“We in Colombo also now have to become like people living in the North and East in our outlook. We no longer know what is what, which is which, whether we are coming or going”, a lawyer friend of mine living in Colombo, a told me today. He was trying to reflect the mood of the people after the passing of the 18th Amendment. The aftermath of the violent conflict against the LTTE, which promised peace, has not brought peace of mind to the people living in Colombo. There is new kind of unease, the loss of the very ground on which people stood and a fear of things to come.
If the government expected an easy time due to not having the fear of facing elections and contesters for power, it seems that they miscalculated rather badly, for elections alone are not the only way parties come to power and stay there. They are also a way of life. It is like having the monsoon or the full moon. If these things do not appear at regular intervals people fear that something is going wrong. When familiar patterns and routines go amiss, the people are at a loss. It is not that elections make any substantial change in their lives, but the brief moment when you feel that you can change things is a human expectation for those who are used to it. The middle class in particular is very much fond of their habits.
Some things can be faked but it is dangerous to make them appear as fakes. The old fox Jayewardene who took away most of the substance of democracy from Sri Lankans made sure that all the appearances were kept intact. Sirimavo Bandaranayake’s coalition governments foolishly took away the wigs from judges and that caused such an upset that the minister of justice and his secretary later lost their civil rights. But Jayewardene virtually destroyed the independence of the judiciary while keeping all the outward appearances correct. Not many found fault with him.
But the Rajapakse regime not only wants all power to themselves they also want to make it appear that they have all the power. They not only want make elections a mere ritual without substance but they want to make them appear so. Jayewardene knew that it not wise to disturb Colombo’s middle class. The Rajapakses, on the other hand do not feel happy unless Colombo’s middle class stand to attention whenever they appear before them. They want not only to be big but also to appear big. To feel that way, they are trampling very openly on elections and courts. The two things that Colombo’s middle class attach some importance to.
That perhaps may prove to be too much of a mistake.