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Military Dictatorship or Radical Democracy? The Illusion of a Strong Leader :Part 1

Asanka Abeyratne

Sri Lankan politics should be extremely decisive during this decade. On the one hand, liberal chauvinism is over. On the other hand, the leftist movement is at a disadvantage. The most serious question is why right-wing populism persists despite the current socio-economic crisis and the collapse of the ruling party’s popularity and public confidence? As Karl Marx said, capitalism is heading into a definite crisis. However, Marxist intellectuals of the 21st century need to think harder. That is, even if capitalism goes into crisis, why does capitalism still exist at all? In other words, why is the end not the end? Is the crisis too, a brand of capitalism?

These aspects need to be taken into greater consideration in Sri Lankan politics. The dangers of military rule, as well as a way out of these dangers, must be discussed. We have to be more decisive now and ask ourselves: Military Dictatorship or Radical Dictatorship? As a step towards a political discussion in this regard, let us expand on the politics of militarization in Sri Lanka as follows:

While there have been occasional dictatorships in the country since 1978, there was no referendum on the military rule until 2009. The risk now is who shaped public opinion towards a military dictatorship in the 2019 presidential election? Why is there room for militaristic dictatorships to suppress racist assessments and social values? That is the question that needs to be addressed.

THE MYTH OF A STRONG LEADER: Political Leadership in the Modern Age (2014), published by political scientist, historian and Professor of Political Science at Oxford University, Archie Brown (1938), emphasizes the political illusion of the myth of a strong leader.

Many believe that the development and political progress of a country depends on the personality or personal image of its leader/ruler. Therefore, Viyath Maga convinces the people that President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has the discipline and a great personality. Sarath Weerasekera, who became a Minister through the Viyath Maga collective, proposed to provide military training to all those above 18 years of age to teach the country’s citizens a sense of discipline. If there is a discipline in the army, then why do so many notorious underworld leaders use the name Army, Navy, SF in front of their names? Even if a school child understands it, I do not understand it.

The 30-year war, terrorism, Easter Sunday attacks, Sri Lanka’s foreign debt and lies around good governance have all led to the arrival of a strong leader like GR. To the extent that patriotic ideals are corrupted; national security, and law and order have eroded, and it is easy to mobilize the masses behind a dictatorship that does not have a successful vision and programme for serious issues such as economic relief. A good example is Adolf Hitler, who became extremely popular because of Germany’s defeat in World War I and Germany’s bankrupt economy.

According to Achi Brown, people prefer a strong leader when fraud, corruption, lawlessness, riots, wars and enforced disappearances continue. No matter how much a leader does wrong over a leader who apologizes to the people, citizens will appreciate the ruler who is not subordinate to another person, group or institution. Since politics is a power struggle and not a meditation, it is clear that the people expect a ruler’s rigidity rather than simplicity or peace. G.R. said that the general public would not believe a regime if it were told that it was acting on the principles of racism as the masterminds in charge of the regime’s political propaganda project are well aware. 

Even when traditional political leadership is obsolete, there is a social demand that the country is handed over to a military leader, businessman or priest. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa came into power because he was a war administrator and not a political agent. The damage that can be done internally and externally is enormous because such a troubled society chooses a ‘strong’ leader. Is President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa showing such behaviour because he is a stranger to politics? Or is it because he only knows brutal military rule? Professor Arjuna Paraknaramage, a veteran political analyst, responded to the BBC’s question by saying, “This is the result of a tangled framework of intertwined issues, and the idea that the military is the only salvation is from the very beginning.” Therefore, ‘Hitler’ that the Mahanayake wished for has now come. 

We will discuss this further in Part Two.

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The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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