Traditional Fears: War, Collapse And Dictatorship


There are still a few common fears floating around Colombo. They are that the country will return to war, that the economy will collapse, and that we will descend into a totalitarian dictatorship soon. These are the traditional rallying cries of the disenfranchised elite, but I think they simply don’t apply any more. These fears are unfounded.

Will Sri Lanka Return To War?

No. People have waited almost two years to see if the war would reemerge, and it hasn’t. Why not? For one thing, the numbers simply aren’t there for more insurrections. In the 1980s there was a significant youth bulge, with the majority of the country being under 35. Today’s demographics are much more balanced. The classic recipe for revolution is young people, unemployment, and oppressive governance. Sri Lanka simply doesn’t have the ingredients to bake that cake.

Also, in the 70s and 80s start-up insurrections could take on the unprepared military and police. The military today is much larger, more sophisticated and experienced and, thankfully, violent insurrection is not something a few kids with stolen pistols can launch.

There is also the fact that violent revolution (unless backed by NATO) is generally out of international fashion, and terrorism is the political equivalent of bell-bottom jeans. Sri Lanka could return to non-violent resistance, but outright war seems out of the question.

Will The Economy Collapse?

People still say that Sri Lanka is turning into Zimbabwe. This simply untrue. Sri Lanka is a rapidly growing economy, and visibly so. Zimbabwe and other basket cases are at best not moving and at worse regressing through insane inflation and oppression. The Sri Lankan economy is not going to crash anytime soon, though corruption and inefficiency will take their toll in 20-30 years.

While the Sri Lankan government is not building or borrowing optimally, there is such fertile soil after 30 years of neglect that even bad ideas can fly. People are starting new businesses, expanding old ones and better road networks and general stability are extending opportunity all over the island.

At the same time, the government is doing massive development work and – albatrosses like the Hambantota Port aside – much of it is simply dusting off old plans that were developed under multiple governments. The Southern Expressway was planned in the 80s and 90s and current plans for developing Colombo and outstation span governments and are generally reasonable. There is enough low-hanging fruit that we can all eat for at least a decade without stressing that hard.

It is vital not to forget how bad the war times were and how unpredictable that future was. Today’s economic climate, while not as good as it could be, is certainly better than it was. This is the general definition of growth, and it looks set to continue for years.

Will We Turn Into A Dictatorship?

To call Mahinda Rajapaksa a dictator is an insult, not a statement of fact. He is an autocratic and strong-willed ruler, but he remains popularly elected, atop a diverse Parliamentary coalition, and generally dependent on public support. Sri Lanka has seen worse repression in the Bandaranaike, Jayawardena and Premadasa times and still emerged intact.

The operative definition of dictator is someone like Syria’s Assad, Egypt’s Mubarak or Libya’s Gaddafi – someone destructive, unpopular and dependent on an elite to repress the majority. This simply isn’t Mahinda Rajapaksa at all. He’s not a deeply democratic or enlightened leader, but he is productive, popular and has wide support. While Sri Lanka is not an especially free country, the levels of repression are not even on the same scale as traditional dictatorships.

Are things getting worse? People have been saying that things are getting worse for sixty years. It simply hasn’t happened. Sri Lankan people may not vote for great leaders, but we get the leadership that we vote for. Sri Lankans still use protest for strategic ends (protecting pensions, not using vegetable crates) and Mahinda still depends on popular support more than repression for his power. It’s not a dictatorship and it’s not trending that way. People have been crying wolf for years, but the government is really just a dog.

So

So, is the world going to end in 2012? No. The more extreme claims – return to war, economic crash, dictatorship – are, I think, false. There are, however, more nuanced problems on the horizon. Petty thuggery in government has already sullied our elections and now tourism. Corruption and waste makes growth less than it could be and has long-term costs. A general erosion of rule-of-law (from the top) makes life difficult for average Sri Lankans and in turn engenders a rise in thuggishness and corruption. Furthermore, all infrastructure investments will come to naught if they’re not matched by equal attention to education and health.

These are all real problems, perhaps worth changing the government over. Due to a limp opposition this is hardly an option, but it remains a possibility that doesn’t require war, collapse or insurrection to achieve. Change is possible within this political system, but catching and giving shots to this dog of a government is still harder than sitting on top of a hill, crying wolf all day.

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16 Comments »

Sajitharan
2011-12-30 13:38:37

That’s a pretty Colombo-centric argument. Ask a Tamil person in the North and you will hear an entirely different story. You seem to be glad as long as you can reap the benefits of the economic stability that Rajapakse’s iron fist brings.

You’re making some major assumptions and you’re making them without knowing much about what’s really going on. Or it could be that you’re just ignoring the huge problems facing a significant percentage of the people of this island because at the end of the day your life is better and everyone else can go fuck themselves as long as you can feed yourself and feel safe.

You are clearly one who would benefit from a slow and gradual elimination of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. That would most certainly make Sri Lanka a more stable and prosperous country. Have fun enjoying the fruits of of your bigotry.

Omr
2011-12-30 13:55:30

You appear to be a typical example of what Indi calls “sitting on top of a hill, crying wolf all day” in his write up. Instead of whining, moaning and crying bloody murder at the drop of a hat, the Tamil community in general ought to climb out of their insular everyone-is-against-me mentality and grow up and learn to work with other Sri Lankans to improve their lot in life. You will find little pity for Tamil sob stories.

 
2011-12-30 15:05:10

‘You’re making some major assumptions and you’re making them without knowing much about what’s really going on.’

Sajitharan,
If you know ‘what’s really going on’, can you elaborate that with evidence pls? We also would like to know.

 
2011-12-30 22:45:44

Colombo is a majority Tamil speaking city (including upcountry Tamils and Muslims). Sinhalese are actually a minority here. I haven’t been to Jaffna for about a year but I went a few times and it got better with each visit, as did Vavuniya.

There are problems all over, but these are drastically less than being in the middle of an active war.

 
 
Silva
2011-12-30 15:11:19

Cue the disenfranchised ESE.

 
dude
2011-12-31 08:31:27

Thought there was something a bit off with this post, so I copied the text, pasted in google translator, adjusted the setting so it would translate from BS to English, and this is what it came up with.

Will Sri Lanka Return to War?

No. Basically the remnants of the LTTE leadership are Mahinda’s friends now. Karuna is a national list MP despite the small issue of having killed 600 cops and blowing the dalada maaligaawa up, KP’s assets were taken by Mahinda and co., in return for immunity and luxury despite having financed the LTTE machine, former combatants are given guided tours of parliament to witness the dignified proceedings and intelligent, articulate debates that take place there, and there is a fuckoff army presence up north and a very good intelligence service with an army of well paid snitches. These Tamil motherfuckers have no fucking chance of taking Mahinda on.

Will the Economy Collapse?

No. Mahinda has taken billions of dollars of loans from China and is not afraid to take more. In the short to medium term at least, we are fine. Hopefully the private sector will bail us out in the long term. Sure, Mahinda brings in legislation that allows him to fuck up people he doesn’t like, like that Daya Gamage chap, then he brings in other legislation to help his sons girl friend out – now Carlton Sports Network is the only “sports” channel in Sri Lanka, and gets all broadcasting rights for Sri Lanka cricket for the next quarter of a century despite having virtually no infrastructure (What? You haven’t got studios? oh that’s alright Yasara duwa, use ITN’s studios and staff. for free. What? You haven’t got a tower? Use Rupavahini’s tower on Pidurutalagala. What? they are upset about Channel Eye getting fucked off despite all the “shopping” they did for me during the elections? I’m going to have to send Mervin round again. In a paintball suit this time – they used paint or something on him last time, right? OK duwa. Use the Navy Tower on Pidurutalagala. It’s alright – after all, your boyfriend owns the Navy, right?). Then Mahinda puts all his cronies in charge of things that they have no business being in charge of (Sajin Vass (initially) to Mihin, his Brother in Law to Sri Lankan etc). But you know what man? The economy is fine. Despite what my dad’s good friend the UNP national list economist type keeps spouting. Besides, the Mayans say we’ve only got till the end of next year, so there’s no point worrying about the long term. More loans, I say! high interest rates. Fuck it! Bring it on! Fuck yeah!

Will We Turn into a Dictatorship?

No. Look, I used to think so, but then uncle Gota sat me down and had “the talk” with me. I mean sure, Mahinda is a murderer. He’s done time. He basically murdered his way to the premiership, and then had the murderers murdered. Then he helped himself to some Tsunami aid, probably because he thought Namal deserved the money more than some guys who just had their house and family washed away. Then he fixed the 2005 elections by making a deal with uncle prabha. Then he fixed the 2010 elections by basically doing anything he wanted. He’s now grooming Namal to take over, Kim Jong Un style. He owns the police. He owns the army. He owns the courts. He owns the election commissioners ass. But its not a dictatorship per se, because he manages to make it look good on paper. After uncle gota explained things like that, I’m happy with it. So are the dumb fuck voters. So there!

To summarise, the Rajapakse’s are the daddies. I’ve gotten with the program. The dumb fuck voters have got with the program. The people who say otherwise are just, well stupid or something. They should just get with the program. rajapakselata jayaweva! This is your main man Indi. Peace out.

Omr
2011-12-31 20:41:50

The sense of desperation and panic within the UNP camp and their supporters is quite palpable. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka moves on.

 
2012-01-02 16:02:33

Ha ha, funny :)

 
 
Silva
2011-12-31 09:43:13

Dude, thanks for the belly laugh. Clearly you’re a disenfranchised elite.

 
Nish
2011-12-31 13:13:06

Nice article complemented with nice translation :D

 
druid
2011-12-31 13:52:30

@dude

Your facts are correct but are not so strongly effecting. If we compare it with the past Rajapaksa government is not that bad. (Compare this government with the JRs or Premedasa’s). This government has a huge mandate (nearly 2/3) and as Indi points out still it has wide spread support. That does not mean this is good government at all.(compared to western standards)

 
sack
2012-01-02 18:53:32

“basically murdered his way to the premiership”

is it true? i mean mahinda was a suspect in a murder in 1985 (mulkirigala election).
but that was a different time, different age and different place. it was a time when sotti upali went to mulkirigala from Colombo to “help” the UNP government in the election (and he ended up with broken bones).

but saying he murdered his way???

on the other handed u can say Ranil become the UNP leader b’se LTTE did the cleaning up of the UNP leaders (leaders as in real leaders. not just for name like ranil).

 
Sri Lankan
2012-01-04 12:49:56

“Mahinda still depends on popular support more than repression for his power”. This sums it up all.

 
sach
2013-01-16 21:04:58

Do u still believe MR is not turing into a dictator?

 
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