26 October, 2021

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Strongman Leaders: The Rise Of The Modern Dictators & The Fall Of Democracy

By MFM Fawas –

MFM Fawas

A dictatorship is familiar to most of us, and can be defined as a “system of government ruled by a relatively small number of self-appointed people who hold absolute power over any organised institutions or system of laws”. There are mainly five types of recognised dictatorships in the world. The Military dictatorship in countries such as present-day Myanmar, Mali and Chile under Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), comes to being by the classical means of a coup d’état and relies on armed forces. Countries such as China, Uganda and North Korea are identified as Single-Party dictatorships that are based on the monopoly of a single political party. Some countries are also classified as having Personalists Dictatorships, Monarchic Dictatorship and Hybrid Dictatorships. A ‘modern dictatorship’ on the other hand is a “dictatorship that succeeds in overcoming the gap between rulers and ruled by convincing a large portion of the people, through persuasion, benefits, and organic links-that they should support it.” Rulers in these dictatorships are known as ‘modern dictators’ or ‘strongman leaders’. The world has for a long time known strongman leaders in non-democratic countries, such as Xi Jinping in China, Kim Jong-un in North Korea and Putin in Russia.  However, the 20th century has seen the rise of strongman leaders in well-established democracies from all around the globe.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s in her book titled Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present identifies three key periods in the history of strongmen; (1) the fascism of the 1930s, (2) the dictatorships of the Cold War era, and the (3) resurgence of right-wing populists like Viktor Orbán, Rodrigo Duterte, and Trump, among others in the present. She explains that the difference between the present period, where the world, is seeing the rise of the likes of Trump and Duterte is that they have not fully destroyed democracy (yet). Though they have made democracy more illiberal, downgrading, they have done so without reaching the stage of the traditional dictatorship of past periods. She explains that across all three periods, the strongman relies on the same set of tools—extreme nationalism, propaganda, corruption, an extremist ideal of masculinity and violence—though they can vary over different periods.  William Dobson, in, The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy, explains that because of the rise of technological advancements, it’s more difficult now more than ever to be a dictator, as it is tougher for oppressive regimes to hide their violations and crimes. Therefore, he notes that modern dictatorships have become more sophisticated in their oppression, avoiding resorting to only physical aggressive tactics. Modern dictators also identify that they need to be cautious not only of armed popular resistance but also of widespread popular protests. In Authoritarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know, Erica Frantz highlights two pertinent points in relation to modern dictators. First, she notes that, at present, the most common way for authoritarian regimes to emerge is by eating out democracy from within. Second, these new regimes often take what the author calls “the most dangerous form of dictatorship”: personal rule or rule centred around a Strongman leader. She identifies a few features of these dictatorships to be a narrow inner circle of trusted people; installation of loyalists in positions of power; promotion of members of the family; creation of a new political movement; use of referendums as a way of justifying decisions; and the creation of new security services loyal to the leader. She further identifies that the typical feature of these strongmen is that they start as populists and argue that they alone, once armed with extraordinary powers, can solve the country’s problems.

The major example of the rise of a strongman leader was seen in 2016 when Donald Trump, a radical supporter of the far-right extremist ideology, was elected the President of the USA, a country that often boasts of its liberal democratic values. In 2014, Narendra Modi, a strongmen nationalist leader, was elected as the Prime Minister in India, the largest democracy in the World. Similarly, the new strongman president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has been a vocal supporter of a military dictatorship and hostile towards the democratic system of governance. In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, nicknamed ‘the punisher’, ‘Duterte Harry’, has relentlessly crackdown on drug users and has according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), plunged the Philippines into its worst human rights crisis since the dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. Closer to home, the landslide victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former Defence Secretary, and a military officer in 2019 signalled that Sri Lanka is following the same trend.

Since November 2019, human rights organisations have noted that Sri Lanka is on an accelerated path towards authoritarianism, with fundamental human rights and civil liberties being in serious jeopardy. As identified by Frantz one of the key features of strongman leadership is the appointment of loyalists to positions of power. After he was appointed the President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has appointed close allies, past and serving military officials to key administration positions and created several “Task Forces” on different subjects. These task forces act in parallel to state institutions. Moreover, several state agencies, including the police and the NGO Secretariat, were placed under the Defense Ministry. In January 2020, President Rajapaksa established a Commission of Inquiry to Investigate Allegations of Political Victimization by the previous government. The commission then began intervening in cases where Rajapaksa allies and associates were facing police investigations or prosecution for alleged corruption and human rights abuses. The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Political Victimization submitted its report to the president on December 9, 2020, but its findings have not yet been made public.

Another feature as described by Frantz is that strongman leaders promote members of the family. At present, four brothers of the Rajapaksa family hold key positions in government. Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed his brother, Mahinda, a former strongman President, as the Prime Minister. The eldest brother, Chamal Rajapaksa, was named the minister of irrigation, as well as the state minister of home affairs and national security and disaster management. More recently, the younger brother of the President, Basil Rajapaksa, was appointed the Finance Minister. Mahinda’s son, Namal Rajapaksa, is currently the minister of youth and sports, as well as the state minister of digital technology and enterprise development. Chamal’s son, Shasheendra Rajapaksa, also holds a non-cabinet portfolio in government. Moreover, Frantz observations on how strongman leaders argue that “they alone can save the country from the problems it’s facing when given extraordinary powers” is identical to the situation that can be observed in Sri Lanka. A look back at Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidential campaign and subsequent speeches makes this very apparent. Addressing the country on the occasion of Sri Lanka’s 73rd Independence Day in February 2021, President Rajapaksa, in his speech stated that “I am the leader that you searched for”.

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  • 9
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    Dr.Gunathilake Tantirigama with reputed academics, professionals and selected think-tank personae, all sixty in number, domiciled in Sri Lanka and overseas were involved in a survey recently related to the prevailing situation in Sri Lanka(Ref- ‘ Colombotelegraph ‘ of Sept. 11/2021
    Almost all participants were in agreement that SL currently is in dire straits in economic stability, political structure, social order and environment and pursuant to this the country is sliding fast towards abyss with no prospects in sight for recovery or any improvement.
    The survey probed on two broad issues, viz;
    ‘ What went wrong since independence in 1948 to today ‘
    ‘ What is Sri Lanka good at ‘
    The survey identified ten root causes or challenges being the main reasons or culprits for the steady decline since the country gained independence. It can be observed that from a structured commendable democracy at the start, it slided to an illiberal democracy, then to soft authoritarianism and now almost to authoritarian structure with sprinkling of democracy.
    Of the above mentioned ten root causes, ‘ practice of democracy ‘ being identified as the fundamental cause for the degeneration where short sighted racial and religious majoritarianism took hold of the country. All political parties and politicians representing the majority ethnic groups exploited the situation to capture power. Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism became the main political platform rhetoric and used liberally as a comfortable bait to attract Sinhala rural votes.
    -continued-

    T

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      P.Rajeswaran
      ‘ What went wrong since independence in 1948 to today ‘
      —-
      These reputed academics, professionals and selected think-tank personae have failed to figure out the main root cause for what went wrong in Sri Lanka since Independence.
      Separatism of racist Tamil politicians is the main root cause for what went wrong in Sri Lanka. Refusal of these Tamil politicians to live with Native Sinhalayo peacefully in a Unitary State created all the problems leading to the separatist war that lasted for three decades turning Sri Lanka into a pool of blood. The economy was ruined due to war. Scarce resources that could have been used to develop the country were wasted for the war. Debt burden of the country increased due to war.
      There are some people who blame Sinhala politicians and Sinhala Buddhists branding them as chauvinists and supremacists for creating this situation. This is rubbish. Separatism was not something that emerged after Independence. Racist Tamil politicians who emerged in 1930s had separatism in their agenda. They gave the impression to Tamils in Yapanaya that Sinhalayo are their enemy and they are the saviors for their political survival.

  • 9
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    – continued –

    Dr. Rehan Derrick Fernando in his article in these columns of Sept.6/2021 has aptly stated, which is worthy to recount here, ” Kiribath and lunumiris became a source of celebrating, dominating and showing Sinhala Buddhist superiority over Tamil civilians “. The Sinhala nationalists were made to feel and act with a sense of superiority and domineering attitude towards the minority communities.
    Emeritus Professor Gananath Obeyesekera in one of his recent articles to these columns expressed his dismay that in recent times he had been confronted by scholars from educated westerners and queried him as to why ‘ Buddhism ‘ a religion that is given to an ethic of radical non-violence has produced a nation like
    Sri Lanka that has over the last two decades produced a culture of extreme violence.
    Unless populism, secularism takes centre stage in governance, no prospects for splendour and prosperity.

    • 6
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      It is like the police inspector who told the people of Jaffna that they brought pizza to Jaffna. Like kavun and kokkis, pizza is obviously not Sinhalese. even hoppers and iddiappam came from India if not Tamilnadu. But, myths of uniqueness are necessary for the present climate that keeps authoritarianism alive. It is necessary for leaders of both camps to ensure that Sinhala people do not crawl out of the Mahavamsa muddle. For this to be done, permanent enemies are necessary. A permanent set of agitators against these enemies, currently the Muslims, are necessary to keep the 6.9 Sinhala morons in line. The Sangha, unfortunately, plays a designated role.

      • 2
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        This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.

        For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

        • 0
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          This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.

          For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

    • 2
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      “Emeritus Professor Gananath Obeyesekera in one of his recent articles to these columns expressed his dismay that in recent times he had been confronted by scholars from educated westerners and queried him as to why ‘ Buddhism ‘ a religion that is given to an ethic of radical non-violence has produced a nation like
      Sri Lanka that has over the last two decades produced a culture of extreme violence.”
      —-
      This is an outcome of S.J.Tambiah’s book Buddhism Betrayed?: Religion, Politics, and Violence in Sri Lanka. Through this book Tambiah conveyed a message to foreigners that Sinhala Buddhists are violent people who oppress and discriminate minority Tamils in Sri Lanka. This is a complete distortion of the situation prevailed in Sri Lanka. Sinhala Buddhists did not unleash violence against Tamils. It was Catholic and Hindu Tamils who unleashed violence against Sinhala Buddhists.
      After Independence, whenever Sinhalayo introduced a change as an Independent nation, Tamil politicians resorted to violence by attacking Sinhalayo in Yapanaya. The infamous 1983 incident was triggered by Tamils killing unarmed soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army using land mines. The situation came to a climax after Tamil politicians passed Vaddukkodei Resolution to create a separate State and declared war against the Government and Sinhala nation leading to Tamil terrorism that lasted for three decades.

  • 4
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    Mr Fawas
    What does the Quaran say about Kings, Sultans, Sheikhs and Generals?

    Soma

    • 10
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      soman

      “What does the Quaran say about Kings, Sultans, Sheikhs and Generals?”

      If you want to know more about Khalifas or Khalifahs there are millions of books and articles already been published, of which some of them are available on net. All you have to do is just surf the net.

      Are you trying to build Gota as a good, merciful, ….. democratic Khalifah in case if he declares himself as president for life and beyond?

    • 6
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      P.Rajeswaran if not already mentioned among the ten root causes you mentioned then it will be the eleventh cause ” Soman, Evil Eagle, RCP, N.Perera and 6.9 million of their ilk”.

  • 7
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    correction –

    Unless pluralism and secularism instead of populism takes centre stage in the governance , no prospects for vistas for splendour and prosperity to the nation in sight.

  • 16
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    People who voted for this regime.

    1. Knew they were highly corrupt.
    2. Knew GR would fill the top position with family members, and nepotism will be the norm.
    3. Knew that our journalists will be threatened, harassed, and many will be afraid for their lives.
    4. Knew that they are racists, and the minorities will be discriminated.

    Still, it did not deter them from voting these scoundrels in. Bad judgement or ignorance? Maybe both. Hope the Rajapaksa voters are now happy with how things have turned out. After all they ignored the voices of reason, and the warning signs, and still voted for the Rajapaksa cabal.

    The Rajapaksa’s with the help of Ranil (spineless leader of the opposition) made sure they have no strong opposition to stand up to them, or rein them in. They now act like they own this island, have control over most of our economy and the country’s assets, and have already given chunks of it to the Chinese. The Rajapaksa dictatorship will keep going on generation after generation, just like the Kim family of North Korea.

    Trump could not turn America into a dictatorship, even though he tried hard, while the rest of the strong men have passed laws, and have strengthened their positions, and solidified their powers, and it seems it is gradually happening here as well.

  • 6
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    Enjoy 9.6m erected mister clean and AD takes him to the cleaners.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToIqIlmEyZc&t=228s

  • 9
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    Fawas, excellent synopsis on modern dictators.As mentioned this existed for years but with modern technology it’s hard to hide. Current dictators hold elections to show world there is still democracy exist but convince the voters to elect them by either nationalism, racism, religion, , giving or promising perks, anti U.S / Anti west , under pretext of socialism/ communism, manipulating elections, suppress any opposition by illegal means . We had plenty before Mugabe, Chavez , now Duerte, Putin, Xi and Gotha. What is common among all is to stay in power for life.

  • 12
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    “I am the leader that you searched for” – Gotabaya Rajapakse
    Very successful ascension to the Presidency, by 6.9 Million chosen disciples, of whatever hue, colour and shade they may originate from, combined with 2/3rd majority Parliament, 20th amendment, remarkable indeed feat.
    Wish him success in his endeavours for unity in diversity and tranquillity in resplendent isle.
    However, the most disturbing aspect of the journey to meet the end and finality of the erstwhile tranquillity is the forward and backward movement coupled with ‘U’ turns, I may venture.
    Is it convenient divided messaging for different audience/communities and end results!!!!
    Not very impressive and disturbing mixed messages, for instance, proscribing certain NGO’s and Diaspora organisations (Colombo) and followed soon after from his second home, invite them by loud proclamation near the ‘Statue of Liberty’ (NYC) to participate in the conciliatory process!!
    Does not build trust among participants or communities to engage and commit to peace!!!
    Is it convenient divided messaging for different communities and different end results!!!!?
    It is symptomatic of the 1956 to 1959 era of SWRDB! That was as I remember a very big disaster of 65 years.
    In my view doesn’t portend a good end result at Leadership.

  • 4
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    Rajapakshes appoint their family members. Ranil Wickramasinghe appointed members of his Royal Family. There is no difference.

    • 12
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      Dear EE
      And that is the tragedy that has brought us to this dismal situation. So for you “Two wrongs make it right.”?

    • 9
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      EE,
      .
      the difference should be clear to anyone with a bird brain, but not to you.
      :
      Yours is pathologica, COVID has to see it sooner than later. God bless srilanka so long you the kind of ULTRA racists are part of our population.

      • 0
        4

        leelagemalli,
        “the difference should be clear to anyone with a bird brain, but not to you”
        —-
        The difference is clear to all but not to you.
        Rajapakshe family liberated the people in this country from Tamil terrorism that plagued the country for three decades, restored peace and developed the economy whereas ‘Royal Family’ of Ranil destroyed the peace in mind people enjoyed by allowing Muslim terrorists to carry out terrorist attacks while they had prior warnings about the attacks and ruined the economy.

    • 13
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      Eagle Blind Eye

      “There is no difference.”

      Then why do (Sinhala/Buddhist) people vote for the most horrible leaders in this island supported by Assgiria?

      I am yet to see trains running on time.

  • 9
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    Except Israel all Middle Eastern countries are dictatorships.

    • 4
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      Our Karma is to listen to lectures on Democracy by Muslims.

      Soma

      • 1
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        S
        Do not others lecture on democracy?
        Every Muslim democracy in the Middle East was been subverted by US-led imperialism.
        This is an uncalled for racist comment as the writer has not drawn on Islam to argue his case.
        It is ironical to discuss democracy without reference to imperialism and the need to overcome it to secure and sustain any form of democracy.

        • 1
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          How about their lectures on minority rights?

          Soma

        • 6
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          soman
          SJ types

          “Every Muslim democracy in the Middle East was been subverted by US-led imperialism.”

          After which China happily supported those dictatorship to which it sold weapons, goods and services bribing all the way from bottom to top, citing their principled position that China does not interfere in internal affairs of other countries.

          When China denies anything that means it is actively involved …….
          Don’t forget SJ firmly believes China is the only democratic country next to North Korea, Cambodia under Pol Pot, ……….and …

        • 1
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          S
          Do we need to adopt a ‘them and us’ attitude in everything?
          Here is an article by a person with a seemingly Muslim name.
          Should we not pay attention to the content?

          • 1
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            SJ
            I am a Sinhalese by default. After two groups identified themslves as ‘Tamils’ and ‘Muslims’ and loudly demand all kinds of things the balance are Sinhalese as far as I am concerned. As I do not speak the Tamil language and neither believe in Allah / Mohamed (PBUH) I fall into the category of Sinhalese. If you notice I never argue on DNA or history ; all my options on the so called ‘national problem’ are based on the EXISTING demographic distribution.
            Hence ‘them and us’
            Sorry.

            Soma

      • 7
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        soman

        “Our Karma is to listen to lectures on Democracy by Muslims.”

        My karma is to listen to lectures on Buddhism by saffron clad thugs, Fascist praising Asgiria, Champika, …… all those ….. .
        What can we do?

        • 1
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          You are lucky-:you have a place to go.

          Soma

    • 7
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      Yes, but Israel the so called “only democracy in the ME” is a brutal occupier, who occupies the native people for decades, steals their lands, builds illegal settlements, and kills unarmed civilians by the hundreds.
      Last time their precision bombs killed 68 little children.

      In many ways they are worse than some of the their neighbors.

    • 3
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      GATAM

      Also the Only APAETHEID State in the World which the dictatorships are Not.

  • 4
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    When Rajapakshes rule the country there are guys mushrooming to scream that the country is moving towards dictatorship.
    When Ranil sat with his Royal Gang and ‘Rathu Ali Petiya’ in Temple Trees and ordered the Police and CID to arrest Rajapakshes, politicians in the opposition, monks, members of the Armed Forces, members of the Intelligence service; kept those who were arrested indefinitely without charging; crushed protestors (including disabled ‘Ranaviruwo’) using water cannons, tear gas and batons; postponed elections indefinitely the guys who make hue and cry now to preserve democracy were silent.
    Once again organizations and individuals whose job is to give the impression to International Community that Sri Lanka is moving towards dictatorship under President Gotabhaya Rajapakshe have become active. $$$s!

  • 6
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    …………… I am the Leader you searched for……

    Yes! Gota knew beforehand how to create conditions to sway the voters.
    6.9 Million voters rallied round to usher HIM on the Presidential Throne.

    But what exactly did those voters expect from Gota?
    a] Push the Tamils still further up the wall even after the defeat of the LTTE?
    b] Keep the Muslims under check and make life difficult for them. Imprison their leaders while keeping a Muslim as their Minister of Justice?
    Bribe and cajole Muslim MPP TO VOTE FOR THE 20th A.and Padlock their mouths.

    April 2019 Cathedral bombs brought the Rajapakses back to Power in Nov:2019.
    A mere seven months. Events moved pretty fast. Too good to be True in retrospect.
    Thanks to Zaharan.!
    c] And OR did those 6.9 M voters mostly Sinhala Buddhist expect everyone else , other than them, to be declared as the chosen group, EXPLICITLY VIA A NEW CONSTITUTION?

    But,one thing is certain.Things have not moved according to the original plan.
    A good many of those within the 6.9 M.VOTERS NOW REALIZE THAT THEY HAVE BEEN TAKEN FOR A GOOD RIDE.

    A good read Fawaz; Thanks.

    Authoritarianism: What Everyone needs to know by Erica Frantz is a must read.
    She has proved her hypothesis right here in Srilanka, A Land Like no other!

  • 6
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    Eagle Eye,
    You are right Rajapaksa groups are no different to Ranil’s group. Both are family run business and they have a common understanding with each other and they play games with people and the country. This game plan is going for seven decades without any barriers from people. If Rajapaksas make crimes during their regime with China side people choose Ranil group which make crimes which is Western side , people will go for Rajapaksa side again. This pattern is going since the power handed over to richest Buddhist Sinhala and richest Tamil and Muslim politicians. The outcome is people became poor and poor, Democracy become dictatorship.
    Now Rajapaksas and Ranil’s have found their family’s future leaders. The people have no other choice to elect or select one of these alternatively. For them to play, there are enough opportunities in this country. The words “Racism, Fundamentalism, Terrorism will always help them to continue with democratic dictatorship.

  • 2
    3

    Every thing in life good or bad never last long.changes are permanent.above every body there is some thing called KARMA.DR.ELIYANTHA WHITE HAS GONE IN ADVANCE TO BOOK A FEW SEATS FOR HIS CLOSE ASSOCIATES USING HIS KUNDALI POWER IN HELL TO MEET MANGALA SAMARAWEERA,PRBAKARAN,LALITH ,GAMINI,AMITHALINGAM TO FORM A NATIONAL GOVERNMENT IN HELL.THE BODY GUARD FOR THE PROPOSED KING WILL BE ANURA SENANYAKE.

  • 1
    0

    Since 60s and 70s , UNP and the SLFP exchanged serious doubts of a pending
    military coup and a dictatorship by the one in power at the time . Since then
    the game has not stopped . Posters appeared on walls , ‘ Eka – Adipathi ‘
    against JRJ imminent victory , during 77 general election , signalling that JRJ
    was going to be a dictator if ever elected . It was obvious to everyone that JRJ
    was a tough man to deal with and yes it was true . And then yes JRJ played the
    game more skilfully than the previous Sirimavo government that tried to stay
    in power more than it was meant to , by way of the new constitution . In my view ,
    the major traditional parties in the country have made our politics , a kind of
    gangster street warfare between them rather than playing the role in the
    process of democracy . And they share the war booty by not punishing the rival
    after the win . So , this way they can co-exist as long as possible . They do have
    some kind of Beyond The Border Recognition that help achieve the goals as long
    as certain needs are met . Just like we got a Tsunami only when Banda Ache got
    it , Beyond The Border colleagues might one day decide when to install a Dummy
    to rule us !

  • 2
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    GATAM

    Also the Only APAETHEID State in the World which the dictatorships are Not.

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