8 March, 2021

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Lessons Unlearned: Lanka’s Democrats Must Study The US Democrats 

By Dayan Jayatilleka 

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

A tougher, tropical Trump, President Gotabaya bragged thus in a speech in Ampara, shown on TV news on Saturday, January 9th 2021: 

“…However, Nandasena Gotabaya has two characters [personalities]. Sometimes the Buddhist clergy still says to me that ‘we don’t want President Gotabaya; we want the Secretary of Defense– you must be a little harsh’. That also can be done. If that is the approach, I can also do it with that approach…You saw what happened to Prabhakaran when he began by trying to kill me with a bomb attack at the Pittala junction when I was Secretary Defense. But I finished it, with his body being carried like a dead dog on all fours at Nandikadal. [Things] Can be taken to that level too…” 

What is alarmingly dangerous is that in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s mind, young Harin Fernando’s fiery parliamentary speech and cheeky use of the President’s first name ‘Nandasena’, was equated with the bomb attack on him by Prabhakaran’s terrorists. This casts a dark shadow not only over the future but also the past—which is counterproductive for the country and the President himself. 

If in peacetime, a President can conflate an attack by a notorious terrorist leader with an unthreatening if spirited criticism by an unarmed civilian, a young legislator, and that triggers the public threat (accompanied by a menacing chuckle) of the return of the President’s previous persona, the Secretary/Defense, which he publicly associates with the extermination of the terrorist leader after a bloody campaign, then the question may logically arise in the mind of the international community and international public opinion at large, as to what might have happened to the vital terrorist/civilian distinction, as well as the armed combatant/surrendee-captive distinction, the basis of the laws of war, when that other persona he boasts of, the Secretary/Defense, was making decisions and managing the war effort. 

Harin didn’t call the President names; he called the President by one of his given names, the N-word. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was mocked by Oppositionists using his original Anglo-Indian names “Percy Mahendra”, and reacted only with his engagingly rascally grin. The contrast between the first President Rajapaksa and his successor-sibling couldn’t be greater. President MR enjoyed a performance of Puswedilla which satirized him. There will be no such play at the Lionel Wendt about President GR (Puswedilla never satirized Secretary/Defense GR anyway), and if there were, it might once again trigger fond memories and a delightful recounting of Prabhakaran’s denouement. 

In his Ampara outburst, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made frequent reference to the wishes of the Maha Sangha (the Buddhist clergy) as his cues, so perhaps the Buddhist Advisory Council member Ven. Vendaruwe Upali Thero’s matchless, indelible 2018 birthday wish for him has kicked-in.   

These transparently threatening, blood-curdling Ampara remarks by President GR should make an interesting impression at the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Geneva, and legislatures the world over.

Meanwhile a fond memory of Peruvian President Fujimori, who made much of stepping arrogantly over the dead bodies of terrorists, struck me.

In Sri Lanka’s democratic camp, the (neo)liberal reflex action is to insist on the broadest in-gathering of democratic opposition elements, headed by prominently featuring the Old Guard establishment elite, perhaps under the guise of a ‘common platform’ or ‘collective leadership’. That’s dumb. Lessons should be learned from the USA.

January 20th brought good news for the USA and the world, including Sri Lanka. For the Sri Lankan regime, not so much.

It is not merely that the USA is coming back. It is that the romance with the adventure and heroism of democracy and its necessary battles, is back. Democracy will build back better.

The Democrats win in Georgia gives the Biden presidency a chance that the Obama presidency didn’t have in its second term due to the obstructionism of the Republican majority in the Senate. The storming of the Capitol building and national and international exposure of the anti-democratic character of Far-Right nativism, is not the strategic dent for the USA in global affairs that America’s adversaries think it is. 

The US Democratic primaries, the George Floyd protest movement, the Georgia battle, the delegitimization of the Republican Right and the moral implosion of the Trump Presidency, all form part of a dramatic story of struggle and redemption of Democracy as idea and system. 

The message of President-elect Biden which quoted his granddaughter and contrasted the brutality of the handling of the George Floyd/BLM protests in Washington DC with the institutional permissiveness displayed towards the Far-Right fanatics, showed how the centrist-liberal President-elect of the USA has been propelled towards a social-justice and racial equality discourse by the interacting dynamics of the crisis and the Movement. I see Biden, but I hear Bobby Kennedy (another Irish Catholic) in the 1968 campaign. (I belong to that global generation of those who can remember where they were when they heard of JFK’s and RFK’s deaths.) 

The forces of History have moved in such a manner that the USA will have the most progressive-oriented Presidency since Barack Obama; one that is more able to push a progressive agenda locally and globally due to the Senate majority, the actual social energies unleashed among and by the American youth, and the need to ideologically reconfigure and recharge to repair the damage that Trump has caused and face the rising global power which is America’s and democracy’s systemic and ideological challenger.    

There is a striking convergence of Irish Catholicism, the Black Baptist Church and Jewish liberalism. Apart from President-elect Biden himself, incoming National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (appearing on Fareed Zakaria GPS) identified his own Irish Catholic non-elitist roots as more important than his Ivy League education. Reverend Rafael Warnock is a left-leaning successor to Martin Luther King Jr., while Jon Ossof is a Jewish liberal. 

Together with the progressivism of Pope Francis, as exemplified in his Fratelli Tutti encyclical (coincidentally released at the start of the US presidential campaign) highlighting fraternity and equality while rejecting both neoliberal globalism and tribalist ultra-nationalism, this confluence portends a shift towards the values of universality and justice as drivers of the new democratic Zeitgeist which will take on authoritarian Far-Right ultranationalism and Eastern techno-totalitarianism.

A Democrat-led Senate plus House of Representatives i.e., a Democrat-run Congress, will be far more sensitive to issues of human rights, social justice and racial equality, and far more opposed to militarist-despotism, ultranationalist supremacism and xenophobia, than ever before. That is not good news for the ‘tropical Trump’ Gotabaya presidency. 

David Sirota who currently edits the journal Jacobin, predicted the Washington riots (or ‘insurrection’ as the quality Western press calls it) in a book a decade ago. He has this to say:    

“…About a decade ago, I wrote a book called The Uprising, which described how we were entering an era of chaos in which right-wing groups would try to seize power under the guise of populism. Clearly, that has been happening — we saw it speed up during the Tea Party backlash, and it was further accelerated by Donald Trump, who is a unique president in his willingness to use the White House megaphone to foment and destabilize.” (The Insurrection Was Predictable (jacobinmag.com))

It is important to understand that the political socialization of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took place in precisely that environment tracked and mapped by Sirota, among wealthy Sri Lankan Republican party supporters in California, rather than the parliamentary democratic center-left, populist milieu in which Mahinda Rajapaksa was politically socialized. Meanwhile the key insiders of President Gotabaya’s circle were politically socialized in the Sri Lankan equivalent of the Tea Party, the Sinhala-Buddhist New Right of the 1990s, adherents of the Jathika Chinthanaya cult. 

Where’s the answer? David Sirota first explains what NOT to do or be: 

“…In The Uprising, I argued that the best way to counter the rise of right-wing populism and to prevent it from proliferating is for an opposition movement and party to not just issue vague paeans to democracy and the soul of the nation. The opposition must also deliver tangible, material gains for working people — rather than continuing to be an elite and effete caretaker of a let-them-eat-cake establishment that right-wing provocateurs can forever burn in effigy.” (Ibid)

Sirota explains what the democratic movement, in the Opposition or Government, should be like, and stand for; what works politically: 

“The New Deal delivering such gains to the working class helped tamp down the outbreak of right-wing fascism in America. Nearly a century later, the Georgia elections this week proved the same point. There, two right-wing Republican authoritarians were defeated by the black reverend who runs Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s church and by a Jewish guy — and the Democratic duo won by relentlessly campaigning on a simple promise to deliver $2,000 checks to millions of Georgians facing eviction, starvation, and bankruptcy.” (Ibid)

The Lankan democratic Opposition, the broad democratic movement, and Sri Lankan democracy itself, must “build back better”. The New Deal paradigm of ‘tangible material gains for the working people’ –including checks to the needy– that Sirota commends, but is the only way to go. Or else, the next Sinhala radical rightwing backlash against “an elite and effete ‘let-them-eat-cake’ establishment” will be an outright military coup.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    9

    Dear Dayan

    Now you beginning to sound like Trump not accepting the peoples verdict…a landslide to the current GSOL in SL? While the GOSL do the governing other parties should focus on many other scopes other than governing now the total control is within the GOSL for there said passing of many legislations/trade deals etc??

    Your focus should be to build your SJB to become a democratic element so we thought from your previous articles? and looking forward to some progress report on the inner working of this coalition/party meetings/discussions/valuable proposals for the required developments/how you coasting the manifesto preparations/youth movements/social works etc??

    So much have happened between GOSL/India in many fronts most of which you were highlighting earlier should make you feel happier too??

    Is that means SJB can focus on more green deal issues for our Nation as we need very educated and scientific based politicians in the SJB to serve us?? should you not have adequate numbers then ask JVP to assist etc?

  • 5
    4

    SL politics is divided by ethnicity.

    In 2015 they all came together to defeat Mahinda. But within months they had gone back to their racist politics. TNA was opposed to UNP. SLMC and ACMC were opposed to TNA. They were divided for the August 2015 parliamentary election! Sirisena was left alone high and dry!

    USA bans racist political parties. Not SL.

    • 4
      1

      Before his “body was carried like a dead dog”, Prabhakaran was shot in the back of his head, according to “Death of the tiger” article in The New Yorker magazine.

    • 0
      0

      its called “Cause and Effect”.

      The SLMC/ACMC which has nothing to do with Moors of SL we know the history from the thuggery days of affecting the locals with their own foreign colonialisms in Kandy under the disguise of their religion and the Riots that ensued has nothing to do with religions nor morals nor any humanity.

      Tamil Nadu Alliance(TNA, except the Indians in SL had nothing to do with them) apparently fought for their hallucinated rights since 1948 is interesting history in its own merit requires a separate investigation for our Nations history. The North and East Tamil speaking were encouraged at gun point (democracy at its best) for a cause they have cooked up and changed recipes over time too as required….evolutionary politics at its best for its destructive nature……50-50, Federalism, Separatism, now the Global Tamil Forum has its own versions of cause and effects no human ingenuity can comprehend hence the blood shed to date and the state of affairs in the North a tiny landscape with tiny amount of people their generations will need higher grounds as sea level over time eventually just as in Maldives no one talks about??.

  • 4
    3

    DJ,

    Don’t think Democrats will rule USA forever. Republicans will be back sooner than you think with a vengeance. USA is still divided. The majority of the US majority is still with Trumpism. If Harris contests the next presidential election, the Republican candidate will win all electoral colleges. Biden has shown he is very poor at succession planning.

  • 14
    3

    Dr. Dayan,
    Dr. Nandasena Rajapakse brought the murder of Pirabhaharan, (you may called terrorist leader) a liberation fighter (for Tamils) because he wanted to convince Buddhist Sinhala that it is he who killed him not any one including Mahinda (Mahinda called he killed, Sarath called he killed). He did not want to tell directly other murders such as Lasantha, Raviraj, and many other.
    At least you should now accept that war crimes and human rights violation and genocide happened during the war.

    • 6
      12

      Ajith,
      [edited out]
      The Government of Sri Lanka launched a military operation after a negotiated settlement failed to eliminate Tamil terrorists who massacred civilians for three decades. During the military operation some Tamils died. But Sri Lanka Armed Forces did not commit war crimes or human rights violations. In fact, the Armed Forces liberated Tamils from the clutches of LTTE terrorists who killed Tamils.
      However, there are solid evidences to prove that LTTE Tamil terrorists committed war crimes and human rights violations e.g. recruiting child soldiers and shooting civilians by LTTE who tried to escape from the human shield formed by terrorists. UNHRC should investigate war crimes and human rights violations committed by LTTE Tamil terrorists and punish the culprits and punish Tamil politicians who openly supported terrorists. There are LTTE cadres who committed war crimes and human rights violations hiding in foreign countries under new identities. They should be brought to justice.

      “At least you should now accept that war crimes and human rights violation and genocide happened during the war.”

      • 6
        3

        When are we going to convict people responsible for state terrorism that killed Tamil bretheren for 70 years and continuing. Did we hold anybody accountable for 1956 burning of Tamil civilians including Engineers in the sugar cane plantations of Gal oya or who cit with knives sinhala Sri in the breast of Tamil women in 1958, or stopping the train in pothuhera and undressed the Tamil women in the train or killed plantation workers in hundreds on 1981, killed thousands in 1983 and bombed and killed in school and churches for 30 years, raped and killed minimum 40,000 civilians in 2009.
        Tamils think LTTE was their savior not the state terrorist army
        More than 500 Indian fishermen were killed by racist navy. Mow Jaishankar is not going to keep quiet. One of these days Indian navy will be put to action by Jaishankar.
        So do not keep on telling lies repeatedly world is not going believe our lies. Por Nandasena is forming committee to investigate war crimes he claim did not place. Poor Nandasena has to eat his own shit

      • 3
        0

        If SL did war crimes, the meddling international community won’t waste 12 years doing nothing!

        Get real. There were no war crimes. Otherwise a few SL militarymen would have been punished for war crimes. There is no trial even, let alone punishment!

        So the war crimes issue is fake.

    • 3
      3

      How about the genocide of Sinhalas in Jaffna in 1977?
      How about the genocide of Muslims in Jaffna in 1990?
      How about hundreds of Tamil bombs that killed Sinhalese around the country?
      How about Tamil attacks on Sinhala threatened villages in the east?

      Aren’t they war crimes?

      • 2
        1

        GATAM,
        You may be right. It is genocide.Can you define what is war crimes?
        What is that happened between LTTE and Sri Lanka military?

      • 0
        0

        (1) Tamils of Sri lanka have nothing to do with all that is mentioned above by your good self??…please consult FP/TULF/TNA/Tamil Nadu Politicians/Diaspora/Indian Tamils in India/Singapore/Malaysia…none of them have done such things for equality and fairness in their respective countries seeking human rights?? These groups are actually existing entities today who could be approached to explain all this by any international body now?? however I note you have not listed all the Tamils died in Jaffna in the hands of the same…Ratha Pottu Mafia killing Fields in Jaffna a Tamil crime against Tamils from 1970-1977-1981…those were the patriots who died first in the hands of FP/TULF before any of the above you mentioned above ever took place?? no-one came to our rescue? no one submitted this to the UN to date?? Can any PATRIOT Sinhalese do that for us??

  • 7
    4

    Dayan what is more inspiring than Democrats winning Georgia is the young poet
    Amanda Gorman .

    All Sri Lankan politicians, The Sangha , the Army, racists should print her words and hang it up on their wall and read it every morning before they leave home.

    here it is:
    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jan/20/amanda-gorman-poem-biden-inauguration-transcript

  • 4
    4

    I am totally confused , why should,
    Mr.President , HE GR have to answer to those who rejected him, while his large and powerful Voters have no issues ?

    Ego is sometimes with us and most of the times against us.

    If the President felt his ego scratched and if he did respond,then he just proved he is only human and atleast honest enough to reveal his emotions.

    But while Young Hon.MP.Mr.Harin did use The President’s name ,The president did not make any personal references to.him
    Mr.Dayan,
    with due respect to you , being an intellect it is not befitting to rub it in between two Siblings.

    Hon PM ,MR is a well seasoned politician and there is not one in the parliment who can show a candlight as a comparisom to his Public relations , its an intergral part of him.
    While The President is not a Politician and he .was merely relating to his response to the clergy’s proposal to deal certain issues with a iron fist.

    So what is the problem ? and where does it connect as a threat to the Hon.MP,. ?when not even.his name was mentioned ?

    lets not twist every word of those whom we do not agree with to get even.

  • 2
    2

    Rupee going down
    Corona going up
    Appe Lanka
    Viva Lanka

    • 3
      2

      Rupee going down down
      Corona going up and up
      Army going up and up
      Appe Tamil Elam
      Ayiyo Tamil Elam

    • 3
      1

      The SL Rupee was double its value as the Indian Rupee in 1970 when the FP/TULF took up killings for their living…the Ratha Pottu Mafia handiwork/killing fields.

      We had all else going focus as a Nation too then compare to all other Asian Nations to start with a leading Nation in many front.

      • 0
        1

        Thiyagaraj,
        Yes I saw you, you are back. But the Amude is missing. That is why it took some time for me to recognize you.

  • 2
    3

    It is true that there are quite a bit of resemblance of what is happening in USA and SL.
    Sinhala Buddhists are comparable to White Supremacists & the Evangelics to Buddhists Monks. The ‘RIGHT’ minded Sri Lankan Citizens should stand by the true DEMOCRATIC ideals—-Preserving the Minority Rights;Human Rights; Judicial and Media freedom; Independent AUDIT commision/Bribery.
    SL Security Forces trained to DO the right things and NOT to carry out’ illegal activities’ originated by the Politicians; Right to Information; Lake House newspapers should be made independent. It is time for all Political Parties that want to see a truly democratic Country to get together and keep the current GoSL on the right path. What is Dr Dayan Jayatillaka’s proposal to solve the ETHNIC & RELIGIOUS issues?

    • 3
      1

      Then who are the equals of Latinos in SL?
      Who are the equals of Blacks in SL?

      It took USA over 240 years since independence to have a Black president. SL has another 170 years!

      (But SL beat the USA in having a woman president.)

  • 4
    0

    2020 US election is very much like the 2015 SL election.

    58% of Whites voted for Trump and 58% of Sinhalas voted for Mahinda.
    85% of Blacks voted for Biden and 85% of Tamils voted for Sirisena.
    65% of Latinos voted for Biden and 75% of Muslims voted for Sirisena.

  • 3
    0

    Can someone explain to me how the government of Sri Lanka with the present global pandemic and a complete down of economy globally and with debts ever recover , if it is not permitted to make decisions to prevent
    the country from having huge financial crash?

    • 0
      0

      FK,
      .
      Rajapakshes have stolen billions that are yet beyond estimations.
      :
      They have appointed one another family man to bring those funds from Seashelves next days.
      :
      I have no doubt, grass eating MAJORITY that brought the crimnals back to power would go after the myth so as they were cheated easily by DHAMMIKA paniya.
      .
      Cheers.

    • 1
      0

      SL’s crash is inevitable. I look forward to SL’s economic crash in 2021. That will force SL to restructure itself and realign it to friendly countries. Hope the restructure is based on ethnic recognition.

  • 2
    0

    Tragic even after 70 years , while many other nations have changed their attitude, most of us yet allow certain elements in the name of patriotizm, love thy race and in religion enslave our minds.

  • 1
    0

    Howbeit , if patriotizm,love thy race and religous piety under the umbrella of democracy which all these were given freedom fail in every step?

    patriotism have not prevented a segment of Citizens who by generations freely engage in many irregularities to gain wealth thus draining the lawful dues to the country and mostly it is this very elites who are the loudest in portraying themselves as true nationalist
    cont

  • 0
    0

    cont.
    Love thy race champions have not been able to eradicate poverty among their people todate and the numbers only keep growing.

    All religous groups bragging their concept is the most perfect answer to
    overcome all grievences have not been able to even achieve common basics, which are soberity, charity, unity and humanity, yet the gaurdians are heard loud everywhere , but are only empty shells .

    cont..

  • 0
    0

    cont.
    sorry about the typo(Soberity)
    Sobriety…

  • 1
    0

    It is of my personal opinion,
    Looking around the world , at those nations with rich ,valuable resources without which mostly nations that are 1st worlds may struggle to survive,
    It is the same with certain closed
    communities without their means of grip they will fall apart.

    what we see and call success in such nations and among closed communities is comparable with how each of us percieve what is the truth.

    Truth is like looking at the ocean , only a part of it comes to our vision ,
    so it is with the truth.
    Cont..

  • 1
    0

    No 1st world is free of people who are poor and struggling and there are no closed communities that are completely without poor who are silently struggling.

    Man has a complete freewill to decide using his independent reasoning, but most people prefer to either play victim and blame others, some blame superstition and most consider it fate and when fate is considered as sacredly unalterable, then nothing will change such peoples minds.

    Have we all not been through playing victim, being superstious and strongly believing anything that negates our progress as fate ?

    Yes we all have been through it , its our convienient escape from reality
    cont

  • 1
    0

    Again as per my personal opinion, the only way to achieve progress to provide a sustainable livelihood for all citizens ,which alone is the answer to seeing a successful nation, can only begin within the people.

    It has to beging within families and residential enclaves , Enclave may be of a single ethnic or multi ethnic , which is not an issue at all , it becomes an issue only when two illusions are continued,.one is bringing all ethnicities under one umbrella of nationalism and thee other is to practice racial and religous bias,
    given the events of history , I believe both have failed and will never be
    successful.
    cont

  • 1
    0

    There are four levels of the Pyaramid among the communities from all ethnics in our Country.

    The suggestion is only to the 4th level,
    which again is split into 3 sub levels.

    The peak of the pyaramid consists of only thee elites , 2nd the rich ,
    3rd those who have enough to consider their immiediate family( Parents& children) and themselves comfortably secured.

    Then comes the fourth with three levels .
    cont

  • 1
    0

    The system is applicable only to the fourth level of the pyaramid.
    split 1, have just enough to survive after meeting commitments ,but not enough to go beyound nor save for a rainy day.
    The spit 2 is the one who struggles the most trying to not survive but in reality only exist and not survive.
    They have something, but never enough to meet regular commitments nor better their families lively hood.

    Then the have nots the bottom of
    The fourth level, who are constantly comforted with the belief that whatever their economic situation is nothing but their fate and they just need to learn to accept it as a devine test in this world.
    cont..

  • 1
    0

    The fourth level need to learn not to become involved in politics or religous or racial conflicts.
    They are part and parcel of the uppergrades of the pyramid.

    The fourth remains invisble to them unless they become a convienient necessity.

    The Fourth level trying to survive by themselves may continue to struggle and be continously dragged and drained by the other levels.

    Only when each ethnic group
    combine their resources and work together and upon recieving their dividends that they will realise, actually how rich they have been with a combinatiom of all their resources , out of which the most important is the human resource.

    Remember our childhood poem,
    little drops of water and little grains of sand makes a mighty Ocean and a pleasant land.

    It is now left to the fourth level of the pyramid to decide if they want to do it by themselves for themselves ,for the sake of their families and especially to change future of their children.
    There is not.a single fate,.devil , or ill fortune that can not be changed by using wisdom and unite as a team with sincere intrest in each other
    without agendas.
    There is simply nothing on earth you can not overcome with independent reasoning with a membership of a supportive clan.

  • 2
    0

    DJ, could please name Lanka,s democrats. Who,s party is it ??? Rajapaksas,MS, RW , SP ,Wimal or all of them or none . No party of theirs even carry the word Democracy.

  • 0
    0

    The author writes volumes on US. The essence of it is whether Democrat or Republican there are common values held sacrosanct. Here? Of course the common value widely practiced by either political side is Kleptocracy. What is so democratic of Sri Lanka although Sri Lanka’s official name is “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka”? Consequently the comparison using a Democratic Framework is meaningless. That is why I am told of a tale of woo of an elderly lady in Sinhala “ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදය නෙවෙයි පුතේ මෙහෙ තියෙන්නේ පගාතන්ත්‍රවාදය”

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