Colombo Telegraph

Whither Sri Lanka?

By Sandra Fernando –

Sandra Fernando

So Sri Lanka has had a presidential election and a peaceful transition of power. To the folks all round the world who are gobsmacked, here’s a little news: we always have peaceful transitions of power. Go back over the history of our elections: when power has changed hands, it has always been done quietly. If Colombo doesn’t like the change of power, then we hear loud assertions of vote rigging. When Colombo likes the change of power, then we hear loud firecrackers. It’s just that the watering holes where Western journalists pick up their information are so full of Colombo. They should attach themselves to the packs of election monitors and get out into the country and see for real what’s really going on. Now there’s a revolutionary idea!

What about the run up to elections? Wasn’t there a lot of election violence in that process? Well, one of the election monitors says that we need to define the term “election violence” because, currently, everything can be complained about. Even neighbours disagreeing loudly over the wall is projected as election violence.

What about the bundle of ballot papers found somewhere after the elections? It was after the elections: who cares? But wasn’t it going to be used the wrong way? Well, the counting centres all have party representatives in them. If something unusual, extraordinary or downright unethical occurs, it is the privilege, nay the responsibility, of the party rep to query it, complain to the Returning Officers, tell the journalists and so on. There are 15 million voters in this country. A little over 12 million used their franchise in January. The Election Commissioner’s office would have had to arrange for one ballot sheet per voter regardless. So there are always ballot papers to be destroyed after an election. Someone could just get blank sheets, dump them somewhere so they can be found, be reported to the police and make it to the papers. If, as we say in Sri Lanka, they’re jobless, then they can fill out the papers as well. Then we have “election fraud” – if the party reps are that incompetent.

So what about this change of power? If Rajapaksa was such a hero, why did he get turfed out? Well, the vote was close: the difference is less than 450,000 votes out of the over 12 million that were cast. In the Badulla electoral district, the difference was 281 votes. The Badulla district is quite mixed: Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils. Badulla town itself is 2/3 Tamil. The journalistic wisdom is that people turfed him out because he was corrupt, nepotistic and discriminated against the minorities. Except that we have evidence from the polling results that the minorities also voted for him. One candidate came from the agricultural heartland in the Northern half of the country and the other came from the deep South. That’s part of what did it: voters seem to have chosen “their” man. Badulla is in the hills and so neither Northern half nor Southern half.

Subsequent analysis of the election results reveal that the pro Mahinda vote improved in 2015 over 2010 in areas that were quite mixed, like, to name just four places, Matale, Nuwara Eliya, Puttalam and Badulla. Also, “an absolute majority of first-time voters voted against him.” (Tisaranee Gunasekara, Racist Tom-Toms And Electoral Statistics) If this is the case, then the youngest voters have been swayed by Colombo’s pre-election rantings. The national news organs are based in Colombo, which has never been sympathetic to the left. A left oriented leader, as far as Colombo is concerned, must be replaced asap. When pressed for reason or rationale, Colombo projects platitudes, gossip and allegations as facts. The youngest people amongst us are impressionable and easily swayed. It was what Americans call “the swing vote” that got Sirisena into power. These kids will not remember the rolling blackouts of the ‘90’s, the mall-less days before Liberty Plaza or the non-internet and non-handphone days. They will not remember the days when you had to take your id card around with you like part of your skin. They will not remember the days when there were places you couldn’t go and not so many hotels or places to eat to choose from. The bulk of the development that they take for granted was achieved by the left.

There is something much more insidious about this change of power. For months before the election was announced, USAID was going around the country holding seminars on “democracy and good governance.” They were ably aided and abetted by Sri Lankan companies and NGOs. So they were able to get the term “good governance” out into the urban areas (so far as I am aware they did not hold such seminars in rural areas) and lay the groundwork for the opposition camp to build on. The election results show that Sirisena carried most of the towns.

Post election, several Indian newspapers crowed about the role of their RAW (Indian intelligence) operative at the High Commission in Colombo. They have had a hand in organising an opposition candidate that would be acceptable to the voters and who would split the vote successfully. They worked on the leader of the opposition UNP to get him to agree to let someone else stand instead of him. They worked with Sirisena to get him to lead a coalition of confectioner’s all sorts. Sirisena, travelling from the (Marxist) JVP in the ‘70’s to the (Socialist) SLFP for several decades and now working with the (Liberal) UNP, is the epitome of opportunism. The New York Times calls it democracy. Cheers.

We express our concern and our criticism very easily. What, though, do we articulate as our own vision for Sri Lanka? A vision is always expressed as a set of positives. Things like “no corruption” and “no nepotism” are not suitable terms for a vision. Things like “effective teaching in classrooms (which can be identified through higher exam results and more entrances to higher levels of education)” or “safe vehicles to travel in (which can be identified through a battery of tests)” are suitable: they articulate goals and make it possible to develop measures to assess the success with which we achieve them. Can we express our own visions for Sri Lanka? Can we articulate what this country is, or what this country’s potential is? When we arrive at that point, we are in a good position to look around and see who might serve that vision.
Sri Lanka needs a democratic constitution. The 1978 one ignored separation of powers, concentrating a great deal of power in the Executive Presidency. No one in the West batted an eyelid when it was rammed through parliament back then. What happened to change that? Rajapaksa eliminated the LTTE as a military force. Britain, Norway, the States and the UN immediately called for war crimes investigations. India kept mum: their PM had been blown up by the LTTE. But the LTTE had not done unto the UN, Britain and the States as it had unto India. The UN instituted a toothless war crimes investigation of its own. When Rajapaksa could not be brought down by the international powers that be, they went to work under the radar. They took advantage of freedom of movement in SL after the war and made use of the folks inside the SLFP that had become opposed to Rajapaksa. It wasn’t democracy or good governance that won the elections.

The watering holes of foreign journalists project l’ancien regime as corrupt. The interim boys have track records demonstrating unclean hands. We need a democratic constitution with separation of powers; the president plans to pass an amendment. We have a 100 day president, if he keeps his word and goes to parliamentary election in May. We have a 100 day plan that reads like a 100 day election campaign without speeches. It will bless voters across the spectrum before the next election. The foreign clamour for war crimes investigation has muted. India is proud of Sirisena. The PM has let China know thus far and no further. (He has also arrogated to himself the largest financial institutions in the country, taking them away from the Finance Minister.) Development projects that were being planned will now be “re-examined.” The sources of foreign pressure rest peacefully.

Who won the January elections? Not the people.

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