Sadly, this is not restricted to Sri Lanka alone. SA.
Switch off the lights. Rend your hair. Don only white. It is time to go into mourning. An old and ailing relative democracy, has died an inevitable death. Dead at barely 60 years old though the abuse it suffered during its short life span made it appear much older.
Like the aunt who lingers on long after most of the family believe she is already dead, this week’s death was a quiet one, it was long expected, some would say even overdue. There was no shock, no sudden loss.
Democracy in this country wasn’t overthrown by a dictator, nor shattered suddenly by the chaos of war and revolution. Instead it died a painful, slow death. Strangled by corruption, stifled by authoritarianism and finally snuffed out by the disinterest and apathy of the general public. And while it somehow lingered on despite being savaged by decades of war, riots, and attempted revolutions, this week we finally saw democracy die in the hearts and minds of voters.
The turn out for the 2010 general election stands as the lowest in history only 50% of the country’s people made the effort to participate in the country’s political process; not enough to sustain democracy’s ebbing life force. While some will criticise the voters’ apathy, in reality you can only marvel at the patience of a people who voted regularly for six decades. At the devotion of a population who after years of false promises and disappointment continued to vote until finally a lack of credible candidates, tangible issues and the impossibility of effecting real change finally destroyed their interest in democracy.
Of course the truth is and always has been that regardless of the final results of this election, thugs, cronies and criminals will continue to rule this country. And regardless of anyone’s vote the present situation of lawlessness, emergency rule and authoritarianism is guaranteed to continue. The election was never going to address this country’s fundamental issues. Its lack of law and order, its almost medieval levels of women’s representation, the broken education system.
None of these things were even on the agenda. With victory guaranteed the most keenly fought battles in this year’s election took place within the ruling party, as the government’s heavy weight candidates fought openly over the spoils of certain UPFA victory; the 20 million vassals and serfs who no longer enjoy even the pretense of rights.
Instead of issues and achievements, candidates struggled to display their closeness to the country’s centre of power. We were treated to the unashamed sycophantism of posters showing Wimal Weerawansa sharing breakfast with our leader and Bandula Gunawardena daring to pass the phone to the President. Eventually desperation for inter-party preference votes saw government candidates desecrate Buddha statues and violate every section of the country’s election law with impunity.
Seeing the ugliness of the government, the impotence of the opposition and the hypocrisy of the institutions – police, courts, charged with safeguarding democracy the people were inevitably disgusted. And at a crucial moment in the country’s history they chose to hide their faces from this mockery of the democratic process. They looked away from the hideous posters, meaningless slogans and the futile opposition and refused to make the effort to vote.
But while everyone looked away democracy died a second death – that of the two thirds majority. Figures indicate that the UPFA will receive nearly two-thirds of the votes cast. And with this majority comes nothing less than absolute power. The ability to amend the constitution, the very basis of the nation’s law. The checks and balances that are the key to democracy have disappeared. And with the government in such a comfortable position the reforms that could possibly have breathed new life into the islands democracy the 17th Amendment, quotas for women, a Right to Information Act, will never materialise.
Democracy in Sri Lanka is beyond revival. And in its place we now have just one party or more accurately, one family. And the country’s citizens have just one choice, either demonstrate their loyalty, obedience and gratitude to the ruling family or risk detention, death or worse the utter irrelevance of powerlessness.
This is no longer a criticism or a warning, it is simply reality. One chapter of the country’s history is now closed – the flickering light of democracy has gone out. The ailing opposition, the clapped out General, the toothless UNP will never be able to restore the people’s right to democracy. Instead if it is ever to return, democracy in this country will have to be reborn. Instead of being imposed by colonial masters it will have to take hold again in the hearts and minds of the people.
If nothing else this year’s low turn-out indicates dissatisfaction with the current political system and perhaps a longing for a process we can all believe in; it is still possible that the country’s people still long for genuine democracy. But until that hope manifests itself as a genuine grass roots movement for a return to a politics based on principles, representative politics and good governance we have dark years of despotism ahead of us.
Democracy is dead. And today only thugs, cronies and sycophants have reason to celebrate; the rest of us will be in mourning for a weak, flawed but comforting old friend.Show