A father who beats you vs. one who buys you stuff
There is a deep paternalistic strain to government here, that the government should give you stuff, and also that the government is entitled to beat you. Today we have two candidates for President that embody both ideas.
Gota’s idea of a disciplined society is one where child abductors and murders get out of jail on his first day of office. During his brother’s regime journalists were regularly beaten and killed and ‘rogue’ military forces had free reign to abduct and murder for profit. This is not to mention what was going on in the war zones. At the same time, he anyone in the Rajapaksa could drive by a property and take it.
What they gave in return was pride. They did win the war. They did build grand development projects and nationalize the airline. These latter adventures have all been useless (an airport in the jungle, and airline which bleeds cash) and piled on debt, but they did deliver pride. And commissions. The Rajapaksas gave a visible impresion of progress even though the impact on the economy and people’s lives was actually negative.
The Gota model is a father who is a pillar of the community but beats their kids. If you’re an average citizen, you’re the one getting beat, but you will get a promotional video about a bunch of grand buildings.
On the other hand, Sajith Premadasa followed his father’s model of giving away as much stuff as possible, especially houses. His father was the only working class ruler we ever had and made homelessness his cause, all the way to the UN. He also laid the groundwork for the modern garment industry and pursued quite a few poor friendly policies. He also murdered pretty liberally, so I would say not a great leader overall, but he did try to redistribute.
Sajith has been much the same, sans murder. Throughout his career he’s sought roles where he can give stuff away — jobs, objects but above all housing.
I went to a talk he gave and they gave a flash disk. I put it in my computer (something I would never do with anything from Gota lol) and it was a presentation all about housing. Really all about building houses.
Now, I’m a raging socialist in a global sense, but in Sri Lanka I’m almost right-wing. We’re not a company with much income to redistribute and the idea that the government should be giving stuff away is generally frowned upon in Colombo liberal circles. As I become more leftist in old age, however, I’m not so sure.
It seems that the government is bound to waste money somehow. It’ll be on highways for the elite or airports for… buffaloes, but the money has got to go. Why not redistribute it to the poor? Why not give out assets (houses) at the bottom of the pyramid rather than building stupid shit at the top?
Beats Or Treats
Given a choice, and it is a choice, I’d go for treats over beats. Gotabaya has promised to release child abductors on day one, and I am not for that. I remember my grown-ass Tamil friends going home at 5 sharp because their parents were afraid, and for good reason. I do not want to live like that.
Sajith is not my natural sort of politician, but as I age I’m actually OK with just giving poor people stuff. Capitalism was supposed to have some smarter way of doing this but that obviously has screwed up and now countries all over are looking into direct cash and other transfers to the poor.
In this way I hope Sajith is a bridge between the distant and neo-liberal economics of Ranil and more outright statism of the JVP. If it doesn’t work at least more people will have houses.
The paternalistic strain in Sri Lankan governance won’t go away because over 70% of us vote and we want stuff. I just don’t want a beating.