The courts in New Zealand are free; a recent crucial ruling proved that our judiciary is sycophantic.
To retain a balanced view, we must also take note of the big differences between the two countries.
h) GDP per capita in New Zealand is US$ 42,000, ours is a lowly US$ 4,100 (PPP).
i) NZ is not coming out a 30-year civil war which eroded democracy, gave the LTTE and the military a taste for blood and polarised communities. White racism legally ended in NZ decades ago.
j) In NZ people are not soaked in, nor is their consciousness submerged in racism.
k) NZ parliament is not semi-educated and corrupt, its Cabinet no refuge for those of corrupt repute.
I put it to readers that though (h) to (k) are true, only (h) and (i) can be trotted out as excuses for the (a) to (g). An equally important consideration is the difference in character and ideological makeup of the two leaders. Nevertheless, it would be untrue to say that Gota’s administration is already unbridled authoritarian. Alarm bells are ringing and the red lights are blinking and 20A will translate the probable into the actual.
I will conclude with a few examples of existing worst-case authoritarianism. Chile and Belarus have been in turmoil for weeks with tens of thousands on the streets every day protesting against authoritarianism and rigged elections. As last year in Hong Kong, in Chile anarchists, rioters and arsonists are destroying public property and unlike Hong Kong burning churches. For the 10th weekend, anti-Lukashenko protesters marched through Belarus capital Minsk despite police threats to fire live ammunition. Lukashenko is the first and only president of Belarus since the establishment of the office 26 years ago. Nearly 80-year-old Alasssane Ouattara of the Ivory Coast has chosen to run for a third term in violation of the constitution (Supreme Courts are pretty useless in all authoritarian or potentially authoritarian states) and warned dissenters “I warn them of trouble”. The current champion, Emomali Rahmon who has ruled Tajikistan for 28 years and awarded himself 84% of the vote in 2013, is running for another seven-year term. In a display of clannism that will do the Rajapaksas proud Enomali has made his son Rustam his deputy just in case he kicks the bucket during his time in office. Beware! Learn from example and from history.
We are nowhere near any of this but 20A will take us there. If Jacinda Arden can tackle CORONA, reconcile communities, preserve security, improve mass livelihood (“to build a fair and better country”) and preserve democracy, why does Gota need near-dictatorial power to aim for less than half of this? He needs it not to advance development but because the Rajapaksa clan’s objective is a perpetual family oligarchy in power.