11/30/2009

Sri Lanka’s Presidential; a battle between conservatives and liberal democrats


By Ajith Perakum Jayasinghe -
Sri Lanka is heading towards an early Presidential in which President Mahinda Rajapakse faces an unexpected challenge from his ex-Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka. Not far back, the merciless political and military leadership shared by these two associates led the state to wipe out the 26-year separatist threat from the violent Tamil nationalists.

Their military action is highly criticized especially by Western super powers on human rights aspects and US State Department has listed 170 war crimes allegedly done by both Sri Lanka government and the defeated rebel organization Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE).  Both Presidential candidates of the ruling coalition and the opposition alliance are criticized for human rights violations and corruption. Both were arch Sinhala nationalists during the period of war and disliked devolving power to the minorities. Both needed the country to be maintained war footed and freedom of expression was nonsense to them.

Sri Lanka changed its outlook as a non-aligned nation after 2005 under the reign of President Mahinda Rajapakse and alienated from its traditional Western allies and drifted towards China. Rajapakse was not an ardent conservative but his pragmatic approach towards the Tamil problem pushed him to a war that violated many of the warring traditions. He embraced China and other countries like Iran, Libya and Myanmar to save his face from international isolation. China, an emerging super power in the region has invested in a number of massive development projects in Sri Lanka including the construction of a harbor in Hambanthota, close to a major international shipping line. Other projects are in the fields of power, highway construction etc.

However, Sri Lanka is a socially westernized country where English is widely used as second language and most of the countrymen perceive development as a way forward towards the social situation in West. However, the ideologists of the middle class elite preach nationalism and Orientalist dogma to gain political advantages in power echelon and Sri Lankans appear as split humans with one part in Western world of practical life and the other part in the ideological Oriental dreamland.

This split can be seen in politics as the middle class dominated conservative elements ally in the ruling coalition United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) while the capitalist and proletarian elements appear to unite in a new opposition coalition in the making with liberal democratic principles.


Comprador United National Party (UNP) and the proletarian People’s Liberation Front (JVP) have shed their traditional rivalry to support ex-Army chief Sarath Fonseka who recently showed his miraculous metamorphosis as a liberal democrat from his apolitical military role of Sinhala Buddhist Army Commander.
In the press briefing that he handled solely at the Jaic Hilton where he announced his candidature formally, he appeared for individual freedom, open economy, freedom for the private sector, power devolution to grant ethnic equality, abolition of dictatorial Presidential system, reinstating the power of the legislature and the much needed good governance.

Many opposition liberal and leftist thinkers dislike his military-like personality and suspects he will move towards totalitarianism once he is vested in the super powers of the Executive Presidency. Conservative pro-government elements try to portray him as an egoist while almost all of them should be unquestionably belong to the same category. They try to show him as a disloyal betrayer and a traitor of the ‘nation.’ The ‘nation’ eventually means a forming aristocratic dynasty surrounded by a bunch of greedy opportunists that sup with what trickles down through the fingers of the kings and princess.

Nevertheless, President Mahinda Rajapakse, flanked by his brothers is al powerful and knows the pulse of the polity too well. He is fighting back the new threat with all the state powers in line with the traditions of the Presidents vying for second term. It is not easy to defeat him in rural areas where he is popular thanks to his outgoing personality that none of the practicing politicians can match.

No one can predict what will happen on January 26, the day of the Presidential and the days after that. But Sri Lankan polity looks dividing apart the line of conservatism and liberal democracy. Every Sri Lankan has two souls; a conservative and a liberal democrat. The winner of the Presidential will be the one who will address most forcefully to either of these souls.   

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