26 January, 2010

The Morning After

It is now 2 a.m. on the 27th of January, 2010 in Sri Lanka and the election results are 68.32% for President Mahinda Rajapakse and 31.32% for Sarath Fonseka. Maybe it is no big deal to win against someone who did not take the trouble to register himself to vote in the elections in which he was asking the country to vote for him. But it is a big deal to win against a candidate backed by major Western and European powers, and by native nay-sayers who would rather have a candidate who couldn’t find himself a party and was subsequently backed by two who had been responsible for much brutality in Sri Lanka throughout the 1980s than support the President who brought them peace.

This is the first time I’ve been home for an election since I left for the United States, and it is absolutely thrilling to be here. Sri Lankans are deeply and ruvani-0052passionately engaged in the process and in campaigning and if you want a beautiful description of what a country means to someone who loves it, read ‘Reflections on my Country’ by my brother, Malinda Seneviratne. It doesn’t hurt to have a household divided between the two candidates, my father taking up the solitary stand on behalf of the Opposition. I accompanied my journalist brother, Malinda, on travels around the city and down the Southern Coast and observed a process that had none of the problems that were being threatened us by those supporting the opposition candidate. The term “blood bath” has been tossed about, but I’m hoping to avoid that as well. It is a clear victory, and there is no doubt as to why the President remains popular among the people even if some of the Colombo elite despise his status as an outsider. Here are a few of those reasons:

1. He put an end to a war that has blighted the country for 30 years, something none of the leaders of other parties including those contesting him in this election were able to do.
2. While conducting the war, he did not compromise the welfare of ordinary Sri Lankans, or sell any of the country’s assets.
3. While pushing on with both a war and the post-tsunami reconstruction, he engaged in massive development projects throughout the country, including in the North and East; highways, ports, telecommunications and web access were all part of this effort. ruvani-008
4. He has subsequently repatriated most of the Internally Displaced Persons, the North and East have vast areas that have been demined and are being inhabited by people native to the land and there’s a sense of breathing freely in the entire country.
5. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, he put Sri Lankans in charge of Sri Lanka. As my sister in law put it, “In the past foreigners came in as consultants to us, now they consult us before they try to do anything in the country. He has given Sri Lankans the space to insist that the slogan “api wenuwen api” (i.e. us for ourselves), is the national standard.

Many foreign governments have attempted to push Sri Lanka in one direction or the other without the good sense to understand the context in which they were here or, worse, the damage they could cause to thousands of people including the loss of life. To have a President who is willing to stand firm against such pressure, including tremendous pressure from the United States, is simply fantastic.

Which brings me to the letter I received – it was addressed to all of us who are participating in the Galle Literary Festival – from the director of The Campaign for Peace & Justice, asking us to make all sorts of noise about the allegations he puts forth regarding abuses he has not substantiated. I’d like to say go fly a blooming kite. Instead I’ll say this: “In Sri Lanka the average voter turn out is 80%, education and health care is free, women are liberated and smart, and we have a President able to end a war and rebuild his country (while fending off ignorant individuals who want to keep enjoying their NGO junkets on our beautiful island and triviliazing our tragedies by turning our complexity into sound bites for your rabid 24/7 news media). I don’t need you to tell me what to say at a festival being held in my country. I don’t need your talking points. I don’t need your advice. I don’t need your cautionary tales of doom and gloom, mister. I’m too busy celebrating our good.” Outside in the streets I can hear firecrackers. Salut!

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7 Responses to “The Morning After”

  1. Veronica says:

    It is good to know that you were home during the election. It must be nice to be in Sri Lanka during this historic time. I was glad to hear that the election process was smooth and peaceful for the most part. Hope this is the beginning of a peaceful time for our country.

  2. Vino says:

    When I first visited Sri Lanka I was smitten by the beauty but when I went down the lines of rooms which are the houses of the tea-pluckers, I stopped drinking Sri Lanka tea. Tourists going to the South have come away without knowing that the country is devilled by a war.

    When I tried to go to the Northeast during tsunami aftermath, I was prevented from going there and directed to the South.
    So I went upcountry to see the lines of rooms of teapluckers to see if there is any change. No change.

    I scour the internet for news on Sri Lanka because bizarre political things happen there.

    The recent Presidential elections had bomb blasts in the heavily militarised Jaffna on the morning of the elections. A few days previously paramilitaries distributed ‘boycott’ leaflets.
    Though many were scared and didn’t come out of their houses, some came out and voted. Some didn’t get the voting cards in time. Some didn’t get the buses in time.
    Many were too battered psychologically to think of voting.
    But many had no choice, ”choice” between the President who ordered masscres of their kith and kin and the Major who executed the order.

    Very curious Sri Lanka – the President is going to assume his second term in November 2010. In fact he really wants to assume in 2011 but the Court has said NO to 2011 but YES to 2010.

    If strangers wonder why he hurried the elections forward, it’s to capture the ”victory euphoria” of the Sinhalese, though Tamils are not ready to think clearly after losing all what they had, over six decades, materially and mentally.

    It is not a bad thing for Sri Lankan tourism that many tourists blissfully spend their time in the South and go away.

  3. Chamath says:

    Waiting for news of your experiences at the Galle Literature Festival

  4. Roland says:

    I suppose it is this sort of mass short-sightedness that is taking Sri Lanka to its worse era of totalitarian governance. The Morning After demonstrates true expat alienation, and the absolute failure to understand the frightening insidiousness of totalitarian power. This is a country where thousands of innocents died in the name of a temporary military victory in the absence of any meaningful political proposals, and tens of journalists were killed because they didn’t tow the path of the powers-that-be (and much much more).Well, Hitler convinced a critical mass of his political agenda, so why not MR?? Of course, as long as it’s not in our back garden, and not our children, the middle classes (and other classes!) will sit pretty and be taken in by his propaganda. The misinformed consent that this government is receiving is actually frightening.

  5. kishani says:

    For balanced views and analysis including 10 reasons to celebrate President Mahinda R’s victory and why Sarath Fonseka lost, readers should visit http://www.groundviews.org

  6. Lalantha says:

    Is that your father??

    And is that Malinda’s wife and 2 kids??

    What do you think about Mugabe wanna be Maraa now? :)

  7. Ru says:

    Yes, both correct.

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The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.


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