12 December, 2017

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Politics – And Life – In A Familiocracy

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak”. –Seamus Heaney[i]

What happens when arrogance weds ignorance?

Last week the CT reproduced two entries from the Twitter account of Namal Rajapaksa. The First Son talks about electioneering in the North, in the company of brother Yoshitha.

As a junior naval officer, Yoshitha Rajapaksa is barred from engaging in politics. Is Namal Rajapaksa ignorant of this? Or is it arrogance, because he knows that laws are irrelevant to him and his kind?

On a scale of things, Yoshitha Rajapaksa’s electioneering amounts to nothing much. During the Presidential election, several top uniformed military officers appeared on state-TV to praise his father and vilify his father’s main rival. Under his father’s rule, diplomats and university vice chancellors wallow in electoral politics. Breaching the boundaries regulating the conduct of public officials has become a habit with his Uncle Gotabhaya. When the Buddhist Temporalities Ordnance became a bar to his first cousin Shasheendra Rajapaksa (the Basnayake Nilame of the Kataragama Devalaya) becoming the Chief Minister of Uva[ii], his father made the obstacle vanish by issuing a gazette[iii].

In Sri Lanka, Nepotistic Governance has become the norm. The members of the Ruling Family have developed a sense of entitlement, a feeling that they are super-humans who operate on a different plane. This perception has percolated into Rajapaksa acolytes as well, as is evident from the execrable conduct of the Governor of the Northern Province. The unthinking arrogance which laces his reaction to the charge of electioneering is indicative of the true nature of the political caste which is coming into being under Rajapaksa Rule. This political-caste predominates in the polity and the civil, judicial and military services; they are branching-out into the private-sector economy and society. They derive their actual power from the Ruling Family and consider themselves bound solely by Rajapaksa dictats. Their primary loyalty is not to the Lankan state, the government or even the ruling party, but to the Rajapaksas (and themselves).

Egyptian sociologist Saad Eddine Ibrahim combined the Arabic word for republic (gumhuriya) and kingdom (mamlaka) and came up with a new term: ‘gumlukiya’ – a hybrid-state which is half republic, half monarchy.

‘Presidents-for-life’ with dynastic ambitions are not just an Arab phenomenon. Sri Lankais experiencing her own transition from res public into res familiaris. The Lankan state is already a family affair. And through trusted stooges, the Rajapaksas are extending their tentacles into the economy and the society. The meteoric rise of tycoon Dhammika Perera in the business-world and his appointment as a Permanent Secretary, under Rajapaksa Rule, is symbolic of this emerging reality.

“Our eight years shows (sic) more than sixty since Independence”[iv]
boasted President Rajapaksa. He was right, though not quite in the way he intended.

Presidents-for-Life and their Politico-biological legacies

Humour has ever been a key weapon of the oppressed. Watching the dynastic-melodramas of their rulers, members of the Arab Streetcoined the phrase, ‘sexually transmitted leadership’. In his book, ‘The Rise and the Fall of Arab Presidents for Life’ Roger Owen opined that the phenomenon of lifetime-presidents “began as a result for a necessary drive for sovereignty and independence”; it became institutionalised into “something best described as a ‘mirror state’ in which its presidents were encouraged not only to see what they wanted to see but also imagine themselves as omnipotent, indispensable and well loved by a grateful people in whose name they professed to govern”.

In order to succeed, monarchic-republicans must change laws, practices and institutions. They also need to transform the thinking of their people. If the populace is not resigned to subjecthood, presidents-for-life will have to resort to generalised rather than targeted repression, a costly option, both financially and politically.

The Rajapaksas know that. In under 8 years, they have managed to change not just constitutional provisions, laws and institutions but also dominant thinking in the Sinhala South. The most portentous of the Rajapaksa achievements is located precisely in the politico-psychological plane, in their capacity to enthrone a radically new commonsense.

What was once beyond the pale has become normal and vice versa; ideas and entities confined to the margins of polity and society are now reigning centre-stage[v]. We are becoming accustomed to relentless abuse of power by the rulers. The unrestrained and objectionable conduct of Presidential kin is sourced in the knowledge of being safe both from the law and public disapprobation. We have accepted the equation of Rajapaksa interests with national interests; we are unmoved by the blatant creation of a ‘Familiocracy’; we are becoming accustomed to the idea of President Rajapaksa ruling for life and being succeeded by a brother/son[vi]. We do not laugh at the official promotion of the ‘Cult of the Family’[vii]. We are tolerant of the militarization of Sri Lanka by a Rajapaksaised military, even after Weliweriya. We are ever willing to believe apocryphal tales of spectral Tigers/international conspirators. If the NPC election is postponed via a legal-shenanigan[viii] or a TNA-led council is dissolved using the Tiger argument (post-Commonwealth), we will accept that, with conviction, indifference or resignation.

We lost our ability to be angered by the unjust and the inhumane when we accepted the twin-myths of zero-civilian casualties and ‘Welfare Villages’.

The habit of apathy endures.

The distinguishing-feature of the latest round of polls is the extent to which disregard for the law has become embedded in the election process. Violating laws has become an election-norm, as is evident from the abduction of Dayasiri Jayasekara’s main financier[ix] to the conduct of the NP Governor. The public response to these serial-outrages indicates a sense of weariness, a growing belief that elections are just an expensive and inconvenient show.

The conduct of the Elections Commissioner is symbolic and symbiotic of the irreverence with which the power-wielders regard elections. Instead of making a ruling on the NPC Governor’s electioneering-antics, he passed the buck to the Human Rights Commission, even though the violation of election laws is the business of the Elections Commissioner. But then, thanks to the 18th Amendment, the Elections Commissioner (like the Human Rights Commission) is just a presidential cipher. He has no real powers. So why bother? Plus even if a case is filed, the Rajapaksa Chief Justice will ensure that the ruling is in Rajapaksa favour. With distorted laws and perverted institutions, is it any wonder that many ordinary voters feel disenfranchised, even with elections galore?

In ‘Why Nations Fail’, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson argue that when a clique of people monopolises a state, the economy is turned into ‘an extractive backwater’ and nations fail.

A state which is enslaved to a family is incapable of acting in the best interests of the country or people. Such a state would give precedence to the partisan political interests of the rulers over and above issues which are vital to the people. When their own base protests democratically against this injustice, the rulers will label it a conspiracy and unleash the military, guns blazing. Or divert the attention of people by inciting fear/hate of ethno-religious minorities, even at the risk of a general conflagration.


[ii] According to the Buddhist Temporalities Ordnance, a person holding public office is cannot serve in any religious institution coming under the Ordnance, without a special permission from the Pubic Trustee.

[iii] Gazette Extraordinary No.1614/30 exempted the Kataragama Devalaya from the relevant section of the Ordnance, enabling Shasheendra Rajapaksa to wear both the religious and the temporal hats!

[v] Thus the acceptance of naked ethno-religious racism and the role played by the likes of Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thero.

[vi] The Egyptians had another popular joke: when President Mubarak was told by his advisors not to follow in the footsteps of his brother autocrats, he responded, “Egypt’s traditions are thoroughly democratic; I will let the people chose between my sons”.

[vii] In January 2010, the state-owned television channel, Independent Television Network (ITN), held a musical show titled ‘Jaya Jayawe’ (Victory! Victory!). The guest-lecturer of the evening, a prominent Rajapaksa ideologue (who was nominated by the President to the parliament a few months later) defined the show as a symbol of the emerging ‘New (Rajapaksa) Civilisation’. It was a revealing remark, because the show was a long panegyric to Mahinda, Gotabhaya and their mother. The show opened with a lullaby retelling the ‘heroic saga’ of ‘King Mihindu’ and ‘Chief General Gotabhaya’ who defeated the ‘demons’ threatening the motherland; it ended with a musical tribute to the siblings’ mother. “Mother, are your watching from heaven, as the Son, who the gods and the Brahmas sent to your womb from golden palaces, is protecting the Nation”, sang the songstress, as a giant image of the late Ms. Rajapaksa adorned the screen.

[viii] Sinhala Jathika Peramuna has filed a case in theAppeal Court asking for a postponement of the NPC election until de-mining is complete and all Sinhalese and Muslims are resettled.

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    “We lost our ability to be angered by the unjust and the inhumane when we accepted the twin-myths of zero-civilian casualties and ‘Welfare Villages’”.

    Translation of the above:

    We accepted the massacre of 147,000 innocent Tamils near the war’s end as normal, and the concentration camps for Tamil civilians as needed!

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      If you really care about the suffering of the Tamil people, don’t exagerate numbers (the UN had 40,000) or use deliberately emotive terms like ‘concentration camps’. All you are doing is making sympathetic readers turn away.

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        Mr Taraki, UN’s second report upped the number from 40,000 to about “70,000 or more”.

        Now listen to: Dr Jude Lal Fernando on Navi Pillay’s Visit and UNHRC Resolutions and 13A http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lu_qyKW4hI8

        He has upped it to 100,000 or more.

        I use the figure from Mannar Bishop of 147,000 – difference between the the people before and after the war. Please don’t tel me most have gone abroad – the line taken by the culprits.

        Many experts, with the evidence so far emerged, say genocide of Tamils took place and people were herded into sheds in barbed wired enclosures like concentration camps, from there many were taken out and killed, many women raped and killed, while some women were forcefully aborted. (See Groundviews article).

        I understand your point about emotion: Those responsible for the atrocities will fear prosecution, while those who lost loved ones, raped, or otherwise affected will be in grief and wanting justice done.

        I know you imply that the perpetrators will be angry for being accused of genocide: If they are truly innocent, why do they fear an impartial international investigation?

        Let’s go for one!

        • 0
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          dont worry what difference does a few zeros make . lets agree it is a 400 000.

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            Okhoma suttha karanda – Clean them all out!

      • 0
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        Tamils don’t want sympathy but justice for the atrocities perpetrated on them.

        Can you expect sympathy from the extremists who want to treat the Tamils, Muslims, and other minorities like third class citizens, or worse?

        • 0
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          so many innocents killed, when will the Tamils have justice?

          we the sinhalese are still waiting for justice from 89 !

          • 0
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            There will be no justice if the current regime stays in power. Nor will there be democracy or the rule of law. It is going to take unity from a lot of diverse peoples of all faiths to take Sri Lanka back for everyone. Take some hope, there are decent people out there such as M.A. Sumanthiran who are trying to unite the people behind democracy and the rule of law. The problem is getting the clan that rules Sri Lanka now out of power. They served their purpose. They won the war, but the war is over. They failed to win the peace and do what was right after the war. Hope is coming to Sri Lanka. Please hang in there….

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              Wyatt,

              I know you have a soft spot for Sumanthiran and some affection. But don’t forget he is Tamil and therefore he has no audience to spread his message of love and togetherness.
              If Kathirgamar born and brought up in the South ( Kandy) who dare I say was trapped in a Tamil body but with a Sinhalese soul couldn’t do it how can Sumanthiran swing the pendulum.
              He will be an asset to the Tamils and that is his electorate.

              I don’t know if you have ever watched a Programme called the Two Ronnies.

              Ronnie Corbet used to say being the short one ” I know my place”. So I am sure Sumanthiran knows his place .

  • 0
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    When arrogance weds ignorance the products are a nuisance.

    • 0
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      who to be blamed ?

      Stupid folks and stupid opposition should be accoutable all these.

  • 0
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    One reason Gota took to send SF behind bars was his alleged engagement in politics while in uniform using legal system – A applicable to us. The above engagement in politics while in uniform is perhaps OK according to the legal system – B that applies only to the family and friends.

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    Would not any tax payer funded Opposition be expected to meet all this madness head on,eduacte Lankans daily by all means possible??

    The term “Leader of the Opposition” is a misogyny for Lanka and should be scrapped.

  • 0
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    Rajapaksas thrive by fanning the unfounded fears of the return of the LTTE. Overwhelmed by their economic woes the bulk of the people are growing up with the most objectionable conduct of the Rajapakasas taking the sensitivities of the people for granted. Also, because of the perception that the Rajapaksas defeated the LTTE, people are prepared to give them some latitude in “gratitude” and the Rajapaksas are incapable and too dense to appreciate this and act discretely. Further, most Sinhalese believe that any political privileges given to the Tamils is the end of their world. Benson

    • 0
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      return of the ltte is an unfounded fear .. hmm you must be the biggest idiot in the planet

  • 0
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    Oops should have read as Oxymoron.

  • 0
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    A new name ‘Rajafucksae’ coined by kali, one of the CT commentators goes well with Familiocracy.

    So one can refer to: Sri Lanka is under Rajafucksae familiocracy

    • 0
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      “So one can refer to: Sri Lanka is under Rajafucksae familiocracy” or
      more pointedly as “stl” – sexually transmitted leadership. ! (see para
      President for life, above)

  • 0
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    Rajapakses saved us from Prabakaran.
    Now we need to be saved from Rajapakses.

    • 0
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      Now who would save us from Rajapshes ?

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    History has a way of treating these type of dictators. It is matter of time and there will be a solution. Even dictators who were much stronger such as Shah of Iran, Gadaffi, Idi Amin, and Sadam Hussain had their fall. Even today we are witnessing what is happening to Assad of Syria. This family too will meet its Waterloo.

    • 0
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      Absolutely !

      When everything fails, nature takes over !!

  • 0
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    Rajapakshe family will be killed by the Own Army, wait and see…. :)

    • 0
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      Rod, it is the Wish of all Peace loving people of this country.

    • 0
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      There is a saying “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself”. So we all fall into that category through fear for ourselves or our loved ones. However, Rod, something like what you say or even worse is destined for the Royal family. We cannot play God, for then He moves back, but pray for a peaceful transition to a stable and just system in Sri Lanka.

  • 0
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    The desperate familial and venal regime, with their back against the wall economically and politically, can make serious mistakes.

    1. Postpone the election on this set-up petition to Courts by a so-far unknown entity – with ample help from high SC sources

    2. No interference to a TNA to win. But dissolve the Council on one or more false pretence after CHOGM is over

    3. Remove Vigneswaran from the scene before the elections thus causing massive confusion in the country leaving room for ramifications of UN/Indian foreign involvement

    It is curious why the President chose to take off to UN/New York on the eve of such a crucial political event to the country like the NPC Elections. Is there an alibi on the cards?

    Pandaranayagam

  • 0
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    Tisaranee’s “Familiocracy” and a commenter in CT who goes by the name of ‘gonbella’s “Thogocracy” are just terms used by losers.

    If Tisaranee has a real axe to grind about the way Namal Rajapaksa conducts his political campaigning then she should use the court system to redress the situation. No point crying foul in any number of media publications and going about her business as if nothing matters.

    Does Tisaranee or all these negative CT commenters advance a better alternative to that of the Rajapaksa clan running SL at the moment? Well speak up please.

    And with regards to those who died in the 30 year conflict, it is sad but that is life. If you choose the sword you may die by it. LTTE embarked on an armed struggle and look at the aftermath. It was war and a dirty war at that. There was a lot of hurt, anger and thoughts of vengeance in all antagonists. War is a nasty business and all will suffer as a result. There is no point muck raking with wildly speculative figures of how many died. Vengeance is a self perpetuating phenomenon. It is better to reconcile than harbour thoughts of vengeance.

    • 0
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      Because there is no alternative, let’s just shut our mouths and let these idiots run the country in any way they please. What an attitude! keep it up.
      Crying foul in the media is perhaps the only thing the people in this county can do at the moment. Do you really honestly think that going to the courts about Namals political campaigning methods will result in a fair judgement?

      • 0
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        Sana,

        I do admit there are issues and glaring at that with regards to governance at the moment in Sri Lanka. You do have a point about getting a fair judgement in court. And I do personally endorse that people must have the right to be able to vent their disaffection out in the open.

        However there are far too many competing forces for President Rajapaksa to instil a uniform system. There are a lot of people with hate, anger and a great number who harbour thoughts of vengeance. In time things will unravel by itself.

        Politically speaking President Rajapaksa has no choice but to harbour close relationships with people such as Duminda and Mervin at the moment. He has got a very tough juggling act to balance all these powerful forces and the Tamil Diaspora who are screaming for blood. So in the absence of a viable alternative at the moment it is better to dance with the devil we know than with an imaginary angel, and get the best outcome one can extract within the system.

        • 0
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          BBS the reason why MR is able to rule by Terror is because of people like you.

  • 0
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    Where is the court-martial for this guy?

  • 0
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    Wasn’t this one of the charges brought against Gen Fonseka? If its a punishable offense for the army commander is it not a punishable offense for a junior officer in the Navy?

    I guess not – he is a special make – Sandhurst trained prince of the ruling dynasty ( wait & see they will die nasty)

  • 0
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    Tissa Maha Ranee,

    MR was a product of Sinhalese Intransigence. The seeds were sewn way back in the 50s soon after independence. The question of Tamil Issue which was simmering since independence was exploited by Sinhalese politician which was a vote winner.
    The Sinhalese atrocities created Prabakaran and the freedom struggle then led to the creation of the monster MR.
    But all good things( for Sinhalese) come to an end and MR will definitely bite the dust but it is a matter of time and I have pencilled in my Diary March 2014 as the day of reckoning.

    Your title what happens when “arrogance weds ignorance” should be re titled what happens when “Arrogance weds Greed”. The simple answer is it is a recipe for disaster and that is what we have in Sri Lanka today.

    Greed for power riding on the back of Triumphalism created a dangerous precedent and Arrogance was the end product. I am not sure where Ignorance figures in this context as I am sure the Regime of MR are fully aware of their actions and the consequences.

    Day of Reckoning:

    In January 2010, the state-owned television channel, Independent Television Network (ITN), held a musical show titled ‘Jaya Jayawe’ (Victory! Victory!). The guest-lecturer of the evening, a prominent Rajapaksa ideologue (who was nominated by the President to the parliament a few months later) defined the show as a symbol of the emerging ‘New (Rajapaksa) Civilisation’. It was a revealing remark, because the show was a long panegyric to Mahinda, Gotabhaya and their mother. The show opened with a lullaby retelling the ‘heroic saga’ of ‘King Mihindu’ and ‘Chief General Gotabhaya’ who defeated the ‘demons’ threatening the motherland; it ended with a musical tribute to the siblings’ mother. “Mother, are your watching from heaven, as the Son, who the gods and the Brahmas sent to your womb from golden palaces, is protecting the Nation”, sang the songstress, as a giant image of the late Ms. Rajapaksa adorned the screen.

    I am fascinated by the above and if the mother is watching from Heaven she should say the following.

    ” Boys when I gave birth to you all I did not realise that all four of you would turn out to be monsters. Kill so many and worse still deny it all.

    Finally say the words “May your souls rest in HELL”

    Sinhala Jathika Peramuna has filed a case in theAppeal Court asking for a postponement of the NPC election until de-mining is complete and all Sinhalese and Muslims are resettled.

    Just not to miss a point of importance there are no Sinhalese to be resettled but many Illegal settlers ( Army Families ) to be removed.

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