The government was hell bent on preventing the opposition rally. Trains, buses and launches were all stopped. Ordinary passengers were beaten up and prevented from off loading at stations and ferrys. The police were out in full force in the city, checking on people to make sure they were not opposition supporters heading for the rally.
Continue reading “March 12 Rally”
Switch off the lights. Rend your hair. Don only white. It is time to go into mourning. An old and ailing relative? democracy, has died an inevitable death. Dead at barely 60 years old though the abuse it suffered during its short life span made it appear much older.
Like the aunt who lingers on long after most of the family believe she is already dead, this week?s death was a quiet one, it was long expected, some would say even overdue. There was no shock, no sudden loss.
Democracy in this country wasn?t overthrown by a dictator, nor shattered suddenly by the chaos of war and revolution. Instead it died a painful, slow death. Strangled by corruption, stifled by authoritarianism and finally snuffed out by the disinterest and apathy of the general public. ?And while it somehow lingered on despite being savaged by decades of war, riots, and attempted revolutions, ?this week we finally saw democracy die in the hearts and minds of voters.
The turn out ?for the 2010 general election stands as the lowest in history? only ?50% of the country?s people made the effort to participate in the country?s political process; not enough to sustain democracy?s ebbing life force. ?While some will criticise the voters? apathy, in reality you can only marvel at the patience of a people who voted regularly for six decades. ??At the devotion of a population who after years of false promises and disappointment continued to vote until finally a lack of credible candidates, tangible issues and the impossibility of effecting real change finally destroyed their interest in democracy.
Of course the truth is and always has been that ?regardless of the final results of this election, thugs, cronies and criminals will continue to rule this country. And regardless of anyone?s vote the present ?situation of lawlessness, ?emergency rule and authoritarianism is guaranteed to continue. The election was never going to address this country?s fundamental issues. Its lack of law and order, its almost medieval levels of women?s representation, the broken education system.
None of these things were even on the agenda. With victory guaranteed ?the most keenly fought battles in this year?s election took place within the ruling party, as the government?s heavy weight candidates fought openly over the spoils of certain UPFA victory; the 20 million vassals and serfs who no longer enjoy even the pretense of rights.
Instead of issues and achievements, candidates ?struggled to display their closeness to the country?s centre of power. ?We were treated to the unashamed sycophantism of ?posters showing Wimal Weerawansa sharing breakfast with our leader and ?Bandula Gunawardena daring to pass the ?phone to the President. ?Eventually ?desperation for inter-party preference votes saw ?government candidates desecrate Buddha statues and violate every section of the country?s election law ?with impunity.
Seeing the ugliness of the government, the impotence of the opposition and the hypocrisy ?of the institutions ? police, courts, charged with safeguarding democracy the people were inevitably disgusted. ??And at ?a crucial moment in the country?s history they ?chose to hide their faces from this mockery of the democratic process. They looked away ?from the hideous posters, meaningless slogans and the futile opposition ?and refused to make the effort to vote.
But while everyone looked away ?democracy died a second death ? that of the two thirds majority. ?Figures indicate that the UPFA ?will receive nearly two-thirds of the votes ?cast. ?And with this majority comes nothing less than absolute power. The ability to amend the constitution, the very basis of ?the nation?s law. The checks and ?balances that ?are the key to democracy have disappeared. ??And with the government in such a comfortable position the reforms that could ?possibly have breathed new life into the islands democracy? the 17th Amendment, quotas for women, a Right to Information Act, will never materialise.
Democracy in Sri Lanka is beyond revival. And in its place we now have just one party or more accurately, one ?family. ?And the country?s citizens have just one choice, either demonstrate their loyalty, obedience and gratitude to the ruling family or risk detention, death or worse the utter irrelevance of ?powerlessness.
This is no longer a criticism or a warning, ?it is simply reality. One chapter of the country?s history is now closed ?? the flickering light of democracy has gone out. ?The ailing opposition, the clapped out General, the toothless UNP will never be able to restore the people?s right to democracy. ?Instead if it is ever to return, democracy in this country will have to be reborn. Instead of ?being imposed by colonial masters it will have to take hold again in the hearts and minds of the people.
If nothing else this year?s low turn-out indicates dissatisfaction ?with the current political system and perhaps ?a longing for a process we can all believe in; ?it is still possible that the country?s people still long for genuine democracy. ?But until that hope manifests itself as a genuine grass roots movement for a return to a politics based on principles, representative politics and good governance we ?have dark years of despotism ahead of us.
Democracy is dead. And today only thugs, cronies and sycophants ?have reason to celebrate; the rest of us will be in mourning for a weak, flawed but comforting old friend.
Landslides are dangerous. Things get buried. People get hurt. The 9th parliamentary elections was to return Bangladesh from a two year military backed caretaker rule to an elected Government. The gathering on the last campaign day was massive, but there were fewer women and more people with white caps than one expected. The BNP candidate in Paltan Maidan boasted of how EVERY household in his candidacy, had assured him of their vote. Awami League candidates, the previous day, postured similarly, but both sides probably felt there was a reasonable chance of winning. The two-year gap between BNP’s misrule and the elections, might have eroded some of the moral gains that Awami League would otherwise have had. Voters sometimes have short memories. A landslide election win for anyone was not on the cards.
The Bangladeshi voter however, is remarkably savvy. They voted out Bhutto in 1971. Despite genocide, it did lead to independence. Since then, in every reasonably free and fair election they have had, they have voted with their heads. Hasina’s lack of repentance about BAKSHAL and previous Awami League misrule cost her the 1991 elections. Khaleda’s police fired upon farmers demanding fertilisers. Even a rigged election didn’t help her in 1996. ‘Safe’ seats of numerous ministers were lost in the re-taken polls. Hasina blew it in her term with her thugs causing havoc on campus and her ministers demanding that journalists be beaten up. The votes went to BNP. Khaleda went overboard yet again, with corruption reaching new heights, and her sons unleashing terror. Rising prices didn’t help. Khaleda made an attempt at apology. It was too little too late. The pendulum swung. History does not appear to be either party’s strong point.
There has however, been a change in the recent script. Political skirmishes in the past, were largely between political cadre, and localised. A few cocktails might have been thrown, but since the killing of general Zia, there had been few assassination attempts. Until recently. Bomb attacks were a new thing. The capture of trucks laden with small arms. The vigilante groups in the rampage in the north. The targeted attacks on secular scholars, were new. Assassination attempts on Hasina took political violence to new levels. The BNP brought in its own vigilante. The black bandanas of the Rapid Action Battalion became another source of terror with hundreds of ‘crossfire’ deaths to their credit.
Against this backdrop, the landslide win of the Awami League, had analysts gushing with excitement. The superlatives flowed. People cheered this ‘historic victory’. A change of government generally starts with a witch-hunt, traditionally meted out to the opposition party previously in power. This caretaker government had stayed rather longer than usual. Given the documented torture of ‘rajkumar’ Tariq Zia (Khaleda’s son and the general secretary of her party), BNP’s return to power would not have been so comfortable for the incumbent government and its unofficial backers. Hasina’s promise of ratifying the misdeeds of this government meant she was the safer bet.
Accusations of the military having actively engineered the Awami League win is probably exaggerated, though news of intimidation was not infrequent, particularly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. But that too is history. Hasina’s position regarding her neighbours is more pertinent. She has already declared solidarity towards Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi. The relationship towards big brother India, will probably have more to do with the relationship with bigger brother USA. The US has always played a major role in recent subcontinental politics. The 7th fleet in the Bay of Bengal was needed when the USSR was dominant. Today, the US, Israel and India are close allies, the war on terror being a collective pet project. A pliant military and a grateful Hasina will both play the game. The routing of Jamaat in the elections has to do with people’s sentiments. The war on war criminals to the war on terror is a small bridge to cross. The fluttering flag of democracy will obscure a few indiscretions along the way.