Sri Lanka’s forth coming election date has one uncomfortable historical association. Election day falls on the day before the anniversary of the 1962 coup attempt was supposed to happen (January 27th). Fact that a former general is contesting the election has elevated this ignored anniversary into annoying prominence. It creates a cocktail of superficial symbolism for another tedious round of gossip (masquerading as “analysis”) about the latest palace intrigue. Who ever wins there will not be a traditional military coup or an overt militarisation of society.
The only logical thing to say is that 48 years after an illegitimate attempt at changing government, a legitimate process of win appoint a civilian ruler. The most certain thing is that the winner will have some sort of moustache (I doubt there will be pre-election shaves). If the now civilian challenger wins it is obviously will not be a coup even in metaphorical terms. If he looses, there is certainly NOT going to be a military take over.
The Sri Lankan military is too professional for such a blatantly illegal act. Further more the “Sri Lankan Military” is too large, functionally compartmentalised, and diverse for a single personality to dominate it outside the chain of command. The three main services have their own rivalries. Within the largest service — the army — the almost tribal nature of the regimental system that prevents a single personality from hijacking command. David Blacker has outlined these factors more one than once (he once detailed it in a comment somewhere — still trying to find it). Even a megalomaniacal crackpot would have tactical sense to realise that an armed coup attempt by a small group would result in a catastrophic failure. Traditionally Sri Lankan rulers are quite ruthless if snuffing out armed revolts. The LTTE and the JVP found this out the hard way.
The military element in this election is that it was the former career of the civilian challenger. I suppose a benevolently blurry historical parallel would be Eisenhower running for the White House. I am of course sceptical of reading too far into such comparisons. The despite the comforting similarities, the times, places and contexts are utterly different.
Irrespective of who ascends the throne on the coup anniversary, let us not forget that we live in an operationally feudal political system. There are localised political aristocrats who are salivating for their scraps in return for securing votes in their local fiefs. Those who have languished in opposition are hungry as ever for the goodies YOUR money (irrespective of whether you pay tax) will buy them. The current ones are desperate to hold on to what they got.
Whoever wins in this election will have to roll out the goodies which will ultimately have to come from the pockets of the serfs. That most likely means you — irrespective of whether you pay tax.
I’m still thankful for democratic electoral processes. It gives out ancient feudal system a nice modern democratic look. Protracted succession blood baths are reduced to circumspect off screen election violence. Foriegn correspondents will write their usual context-less ditties about rough third world darkies having an election. Which will be mostly ignored in the back pages of first world newspapers. At least there certainly won’t be a military coup.
It would of course be really really shitty if I’m wrong.