From the Eve of Disintegration to the Dawn of a New Era of Democracy and Prosperity
Posted on October 29th, 2019

By Rohana R. Wasala

Two of the three important presidential candidates have, by the time of writing, October 28, unveiled their election manifestos. SLPP’s Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and National People’s Power candidate JVP’s Anura Kumara Disanayake (AK) did so on October 25 and 26 respectively. Be that as it may, the contest is actually between two of the three, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (GR) and Sajith Premadasa (SP),  the UNP-led New Democratic Front (NDF) candidate; but the latter hasn’t yet made known the agenda he expects to implement in case he is elected as president. AK, obviously the lowest seeded contestant, seems to be playing for ensuring a return of the justly rejected. Funnily enough, the inane statements and gestures that SP has been making on the campaign trail so far do not suggest that he has any coherent vision or plan of action. He seems to be trying to compensate for this glaring lack by beginning to parrot some ideas (merely as meaningless slogans) stealthily adapted from GR’s meticulously drafted text. GR marks a clear path out of the present unholy mess to the prosperous future that the much harassed, but highly disciplined and patient, people of the natural-resources-rich Sri Lanka deserve. 

The GR vision for dealing with the short term and long term crises the country is facing can be outlined in terms of ten points: strengthening national security, adopting a foreign policy that does not compromise Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and independence, eliminating corruption, developing an employment oriented education system geared towards training productive citizens, creating a people centred economy, building a society that is based on knowledge and technology, development and enhancement of physical resources, maintaining a stable environment management system, introducing constitutional reforms that are accountable to the people, and establishing a just society that is law abiding, disciplined and decent. While explaining his broad vision and mission, he stressed two key principles, one in positive terms, and the other in negative terms. He assured the patriotic people of Sri Lanka that none of the pledges he makes in the manifesto are empty political promises. What he put in positive terms was this: he pledges himself to a righteous mode of governance that will be compatible with the ethical principles advocated by the dominant Buddhist religious culture and other mainstream religions followed in the country. GR also emphasized that no extremism of any kind will be tolerated, and that there will be only one legal system for the whole country.

The upcoming presidential election on November 16 may be described as the most unusual and at the same time, the most decisive, presidential election ever held under the 1978 Constitution, that is, ever since the introduction of the the executive presidential system. It is going to be the most decisive presidential poll because on its result will depend the very survival of the country as an independent sovereign state  of which the institution of the executive presidency is the lynchpin: If the UNP candidate wins, the incumbent dysfunctional parliament itself will be able to push through the legislation that is necessary to remove that vital constitutional safeguard; a change that involves the removal of the executive presidency will be irreversible. This presidential election is also unlike any other ever held during the past forty years because of a number of factors like the following: The ridiculous multiplicity of candidates – 35 – is one. This, however, is sure to be seen by the seasoned voting public as an ingenuous strategy designed to eat into the well known front runner GR’s vote bank, though obviously, the dummy tactic won’t work; it will probably be counterproductive instead. The outgoing president’s decision to keep out of the fray remains an unexplained matter; no one knows what’s up his sleeve; Sirisena is notorious for nasty surprises. The prospect of the incoming president  having to work with a prime minister who is determined to challenge him as a supposedly emasculated executive (weakened as a result of the controversially passed 19A) is also an unusual situation; however, such a challenge is not likely to materialize if GR is elected in view of the precedent that the Yahapalana president Sirisena himself created when he unconstitutionally swore in, soon after his own taking of oaths, the then Opposition leader Wickremasinghe with only 44 seats in the 225 member parliament as prime minister, ignoring the incumbent pm Jayaratne supported by some 140 members. The apparently deliberate undermining of national security and the decline of economic development to beyond the pre-2005 levels reflects the unenviable legacy of the anarchic Yahapalanaya. These are some of the unique circumstances that make this presidential election one of its kind. 

Just over nine years of Rajapaksa presidency (November 9, 2005 – January 9, 2015) left Sri Lanka a secure, peaceful country that was economically looking up with a healthy growth rate of over 6.5, having overcome three decades of terrorist violence. The end of the civil war in May 2009 brought the different racial and religious communities together. The majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil and Muslim communities resumed their normal lives as citizens of one country as before, free from fear and mutual suspicion. Unprecedented vistas of progress opened before the nation. However, the euphoria lasted for a short five years. Perennial problems like corruption which need to be tackled through collaboration rather than conflict between the government and the opposition, false allegations levelled against the leaders by political rivals, and the anti-Sri Lanka actions taken by vested interests abroad exploiting these concocted issues led to an externally engineered regime change in January 2015. This was followed by the the installation of Yahapalanaya now on its last legs. Its abject submission to virtually unconcealed intimidatory  foreign interference directed at subverting the public will characterized the Yahapalanaya. The leaders were beholden to those external forces for their hold on the levers of domestic power. The brand of democracy they boast of having protected is such that they felt obliged to please the agents of interventionist powers, while completely ignoring the interests of the ordinary Sri Lankans who were made to vote them into power.  

The Island of October 9, 2019 carried, on its front page, a picture of Speaker of Sri Lanka Parliament Karu Jayasuriya at a discussion he had with Canadian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka  David McKinnon at the Parliament Complex on Monday (07) in the company of Secretary General of Parliament Dammika Dasanayake and ‘Foreign Secretary and advisor’ to Speaker (Jayasuriya) Prasad Kariyawasam. The ‘advisor’ part of his designation offers no ambiguity. But the other part is not clear. Is Kariyawasam the current secretary to the ministry of foreign affairs doubling as advisor to the Speaker simultaneously, or does he serve as the latter’s foreign affairs consultant as well? What had a civil servant of one country to do with the the head of the august house of representatives of another sovereign country? These questions occurred to me on seeing that picture.  Be that as it may, the caption to the picture notes that ‘The Joint Opposition protested both inside and outside (the Parliament) against Kariyawasam’s appointment as he was paid by the USAID’. Most Sri Lankans will tend to view what appears to be brazen interference in the country’s internal affairs (of which the picture is graphic proof) with a sense of outrage. The picture might remind them of how a number of foreign diplomats clapped from the parliamentary gallery when the Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya, announced the controversial passage of a no confidence motion by voice vote in 2018. Jayasuriya, a so-called champion of democracy, to his eternal shame, allowed the sovereignty of the Sri Lankan people to be thus slighted by some salaried civil servants from the West.     

The SLPP’s assured anti-Yahapalanaya result is expected to lead to an inevitable change of the composition of the next parliament. The election of its candidate as president is already treated as a foregone conclusion. The sweeping victory of the SLPP at the Elpitiya Pradeshiya Sabha election held on October 11 reflects the public mood throughout the country.The Elpitiya verdict (all 17 wards won by the Joint Opposition led by the SLPP) is a harbinger of its eventual emergence  as the ruling party at the parliamentary election that will follow around March in 2020.

That is the longer term indication of the October 11 Elpitiya PS election result. But its immediate effect was that it gave the lie to the costly pro-government Galle Face rally held the previous afternoon. The apparently large Elpitiya election eve gathering at Galle Face reminded me of the  UNP demonstration held in the centre of Colombo on October 30, 2018 in which an effigy of the unexpectedly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was burnt, and that of President Maithripala Sirisena was torn up, by party loyalists against the dismissal, four days before, of the then sitting premier UNP’s Ranil Wickremasinghe; Sirisena had appointed Rajapaksa prime minister after suddenly dissolving parliament in what came to be dubbed a ‘constitutional coup’ on October 26 last year. Like that seemingly impromptu protest event in 2018,  the Galle Face gathering on October 10 a couple of days ago was not a spontaneous or convincing enough show of public support for the incumbent regime. From the public’s point of view there was absolutely nothing the government did to inspire such confidence in it in either case. The vast majority of common Sri Lankans breathed a sigh of relief when they heard about the sudden change of government and the appointment of Rajapaksa replacing Wickremasinghe. Although it was later successfully challenged in court by Wickremasinghe for him and his cabinet to be reinstated, Rajapaksa’s interim government of 51 days subsequently led to the achievement of some positive results including the long delayed recognition of Rajapaksa as the leader of the Opposition by the Speaker, and the suffocation of indecently hurried parliamentary legislations meant to placate global powers that are inimical to the country. 

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is not a politician by his nature. He was drawn into the vortex of presidential politics due to popular demand in place of Mahinda Rajapaksa because the 19A deprived the latter of contesting for a third term. The people became suddenly aware of the deception played on them in January 2015 within a month of the event. Since the massive pro-Mahinda rally held at Nugegoda in February the same year, people have been demanding his return. But Yahapalanaya democrats have blundered on, while relentlessly carrying on their immoral unjustified campaign of demonising the Rajapaksas in order to keep them away from power in contradiction of the popular will. Several senior government officers revealed recently how they were pressured to incriminate them somehow and incarcerate them though there was no evidence at all to do so. One cabinet minister even asked the people to elect his party to power again so they would be able to complete avenging themselves on the Rajapaksas! This was probably a slip of the tongue, but it hints at what was really passing through his mind. The  Yahapalana government did little more than Rajapaksa bashing, in addition to doing everything to undo what the country achieved under them in the ten years before the January 2015 regime change.

The fair minded Sri Lankans instinctively know that the Rajapaksas, with their traditional Buddhist upbringing will never  think of paying their rivals in the same coin when they are elected to power again on November 16. They will exclusively expend their energies on the implementation of the GR Vision, while giving the highest priority to restoring national security in all its aspects, managing foreign relations without surrendering the country’s sovereignty, independence and national dignity, eliminating corruption and crime, and building a prosperous society through knowledge and technology. Education is going to receive unprecedented attention. No other presidential hopeful in history past or present has evinced so much interest in the welfare of the young as GR. He is the best by a mile compared to his closest rival in this contest to be president.    

So the October 2018 ‘protest rally’ in Colombo was a fake event. The UNP traditionally has ways and means of attracting crowds in spite of themselves. On that occasion it inflated the numbers who attended nearly fourfold . The Australian of October 31, 2018 reporting on this demonstration, suggested a much lower figure: The party (i.e., the UNP) said about 100,000 people took part in the protests while police sources gave a figure of 25,000 before more arrived”. Information exchanged in the social media makes it clear that crowds for the rally in the Galle Face Green were bussed in from the provinces by the organizers. The established tradition is to transport its supporters to the venue of the rally and back, with their day’s upkeep looked after (Today’s young may not know that the nickname ‘bath gottas’ – rice-packet recipients – was used exclusively for UNP supporters in the past because of this demeaning practice). Provincial leaders of the party felt compelled to make this an opportunity to demonstrate their power and popularity among the people to the party hierarchy. 

It is usually the Opposition that takes to the streets against an malfunctioning government in power. The absurdity of the government having begun to abuse that oppositional strategy in order to distract public attention from its own failures is part of the general topsy-turvydom that characterizes the state of anarchy that has come to stay under the Yahapalanaya. The speeches that the UNP presidential candidate makes and the election promises he dangles before audiences suggest that he has strategically forgotten that he is a powerful minister of the government with the ability to demonstrate his credibility by actually doing something about at least some of the problems that he pledges himself to solving (like looking into what is happening at Muhudu Maha Viharaya and Kuragala, or ensuring that workers on the Upcountry tea estates get the Rs 1000 daily payment they have been demanding for so long ).   

Today Sri Lanka is facing, arguably, its worst survival crisis since independence, following the two armed JVP insurrections (1971 and 1986-90) and the long drawn armed LTTE separatism (1976-2009), both terrorist movements. A considerable number of good but ill-informed or misinformed young Sri Lankans believe that the past seven decades of independence have seen nothing but a steady degradation of the country as a nation (in terms of governance, economy, and social standards, etc.) due to something intrinsically wrong with the established (political) system and the alleged depravity of all the politicians of the country having been given to corruption and abuse of power without any exception. But the truth is that there have been and there still are good honest politicians, though they are surrounded by a host of very bad ones. Sri Lanka has achieved a number of positive changes through parliamentary democracy under both the original UNP- and SLFP-led governments, the most conspicuous of these being those made in 1956, 1970, 1978, 1994 and 2009. (The regime change engineered with foreign involvement in 2015 that replaced the best performing post-independence government Sri Lanka had had until then cannot be included in this list.) 

The above negative assumption, therefore, is not totally valid, though superficially it may appeal to the young sections of the electorate who tend to generalize on the basis of what they have been experiencing in the name of ‘good governance’ during the past four and a half years. That is, this most pessimistic verdict on post-independence politics to date is largely a reaction to the Yahapalanaya, which may be described as an absolute kakistocracy (rule by the worst people) unmatched by any government that ruled before. Paradoxically, the indiscriminate judgement might make the democratic dislodgement of the most undemocratic and corrupt administration ever in post-independence Sri Lanka more difficult than it should be in the prevailing circumstances and it is being slyly promoted by the Yahapalanaya’s erstwhile supporters who are hellbent on preventing the patriotic forces now poised to replace it from doing so.  

On the departure in 1948 of the British who had ‘possessed’ Sri Lanka as an imperial territory and exploited its resources, the country was deemed to have been returned to the people of Ceylon (as the country was then known internationally), the Ceylonese, comprising the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and other minorities. The famous ‘Divide and Rule’ policy had created an English speaking, Westernized, almost totally Christian, ‘elite’ – a miniscule minority of colonial parasites – that was beholden to the colonizers for favours granted as a reward for their servile allegiance to the invader. With the grant of universal franchise in 1931 the numerical strength of the communities began to have an impact on deciding which community was to have the greatest share of ruling power. The minorities, particularly the racist Tamil leaders from the elite class, feared that the political ascendancy the Sinhalese majority acquired through the grant of universal franchise meant an inevitable loss of the special privileges that they had been enjoying under the British. Their attitude was reflected in the notorious 50-50 demand of G.G. Ponnambalam in the allocation of seats in the first legislature to be established under the Soulbury Constitution of 1948. That is, Ponnambalam wanted the seats in the new parliament to be equally divided between the Sinhalese and the Tamils ignoring the discrepancy between their percentages in the population (75% and 15% respectively), a ridiculously unconscionable demand that the Soulbury commissioners rejected with contempt. The Sinhalese leaders, like today, were never racist. D.S. Senanayake, the first prime minister, asked by them how many Tamils he wanted to have in his cabinet of ministers, replied that he didn’t mind if all of them were Tamils, provided they served as Ceylonese (as Sri Lankans in modern parlance). But Tamil leaders were different. SJV Chelvanagam founded the separatist Ilankei Tamil Arasu Kachchi – Lanka Tamil State Party – misleadingly called the Federal Party (to camouflage its unrealistic separatist agenda) in 1949. Ratnajeevan Hoole, a member of the three member Elections Commission, in a recent Colombo Telegraph article, described Chelvanayagam as the greatest statesman that Sri Lanka ever had!

Perhaps there is no other nation in the world that is more naturally inclined to protect and cherish secular democracy, the best (i.e. the most civilized and humane) form of government so far evolved, than the Sri Lankan people. This is because of its dominant Sinhalese Buddhist cultural tradition that has survived unbroken for over 2300 years. There is no other historic moral-spiritual tradition than the Buddhist establishment in Sri Lanka that is more compatible with secularism in governance that is so admired in the West. If ‘Christian nations’ like America and Britain can boast of being secular democracies, why can’t Sri Lanka with its long prevailing Buddhist culture be accepted as a secular democracy. (It is unfortunate that politicians who profess various religions equate secularism with rejection of religious values without bothering to find out what the ‘Western’ concept of secular governance really means.) 

The simple truth about inter-communal relations in majority Buddhist Sri Lanka is that there is no better guarantor of the safety, the wellbeing and the peaceful coexistence of all communities, large or small, male or female, heterosexual or homosexual than this most humane unobtrusive Sinhalese Buddhist cultural background. Buddhist monks have been the traditional nonviolent protectors of the country, the nation, and the Buddhist establishment that has defined its binding, inclusive culture ever since Buddhism was introduced or established in Sri Lanka under royal patronage over 2300 years ago. It is natural that whenever these three ‘treasures’ are in danger as now the monks take it upon themselves as their historic responsibility to offer moral guidance to protect them in peaceful nonviolent ways. In the past, when peaceful approaches failed, they did not disapprove of responding to armed aggression in the appropriate manner. Sometimes monks temporarily or permanently disrobed to fight as warriors, and this happened during the recent civil war. It has always been the case that the majority Sinhalese fight for the country and its people without racial or religious discrimination.   

It is the politicians who want a separate state, not the ordinary Tamils, who live scattered in all provinces of the country, with only less than half of their number concentrated in the north and east, where they wanted to establish their separate state. The majority of Tamils are Hindus, like the majority of Sinhalese are Buddhists. Both are peaceful, non-violent, non-proselytising religions. The recent advent of Islamic extremist violence will inevitably drive the Hindus and Buddhists into each other’s embrace for protection. The peaceful coexistence between the Buddhist and Hindu religious communities is the greatest force for national unity. Islamic fundamentalist violence targets people of all religions including Muslims who do not accept their version of Islam. The defeat of Tamil separatist terrorism brought all the communities together, and ushered in the dawn of a new era of peace and prosperity.  But this was not to last. Strategic positioning of the geopolitical space where Sri Lanka is located by the global powers means trouble for Sri Lanka. The principal global power involved here, America is exploiting the so-called Tamil national problem and the surreptitiously introduced fundamentalist religious activity over the recent decades to destabilize the country in pursuit of its strategic ends in the region.  

The success achieved by the previous government between 2005 – 2014 became a casualty of this trend. Sri Lanka’s survival as a sovereign nation with a written history of over 2500 years, indisputably a unique achievement in human civilization, which the whole of humanity can hardly write off overnight and consign to oblivion, is hanging in the balance. This is the biggest problem the country is facing at the moment, though it receives scant attention from the currently embattled politicians. Only two or three politicians (they are from the Joint Opposition) are articulating the problem. A former army commander with an excellent service record, the one before the previous one, well known for his uprightness as a military officer,  his patriotism, and his non-partisan approach in discussing national problems made a special appeal through the social media to all adult Sri Lankans to understand this problem clearly and use their vote intelligently at the coming presidential election (so the correct person will be elected for dealing with it as a priority). It is the responsibility of ordinary voters to judge which of the two main contenders is capable of facing the challenge successfully. The present government seems to be inviting foreign meddling as a means of guaranteeing their own survival in power at any cost.     

4 Responses to “From the Eve of Disintegration to the Dawn of a New Era of Democracy and Prosperity”

  1. Hiranthe Says:

    I was wondering how stupid the Sri Lankan Society.

    No reactions or protests against the approval of the MCC Compact by the Yamapalanaya.

    Why the people do not see the danger of this agreement to the nation and Mother Lanka?

    Only Sarath Weerasekara seems to be worried.

    Are everyone else ready to sell their mothers for $$$?

  2. Vaisrawana Says:

    This article was written on October 28, i.e., before the MCC was reportedly signed. However, the following from the article is a reference to the American project in SL; the MCC is a major stage. We can only hope for a Gotabhaya presidency and a duly elected parliament to try and negotiate it if the Yahapalanaya manages to make it law within the next two weeks probably unlawfully and by force including bribery:

    “The success achieved by the previous government between 2005 – 2014 became a casualty of this trend. Sri Lanka’s survival as a sovereign nation with a written history of over 2500 years, indisputably a unique achievement in human civilization, which the whole of humanity can hardly write off overnight and consign to oblivion, is hanging in the balance. This is the biggest problem the country is facing at the moment, though it receives scant attention from the currently embattled politicians. Only two or three politicians (they are from the Joint Opposition) are articulating the problem.”

  3. aloy Says:

    The quoted text above is from the last para of the write up by Rohana. So far all agreements signed by RW have taken effect. So, how this agreement take effect will be determined by Gota. No doubt he can get this nullified through courts as this affects the sovereignty of the nation. My guess is that he too will not do anything.

    However one thing is sure: when Sinhalas are pushed to the wall they will unite and fight back as they did in 2009. Even otherwise we have survived well over 2500 years. There is some protection for us, whether it is US or India does not matter. They will ultimately learn a bitter lesson.

  4. aloy Says:

    What I meant by my last sentence is that India learnt it when they lost “wassa and wessi” (a term coined by Sajith’s father) and 1500 odd IPKF fellows as signified by their cenotaph at Diyawanna. UK also had it indirectly in WW2. They had their Eastern Command on our soil during that period just a stones throw from where I am writing. USA should be mindful of Vietnam saga. I remember I too walked from Kandy to Peradeniya shouting ‘uncle Sam go home’ and the rest is history.

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