By Indi Samarajiva –
Sri Lanka has a big choice this election. Whatever side you support, it’s just a choice and we can all eat kiribath together. I really hope it plays out that way.
The way I see it, Mahinda Rajapaksa represents a strong man model of governance. Maithripala Sirisena, on the other hand, is campaigning based on a complete reform of Sri Lankan institutions. There’s pros and cons. Personally, think the latter is a better investment in the future of our country.
Mahinda – Strongman Governance
Mahinda is a strongman. He’s a got a strong mustache, he’s got brothers and he’s got sons. As a leader he decisively ended the war and in the 5 years that followed he has pushed through more development than the country has seen in 30 years. He has accomplished more than any President in Sri Lankan history, with the possible exception of JR. I’d honestly say he’s much better than JR.
Like JR, however, he has also crippled institutions to empower himself.
What Mahinda has replaced institutions with what is essentially a patronage system. Power and money don’t flow through laws or institutions, they flow through individuals, namely Mahinda and his family. China is a willing source of this money, but it’s loans and the people footing the bill are ultimately the Sri Lankan people. We pay way too much for stuff and get stuff we don’t need (Mihin, Mattala), but the ‘waste’ is what actually props up the political system (ie, keeps all the Ministers and their voters in line).
If you can live with this sort of system it does get stuff done, but it only really works for stuff you can rip fat commissions from (ie, roads and infrastructure) and not so much for things like healthcare and education. It’s also, insomuch as anyone gives a shit, unethical.
However, they say that behind every great fortune lies a crime, and a lot of countries come up this way, wasteful and corrupt, but developing. It’s a choice. You can often pivot to a liberal democracy later, but if things get bad they get really bad.
Maithripala – Institutional Governance
Maithripala, as the Common Candidate, has to run and govern by coalition. In his manifesto, he is running on a very clear institutional platform. He is talking about reforming the Executive Presidency, establishing independent commissions for the judiciary, police, etc, reforming the electoral system and the elections commission.
Beyond talking, he has to do at least some of this stuff if elected because he’s backed by such an ‘achcharu’ coalition and there’ll be a Parliamentary election soon. If elected he will have a mandate for institutional reform and will be unable to govern as a strongman. He could be ineffective, but he simply doesn’t have the political capital to be as dictatorial as Mahinda.
The choice he’s offering is a very clear reformation of a really messed up political system. It would likely lead to less visible development in the short-term, but would probably benefit average people more and lead to a more stable country long-term. Even countries that boot-up under strongmen evolve into sorta-democracies eventually. Maithripala is offering that evolution now.
This sort of institutional governance would probably see less progress in terms of roads and mega-projects, but more improvements in health, education and things which benefit average people. At least he’s committed more in that direction.
There’s a very clear choice this election. If you like all the stuff Mahinda does and can put up with the corruption, waste and general neglect of law, order and sometimes logic – then vote for Mahinda (the betel leaf). If you’d like to take a gamble on Maithripala reforming all of the major Sri Lankan institutions (starting with the Presidency) and setting the country on a path to slower but more equitable and stable growth – then vote for Maithripala (the swan).
With Mahinda you know what you’re getting, which is a plus, but Maithripala isn’t a loose cannon like Sarath Fonseka either, he’s a pretty normal politician, which is not a bad thing in a post war era.
Me, personally, I’d like to take the gamble on institutions. I do think two terms is enough for a President and as much as I appreciate what Mahinda has done, I don’t like the people around him and I don’t trust him to be a careful custodian of our countries resources. For me the amount of corruption and waste he relies on for patronage is just too much. I’d rather take a chance on fixing Sri Lanka’s institutions so we can have a country of strong laws rather than strongmen.