University of Colombo / University of Heidelberg
“Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest-forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries. It is as though mankind had divided itself between those who believe in human omnipotence (who think that everything is possible if one knows how to organise masses for it) and those for whom powerlessness has become the major experience of their lives”
Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism
As the dust is settling after what was a vicious Presidential campaign the rumour mill is working at its hardest and also analyses of various shades are being presented. The mood is odd: triumphant yet revengeful on one side; shock, disbelief and defiance on the other.
But what of us? What about those of us who spoke out to stem the erosion of democracy and the emerging totalitarian characteristics of the MR regime? Is it all over for us? Do we give up the fight now? Do we go back to pursuing our individual ambitions and goals, shed any pretence of trying to work for change and allow cynicism to take over? I must say there was a moment on the 27th of January, when I felt hopeless; when I questioned the point of fighting what seemed to be insurmountable odds; when it seemed as if we had lost our last chance to fight for a small space.
But now I think, this is perhaps a moment when losing hope or giving up means surrendering not just our lives but our souls to the workings of a totalitarian regime. When what we MUST believe that what we do and discuss in our homes, at work may transform what may happen not at the next election but what happens in hopefully 6 (but more realistically 8) years. If there is one lesson we should take from this Presidential campaign is that there are no short cuts; that restoring democracy, law and order and decency cannot happen in 2 months. That we are in this for the long haul.
One thing we need to remember in analysing the election results is the corruption of the MR campaign. While there have been positive and useful analyses of the election results there have also been some uninformed sweeping statements being made regarding the causes for SF to lose. This type of superficial analysis in my mind is not just misleading but dangerous in that it obfuscates what really happened and the real villainy. Let us be clear on one point at least: this has been the most corrupt election campaign ever in Sri Lanka for several reasons which I pointed out in my previous article as well. That is what lead to SF losing and nothing else. It is worthwhile to reiterate the many reasons why I describe this election as corrupt:
1. The shameless disregarding of the Supreme Court judgement directing the state media and the removal of the Competent Authority the Commissioner appointed to ensure unbiased reporting of state media since he was unable to do his job.
2. The state media completely violating election laws and continuing to promote MR after the 23rd of Jan when all campaigning had to stop.
3. Ignoring the request by the Commissioner to not to use state officials, public resources and funds for the election campaign.
4. The role of the state media not only in restricting the opposition’s access but in deliberately and systematically broadcasting programmes that spread propaganda for the MR campaign while attacking SF and his campaign. No calculation has been made as to this impact of this in influencing the electorate.
5. The use of the police and armed forces for the MR campaign leading to the extremely dangerous politicisation of the armed forces for the first time in Sri Lankan history.
6. Increasing public officials salaries during the campaign, entertaining them at Temple Trees, launching ‘development’ projects etc: in short, bribing the public
7. The state media casting doubts as to the validity of SF’s candidature due to his failure to vote on the afternoon of election day. This was constantly broadcast over the media during the afternoon and clarifications from the former Chief Justice and the Elections Commissioner rejecting this insinuation were not broadcast on state media. Again, we do not know what impact this had on the final result.
Conclusions regarding the freeness and the fairness of the election have to take into consideration all these factors and not just what happened on the election day. The judgement of election observers, so called political analysts, the media and even political leaders that this was a ‘free and fair’ election needs to be therefore seriously questioned.
The extremely serious question that is before us all now is whether it is possible at all to have a free and fair election under these circumstances. Judging from the behaviour of the MR regime, all indications are that they are in no mood to relent, and that what we can expect is a hardening of attitudes driven by confidence that they can get away with blatant acts of corruption, intimidation and disregard for the laws of the country. The machine is well oiled, practiced and ready to roll on. This means that the ability of Sri Lanka to hitherto effect changes of government through the electoral process has been seriously compromised. This is the most dangerous situation we can find ourselves in.
So what do we do? If there is any sense of responsibility among us, then it is clear that generating a public demand for things such as the implementation of the 17th Amendment, formulation of the Right to Information Act, independence and accountability from the judiciary and public service has to be our rallying point. We have to demand these things in different and diverse ways. And this is not going to happen before the general election. This requires working relentlessly for the next several years. It requires public agitation and creating a groundswell of support for these causes.
How do we do this one may ask. Well, each one of us will have to come up with creative ways to engage in these issues. Keeping in mind that all such initiatives will be monitored, suppressed and that the mainstream media will not be functioning independently we will have to think of alternative forms of communication. And when we do that, do not forget that the majority of citizens will not have access to the internet. Yes, it may seem impossible right now. But I ask you, what alternative do we have? Yes, we can choose to give up- but that means that the totalitarian project has won. But never let us forget in the words of Hannah Arendt that “Totalitarian domination, like tyranny, bears the germs of its own destruction” (Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, 1968:478). Nurturing and setting free those germs of destruction in whatever way we can is our task for the next several years.
Thank you to all of those who have written back to me and I apologise for not responding to you individually. Your encouragement I appreciate very much and your criticisms I take with good grace. We may never meet face to face, but we can give each other strength through these challenging and difficult times. Above all, we owe it to ourselves not to give up or give in.
30th January 2010