Systemic change: its enemies and its friends

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GR’s previous instructions to the police not to invade and disrupt Gotagogama’s peaceful existence, and RW’s cunning public statement in support of Aragalaya’s claim for Gota-Go-Home are moves meant to sow disillusion among protesters, to dispel them, and ultimately to kindly end the fight for systemic change




Aragalaya’s main demand is to bring about systemic change in the political governance and economy of the country. “Gota-Go-Home” and “No 225” are just means to that end. Although there has been broad support for the grassroots demand, especially within the intelligentsia, civil societies and even sections of the media and the Sangha, yet over the past few weeks, and since the resignation of the previous Prime Minister, a counter-struggle seems to be on foot led by the old guards to preserve the status quo.

The so-called multi-party government is the product of this struggle, and the draft 21A drafted by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) also reflects this desire. Unless the primary demand for Aragalaya is met, the chances of achieving economic progress and political stability would be minimal.


A pernicious system

When Sri Lanka gained political independence in 1948, it inherited the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy with a party system. The 1947 Constitution introduced a bicameral legislature with other safeguards to prevent the rise of ethnic majority rule. However, within a few decades that is exactly what happened and Sri Lanka effectively became an ethno-nationalist democracy based on an ideology of Sinhalese-Buddhist majoritarianism (SBM). This majority rule systematically became tyrannical, which eventually led to a civil war, the cost of which bankrupted the country’s economy.

The SBM ideology was theoretically rationalized based on mytho-history and a supposed fear of minorities. To thrive, SBM needed an enemy and that enemy was artificially fabricated from time to time. Virtually every government that has come to power since the 1950s was the product of the SBM, which, like a magnet, swung the votes of innocent Sinhalese-Buddhist voters to elect populist leaders championing the cause of this ideology. What was pernicious about SBM was the leverage it offered to unscrupulous and ambitious politicians who advanced their own agendas and private interests at the expense of the people, then exploited Buddhism to be exonerated of their crimes and misdeeds.

As voters remained mesmerized by promises of prosperity, mismanagement and mismanagement could become systemic, which ultimately undermined the vitality of parliamentary democracy. As a result, society stratified and remained ethnically, linguistically, and religiously divided; communalism flourished; economic growth and development have become spasmodic at best; the distribution of income and wealth is increasingly skewed in favor of the few; and, the entire country has been treated as an international pariah. The parties and figures in power changed almost regularly, but the ideology of the SBM remained a permanent fixer.

Economic mismanagement, outrageous financial waste and looting, political crimes and blatant disregard for human rights reached a fever pitch under the Rajapaksa regime. They not only drained the economy of its substance, but also, for the first time in Sri Lanka’s history, brought starvation and malnutrition to hundreds of thousands of ordinary households. It was this alarming scarcity of food, combined with shortages of essentials, including medicine, that finally awoke the younger generation of educated Sinhalese-Buddhist men and women and made them realize that the politico-economic system built on the SBM edifice is pernicious and self-inflicted. destructive and therefore demanded an end to it.

Their awakening and realization culminated in Aragalaya, which meant not revolution in its chaotic and violent image, but peaceful agitation with an unwavering determination to pressure the ruling elite to turn away from this system. pernicious and its seven-decade-old policy. – economic trajectory. Essentially, this meant the demise of SBM and, with it, other ethno-religious ideologies that arose to counter SBM. Soon, the Aragalaya launched by Sinhalese-Buddhist youth attracted their counterparts among minority communities and turned it into a national struggle for systemic change. Aragalaya holds promise for a truly democratic and egalitarian regime in the future Sri Lanka.

In short, the fundamental demand of the younger generation has touched the right nerve of the country’s body politic. Virtually every publication in this journal and elsewhere has supported this call, and scholars, journalists, civil rights groups and progressive thinkers have offered multiple ways to achieve its goal without violence. Surprisingly, even among conservative political parties, a few have added their own voice of support for this change.

Despite all this, what is happening now in Parliament is a desperate attempt in the name of rapid economic recovery and patriotism to preserve the status quo – not in the belief that it will bring ‘prosperity and splendour’ at all times in the world. future, but to find, firstly, enough time to protect and provide escape routes for the culprits whose calculated plunder and mismanagement have ruined the country, and secondly to maintain SBM’s critical role as permanent repairer.

On the first, reports are circulating with denial that one of the Maldivian leaders is busy negotiating agreements with the Rajapaksas for their asylum in this tourist paradise. It is becoming clear day by day that there is little will and preparation within RW’s multi-party government to bring before the law the entire previous leadership, which played a key role in the recent violence and more than that for their reckless economic mismanagement. And on the second, the selection by President GR of the ministers of the new cabinet as well as the ministerial secretaries speaks volumes about his commitment to the SBM. A man who came to power by defending this ideology and has publicly pledged to protect it at all costs will he abandon it for another?


rearguard action

The so-called multi-party government appointed by GR and led by his adjutant Prime Minister RW – an election loser who should have been brought to justice for his role in the infamous bond scandal and macabre Easter incident under the government Yahapalana – with an expected cabinet of 25 members, all chosen from the existing pack of 225, is a calculated ploy to frustrate the Aragalaya and maintain the status quo. GR’s previous instructions to the police not to invade and disrupt Gotagogama’s peaceful existence, and RW’s cunning public statement in support of Aragalaya’s claim for Gota-Go-Home are moves meant to sow disillusion among the protesters, to dispel them, and ultimately to kindly end the fight for systemic change.

According to SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, RW’s proposed 21A to disempower the executive chairman appears to do the opposite. Parliamentarians who have already jumped and are ready to jump in the future from the SJB, SLFP, UNP and so-called independents, in support of the Ashcharu government of RW, should all benefit from the existing system. There are plenty of SMB demagogues among them who would champion his cause when an election is declared. These defectors would like to at least maintain the existing system until the end of their term in 2024.

Therefore, multiparty government is a conspiratorially designed political artifact meant to ward off the aspirations of an awakened generation. Incidentally and surprisingly, even former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, in her recent interview with Indian journalist Karan Thapar on her proposals for governance change, left this ideology totally unaddressed. They are the enemies of systemic change. What then is the alternative?


Friends of Systemic Change

RW’s Ashcharu government cannot last long partly because of its inherent instability and partly because it lacks a structural plan to put the economy on a sustainable growth path. With the flow of economic and financial assistance from friendly countries and international entities such as the IMF, World Bank, ADB, etc., some of the immediate difficulties faced by the nation can be resolved and that too to a limited extent. .

This limited amount of aid, however, would have flowed into the country even without RW’s efforts, as Sri Lanka is so strategically positioned in the geopolitical context of the Indian Ocean that world powers could not afford to see it sink. into anarchy through bankruptcy. But the development and implementation of a structural plan is a long-term affair that requires a stable government supported by the majority of the population. This cannot be done without a general election.

It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of voters in Sri Lanka are under 40 and more than 50% of them are women. Aragalaya, which respects gender parity and believes that it has the support of nearly 85% of the population, undoubtedly represents this majority. In the next legislative elections, it is therefore their votes that will determine the winner. But so far and wisely, Aragalaya has remained apolitical. But can it remain so indefinitely given the rearguard action of the old system?

On the key demand for systemic change, there seems to be complete affinity between the new generation and the three progressive groups, JVP, NPP and FSP. However, the problem appears to be within the trio, who have yet to agree on a common platform and plan of action to take the youngsters with them. Fighting over ideological niceties is a historic pastime among progressives. The country cannot afford this luxury at the moment. The sooner the trio understand this greater need, form a broad coalition, take the new generation with them and face the upcoming electoral battle, the better for the country and its masses. The JVP/NPP/FSP trio is currently Aragalaya’s only friend.



(The author is affiliated with the Murdoch Business School, Murdoch University, Western Australia.)




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