By Lionel Bopage –
This is not unique to Sri Lanka; it is a common occurrence across the globe. It occurs not only during election times, but whenever those holding the reins of power wish to retain their dominance by hook or crook.
Let us look at the USA and the UK, which are said to be the most “open” societies of the “free” world who have impressive respective histories of democracy!
In 2016, Donald Trump’s approval ratings were very high. 77 percent of Republicans thought he was honest. In the US presidential election campaign, one candidate’s campaign statements were accurate 75 percent of the time, according to reviews, while those of the other main candidate was found to be false 70 percent of the time. Yet, the US voters elected Trump. Britain recently elected in a landslide, Boris Johnson who unlawfully shut down parliament to escape scrutiny. He was found to tell blatant lies whenever it suited him. How could political manipulators in the US and the UK lie through their teeth and still hold their grip over the people.
Considering this sorry situation, what could we expect in countries like Sri Lanka, where the power was passed on without the throne to their minions. Minions who still follow their rulebooks, mores and repressive methods. If we look at the voters in Sri Lanka from a telescopic viewpoint, those people who were supporters of a main political party have not really voted against their favourite party and preferred candidate throughout most of the country’s election history. There are two main blocs of people who vote despite the lies their leaders have uttered. Their dependents mostly remain true to the commitments their parents had previously made. Those who become disillusioned comprise the floating bloc, varying in size depending on the strength of the social wave wishing for change and the first-time voters.
In 1948, the UNP led by Mr D.S. Senanayake pledged an environment where people could live in a free, prosperous and a united land. However, by 1952 the economic conditions deteriorated with the UNP regime led by Mr Dudley Senanayake hiking food prices that pushed the country towards a general strike. The promised ‘united’ land was broken by the disenfranchisement of Malaiyaha workers. In 1956, the MEP generated a social wave down south, based on a pledge to establish Sinhala Buddhist privilege. Though the main opposition was reduced only to a few seats, they garnered a sizeable bloc vote.
Since 1956 the MEP and SLFP coalitions led by the Bandaranaikes implemented the policy of Sinhala Only – Official Language Act, expanding tertiary education with no holistic planning for generating employment and discriminately offering privilege to the majority. Their policies and actions paved the way to the southern youth uprising in 1971 and contributed to sprouting the northern Tamil militant trend. The first woman Prime Minister of the world closed the economy down of imports and imposed food barriers island wide. Yet luxury items to satisfy the needs of the ruling elite and their accomplices were imported.
In 1977, the UNP generated another social wave based on a pledge to create a ‘dharmista’ (righteous) society, free of carnage and disparity that had previously prevailed. The UNP led by Mr JR Jayewardene opened up the economy in one go demolishing local industries and agriculture, intensified discrimination against minority communities and violently repressed society rather than making it ‘dharmista’. These disastrous and discriminatory policies led to the 1989 uprising in the south and the two and a half decade long ethnic war that was brought to an end in 2009.
All the pledges the SLFP led coalitions had made since 1994, to eradicate bribery and corruption by bringing to justice those involved and to give a human face to open economy became fairy tales. Their pledges to unplug the economy from the World Bank and the IMF, pull the country out of the debt trap, abolish the executive presidency death trap, a Jayewardene creation, and resolve the national question by devolving power to the peripheries, were also fairy tales.
The start of this century witnessed the passionately brewing religious polarisation of society. In 2005, the SLFP led PA coalitions pledged to abolish the executive presidency with a caretaker presidency and a parliament moulded on the Westminster model and address the national question with a 13+ arrangement provided in the constitution. However, confrontation escalated by the LTTE and the government led to the end of Tamil militancy with the LTTE being crushed militarily yet leaving behind all the causes that led to that uprising to fester on. Defeating the LTTE and getting rid of its terror activities made the government extremely popular in the south.
In 2010, the UPFA generated another wave based on this military victory. Yet, instead of abolishing the executive presidency, adopting a constitution moulded on the Westminster model and addressing the national question with a 13+ arrangement, the regime brought the 18th amendment to make the incumbent executive presidency a familial hereditary presidency. Besides, allegations of continued terror campaigns in the south with white vans, kidnappings, disappearances, killings and abolition of freedoms etc. and massive bribery and corruption reaped through huge infrastructure projects did not make the regime’s popularity long-lasting.
In 2015, the UNP and SLFP led coalition pledged to abolish the 18th amendment and the executive presidency by adopting a new constitution that would also address issues of devolution and discrimination and bring all those alleged to be involved in criminal activities to justice. They repealed the 18th amendment by adopting the 19th amendment, adopted the Right To Information Act, established independent commissions and the Missing Persons Office, but the process of adopting a new constitution and bringing alleged criminal offenders to justice was kept at snail’s pace due to disinterest and lack of commitment shown by SLFP and the UNP leaderships.
The SLFP leader himself did not want to see abolition of executive presidency. He wished to become executive president for a second term and allegedly collaborated with the Rajapaksas and the newly established SLPP. Friction and conflict between the SLFP and the UNP led to the collapse of the whole journey towards establishing rule of law and good governance. The biggest bombshell, the bond scam was the final nail in their coffin.
Pledges of providing free of charge rice and dry rations in the fifties, rice even from the moon in the sixties, eight pounds of grain in the seventies never materialised. Much favoured nationalism and sovereignty aired in the open was being diluted with land, industries, development processes and other resources handed over to multi-nationals, foreign companies and governments. Sri Lanka fell from grace from being a country admired by Singapore to a country where leaders continually pledged to make the country into a Singapore, while working against it.
The pledges for re-establishing national pride by rebuilding and refurbishing tanks and anicuts to make the land’s food and water resources secure have fallen by the wayside with the country importing many crops and food items. Farmers continue to suffer from lack of land, water, fertilizer, markets and proper prices for their commodities. We still hear politicians pledging to provide a glass of milk to every school kid, a meal for every child and a bag of nutrition to every family.
In Sri Lanka, meals to drinks, ‘sil redhi’ to mamoties, tv sets to sewing machines etc. are used as vote ‘incentives’. Donating gifts, hosting parties and providing meals to voters were previously considered bribery. Now, pork-barrelling has become the main form of incentivising communities. Legislation that makes such acts illegal are sidelined.
In general, the world over, voters could be seen to have become insensitive to falsehoods. Is it because, they are not aware that their leaders utter lies to capture political power? Or do they do not care anymore? I read somewhere that this has something to do with the distinction between the conventional understanding of “honesty” and the notion of “authenticity”. Honesty mainly relies on factual accuracy, while authenticity on aligning the public and private images of a politician.
Referring to a false claim a politician has made, voters mostly respond to corrections. Nevertheless, they simply leave it there and disregards it. They may realize a specific claim is false, but that does not make them doubt any other claims the politician has made. Voters would remain committed to voting the same party or the candidate over and over again, no matter what, thus tolerating being lied to. Does that mean voters have given up on truth and honesty in electing their representatives? Exposing the lies they utter and revealing facts to clarify reality do not seem to have mattered.
Such exposure has not reduced the continuing appeal for the likes of Trump, Johnson, Duterte, Bolsonaro or any other manipulative authoritarian leaders. People are easily misled because they have hope, do not challenge their confirmation bias, or fail to do their research. From the US to Sri Lanka, independent studies show that top media outlets frequently portray imprecise information as facts. Some of those outlets are nothing but fronts for partisan propaganda. We ourselves become gullible when people we believe to be intelligent regularly post items from propaganda sites characterizing them as facts. They never check their authenticity because those items concur with their confirmation biases.
Politics have always raised parties and candidates who would mislead voters to jump the queue. Thus, the threat the spread of misinformation poses cannot be underestimated. In general, people group together with those they concur with, making themselves increasingly opinionated and hateful. In addition, people quick to assume they would be lied to by the opposition, but slow to assume that people with whom they concur would lie. That is not a healthy tendency.
The unwillingness to come to terms with facts that do not agree with the views someone hold has become an obsession. By being sarcastic and pessimist about what are being told, we let those who mislead us to go scot free. Rather, we should be probing what they tell us and hold them to account. There is also an uncomfortable truth we ourselves have to face. When we worry about people being misled, do we ever question the fundamentals that we ourselves believe in could be wrong? So, we ourselves need to become more self-aware.
When voters feel disempowered, discriminated against and excluded by the system, they would tend to accept and be misled by the lies politicians utter. To disempower such manipulators, and to make lying unacceptable require voters regaining trust in the political system, which is lacking almost everywhere. When voters deem a political system to be legitimate and fair, they will reject politicians who lie, and they would resent being lied to.
So, the key to meaningful change involves pursuing politics that reduce the appeal for populist crowd pleasers and create incentives for politicians to become more honest. Though there is no quick and easy recipe for this process, a better way to begin would be to vote for those candidates the voters themselves have found to be honest with an unblemished record free of crime and corruption. Holding those elected to account for their pledges and deeds even after the elections would pave the way for removing the grounds on which politicians would be ready to hoodwink voters. Then voters would not be naive enough to be hoodwinked by the politicians!
leelagemalli / July 23, 2020
I think whole lot of our people should learn to be less naive.
That can then open the door for a better srilanka.
Nathan / July 23, 2020
Bringing in the USA and the UK to capture an audience, throwing in Trump, Johnson, Duterte, Bolsonaro, in the mix to bolster the appeal, you tried to lift a load too heavy for the intended task. The effort, naturally, has fizzled out.
Even though broken promises is a common thread, the reasons for reneging are not identical.
Sri Lanka stands uniquely single. We have religion mixed with politics, – a decoction that gets you readily intoxicated.
Lionel Bopage / July 23, 2020
Classic confirmation bias.
Religious right in the US stood by Trump in his election campaign and they still stand by him. Almost all white supremacists are conservative Christians, opposing all laws and policies addressing systemic racism.
Simply look at Johnson’s ties to the well-known far-right fundamentalist Steve Bannon. Johnson’ history of Islamophobia is also well-known.
The Filipino Christians are a divided lot with many believing that the Bible teaches the government has ‘the power of the sword’ and God has anointed Duterte to discipline the Filipinos.
The election campaign of Bolsonaro exposed the role of religion in Brazilian politics, with the use of the slogan “Brazil above everything, God above everyone”. Pentecostal denominations and some of the Catholic Church enthusiastically supported in electing him as the defender of traditional Christian moral values. The campaign comprised a broad heterogeneous conservative coalition of religious right-wing groups using hate speech against the other.
So, religion is mixed with politics in many lands (see Modi in India and Putin in Russia). Hardly can they be divorced
Thus, Sri Lanka does not stand uniquely single.
Thiagarajah Venugopal / July 23, 2020
I totally agree with all you have said above……..is it not about time we had Duterte style governance in SL??
I am big fan of Duterte and then fact is part of the ASAIN club makes it easier for him to execute matters accordingly too. His approval ratings yet to be broken by any other leaders in modern times??
I am sure we are also going to get used to the same and we will have more productive response when our President and PM will travel around the world and tell the respective governments too how to treat the SL expat workers who serve them….I look forward to that proud moments to bring the pride back to all Sri Lankans just as the what the Philippineses around the world been through first time in their life human dignity get given back to them. Have you seen how Hon Duterte present his National plans infront of his Nation and invite the entire respective embassies/foreign delegates to attend the same and listen to the terms in which they are allowed into the Country.
Nathan / July 23, 2020
I am afraid that apples are getting mixed here with oranges. I reiterate, – Sri Lanka stands uniquely single. In Sri Lanka Sinhala Buddhists are left, right, and centre, not just right.
SJ / July 23, 2020
I suppose that a proper analogy would have been Israel (with the exception of the Communist Party of Israel of course).
Rampshang / July 29, 2020
Sri Lanka is unique sir,
In Sri Lanka, They use Buddhism as an excuse for everything. I have traveled the world extensively, and I’ve never seen a country that gives priority seating for clergy in public transportation. This just about sums it up; while all other countries give priority for pregnant and old people for priority Sri Lanka gives priority to “Saffron Cloaked Baffoons!!!” There lies a single obstacle for Sri Lanka’s development.
rj1952 / July 23, 2020
A fantastic interesting to read masterpiece penned by a once upon a time young socialist who has been able in the bottom part for the world and now aboding in comfort like many others in Australia.
Yes, voters all around the globe when an election is about to be held become the end fools by believing the fairy tales coming out of the sewers of many a cunning lying through their teeth political contenders and their conniving allies.
In my motherland, a bottle or two of the cheapest Gal arrack a sipping death trap and a mass cooked buth [ rice and curry ] meal along with a paltry cash gift are enough to swing favourably the tide to many a cunning horu boru election candidate.
The female would be wooed voters of the dominant most important sex who makes or break an aspiring politician are given garments, gas cookers sewing machines etc all with the ulterior motive of taking the nation on the whole for the biggest ride of their lives.
This carnival goes around and around the mulberry bush, every time s poll of any sort is announced.
Eagle Eye / July 25, 2020
Boris Jonson has told that he is opening the door for Chinese in Hong Kong who are being ill-treated by China to come and settle down in UK.
Demalu in Sri Lanka who are grumbling that they are being ill-treated by racist Sinahala Buddhist fascist supremacists should request Boris Jonson to open the door for them because Brits abandoned them in Sinhale and ran away in 1948.
Rampshang / July 29, 2020
You come out with some moronic, imbecilic statement that I’ve ever read.
chiv / July 23, 2020
Lionel, your title is absolutely appropriate to the word. Here is an example . Recently a Nursing Practitioner in the US was found intensely arguing with her colleagues stating her choice for president is only Trump. Reason being, the cheque she received recently from US treasury as relief/ stimulus was Personally signed by Trump (instead of governor). She truly believes Trump who avoided paying due business tax for years (a case in now being held in Southern District of New York) has actually shared (donated) his own wealth during this crisis time. A NP is equal to a doctor who practices independently (see patients and prescribe meds) under some supervision. If that is the case imagine our Lankan public. All what Rajapaksas have to do is to “point at their own shadow as ghost”. You can see that right here in CT , when some say “Parliament failed us, so lets have a military government”. People need to be naive or real fools to be fooled /hood winked and the current “immoral political culture’ is much more virulent than Covid , in that it affects the thinking ability of our public. We may have avoided a viral pandemic but not the coming one.
RohanaW / July 23, 2020
With 2019 presidential elections we had a good opportunity of coming out of this mess. In my thinking we had two good contenders in Nagananda Kodituwakku and Rohan Pallewatte. What intelligent masses should have done was to get them to select one of them for the presidency and gather around them. So called Viyaththu selected a known corrupt, murderous, fraudster as their choice to save the country and our future will not be different to what we had in the past but it could become much worse.
Native Vedda / July 23, 2020
Why should Sri Lankan diaspora worry about the state of state back in this island? Even the people living and voting in this island couldn’t change a thing in the island leave alone the diaspora.
Are the people so stupid they can’t make the right/informed choices?
Ajith / July 23, 2020
The people of Srilanka had an opportunity to make a revolution in 2015 when the civil societies, and people made an effort to change the political culture when they realised that politics going in a wrong direction after the end of 2009 war. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find any new political leadership to make that change. They have no alternative other than just to elect from the same old political culture. So, people have no other alternative and gone back to same old group again. At this juncture it is impossible to find any politician who can lead this country. The judiciary is not independent, military is not independent. All institutions just their to follow what is told to do.
Recently, BBS Gnanarasa thero openly warned Tamils that if they demand for federal solution, there will be bloodbath in the North East. Any of the political leadership including theJVP challenged this statement? No. Do they with agree with statement or not? No one will answer.
Raj-UK / July 23, 2020
Trump was elected by the white christian middle America on the promise of making America ‘first’ , a selfish ideology that implied white American superiority, which sounds similar to the SInhala Buddhist rhetoric in current SL. Boris Johnson was elected purely because he was expected to ‘deliver’ Brexit & make Britain ‘great’ again by ‘taking back control’ from an European Union. His opponent, Corbyn, was considered too socialist & the Jewish lobby within his own party, brought him down. The nationalistic & religious sentiment has been the trump card for all less deserving politicians to gain power & the tough talk is considered as ‘plain speaking’ to the average citizens around the world. However, democratic countries have a Parliament (or the equivalent congress) to keep them in line & a second term is unlikely if they fail to deliver, as can be seen by the drop in popularity of Trump & Johnson. Furthermore, the independent press & news media are there to question & hold them responsible.
In SL, the news media is biased or muzzled, uneducated yobs, fraudsters & even thugs are nominated by mainstream parties, the voters have little choice. Hoodwinked? Yes, knowingly.
SJ / July 23, 2020
The General Strike refers to the event of mid-1947. What happened in 1953 was the Hartal, organized by the Left, which the young SLFP supported, and interestingly the Federal Party too.
Free education and Swabasha were earlier projects. The country had no plans for an economy other than agriculture (mainly paddy) and its export crops from the colonial era.
The SLFP, in fairness, always tried to develop other areas particularly since 1960, and even the UNP 1965-70 had a go at small industries and various manufacturing ventures.
But as you say there was no holistic view.
The first woman Prime Minister (of 1960-64) did not close the economy to imports and imposed food barriers island wide during her first term. It happened during her second term, with the LSSP & CP as partners.
There was a foreign currency crisis precipitated by many factors including the jump in oil price from US$ 3 or so to over US$ 15 almost overnight. It was not a planned move but a desperate act of defence. SL was not seen in a favourable light by the West (US especially) and that too added to the economic burden.
As for free rice the one who started the gimmick was none other than a badly misguided Dudley Senanayake.
singhaputhra / July 25, 2020
free rice starting be fore independnce no
SJ / July 25, 2020
Who said anything about free rice before independence.
Free education started before independence.
Time to polish the lenses.
Thiagarajah Venugopal / July 25, 2020
How the cooperatives helped us all to survive in the 70’s was of a great GOSL assistance then. GOSL managed a lot of things caringly to match the self sufficiency drive as best as they could and Jaffna farmers too benefitted from this amazing revolution/attempt/trail/vision. This was also in line with the green revolution in India where she has become a net exporter of food from net importer/starvation/famine etc. GOSL hone also helped the Fishermen with motors/boats/nets and many more. The subjects taught at schools were great with all the educational material provided to all of us poor or rich. We were indeed connected to the earth in every sense of the word.
We participated in Non align movement that is all taken out literally one by one through toppling governments and assassination of leaders too. What happened thereafter in our nation is just a continuation of the same focused on the Indian Ocean. We all dies thinking we are fighting for something for ourselves. The results are here few hundred thousand dead, lost arms and limbs and rest of us are refugees washing toilets everywhere else.
srikrish / July 23, 2020
I endorse every word you say,
Accountability is what is expected from our politicians.
Accountability is a key element of Good Governance.
Good Governance or not, Promises are made to be kept, not to be flouted after the elections with some lame excuses.
It is immoral and unethical. Ethics is not for politicians, one could argue in all innocence.
Nevertheless, people could not be hoodwinked forever.
There is a tolerance limit.
Once the tolerance limit is exceeded, people will revolt, that is the lesson from history.
You can’t take the people for a ride indefinitely.
Sri Lanka could not be an exception.
Mallaiyuran / July 24, 2020
President Trump was not voted in for his racism. Of cause some particular sectors unitedly voted for him. But it was not a result parallel to November 2019 or 2010 election results. 2018 LG election was won with one slogan: “you want one country or two countries”. LG election should not have had a central theme for election. Immediately after LG election Sampanthar brought it to parliament. That type of mistakes is not taking place in State or City elections in US. Trump’s victory was based on three reasons. Minorities (Blacks & Hispanics) stayed from voting to Mrs. Clinton. Obama’s soft approach to international criminal elements. Unlike in many other countries, international affairs are an important issue for American voters. The third is draining the swamp. People had developed a feeling Washington had lost efficiency and effectiveness by corruption.
Just like Nathan said, Lankawe is unique. While UNP watching, SLFP guarding, Slap Party bombed Tamil Churches using Muslim extremists to get the Sinhalese votes for King. Whether a country is racial or not, that cannot happen anywhere in the world, Other than in Lankawe. For 72 years, country’s elections are being won only with racial slogans. That is certainly a Guinness Book entry.
singhaputhra / July 25, 2020
allow allto liv e as peacefu l
SJ / July 25, 2020
Pretty good for typing while on horseback.
Rampshang / July 29, 2020
Sri Lanka is a cursed land; the curse is “Buddhism.” Senanaikes and Bandaranayakes and their proteges ruled and ruined our country to the status of a “perpetual beggar” in the international arena. Every ungodly event is carried out under the name of “Buddhism.” Even before the national cricket team departs for a tournament, it has got to be blessed by a “Saffron Cloaked” Individual. Prostitution and deception are rampant, and the government is too busy lining their own pockets through nepotism, favoritism, and blatant bribery.