Colombo, Elections

A pseudo democracy in Sri Lanka

‘the middle classes have always been the bulwark of society. Aristotle believed they were democracy’s secret weapon- the protectors of social values, the moderators of political extremism, rampart of reason over fiat, and believers in a society run by laws instead of by strongmen. They have also been the engines of economic growth’

Newsweek, 15/3/2010,from ‘The World’s New Middle Class’

It is with utter frustration, one sees, the total apathy and fatality with which the educated and informed segment of Sri Lanka’s polity are succumbing to the despicable level of bad governance, corruption, nepotism and its disastrous consequences on the economy and foreign relations. It seems like we are in a time warp – around 475 AD in the ancient kingdom of king Kashyappa. The Palace intrigues, coups, treachery, nepotism, despotism and insatiable greed for kingship we see today appears no different from ancient times. The feudal and caste ridden nature of our leadership which resonates through our history has, is and will be the downfall of our path to progress. This does not mean that we are open to the crude and vile dictates of the leftists and extremists of all ethnicities who seek to destroy the little that is left of decency and democracy in our system.

It is indeed pathetic that we continue to believe that we are or ever were a representative democracy. Although we gained independence from colonial rule, the British managed to secure their economic interests by co-opting the local feudal landlords who governed the only way they knew by subjugating the illiterate rural peasantry for personal profit and power under the guise of democracy. Consequently the rural masses continued to remain poverty stricken, marginalized and politically ill informed to exercise their democratic rights beyond the simple casting of their vote. It is no secret that poverty and ignorance is a politically expedient condition, as in feudal times, to keep the masses in a state of subservience. By not playing a proactive role in advocacy and awareness building among the vast majority of rural polity who live in enforced ignorance, the moderates of this country have failed to uphold democracy.

Presently, the rural polity is victims of state media propaganda which is their sole source of information and news on national and international issues. The current regime appears to be following in the footsteps of totalitarian regimes such as Burma, Iran, Libya, Russia and China who have taken advantage of similar conditions of rural poverty and ignorance in brain washing a captive polity in order to hold the nation in thrall.

Dodgy politicians are constantly seen on state media displaying their religious fervour by paying obeisance to religious dignitaries and worshipping at shrines for the granting of blessings at every conceivable occasion. The constant public display of religious fervour by political leaders is an age old gimmick to deceive the public into believing that they are paragons of virtue. Religious fervour also advocates the Buddhist concept of karma which is an efficient tool  in subjugating the masses into believing that patiently enduring bad karma such as poverty and marginalization will be rewarded by a better karma in the next life. This is a common strategy evidenced in most totalitarian regimes governing highly religious societies. As religion can be easily manipulated by corrupt regimes purely for political advantage, it is critical to promote the concept of a secular state if we are to escape the clutches of totalitarianism.

A politically passive and impoverished Sri Lankan polity has steadily paved the way, under consecutive regimes, towards a state of totalitarianism which has borne a despotic regime which recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible. Citizens are deemed traitors if they dissent against the regime. Media has been gagged through intimidation and violence. Internationally, the regime is on a collision course with the democratic world. In this scenario, we sadly see some pseudo intellectuals even of Oxbridge calibre, kowtowing to the regime in exchange for political advantage by justifying undemocratic governance and economic mismanagement under the pretext of the need to protect national security and the unitary status of this country.

Sadly, the educated elite continue to bow their heads in subservience to the unjustified continuance of emergency rule and its attendant draconian laws resulting in the continued abuse of power, the non appointment of a constitutional council resulting in unrestrained  and corrupt executive power,  politicization of the judiciary resulting in biased judgments, ignoring the addressing of minority rights and concerns portending social instability, non compliance with international laws on governance and human rights endangering national credibility and economic instability – the list is endless.

The private sector, traditionally described as the country’s engine of growth, has lost its fuel tank. The fat cats are quietly hiding in their lairs in quiet assent of the status quo as long as they can save their financial empires and remain in their comfort zones at the expense of the nation at its people.

Opposition has now been virtually snuffed out by incarcerating the main opposition presidential candidate and subjecting him to a court martial on trumped up charges of treason and corruption to be judged by a highly politicized military tribunal. This has resulted in a conspired and fatal collapse of an inherently weak opposition coalition. The main opposition has totally lost his effectiveness as a counterpoint due to an acute lack of vision, strategy and empathy with the masses. Depending on them to fight the endless list of abuses of power is wishful thinking. However, they remain the only hope against the descent into totalitarianism.

I t seems that the moderates are allowing themselves to be decimated by forces of extremism and they need to rise up against them before it engulfs and destroys the nation completely. It is important to realize that only by addressing the needs and aspirations of the silent masses in the rural heart land of our nation that we can hope to achieve any change at all. The educated and informed classes with conscience and awareness of the degeneration of our system and society cannot remain silent any more. They  have to be ‘agents of change’ by connecting with the silent majority at the grass roots level through effective communication strategies and technology leading to informed and balanced decision making by the people and heightened awareness of their political, social and economic rights.

The trend among emerging nations, governed by totalitarian regimes, displays middle classes which are, unfortunately, not providing the foundation for a new era of global safety and prosperity. Many of them seem are more concerned with competing for the spoils of growth rather than ensuring democratic governance, free speech and competitive elections. Consequently, the presumption that political freedom is a pre requisite for economic freedom has lost its credibility over the last decade.  As the new middle classes live in constant fear of an impending economic downturn as a consequence of global financial crises, they can be easily co-opted by totalitarian regimes which can entice them with minimum economic guarantees in exchange for political freedom. Sadly, a similar trend is emerging in Sri Lanka.

However, all right thinking citizens know that it would be in our long term interest to engage positively with stable western democracies and uphold the universal ideals of democratic governance in order to establish favourable economic networks as we are a resource poor micro state which cannot afford to imitate the current emerging command economies which are not only resource rich but also powerful enough to resist international threats and sanctions. Also, we cannot hope to receive their long term and committed support as they are operating globally in direct economic competition with us.

Economic underdevelopment in Sri Lanka has resulted in a large segment of the population, particularly the rural sector, having little or no access to modern communication technology which would provide them with knowledge and information essential for independent and balanced thinking. A lack of English language skills has also been an equally formidable obstacle in linking them up with the global communication network leading to their awareness that economic progress can be achieved only through growing global interdependence which requires globally acceptable standards of accountability, transparency and good governance.

The intelligentsia which forms the backbone of this nation need to give direction and leadership even at the expense of their lives, in the interest of the nation, if we are to stifle the rapidly growing attempt towards totalitarianism. The only solution is by advocating regime change through peaceful and democratic means which can only be achieved by an intelligent and well informed polity who are aware of their fundamental rights and obligations in a local as well as global context. Although it may sound too ambitious and far fetched, it is the only ethically acceptable way forward as we cannot afford anymore attempts at violent change. It is a ‘do or die’ situation for us Sri Lankans and we must rise up to the challenge.

Unfortunately, although the time is ripe, there seem to be very few brave young patriots, visible in the front lines!