By Siri Gamage –
In this early day of 2022, I see many articles in the media about the current issues facing the nation, the poor governance and need for regime change. My question is whether there is a credible and trustworthy alternative? If not, are there plans by those concerned to develop a new alternative? Unfortunately, while many are masters in criticism, I don’t see signs of any group attempting to initiate new parties or forces to gain at least a share of power at the next elections? Though we have a strong educated class of citizens-young and old- I don’t see it focusing on the need to get involved in the political process other than a few who are aligned with established parties? Why is this the case? What compels the educated class to be detached from the political process which is at the core of gaining a share of power to make decisions that impact the whole nation? Are there any underlying reasons for such detachment and inactivity?
The political class -though divided into several camps for gaining a share of power- is well organised and entrenched in terms of wealth, party machinery, networks, image building, media work, misleading the public and more. Tattumaru (periodic change of guards) mentality has been the cornerstone in Sri Lankan politics for a considerable time. Once in power the governance system reinforces the master-servant relationship inherited from the British colonial days. This is more evident in the tri-forces and the police as well as the so-called public service. It spills over to the broader society through the multiple hierarchies operating in society. In a proper democracy, those motivated by humanitarian, human rights and egalitarian considerations need to combat this entrenched system in place -not limited to a particular government – to liberate the people who are marginalised and oppressed by the system.
However, the educated class that benefitted from the free education system that was established to broaden the opportunities of higher education beyond a privileged few is silent-though some are masters of criticism? It has the capability to develop an alternative organisation and the required machinery to challenge the established parties and political forces. Yet it has adopted a hands-off approach possibly for self-advancement and personal security. This problem raises the issue about the role of intellectual in societies when they are facing crises. In Lanka, I wonder if there are any credible intellectuals who can grasp the unfolding situation from a broad historical, national interest and geopolitical perspective? If there were some, I suspect that they have been bought over by the national and international agencies -governmental and non-governmental to promote their own agendas.
My view is that those concerned about the impending economic and social crisis in the country needs to spend less time in criticising Rajapaksas and focusing on developing an alternative network of educated Lankans with wide experiences in the public and private sectors coupled with international experiences. Such a network should explore the possibility of building a future party to contest the elections – not in all the 225 electorates but about half of them to begin with. Consideration should be given to choose electorates that are marginal and winnable. The network should be managed by a small committee (about 10-20) and it should form committees for Provinces and districts as well. The principles governing the network as well as the aims should be defined e.g. work towards a better Sri Lanka, preservation of the rights of all individuals irrespective of the background or identity, reform education, legal, health, production and manufacturing sectors to be equitable accessible and efficient, abolish the executive Presidential system and restore the Westminster system of governance, strengthen the Local Government system, enhance the local manufacturing and production process, establish a society where rule of law is supreme. The national committee should be composed of those drawn from diverse backgrounds with a reputation and history of working to advance the prosperity of the nation. A communication and media strategy should be part of the plan. This should involve strategies for communicating with the not so educated people at the grass roots level. The goals should be defined not by opposition to a given party or an alliance but taking the whole postcolonial history and politics into account and where we have ended up? A main focus should be for developing a nation-building program of action thinking beyond the province, caste, ethnicity, religion, gender and political party.
Why am I advocating such a network/organisation led by the educated class? Firstly, though admirable, relying on the prospects of the JVP or smaller progressive parties to gain a significant share of power at the future elections is a risky exercise. Going by the past experience, at most the JVP or its wider organisation NPP may be able to secure only a 20% of the parliamentary seats in the best of circumstances. This means still the established parties and individuals will be in power with the support of JVP or not. Secondly, small experiments to change the government such as Nagananda phenomena ended in failure. Though he had a significant support base, his campaign was organisationally weak at the time of last elections. He did not have an effective organisational mechanism either. Smaller parties and groups may be strong ideologically – not organisationally. Thirdly, any strong network/organisation competing for a share of power needs to be able to cut through the rhetoric propagated by the mainstream media (controlled by those supporting the ruling class or belonging to the ruling class). An effective media and communication strategy can be developed by those who are familiar with the way media work in real world and have the ability to garner resources. Better social media campaign is a must. Fourthly, the educated class is believed to consist of individuals with an intimate knowledge about the economy and its various sectors, education, health, legal and corporate sectors, international relations and experiences as well as how other democratic governments operate in countries like the UK, USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand function? Such knowledge is essential to map out the future trajectory of the country. This class already has some power in this sense in terms of experiential knowledge, networks and professional qualifications plus experience. Finally, this class may also have access to resources-financial and technical.
If such a network/organisation is not established well before the next round of national and potentially provincial elections, and people will have no alternative but to vote for the existing parties and individuals some of whom may be corrupt, then there is no point in writing long articles theorising about what is wrong and what will be the future scenarios in the political and economic arenas. The aim of such writers may be to enlighten potential political activism but it is far more useful to imagine a better future with an alternative network/organisation as the engine of effecting change.
I do not doubt that the education class lacks the intelligence and understanding of the gravity of the situation that the nation faces in coming years. What they lack perhaps is the WILL to recognise like-minded others with similar thinking, generate enthusiasm for a common agenda among fellow citizens, and get involved in the political process. The educated class thus far has been seeking security from the government and established parties. However, the failures of governments should open their eyes and ears to the impending crisis and take preventive action now by means of imagining a new network or organisation and a future. Lethargy and delay can be counterproductive to say the least.