Against the dying of the light | Sunday Observer

Against the dying of the light

24 June, 2018

Last week, a leading member of the Buddhist clergy put into words what the detractors of the former Defence Secretary and current presidential aspirant have been insinuating for some months.

On the occasion of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s 69th birthday, the Anunayake of the Asgiriya Chapter, monastic order that is joint custodian of the Sacred Tooth Relic, had words of advice for the former Defence Secretary: “What we need is a leadership that has the blessings of Mahinda Rajapaksa and is linked with Buddhism, the Buddhist Order and the Sinhalese. Be a Hitler, bring in a military rule if you must and develop the country.”

That a religious leader, purportedly walking in the footsteps of Lord Buddha, who preached ahimsa and compassion for all creatures should advocate for national leadership along the lines of the Fuhrer’s Germany is wayward and tragic enough.

But more telling still is the silence of the listeners during the sermon, most notably Gotabaya Rajapaksa who is yet to disavow and denounce the preposterous proposition by the Anunayake Thero even four days after the scandal broke.

It has been a decade since a foreign journalist asked the former Defence Secretary about the murder of senior journalist and Editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge eliciting the now famous falsetto reply: “Who is Lasantha? Why are you worried about one man, the editor of a tabloid?” This is an era of rebranding and reinvention for the former Defence Secretary, who has strived hard over the past year to transform his political image from a powerful, ruthless military bureaucrat, to a suave, disciplined technocrat. But despite the newly acquired political maturity, the former official remains reluctant to denounce or place on record that he has no intention of establishing military rule in Sri Lanka if elected to public office, irrespective of the advice of the Sanga.

The truth is that Ven. Vendaruwe Upali Thero’s words resonate with a segment of Sri Lankan society that yearns for the strongman politician, after what is perceived as three years of democratic dithering. Most people who support the former Defence Secretary’s apparent presidential aspirations are ultra-nationalists who concur for the most part with the Anunayake Thero’s advice. This segment, which yearns for a leader to keep Tamils and Muslims ‘in their place’, know there is only one candidate in the arena even among the country’s far-right politicians, who can fulfil these aspirations.

Viyath Maga tycoons and professionals and the Eliya ex-military wing who personify this segment, know the strongman politician will care little for individual freedoms and democratic institutions. Indeed, he will tear them down if necessary if they should impede the path to development and economic prosperity. Democracy, imperfect and messy, is no match for the efficient autocrat, who will mobilise the military to clean the streets and pick up the garbage when elected authorities fail. A ‘little bit of dictatorship’ will get trade unions in line, put striking doctors and postal workers back on active duty, and instill ‘discipline’ in society.

A former Navy Chief of Staff turned politician, once famously announced that all those who voted for the 19th Amendment would be ‘hung’ by a future administration. The 19th Amendment was the most progressive constitutional reform in the history of the second Sri Lankan Republic; it placed term limits on the presidency, established the independent commissions and strengthened Parliament’s power of oversight over a ruling Government. This historic legislation and point of democratic transformation is deemed unpatriotic by these elements. The former Navy Chief of Staff’s words in 2015 that all those who voted for the 19th Amendment deserved to die, reinforces the fact that this camp celebrates its anti-democratic instincts and will show no mercy to democrats and reformists.

These are terrifying lieutenants that aspiring autocrats will bring to the governing table.

The democratic transition unfolding over the past three years has been an imperfect process. Its results will be known decades hence, and only if the reform trajectory continues, but it is unclear if the newly restored democratic institutions, independent commissions and the like are strong enough to withstand another authoritarian onslaught. It is also uncertain if the democratic gains over the past three years will be sufficient to swing the electorate away from tyranny and suppression at the next election. Slip-ups by this administration along the way may prove far too costly at the ballot box.

If military rule and Hitler-esque strategies are part of the future, the stakes at Sri Lanka’s next election will be higher than ever. Waiting in the wings is a terrifying prospect. There is no such thing as a ‘little dictatorship’. Dictatorship for the greater good will have devastating consequences for civil liberties, justice and freedom. In the long run, the fear instilled in democracy loving citizens this week could be a blessing in disguise. The Anunayake Thero’s words are a wake-up call to democrats and reformists all over the country: rage, rage against the dying of the light.


"..who will mobilise the military to clean the streets and pick up the garbage when elected authorities fail." This is the Problem in Sri Lanka - Cleaning up after the Mess is Made! Why not instead, Start in the Schools, and Teach the next Generation, the Value of Environmentally Friendly Waste Disposal? I have seen Teachers and Pupils on Excursions to Holy Places, throwing away their Plastic Rubbish, Anywhere and Everywhere. Why leave it to someone else to do the Clean Up?

Opinions come from multiple sources. Wise intelligent cultured educated must select the right morally justified intellectually noted to be good socially acceptable to all and decide with the right one