Mahinda and son, Perera and Sons, why not
Sri Lanka is like Facebook gone amuck. It’s all about the hook-ups. To get anything from a decent meal to your kid into school, it’s best to know a friend of a friend. Someone printed a Yellow Pages long ago. I’ve never used it. To find a plumber you call your family, to find a job you ask your friends, to find a lover you get introduced. Really, it’s all about the references. This has the effect of making things either absurdly easy or absurdly hard. But it isn’t entirely bad.
On the most obvious level, this country is dominated by the sash, the stash and the benevolent grin. Mahinda, Gotabaya and Basil, cunningly cloned for the next generation as Mahinda’s sons. The family controls the majority of the nations budget and a dizzying array of ministries, state businesses, lands, etc. The Defence Secretary, for example, controls the military, urban development, and Apollo Hospital. Basil controls the Economic Ministry, relations with India, etc.
This is partly a function of ‘why not, I’m the man’, but it’s also how things operate in a low-trust society. Like a good Mafia don, Mahinda can’t trust the basic loyalty of anybody besides his family. So that’s who he puts in charge. And they presumably do what he wants them to do.
This presumably goes wrong because the lack of checks and balances prevents the family from simply robbing the nation. In this environment, however, the question is really how much. The biggest problem the Sri Lankan state has faced is stability. Successive governments have taken without giving even that. Mahinda has at least given something, a peace that brings a guaranteed 5-6% growth even if a trained monkey is in charge. Or an untrained monkey.
They may well reach a tipping point, but it is possible that the burly brothers may be able to ride the golden goose without killing it.
And the question is, as we hark for democracy? How democratic are we? The UNP isn’t. The dead elephant in the room is Ranil, and it’s starting to stink. How do we run our businesses and our lives? We call people we know for everything. When I first arrived here after University I was confused why I couldn’t walk up to counters and get something done. Then I realized you could call someone in management, however tangentially connected to me, and get anything done. This isn’t good per se, but it works. As in it gets stuff done.
This is the system we live in. This is our social milieu. We trust and favor our family and friends. While this is a noble personal trait, it tends to mess up society, but it also makes society run. This is a much older and more stable system than anonymous capitalism/democracy and it is from where these things emerge.
One hopes. I think a higher order can emerge from this lower order. In time.