22 March, 2019

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The People Cannot Be Taken For Granted By Their Leaders

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The Sri Lankan reaction to the outcome of the US election reflected the ethnic divide at its extremes. Even prior to the election Tamil nationalist politicians had dashed coconuts at temples to bring victory to Hillary Clinton. They believed that she would ensure that the problems of Tamils in Sri Lanka would remain on the US government’s list of priorities due to the interest she had shown in these matters in the past. After the election Sinhalese nationalists expressed their satisfaction at the victory of a kindred spirit who shared the same antipathy towards outsiders to the extent of physically building a wall to keep them out and put his country first. Those who were somewhere in the middle between these competing nationalisms and who looked upon the United States as the country were the values of universal human rights are upheld, renewed and regenerated were dismayed, although this is only likely to be a temporary setback to a nation that is nurtured on the lives of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

However, Brexit in the United Kingdom and now Donald Trump in the United States bring messages that are disturbing ones for Sri Lanka as it tries to find its way to a political solution that can be mutually acceptable to the people of the country and the united nation it is trying to create. There is a need to find such a solution to the problem of competing nationalisms that has blighted the country’s progress from the time of its Independence from colonial rule nearly seven decades ago. But now the international experience from two countries that have served as role models of democracy, good governance and universal human rights is that large swathes of society may not hold to values that are universal in their application but instead look to themselves first. If the majority of people feel that they are not getting their due, and those they deem to be outsiders are getting undue benefits, they will oppose it when they get the opportunity.

In the case of Brexit and now the US many assertions have been made and explanations given why the people voted against what their political leaders proposed. They range from disenchantment with economic progress, to giving undue benefits to those who do not deserve them to loss of moral stature. At the US elections, Hillary Clinton took on progressive stances that appear to have alienated a large proportion of the electorate. She stood for abortion rights, gay and lesbian rights and migrants’ rights, which seems to have alienated wide swathes of the US population. President-elect Trump was able to get the vote of people who viewed these rights as anathema to their sense of morality. But ironically it was not the majority of votes that he won. He did not get the majority of votes, but still won because of a quirk in the American system of democracy.

National Appeal 

The Electoral College system adopted in the United States was originally meant to protect democracy from the tyranny of the majority. Today the system privileges voters in less urbanized areas who are largely white and less educated. The subversion of majority voting and the parochial result it has brought about may induce the intelligentsia in the United States to find new and more appropriate solutions to guarding against the tyranny of the majority. Perhaps the most important factor in the Trump victory was his use of racism and nationalism to garner the popular vote. He took on stridently anti Muslim and anti Mexican positions. It was said that one of his most crowd pleasing punch lines, which never failed to win rounds of applause, was to say he would build a wall.

The clear polarization of the vote, with Trump getting the majority of votes of white people is an indication that his appeal to racism and nationalism was successful. He played to the inchoate feeling within white Americans that they are the true Americans and ought to have their special position in the country recognized and accepted. Their proportion in the population has been dropping as is said to be around 60 percent today which is a source of resentment to them. President elect Trump was able to appeal to sentiments such as reviving the customary Christmas time greeting of “Happy Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.” Ethnic nationalism is today a growing force in the world, and even developed countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom are not spared it.

Another reason for Trump’s triumph was the desire for change. The Democratic Party from which Hillary Clinton campaigned had been in power for two successive terms. There is always a desire on the part of people for change. Governments can seldom solve problems in society especially those that concern the distribution of limited resources to people who have needs that require more resources. In Sri Lanka, this was the key reason why President Mahinda Rajapaksa succumbed in his attempt to secure a third term of office as President. Although the former president had a powerful mass appeal to the Sinhalese majority on account of his nationalism, the desire for change was a countervailing force. There was resentment within society of his nepotism and the corruption of his government, which benefited a few, and which would have got further entrenched had he won a third term.

Seeking Change

At the last presidential elections in Sri Lanka, the political campaigns for change and for nationalism did not go together. Former president Rajapaksa’s appeal to nationalism was not supplemented by a similar appeal for change, as he had been president for two terms and prior to that prime minister for a term. Still for all, the former president’s nationalist campaign was strong enough to secure for him the majority of the Sinhalese electorate. But this was countered by the desire for change, as he had nothing new to offer– except for more of the same, which was nationalism. The campaign of the opposition parties was focused on the changes they promised to bring, in which anti-corruption and good governance took the central place. The danger today, however, is that the governing is in danger of losing its agenda for change in the eyes of the people. There is a sense of drift with the government appearing ineffective in dealing with either corruption or good governance.

The lesson that the government can from Brexit and now from the Trump victory is that the people’s vote cannot be taken for granted. One of the great strengths of the present government is that it is an alliance comprising the two largest political parties, which can ensure it a 2/3 majority in Parliament. However, there is no guarantee that even with this supermajority in parliament, that the government can take the majority of people with it. The government seems to be aware of this. It has been postponing local government elections for the past year. It has been giving various technical reasons for the postponement, especially the need to finalise the delimitation of electorates. A similar challenge to the government will arise with regard to the proposed constitutional changes which can require a referendum in addition to securing a 2/3 majority in parliament.

At the 85th birthday felicitation to renowned civil society leader Dr A T Ariyaratne, which was attended by President Maithripala Sirisena, the Sarvodaya leader said that any government needed a threefold power to accomplish its goals. These were moral power, people’s power and state power. The government needs to strengthen its moral power and people’s power to ensure its success. It needs to ensure that justice is done, and seen to be done, in relation to the major corruption cases that have captured public attention. These include the corruptions of the past government as well as more recent acts of corruption, such as the Central Bank bond scam. Second the government needs to ensure the support of the people. There is a need for the government to be more transparent with the people, and to consult with them, and explain to them its plans for the future, if it is to take the people along with its reform process.

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Latest comments

  • 4
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    The People Cannot Be Taken For Granted By Their Leaders. Oh but they can, that is what they have always done isn’t it?

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      Jehan Perera

      RE: The People Cannot Be Taken For Granted By Their Leaders

      Why not? If their average IQ is low, 79, and the leaders get elected by fooling them, why not? This has been going on for some time.

      What we have now is a Turncoat, Traitor, Gona*, Gon Sirisena.

      *Gona, Gon, Colloquial Sinhala for a whore.

    • 5
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      Jehan Perera, time for your lot to start Protesting against economic and financial crimes, and talk of economic rights and justice for the poor in Sri Lanka.
      Also, the need to end impunity and immunity for financial crimes of corrupt politicians.

      All these years rights has meant the Western version human rights, which is political and minority rights without economic justice! Time for you western NGO band wagon folk to focus on economic rights and justice for a change in Sri Lanka.

      The people of Sri Lanka should refuse to pay all income taxes to the corrupt government and STATE as a protest against corrupt politician and the prevailing political culture of stinking corruption and impunity for financial crimes in the country today!

      Citizens for Good Governance and other NGOs should launch an anti-income tax movement in Sri Lanka and encourage everyone to stop paying income tax to the corrupt STATE, Ranil and Ravi K. until the corrupt Politicians start paying their taxes and Mahendran, Perpetual Treasuries and Nivard Cabrral are tried and held ACCOUNTABLE!
      Charity begins at home!

  • 3
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    Jehan boy has woken up now he realises that his dreams a going to come crashing down. Good time to cash in what ever dollars you can make before this yahapalana side show comes to an end. Galion Ravi missed or did he intentionally leave the NGOs without taxing.

    • 1
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      Patriot,

      Boy you are one hell of a bigot! I think it is futile for any party to expect anything favourable from the US administration of any colour. The US will pursue their foreign policy come what may. China is an issue for Trump and his interest around South East India will be real!

      On top of that, India is a big factor in rebalancing the world power; again SL is centre to this! Wake up mister!

  • 2
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    ‘The People Cannot Be Taken For Granted By Their Leaders’…Yes, this will hold true in a secular, homogeneous electorate. However, here in Sri Lanka, over 50% of the electorate will vote for the strongest Bauddha-Sinhala candidate come what may. That is not going to change anytime soon. Certainly not as long as rabid men dressed as Buddhist monks run amok in the streets inciting people that their ‘2500-year-old Buddhist culture’ is at stake’. The peace we enjoy is fragile, and good men are not doing enough to strengthen it.

    • 4
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      As Poot says, the people of the 2500 year culture will not be shaken by Brexit or Trump.

      But the NGO wallhs who fed on US establishment funds from the West might feel the pinch.

      Couldn’t have happened to better crooks.

    • 3
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      SK,

      “The peace we enjoy is fragile, and good men are not doing enough to strengthen it.”

      The problem is we do not have good men in this Sinhala Buddhist Nation. All what we have is top class con artists, rogues and fraudsters.

    • 0
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      Very true SK

  • 4
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    America is 12 years behind us.

    We elected our Donald Trump in 2005.

    Many believe that he solved all our problems.

    Time for the second coming.

    • 1
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      So Nimal Fernado you are that clever high achieving Billionaire with a drop dead gorges wife (and two ex as well) who should have could have would have been the president of Sri Lanka.
      Bet you are not a billionaire and nor a high achiever doing a average job and don’t’ own a private jet (may be try show)so don’t need to go any further do I?

      • 0
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        Hurt a little, eh? :)))

        “high achieving Billionaire”

        Ha ha ha … the purpose of my posts is to give/goad Lankans the opportunity to expose their mentality. You are doing a good job of it!

        Keep it up, so the readers will know why we Lankans are in this rut.

        Wishing you a nice day in the service of the motherland.

  • 0
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    Only thing politicians do is making policies. In Sri lanka, politicians are political -sooth sayers and spend money sent by foreing remittances. Because, export money is stacked mostly overseas. They predict millions of jobs. GDP doubleing etc. But, only a selected few enjoys everything. Only way theykeep it floating is by means of subsidies. The day free money from subsidies stops system breaks down. In Sri lanka, the number of politicians keep on increasing. Whole families are politicians and top bureaucrats.

    In several places in North America, the system went against the normal route and elected new comers as politicians.

    Sri lanka also needs similar transition.

  • 0
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    Russia-friendly political novice wins Bulgaria presidential election – exit polls

  • 3
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    “The Electoral College system adopted in the United States was originally meant to protect democracy from the tyranny of the majority”

    The American Founding Fathers were opposed to democracy, and rightfully so, given its propensity to result in the tyranny of the majority. And so the American constitution was never designed to be democracy, but a Republic – a land wherein the role of government is limited by law.

  • 0
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    Electoral system is recognizing that the States are independent. Election Candidates are aware of it and they project their campaign to work through that system. Basically neither of them campaigned in the states with designated victory for them. Only four times the Electoral system differed from popular votes. In the recent history it has happened only twice. Only in Bush and Al Gore election it seems to have produced unfair results. This election’s problem was the Hillary’s supporters failed to vote. Hillary did not get the States Obama got. That indicated the system has not really turned to the advantage of majority or disadvantage of minorities.

    The three powers pointed out here is Moral, People and States. We don’t see anywhere they defined or what they are and where one starts and where one ends. We cannot get into them.

    We recognize the tricky handling of the Lankawe’s of international Countries. Let call it management of the forth power, the foreign power. 1915, for the first time Sir Pon Ramanathan went to England and delivered a convincing speech and made British Parliament to act in favor of Ceylon against their Governor. The Example was reversed in the early 2000 by Chandrika and Kathirgamar by their crooked methods. Britain wanted the Trincomalee harbor and sided with the Majority Sinhalese. So, they gave the freedom to Ceylon in overtly advantage to Sinhalese. In 1915, it was said the advantage was to Muslims; A Tamil went on Diplomatic maneuvering and diverted it to Sinhalese. In the 1940-1950s it was with Sinhalese, because of the British’s interest in Ceylon. The first indication of Sinhalese losing it was the Kodeeswaran case, where the Privy Council refused to support Supreme Court of Ceylon. Kodeeswaran could not directly sue Sinhala Only, but sued only for his lost increment. That was not the situation with the earlier case where the Indian Pakistani Voting act, which clearly violated the Section 29 of the Ceylon constitution but Britain nakedly supported to Sinhalese. In between Kanangara had made his deal for free rice to Rubber with China. It turned off the West. That time America pretended like it did not see that. Further Sirimavo nationalized the British tea companies.

    Like a child who caught a scorpion to play with, West got their lesson and stayed away from Ceylon. Ceylon became Lankawe. China landed in with BMICH. Balance of Payment with West was being watered out to the China’s free BMICH. When Sirimavo called for food help for 1970s famine, Regan did not cave in. When JR called for troops against India, neither Thatcher nor Reagan responded. Regan did not want to enter into Lankawe just because he personally hated Mrs. Gandhi. Britain was feeling like the child picked up the scorpion. Lankawe was left alone, later, even by India having had the experience with JR and Richard P. China was having its own poverty and population problems that time. Lankawe was only a side menu on its dinner table.

    Kathirgamar turned the around the table for the promise of PM Job by Chandrika. Ambassador Robert Blake is the first American to materially recognize the geographical location of Lankawe and started to flex American resources to woe Lankawe. He brought in vast support like Middle East, Israel, EU, India Scandinavian Countries…. Chinese who were selling arms to LTTE through North Korea and direct to Lankawe showed a fresh Interest. It had freed it from all of its problems, by now. It brought in Pakistan with it. 32 Countries were helping Lankawe expecting some kind favoritism from Lankawe. Like the grizzly which chased many salmon at the same time and lost all of them, Lankawe could not strike any permanent deals with them. Now Lankawe is alone again. Kathirgamar is gone. The 32 countries he brought to help the war have gone taking with them the stings they received Lankawe.

    Lankawe boasted China as have been giving them conditions free, most favorable terms of loans. This is a story let out to the consumption of Modaya crowds after Chandrika stated her Nuraicholai deal with them. But India was giving free arms, free houses, free battle ships,etc but they were not spoken out as Sinhala Intellectuals suspected that India may change its stances. Now the Sinhala intellectuals’s feeling is they had gone too close to the dancing cobra, the China, attracted by fascinating hood pattern and colors and got bitten by it. Ranil is trying to sell Lands and harbors and Airports to China. Old King has threatened if China buy them, he will nationalize them. That is certainly not a patriotic action at a time when the rupee is falling free and Yahapalanaya Government is wooing for foreign loans and foreign Investments.

    Though all have gone, the interest of China, India and America is not extinguished. Kathirgamar is gone; lying, cheating, quarrelling, womanizing foreign diplomatic services has failed to beneficially use any one of their interests. The Mangala led Foreign Services is still depending on Don Stephen’s techniques of lying on the face. They are more and more antagonizing the Foreign Power. The fear of uncertainty of their ability in handling the American Interest in Lankawe is the prime reason to watch of American elections in an unprecedented eager this time.

    Hillary may have won or Trump has won, but American interest in Lankawe is to stay there for few more years. If Trump has a policy of no involvement in international Politics that is unlikely to affect the recently build up American interest in Lankawe. Before he leaves, Secretary Kerry has pointed his finger on SLFP. Before Secretary Kerry set up his U-turn policies, Ambassador Robert Blake had realized the Lankawe’s culture of cheating and had guided American government to hedge against that. The following ambassadors of him, Michelle Sisson and Patricia A. Butenis stayed on that course. Last four years, America has one more time succumbed to the Lankawe’s Aapa Diplomacy.

    The New comers have a considerable amount of non-carrier politicians with in their team. There is very good chance of they lack the knowledge of the American experience in Lankawe from Bush’s and Condoleezza Rice’s time to until Secretary Kerry. This will be at least a temporary disadvantage for America. At the same time, the team is going to have Chris Christie, Gingrich, and Giuliani like merciless punishers for faults. In a summary, America has an unextinguished interest in Lankawe. But the team which is going to deal with Lankawe is new. It does not know what to expect from Lankawe. It punishes harshly for any faults. Now it is Lankawe time. It is a situation of “Karanam Thappinaal Maranam”. Kathirgamar is not there. It is question of how much of Lankawe’s lies can be sold to the new team within the safety limit. We have to wait and see how Mangala going to play his trump card of Aapa Diplomacy.

    • 0
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      Reagan became president ONLY IN 1980 .get your facts straight before you ramble nonsensical claptrap. Sirimao was PM when Nixon was President and then Ford and Carter who lost to Reagan in 1980. Sri Lanka will never be important to USA but it has strategic interests and Republicans are big bullies. They’ll ignore war crimes allegations but if they don’t heel they’ll threaten Sri lanka. Only Newt Gingrich knows about SL. Trump doesn’t know a damn and won’t care a damn about Tamil Tiger douchebags or sinhala thugs. He’s a non interventionist.

      • 2
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        tinpotjihadi

        “Only Newt Gingrich knows about SL.”

        What happened to his contract with people?

        Once he claimed to represent moral majority and was caught pants down while having an affair with a member of his staff and pursuing impeachment against Clinton.

        Did Newt Gingrich say “I didn’t penetrate”?

        Does he still believe in his contract with morality?

      • 0
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        Thanks for correction. In 1973 was Richard Nixon.

        Anyway just ignore my mistake. When Sirimavo wrote Nixon he just dodged, that is part I was talking. She did not get the food.

        Country to Country relationship usually long term one. Lanakwe’s Appa Diplomacy keep going well with America without really attaching to America because of its four year election system . New diplomats can be easily consoled or pacified with Appa Diplomacy for four years and then the new ones will come.

        Trump administration may ignore internal politics of Lankawe i.e. they may be indifference to Old Royals and New Royals. They still be interested in dealing with Lankawe as a country for many contemporary political and geographical reasons. On Lankawe’s side it has to have sorted out its loans, GSP+ and other things. American influence in IMF and other areas also needed. I just ignore UNHRC, where the American sponsored resolution remains to be solved. For Lankawe, there are many area Gingrich can help.
        Lankawe will be having unconditional favour from America if Gingrich or John Bolton come as State Secretary.

        The danger for Lankawe is, if Giuliani or Nikki comes as State Secretary. If Giuliani come he start with favours, but would expect a systematic, law and order government in Lankawe too. He will really get mad if Lankawe play the games like using Chinese funds on American PR firms to defeat Susan Rice. If Nikki comes, she may leave Samantha power, Nisha Biswal in their seats. They know the games Lankawe plays and that will bring eventual problems. Ambassador Atul Keshap knows everything. He will be there not touched for another three years. But he will not take any serious action against Lankawe Goverment. He is not a real American employee. He is more or less like Shiv Shankar Menon – Narayan type diplomat, take the pay from American government and work for Yahapalanaya.

  • 0
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    Do we need a second coming for MR. For what. To wipe out the remaining journalists.

  • 0
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    Make sure you say “it is my opinion” when you make things look like facts. Take an example :Obama won Iowa both times. THE DEMOGRAPHICS there did NOT support him. Clinton did not actively campaign there. She lost WI because she never campaigned there. She is about to lose MI(of academic interest) too. Those two states with significant blue collar Union type white workers went to Democrats since 1984. So you are writing stuff that is not really based off of details OH went to Obama too but because there are displaced manufacturing sector employees she lost it. For crying out loud she could not even carry PA. Elitist bankers and corrupt rich people in both camps maintained the status quo. Please DO NOT insult our limited intelligence. People did not see her as a person who could be trusted because of the so many permutations of her lies on the Email server problem. People who vote D normally voted for R. So yes she won the popular vote but our Electoral college system has worked relatively well for so many decades. Why did I vote and waste my vote on Gary Johnson? Protest vote. So reality is so many people had so many reasons. You cannot simply win hoping for 90% of black votes and 50% of other minority votes and ignore the majority. Obama was able to get about 44% of the White vote and he was black and was castigated by the inbred racist Birther assholes. YET he won both the popular vote and EC. Clinton only got 37% of the white votes. This should tell Mr. Wickremesinghe and Mr. Sirisena not to insult the majority either. One plus point from Hon JR’s constution is it got rid of the FPP system so no one could have a lopsided majority. But the Presidential election is straight forward. MR lost because he antagonized the muslim people and lost almost 95% of the Tamil vote. Mr. Sirisena won because he got an Obama sized percentage of Sinhala votes and almost all the Tamil and muslim votes.

    Foreign policy will change. Biswal and Power will not be there to pay you intellectuals pooja anymore. A new set of neo-cons will take over. They will also focus on China but Keshap will have to pivot now.

    As for “happy holidays”, Think of this. The govt respects and observes Ramadan and Diwali. They had Ramadan in the WhiteHouse. Why can’t they have Christmas dude? When my Grandfather was GG and then President he made sure to wish Christians Merry Christmas and there is a tradition in SL of respecting and celebrating all religions. Why does one become politically correct and ignore the faith of the majority? That was absurd. Obama and even Bush 43 failed to wish Christians a Merry Christmas. I am not even a Christian nor a muslim. i will not be offended by “Merry Christmas” . At Royal at Assembly we had Buddhist scriptures, followed by Hindu Scriptures, then Islamic and Christian readings WITHOUT FAIL every week. If I remember right, the Principal alternated the order in which Islamic and Christian scriptures were read because both communities were of equal percentage. NO ONE Was offended. SO MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU TOO. But that is not why Hillary lost. FBI did a lot of damage but also like President Obama said, he won Iowa with 93% WHITE population. So please do not make shallow assertions. People are hurting from NAFTA; I am not sure if those jobs will come back because even Trump’s ties are made in China(I know because I bought one for the hell of it for a friend).

    Here read this verbatim extract before you pontificate further dude.
    http://www.history.com/topics/electoral-college

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