The Comic Paradox Of Sri Lankan Democracy
The proverbial dust has settled over the electoral battlefields and mercifully the war drums of the victors have been much more muffled than in earlier occasions, post election violence markedly reduced and the kiribath gobbling ceremonies seem to have gone off the agenda.
A reason for this deviation from the traditional post elections high jinks could be the arrival of some 220 delegates for the sessions of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
The Rajapaksa regime has been attempting to gain respectability in the eyes of the so called international community—particularly of Western nations. They have locked horns with powerful Western nations for sometime now but are being pushed back. The last session of the UNHCR at Geneva was a decisive moment when an American sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka for violation of human rights was adopted and it called on us to take remedial measures. Next November the UNHCR is due to meet again to review the progress made and it would be in Sri Lanka’s interests to switch off from the confrontational mode to one of accommodation.
During the past few months there has been a marked toning down of anti western rhetoric particularly of the anti American variety. Prof. G.L.Peiris has journeyed to Washington and effused his academic charm on Hillary Clinton; President Rajapaksa braved the anti-Sri Lankan riff-raff of expatriates in London and attended the Jubilee Celebrations of the Queen while rubbing shoulders with British Royalty.
But all this has little to do with the sweeping victory at the provincial polls of the East, NCP and Sabaragamuwa. The question being posed is: Why such a victory?
The standard answer is: Victory in ‘The War’ three years ago and now ‘development’.
Certainly very many Sinhalese will go along with this claim of the Rajapaksas about their claims in winning ‘The War’ although there are thousands of detractors who maintain that it was a product of many others such as Gen. Sarath Fonseka and the entire nation.
And what of ‘Development’? Yes, there is the Mahinda Rajapaksa Magampura Harbour (the Hambantota harbour), the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium at Hambantota and the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport at Mattala (Hambantota) coming up and more Mahinda Rajapaksa sports stadiums like that at Maharagama.
New Highways are coming up and even by-lanes in villages are being laid with rubber carpets.
The Hambantota harbour was not fully functional with a large rock obstructing its entrance, the cricket stadiums in Hambantota and Pallekelle are hardly used and older cricket stadiums are scarcely played on are or lying idle. The carpeted roads sans pavements, traffic lights and efficient police patrolling and road discipline of drivers and pedestrians are accounting for the lives of pedestrians each day. There do not seem to be much worry except to who’s near and dear have fallen victims to speed fiends. The carpeted roads with white markings are impressive. They do look like foreign roads and makes us feel that we are fast on the road to being the Miracle of Asia.
There are no questioners, particularly in the provinces about this cost of development. The funds had to come from abroad and they did. Sri Lanka’s external debt has doubled from the period 2000 to 2012 and now stands at $ (US) 18 billion. Even though Sri Lanka is said to be a highly educated nation who cares about millions or billions when they do not have 100 cents in the pocket. How many know the number of zeros in a billion? And $ (US) 18 billion in foreign debt—who cares? China has become Sri Lanka’s biggest lender and we have borrowed $ 2.96 billion since 1997. We or our children have to pay this mounting debt but who cares? This is the age of the credit card and we live on credit. Gone are the days when our parents spoke of savings and austere honest living. This is the age to be merry. As the baila says:
Kapalla, beepalla jolly karapalla—Eat drink and be merry.
We can bust up billions for sports stadiums and foreign jaunts. President Rajapaksa took an entourage of 50 persons (delegates of whom?) to the Tehran Non Aligned Summit. What was the cost of this trip on air travel alone? May be it was a Mihin Lanka plane but how much of fuel was burnt up for this jaunt during this acute fuel crisis? People suffered three hour power cuts while there was enough money for the Tehran jaunt. More diplomatic missions are to be opened in the deepest of Africa. What economic or diplomatic gain could be had from these missions have yet to be spelled out. Yet, we do not have enough money for education and health. University dons are on strike asking for higher pay and campuses closed. But there are other priorities. Foreign debt is mounting and our export income is diminishing due to shrinking markets in America and Europe affected by the global financial crisis.
Yet, our leaders are enjoying, as the Italians say, the ‘La dolce vita’—the sweet life. More and more luxury vehicles are imported stepping up the import expenditure. This is history repeating itself— Nero playing the fiddle while Rome was burning.
The comic paradox of Sri Lankan democracy is that the majority of people are voting for the government!
All this is by no means an accident. A clever Machiavellian strategy has been deployed by Mahinda Rajapaksa. In his first term he bought over the JVP to his side and later kicked them out splitting the most vociferous and effective opposition party. He then bought over or induced leading UNPers to his side following their conflict with their leader Wickremesinghe. The UNP is still warring within itself and Rajapaksa is fanning the flames.
He has bought over splinter section of the LTTE and given cabinet posts; the SLMC was a walkover with their tradition being willing to join the winning side; the CWC is also by tradition with the party in power and none appears to know whether KP the LTTE’s Chief wheeler dealer in finance and armaments and successor to Velupillai Prabakaran is working for the government or being held as a terrorist suspect.
The voters have been reduced to a state of Zombies—made deaf, dumb and blind. Over 90 per cent of the media—Radio, TV and Press are state controlled. Those fiercely independent institutions have surrendered their independence by, leading lights accepting government appointments. Thus when it came to elections the Opposition was fighting a well armed juggernaut of the government with bows and arrows.
Yet, the result could have been different or much closer had the Opposition particularly disgruntled UNP voters cast their ballots for the old party. In all three provinces 30 to 40 per cent of the registered voters did not cast their ballots. This could have made a vital difference. There was also the possibility of some votes of absentee voters being impersonated.
Voters should realise that those who do not cast their ballots may be electing candidates whom they abhor.