By Cassian M Fernando –
Delivering the Nelson Mandela Commemoration oration Barack Obama stated that Nelson Mandela symbolizes the political changers that took place in the previous century. He cited a few examples. South Africa from a minority white dictatorship, Blood thirsty Idi Amin of Uganda, Czechoslovakia, Poland Yugoslavia, Russia after Khrushchev and China, from the Marxist rut to some form of democratic norms. Dogma initiated in Karl Marx’s Das Capital could not hold water too long as they were diametrically opposed to the ego centered ambition of individual citizens. The much spoken dictum, the permanent revolution is permanently round the corner remained true. Marxism is a thing of the past We cannot find any new publication on the subject of Marxism during the past ten years
It was a different experience to us in Sri Lanka. When freedom dawned from foreign yoke those ruled us, Mr DS Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake, Sir John Kotelawala, SWRD Bandaranaike and Mrs Sirimamavo Bandaranaike relentlessly adhered to democratic norms. Non of them were ever accused as dictators. Governments were elected and changed by the free will of the people. UNP got routed in 1956 and even in a worse manner Mrs Bandaranaike was routed in 1977 no one shouted foul. Both getting only 8 seats in parliament. Sri lanka was considered a vibrant democracy.
This golden tradition was broken to the detriment when the wily old fox JR introduced the draconian piece of legislation bringing in the Executive Presidency. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely was proved right once again. Dictatorial and anarchic tendencies such as the infamous referendum was seen during the JR regime. Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga capitalized on the abuses of JR. The worse was to come. Mahinda Rajapaksa used the executive powers to establish anarchy and virtual dictatorship. Seventy five percent of the budgetary allocations were shared by himself and his two brothers. Journalists who stood on their way were tortured or even assassinated. White van culture eliminated all those who openly opposed him. Lands in Hambantota and Colombo were given on a p-latter to China. Historical and valuable land opposite Galle face was sold to a foreign firm without batting an eye lid. SAITM private medical college was permitted to be opened and 15 scholarships were doled out by the Maharaja himself. An amendment to the constitution was introduced permitting the Maharaja to contest any number of times for the Executive Presidency, hoping that the Rajapaksas would rule the country forever.
War victory was used as the trump card. Provencal and local elections were held on a staggered basis to coincide with the victory anniversary and a communal note, it was easy victory for the Maharajah.
Marajah realized that the future economic situation was bleak and unpopular measures will have to be implemented in the face of a staggering volume of debt payments. An election was called two years before the due date. What happened is history.
Political discussions at present are centered round the question of who will come forward as the Presidential candidates and what will be the political groupings at the next general elections. These are no doubt important questions. But there is a more serious political question about what will happen to Sri Lanka’s democratization agenda in the years to come. Social activists who made direct contribution to regime change in 2015 are particularly preoccupied with the latter question. They are also worried about the indications that Sri Lanka is moving in the direction of another phase of direct assault on democracy. The recent reports that plans are afoot in some quarters to profile citizens as patriotic and tractors on the basis of psychiatric indicators, however bizarre they may sound, actually smack a little bit of Nazism. These are warnings to democracy activists that the country is in for some serious political turmoil. It is therefore time now to enter into discussions about what interventionist options are available to Sri Lanka’s social movements that have been engaged in past attempts at democracy’s defense revival and consolidation. Régime change was not an adequate condition for revival and consolidation of democracy in any tangible sense, although it was a necessary prerequisite. Political parties and even leaders who win elections may not always possess courage, conviction and political will to advance a sustainable reform agenda. The incomplete, halfhearted and lackadaisical efforts for corruption free governments, substantive democratization and peace building have created a political vacuum for an extremist and authorization backlash with the potential for popular support. Thus the Sirisena Ranil combination is not spendable actors in advancing a transformative agenda for Sri Lanka.
The so-called Joint Opposition getting ready to come back to power share one distinct commonality, their contempt of and antipathy towards a democratic reform agenda. They are at present creating conditions to secure power for a post democratic and popular authorization political transition and even they may succeeded in their quest. Their success if that happens at all would bring some euphoria in the beginning, yet it is certain to mark a political setback of the worst kind for citizens of Sri Lanka. Such a regime change will also cause unmanageable political and social conflict, exacerbate political instabilities as well as ethnic and social polarization, and make violence necessary as an instrument of both regime survival and social resistance. As the numerous international examples show, dislodging such a regime from power will certainly be a violent affair accompanied by blood bath.
The challenges of Sri Lankas democracy’s survival would be all the more daunting in a context where the UNP and the SLFP, if they find themselves in the opposition, would be decisively weakened as a part of the post democratic political agenda of the new régime. The disintegration and the capitulation of the opposition as happened in the past would appear mild with what is likely to happen under the political order that is taking shape at present.
Unless those oppose to unfortunate situations realizes the scenario that is going to happen Sri Lanka’s democracy faces a very critical challenges ahead. There appear to be a wakeup call to those who cherish democratic forms of life to prevail in our mother Lanka.