Protestors in Bangkok. Photo by Thomas Galvez
There’s a section of Sri Lanka – call them UNPers, elites, ESE, Ceylonese, whatever – that really really dislike Mahinda Rajapaksa and everything he represents. They’d like to see him thrown out of power at the least and tried as a war criminal at the most. This amorphous population, however, cannot beat him in elections and many don’t even vote. They do have disproportionate international connections so are featured a lot in international coverage of Sri Lanka, but they’re not especially influential within. I generalize because I’m talking broadly about a community I am or moreso was a part of.
If you look at Colombo you can see that it’s the only place that the UNP (nominal opposition) wins anything anymore, but it’s also the seat of national power, which is almost wholly SLFP (Mahinda). This situation is a lot like the relationship between Bangkok and Thailand. There, protestors are besieging a government in Bangkok that has broad support in the country at large. If you ever wonder what a Colombo Revolution would look like, you don’t have to look much further than east. It’d be like Thailand – undemocratic, unrealistic and shit.
Thailand is one of the few countries I know of where people, including the main opposition party, are protesting against elections. Not rigged elections but elections in general. Instead they’re advocating replacing elected government with an appointed (by whom is vague, but broadly the opposition) council. Because they can’t win elections. When the government responding by calling elections, the opposition has been actively sabotaging voter registration. They’ve also crippled Bangkok with protests at various points and shut down the airport in the past.
If the Colombo elites ever rebelled, this is what it would look like. A group which can’t (or won’t) try to win elections conventionally resorts to overthrowing a hated family (in Thailand’s case, the Shinawatras) by urban street protests. Because they don’t actually represent a majority the result is either a crippling stalemate or military coup (or they lose). Underneath it all is a belief that elections don’t work, that the electorate is too ill-informed to decide and that eliminating the ruling family justifies the undemocratic means.
Those beliefs exist in the Colombo elite as well, but thankfully they’re not acted upon. Colombo elites that oppose the Rajapaksas remain content to grumble about how hopeless the ruling family is without actually getting out on the streets. If they did, we might look a lot like Thailand. Which would be bad.
I wrote about this issue previously in 2008, under the title Thai Brats