Before twilight descends...

Now that the dust is beginning to settle on the “death of democracy” controversy, it may be a good time to reconsider the debacle of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Last week, idealistic democrats and discontented republicans vented their spleen at what they perceived to be a fatal blow to a kaleidoscope of freedoms – this week, cooler heads and calmer minds would do well to consider what transpired, what is or was at stake, and how the supposed death knell of liberty may not be the last nail in the coffin for Sri Lanka. As the spinmeisters would say, “Let us look at the big picture…”

The biggest surprise in the week gone by was the acquiescence of a cross section of civil society in the piece of legislation that was eventually passed. Interestingly it was not silent consent – the bill to end all bills was hailed with glory, laud, and honour! And the people doing the praising spanned the gamut from those in the street who wouldn’t know a tyranny from a tin pot, to presidential lackeys who know both tyrant and despot intimately.

Of course, in pockets of the old republic where libertarian sentiments still run high, there were boos and catcalls, and diehard discoursing on how the state of the nation would never be the same again. But academics and professionals, big business chambers, and civil society to the last man-Jack and Jill seemed inordinately thrilled that a constitutional monarchy in all but name had been signed and sealed, and was soon to be demonstrably delivered. The resistance, or the rebels, was in a minority – or so it would seem…

How this all happened is old hat. A lame-duck opposition whose collusion has been sought or bought is the least of our worries. The unquestionable reality is that the incumbent administration is the monarch of all it surveys – and is loving every minute of it! The question remains, however, whether all of this is a dispensable luxury – a detour in Sri Lanka’s short and not-so-sweet democratic story – or whether it is a necessary evil… The emergence of a new world order (at least a new regional order) in which we are pawns who would do well to play their part and like it, or else! Big Brother is watching.

There was a time when the Elder Statesman in our national affairs was the great democracy to the north of us. Sadly for us, the bottom line in our relationship was that the Indians spoke with forked tongue – seeking regional stability but working secretly to undermine our independence and progress at every turn… No, we did not make it up – their Pukka Sahibs have all but confessed that this was their Maharajahs’ stratagem all along.

Support on the streets for the 18th Amendment!

Today, there is a fresh wind blowing in from the east. And although many classically educated and western-oriented elite feel that it is an ill-wind which blows no one any good, our hoi polloi by and large have realized (or assumed) that the Mandarins mean us well. And a brief but balanced view of Sino-Sri Lankan relations over the millennia will show that the nexus has more often than not worked well for the isle they call Su-Cheng-Pu (‘Land of the Lions’).

The writing is on the wall (As one wit said: if you want to know what it says, study Cantonese; if you want to know what it means, learn Mandarin). The news is abroad in the TV station set up to cater to Chinese cultural interests. The balloon has gone up in radio station that broadcasts Sino music. The chips are down as far as the West is concerned. The development is sweet and sour for Sri Lankans. And the fat is in the fire for those who favour time-honoured traditions such as human rights, civil liberties, freedom of the press, etc.

Or is it? If one is willing to take the charitable view for a moment or two, there is a slim chance that recent developments augur well for the national interest. The war is over. Our socio-economy is headed for double-digit growth. And peacetime activities such as building bridges, planning ports, and rolling out roads and highways and expressways has reached an all-time high. The buzz on the bourse has to be seen to be believed (although busy bees have murmured against its amazing performance of late).

And even if there is a fly in the ointment, the reasoning that our new masters mean us well is balm for the dynastic soul. Now that the peasants have fallen in step with the powers that be, only a small coterie of dissenters needs to be dealt with. And their last best hope may be speaking out against the excesses of a nexus between dominant economy and benevolent dictatorship even – before the twilight descends and the silence rings out forever.

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