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The recent Easter Sunday bombings, the subsequent politically backed mob violence[1], and the release of a divisive figure all increase political volatility. This volatility if carefully managed can be used to create a change of power. Let it be noted that the divisive figure was jailed for criminal intimidation[2].

              Sirisena is borrowing tactics from JRJ[3] and MR[4] to keep himself in power. Their hold on power was made possible by the control the executive president has over the media. This controls the narrative following the events. This narrative can then be used to justify blatantly political and selfish actions.

“The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduces them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim. An individual in a crowd is a grain of sand amid other grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will.”-

Gustav Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind

Context

For the sake of discourse let me disclose the narrative that I believe in. Considering amongst others; the selective absences of the President, international disclosures that intelligence was shared, The exclusion of the UNP from security council meetings, and the subsequent negative impacts on the UNP of the recent events. I believe the attacks were pushed by those close to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

              In coming to my conclusion I do take into account the subsequent movements in terms of SOFA[5] and port agreements[6] . I, however, feel that this is just opportunism. It is also mirrored by the SLFP leadership[7] with the visit to China. As much as I don’t blame a Lion for hunting I do not blame a politician for being opportunistic.

Social Positioning

 Anyone who has ever wielded authority would know that it is very easy to control people by giving them authority over their peers. It is the same reason that teachers appoint prefects and colonial powers empower small sects of the population. In this vein, we must explore the politically drawn divisions and socio-economic demographics.

              Muslims are not rich. There are a few rich Muslims. On average the divide between the Western Province and the rest of the country is far greater than the disparity between ethnic groups in the same area. The communication of this fact is very poor. Speaking English or doing so exclusively would be a far greater predictor of wealth.

              I here would contend that Muslims possessing swords or even small firearms does not really pose a great threat to society. Those quite actively pushing a fear psychosis show sociopathic disregard for the wellbeing of the economy. The continuous functioning of businesses is what will help our country in the long run build wealth. This was a failure of military intelligence. The real threat now that the terror cell has been arrested is politically backed mob violence against Muslim communities.

Rioters Narrative

Organized violence requires people to be bussed in from other areas[8]. This is because people within multi-ethnic communities know that all Muslims are not rich. This failure of communication is not really important in places of ethnic diversity but rather in places of ethnic homogeneity. Ethnic harmony would prosper without political influence and impunity.

              The narrative fed to these rioters can very easily be turned into attacks against for instance foreigners within tourist establishments and textile factories. The business community should be very concerned. It has already resulted in damage to the smaller domestic industry with the attack on the Diamond Pasta factory[9].

             We must ask ourselves as to why the majority population can be so easily swayed by giving them a trivial degree of power over another community. The power being impunity in temporary bouts of mob violence. Why was the UNP so popular under JR and the SLFP under MR? Wouldn’t actual social mobility be of greater interest or is that too abstract for our politics?

Political Benefits

Maithripala Sirisena skipped May Day. Those within the SLFP should seriously introspect as to whether actual plans were made for the celebration of May Day. May Day is politically significant as it is a show of numbers. It was particularly important to see if the SLPP and SLFP were to celebrate the event together.

              The celebration of Vesak may have been hindered but that isn’t very important to the SLFP leadership. The SLFP leadership’s notion of Buddhism and Buddhist credentials were both buffeted by the release of one Gnanasara Thero[10]. Sirisena has made himself quite palatable to the membership of the Podujana Peramuna and as previously predicted[11] failed more refined elements within the SLFP.

Election Context

Given the constitutional framework under the 20th amendment, the most important election (parliamentary) will most likely happen a mid-next year. This election will broadly coincide with Trump’s bid for the second term.

              Trump is likely to win given the failure of Russia gate and the relatively weak democratic pool of challengers. In the words of Chomsky “The Democrats are helping him. Take the focus on Russia-gate. What’s that all about? I mean, it was pretty obvious at the beginning that you’re not going to find anything very serious about Russian interference in elections.

The Democrats invested everything in this issue. Well, turned out there was nothing much there. They gave Trump a huge gift. In fact, they may have handed him the next election. … That’s a matter of being so unwilling to deal with fundamental issues, that they’re looking for something on the side that will somehow give political success.”

A likely Trump victory will give Sri Lanka and thereby the ruling UNP time to delay on its politically divisive UN commitments. Regardless of the outcome of the US election, Trump going into election season will result in more pressure on the federal reserve to keep interest rates down and as a result, create space for lower interest rates domestically.

Demographic Shifts

A recent study done by the British Council titled Next Generation Sri Lanka[12] is very eye-opening. It shows that a majority of new voters given a crude assignment of beliefs to political allegiances will end up voting UNP. Sirisena for his lack of political popularity shows unexpected stubbornness and reluctance to collaborate. He will end up with a poor manifesto and weak election material. Even as a statesman he is unable to elicit sentiment that does not divide a room.

              Mangala Samaraweera’s apparent blunder[13] may hurt his immediate leadership prospects but position himself well for the future. Further, it helps show that the evil that JR brought into the party now firmly manifests itself down Darley road. The public school’s movement and making entrance meritocratic will be very popular amongst the large established middle classes and those guaranteed a middle-class lifestyle by virtue of birth.

Bravery

Large vocal sections of the population are calling on for ‘strong leadership’. It is a term that is so subjective that it is meaningless. What exactly do they mean by strong leadership mean? Ranil has stood by the arrest of Hiru chairmen’s brother Duminda Silva. Hiru[14] as anyone familiar with Sri Lanka website traffic is the largest source of news. Ranil commands the confidence of the United National Party. There are countless other examples of his strong leadership.

Ranil called on curfew, mobilized the defense forces, and acted in a proactive manner to minimize damage. Also, he faced the international media which isn’t as servile or biased towards a particular narrative. This is while also giving leadership to the UNP which is acting as the last civilizing force as the media desperately tries to whip up ethnic tensions.

I don’t think Kabir Hashim or any other member of the Muslim community should have to be answerable for the actions of a minuscule radicalized group that defines itself as being Islamic. I do think successive Presidents need to answer for considerable lapses in defense. Furthermore elections on 5-year cycles are not conducive to keeping a president accountable.


[1] http://srilankabrief.org/2019/05/sri-lanka-sirisenas-party-sec-get-mobs-released-two-muslims-dead-namal-kumara-arrested/

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-44479610

[3] https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/black-july-haunting-memories/

[4] https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/aluthgama-riots-meticulously-planned-and-executed-to-military-precision/

[5] https://datelinecolombo.wordpress.com/2019/05/27/sofa-with-the-us-a-blatant-violation-of-sri-lankas-sovereignty/

[6] https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/sri-lanka-japan-india-sign-deal-to-develop-east-container-terminal-at-colombo-port/article27273794.ece

[7] http://www.president.gov.lk/president-returns-after-the-successful-visit-to-china/

[8] http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/A-divided-Digana-falls-Isolated-incident-used-to-fuel-tension-146852.html

[9] http://www.ft.lk/front-page/Mobs-destroy-SL-s-largest-pasta-factory/44-678218

[10] https://www.newsfirst.lk/2019/05/24/venerable-gnanasara-thero-meets-president/

[11] https://twitter.com/mangalalk/status/1061542606386200576

[12] https://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/next-generation-sri-lanka-march-2019.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1Eh45elKK1b4c5ypUz1i3nP_fW5lG8UnKd8BI2lr8i6-4uXCU6lO2RdNo

[13] https://ceylon-ananda.com/i-wont-call-myself-a-buddhist-but-one-who-follows-buddhist-philosophy-mangala/

[14] https://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/LK