25 October, 2020

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Pluses & Minuses After January 8

By Izeth Hussain

Izeth Hussain

Izeth Hussain

There are pluses to be counted in favour of the Government and minuses to be counted against it in its performance since the January 8 elections. Its performance can be assessed like a glass of water as either half full or half empty. I would belong to the school of thought that sees the glass as half full because I bear in mind that since politics is the art of the possible there can be no perfection in it Furthermore, in politics the choice is not usually between the good and the bad but between the bad and the worse. Bearing all that in mid I would say that the glass of the Government’s performance is three quarters full. Practically everyone will acknowledge that it has done its utmost to abide by its election pledges and where it has failed it has been because of circumstances beyond its control. We must all acknowledge also that we have witnessed a change of a revolutionary order: we have a President who has actually relinquished some of his powers. That, surely, was unimaginable with our past Presidents.

One matter over which I am disappointed is that the Government does not seem to be really in earnest about moving away from the model of conquest democracy that has been allowed to prevail in Sri Lanka for far too long. It is a form of democracy in which the victors at elections behave like conquerors over the Opposition and also over the people. The State, with all its resources, is seen as the legitimate possession of the Government. We may see a change in that with the appointment of independent Commissions. What bothers me is the vengefulness shown towards the Opposition notables. That bears the stench of the conqueror and shows that the mentality of the conqueror has not been eradicated.

Another matter over which I am disappointed is that the Government is not succeeding in moving towards a more consensual and less conflictual form of democracy than has been prevailing in Sri Lanka. As a result of the conqueror mentality shown by our rulers our politics have become essentially “politics as organized hatred” and the result has been a deep divisiveness within our society. In the mature democracies of the West the tendency is to have two mainstream parties, one left of center and the other centrist or right of center. There is much common ground between them, and consequently a high degree of consensuality. When the Sirisena faction of the SLFP joined up with the UNP it seemed that it could be the beginning of an evolution towards the consensual democracy of the West. But the Rajapaksa faction is relentlessly establishing its ascendency over the Sirisena faction and retrogression to the polarized politics of the past seems inevitable. It is to the credit of the present Government that it has understood the need for some degree of national unity, which is why it has wanted to establish a national Government. But it is not succeeding due to factors beyond its control.

Mahinda MaithriAt the present moment it appears that the alternatives facing us at the forthcoming General elections would be between a UNP Government led by Ranil Wickremasinghe and one led by Mahinda Rajapaksa after a coming together of the Sirisena and Rajapakse factions. A UNP Government would stand for democracy while a SLFP Government would be quasi democratic but essentially racist and neo-Fascist. A UNP Government would have the opportunity to accomplish something of the greatest moment for the nation: the entrenchment of democracy so firmly that it will not break down for long periods as in the past, though it may suffer a temporary eclipse. I have in mind the accomplishment of India where democracy broke down only for a brief period of two years under Indira’s Emergency, and is today alive and vigorously kicking under a Government that tolerates the Hindutva ideology of the RSS. There is no reason why we should not match that splendid democratic accomplishment.

The most important reason why a UNP Government could firmly entrench democracy – something that requires practice and not just legislation and the setting up of certain institutions – is that our political culture has been becoming democratic. The restoration of democracy in 1994 after seventeen long years was not preceded by anything like a people’s campaign for it. I wrote many articles stressing the importance of establishing a fully functioning democracy and that point certainly featured in other articles as well, but there was nothing like the civil society drive for it that preceded January 8. The reason why Sri Lanka’s democracy has been so vulnerable, why it could be so easily kicked to pieces by the likes of President JR, is that there was no clear commitment to it by the people. That commitment had to be shown on behalf of the people by the political class and the civil society. That was amply shown before January 8.

I think that the drive to establish a fully functioning democracy by the present Government has been admirable, and it certainly constitutes a major plus point for it. But, as a minority member, I have to raise the question what’s the point of it all if the minorities continue to be denied fair and equally treatment. Ever since de Tocqueville wrote his classic Democracy in America the idea has been commonplace in the West that democracy is not just the will of the majority, which would amount to a negation of democracy if there is no observance of the fundamental principles of democracy enshrined in the secular holy trinity of liberty, equality, and fraternity. But in Sri Lanka that idea seems to be alien even to the educated political class. I say this because some weeks ago a Tamil with a Doctorate wrote in response to one of my articles that full democracy would have no part in the solution of the ethnic problem because it would amount to the will of the Sinhalese majority. I want as part of the struggle for a fully functioning democracy, an integral part of it and not something ancillary to it, Race Relations Boards and the full panoply of the laws and regulations applying in the West in the struggle against racism. Otherwise we will be having a Sinhala Constitution and Sinhala democracy. Both, as far as I am concerned, should be consigned to the dustbin.

At present a tsunami of support is continuing to build up for Mahinda Rajapaksa. It certainly is a minus point for the Government, but is it due to any mismanagement, shortcomings, or misdeeds of the Government? I don’t think so. It is clearly due to forces far beyond the control of the Government. What we are seeing is a vigorous reassertion of identity politics. It is almost a world-wide phenomenon as can be seen from the fact that minorities are getting restive practically all over the world. But majorities can also get restive – a fact that minorities are apt to ignore – if they perceive or misperceive that their legitimate interests are under threat. Certainly behind what is called Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism there is a drive to bully and dominate the minorities. But there is also, particularly among the Sinhalese masses, a deep sense of vulnerability, encapsulated in the phrase “a majority with a minority complex”. MR, rightly seen as the savior of a united Sri Lanka, is profiting from both those factors.

The best antidote to identity politics could be a fully functioning democracy backed by a people with an authentic democratic political culture. In India Modi leads a BJP Government which espouses a soft version of the Hindutva ideology. Democratic India would not tolerate him and the BJP otherwise. In France Marie le Pen, in anticipation of coming to power, has much moderated the odious idiocies of her racist father. In Sri Lanka our salvation has to be through democracy, which makes it imperative that we correct its many imperfections. We must bear in mind H.L.Mencken’s dictum: the cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    1

    Izeth Hussain

    RE:Pluses & Minuses After January 8

    “There are pluses to be counted in favour of the Government and minuses to be counted against it in its performance since the January 8 elections. Its performance can be assessed like a glass of water as either half full or half empty. I would belong to the school of thought that sees the glass as half full because I bear in mind that since politics is the art of the possible there can be no perfection in it Furthermore, in politics the choice is not usually between the good and the bad but between the bad and the worse. “

    With Mahinda Rajapaksa, it was all minuses, and all about the Medamulana MaRa Family.

    So, be happy the glass is half full.

    Remember. Rome was not built in a day.

    Similarly, Lanka, the Land of Native Veddah Aethho, will be be built in a day, or 2,000 years given the way the Para- behave.

  • 7
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    Dear IH, I hope that you are referring to me, and for your information, I am a doctor of Medicine. I still maintain that democracy is meaningless to Tamils if they do not have a majority status. Democracy is not just holding elections, it has to be coupled with freedom of expression both speech and written, freedom of movement, enjoyment of human rights to life and property, rule of law with a fair judiciary and right to information. I can bet that Srilanka will never have these in the near future. If you do not have a majority n a legislature, you cannot do anything, but to helplessly watch those with the majority carrying out all what they want without taking into account the views of the minority.Therefore the best solution is to devolve democracy, for Tamils to have a legislature where they are in the majority, to pass laws and implement them without any interference, in the areas where they have lived for centuries. This can be achieved without any division of the country, but only, by sharing of power and territory.Your solution of full democracy controlled by the Sinhalese will not bring justice to Tamils, who want to live and develop their ancestral lands according to their wish.

    • 7
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      Dr. Gnana Sankaralingam

      ” I still maintain that democracy is meaningless to Tamils if they do not have a majority status.”

      Democracy is the Dictatorship of the Majority or those who are in power, even though they may not be in a majority.

      The Majority decides and dictates, bordering on civilized norms, bur often goes beyond the norms and civilized behaviour.

    • 4
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      Dr.Gnana Sankaralingam,
      Totally agreed. That is why majority of the Tamils insisted on Federalism. It is an expansion of democracy. But mischief is created by some to say that Federalism is separation. Justice can be expected in Federalism.

      • 3
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        “That is why the majority of the Tamils insisted on Federalism”.it is an expansion of democracy.
        But when that ‘insistence’ through bad leadership got hijacked at the point of the gun by lumpen elements as what happened, democracy for the minority got thwarted,. The majority cannot be blamed for that.

        The minorities have to unhappily contend with the situation peacefully without getting flustered and that is what is being done now by the present Tamil leadership.

        Federaliism has become a dirty word now for the majority which uses it for it’s owned devious purposes.

        So the only way for the minority is to walk the minefield without getting blown up and mend fences over a period of time with the majority tactically and politically to achieve their inalienable rights.
        Federalism will eventually and inevitably become possible only then.

  • 2
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    The biggest minus is the appointment of some criminals as Ministers.

    Also some of the chairmen and directors appointed are appalling. Some of them have no clue but make up the numbers.

    No different to MARA regime.

    CBSL fiasco is going to hurt them at the elections. Harsha was the worst critique of Nivard but he is now silent and that is politics.

  • 0
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    Izeth Hussain.

    ….at present a Tsunami of support is continuing to build up for Mahinda Rajapakse….

    Very true. The management of Government by Maithri-Ranil duo is creating the conditions for this.Unless they get their act together they are going to get washed away by this Tsunami!

  • 0
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    See what happened to Morsi of Egypt? At least our people are very much more civilized. The fact that MR is allowed roam freely and create chaos as he likes is a sign of good democracy previaling under the present government.

  • 0
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    Dear Izeth,

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece. I agree with you that a large racist block in the majority (who now seem to be coalescing around Rajapakse again) are the problem. However, I disagree with the ‘majority with a minority complex’ apologist position, put forward by some ardent Sinhala nationalists.

    In truth Sri Lanka is where it is because it is not secular, and Buddhist monks go from door to door and village to village espousing an intolerant message that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese island, thus continuously regenerating a large and poisonous Chauvinist block.

    The implications of this are that no reform will come from inside Sri Lanka, not in any case without significant external ‘assistance’. I think it is that external support that should be encouraged and future Sri Lankans will be grateful for it, as it is the only hope of a liberal united Sri Lanka. If that is not possible then let us divide the island and the monks can have their Sinhala country, whilst the rest of Sri Lanka becomes a new and liberal and with it successful state.

    Thanks A

    • 0
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      Dear Alex – Thanks. I certainly agree on the importance of external support. If not for India the fate of the Tamils could be very terrible. If not for the Middle East house maid market the fate of the Muslims could be very terrible. The OIC can do nothing to help the Rohingyas of Myanmar . – IH

      • 0
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        “very terrible” ???

        Rumad

  • 0
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    Dear Izeth,

    Yes the fate of the Rohingyas at the hands of the 969 fanatics is heart-breaking. It is truly genocidal and the lack of action to halt it is quite shocking. India needs to do a lot, lot more if it is to deserve the seat on the security council that it craves for. This is their neighbourhood, and they need to show moral and practical leadership (both within India and without). Best A

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