As Harry S. Truman, who served as the President of the United States said on one occasion “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear”.
This was true with Sri Lanka, where the government formed after independence with majority community elites in control opted to work outside the constitution, to increase their vote base needed to retain power ignoring the voice of the opposition. Thereafter successive governments committed to this principle of silencing the voice of opposition, took increasingly repressive measures against both the economic and ethnic minority communities; it backfired on them for it forced the minorities to rise against the state. State with their inadequate knowledge of good governance, responded with tyrannical terror and finally a civil-war broke out to become a source of terror to all its citizens. After three decades the war was brought to end in 2009 with much assistance from many foreign governments; but lack of good governance continued with the same old mindset and six negative peace years rolled on, where everyone lived in fear, until with another foreign intervention wind of change in 2015 brought in a new government. Three years have rolled on with the communities continuing their life without harmony; because the same old mindset legislators are all back in parliament still after power and preparing for next general election due in 2020 instead of serving the country.
In the past, to retain power the elite rulers opted to favour the majority community, ignoring the basic fact that the country was made up of multi ethnic and multi religious communities, to derail from the constitution that had elaborate clauses to protect the minorities in a majority rule prevailing under democracy. The minority elite excluded from vision of the ruling majority elite, directed their people to guard from the complex social reality of waning inclusivity, triggered one after the other class, race and religion based conflicts affecting the minority communities. With only one way to go the youth of the minorities rose against the state; first the two uprisings in the south of the country by economic minorities followed by the ethnic minorities from north and east of the country that developed into to a full scale bloody civil-war as the state opted to take increasingly authoritarian measures; until it became a source of terror to all its citizens and created a country where everyone lived in fear. This grave mistake of harassment by the state was the root cause of all the problems the country faced and to retain power the rulers used the Sangha, the security forces and finally the government machinery to their benefit that led to corrupt administration. Thus the country ruled by successive governments committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition minorities, rather than addressing their problems caused by their exclusive policies. Everything has gone out of control and the Unity Government formed after the change of wind is unable put the put the government on the right track.
Earlier the country’s elite began ruling the country, with their far right conservative policies and successive governments failed to give enough importance to socially uplift the poor rural people living in poverty; on assumption that with time benefits would trickle down to remove all social injustice faced by them. As in the rulers vision in the 1970s and again the economic doctrine produced in the 1980s were growth bubbles that burst only to cause a volcanic insurrection by underprivileged youth; as the rulers ignored the warnings of poverty and inequity. Adding to this were the general social resistance that triggered protests and clashes with students, workers, peasants, fishermen and of late professionals; while the unresolved ethnic problem is left brewing due to the stubborn absolutism of the rulers with lack of vision and working for their own gain generating heavy resistance from the people.
Only possible with high growth and social development, for which the rulers need to clear remaining clouds in the reconciliation process that stagnated during the negative peace years and got off the ground with the wind of change in 2015. But the government legislators, bar a few have avoided any dialogue with their voters in the country on issues related to war-torn North and East and what the war-affected North-East people keep demanding as their legitimate due. At the same time, the opposition legislators in parliament has never missed any opportunity over the past three years to attack the reconciliation efforts of the government. The political ineffectiveness of the present legislators is mainly due their inability to accept that the post-war human issues are far more serious and complex than what was experienced during the southern uprisings and the related state repressions. The government responses have been made worse, due to lack of proper consultations with war-affected people and without considering what their priorities; while the government expect the country and the whole world to accept what they do as “reconciliation” is right.
With the change of government in 2015 and due to pressure from foreign governments many changes did take place at snail phase, without normalcy returning to the people in war torn North-East; for there are still regions occupied by security forces, who has carved out profitable areas of economic life for their own businesses. Almost all ingredients for the civil-war were due to misrule of successive governments and in spite of the armed struggles been crushed and their leaders eliminated; yet the rulers have failed to hand back all the lands occupied by the army during the war; nor have clear information on the thousands of people who disappeared during the war and released all those languishing in prisons for years sometimes even without being charged. But no one can deny the right of the affected people to weep over their loved ones, who were killed or disappeared during the war and on the other hand the armed forces must not be manipulated to serve narrow objectives and personal agendas of few politicians. Thus without any serious discourse on these issues by the legislators any proper reconciliation would only remain a dream; it is this reluctance by the state to accept war atrocities that have driven the affected people to demand investigations into the disappeared and the dead that mobilises them to commemorate the dead and say the Office of the Missing Persons will not deliver any results.
The Unity Government with the support of the opposition must in the next eighteen months resolve all the issues before they embark to build another economic growth bubble. Otherwise, even with current geopolitics favouring the Asian region, the country will still end up with the same fate as before in the 60s and 80s of seeing the bubble burst. No matter which political group forms the next government, the root causes dragging down economic growth in the country must be resolved, before any attempt of working on a fair and all-inclusive development plan to benefit the poor in the society. With all political parties getting ready for the next Presidential and General Elections, the voters of all communities must realise a vote for bad rulers in 2020 would gag peace forever in Sri Lanka and return to a climate where everyone once again lives in fear.