Whoever wins this election, we will be OK


Whoever wins this election, we Sri Lankans will be fine — or the very least manage OK. There will be no apocalypse. Life will go on. Sri Lankans will try to make life better with or without the government and NGOs. Not having a war will help.

This is a naive sounding feather ruffling U turn from an earlier post overloaded with “Alien vs Predator” references. This is obviously not a conclusion based on rigourous analytical research. It’s a gut feeling that’s gelled through a mix of personal experience and the “narratives” of my extended Sri Lankan network — a process similar to a famed Morgan Stanley reporting method. The feeling has strengthened by conversations permeating through the soup of RFRFFR (Relatives, Friends, Relatives of Friends, and Friends of Relatives) gatherings in the last few days.

The conversation flows were not about the election but on recollections of living through the last 40 years. The elders brought out some hair raising details of the first JVP insurrection. The petty indignities of the socialist 1970s got their turn. Stories of the 83 riots resuscitated my own recollections. Tales from the JVP years of the late 1980s got there turn. In between were numerous LTTE bomb blasts described from many view points. Not to mention war stories from the grim days of the 1990s. Remind me of the experiences of Sri Lankan military families and the history witnessed/endured by soldiers.

Among the more mundane escapades were the struggles of keeping businesses going and employees paid in the face of JVP threats. Getting work done despite checkpoints and bombs. Finding curfew passes at short notice and getting medicine through to grandparents. Lighting candles during power cuts and hauling portable generators through the arrivals hall at the airport.

Yet none of the stories were framed entirely as a lamentation or a wallow in self pity. Instead they were quiet affirmations of ingenuity in the face of adversity. Where descriptions of personal courage were understated avoid sounding boastful. Apparent in all of them celebrations of the endurance and strength of Sri Lankan social networks.

None of those recollections were “fun”. There was a lot of worrying. The endless conversation during my childhood started with some uncle saying “what is this country coming to”. A singular achievement of my parents was to somehow shield me from the worry. I grew up in a world where checkpoints curfews, bag inspections and school closures were the normal.

We have had a bumpy ride through the last 40 years and will experience more rattling in the future (when has history ever been turbulence free). Despite all that we have been through Sri Lanka did not become a Somalia, a Bosnia, a Rwanda, or an Afghanistan (though there are many who would massage the stats to say otherwise). We may face seemingly odious voting choices. However we’ll pick somebody from what circumstances allow. Then manage with the consequence of the collective choice.

I’m too sceptical of any politician’s ability to deliver some sort of better future. Yet I feel that our historical expectations of a ruler will somehow prevent politicians from making too much of a mess. The notion comes from an oddly fanatical faith in the resilience and ingenuity of Sri Lankans to survive (even thrive) despite the pot holes created by politics and history (I did say this post has nothing scientific about it).

Irrespective of the winning moustache, there will be corruption. Organised crime will continue its ooze into politics. The newly crowned ruler will have to buy the loyalty of the political aristocracy (the Americans have systems of lobbyists and interests groups to makes such things seem civilised). There’ll be plenty of outrages to fill newspapers and blog posts about.

At least there’s less of a chance that the bus you are in will blow up. A kid in Wanni will have a future of not being hauled off to be cannon fodder for a terrorist death cult — or be brain washed into a suicide bomber. Even vote one day. A generation will grow up not knowing checkpoints. Change for the better will come almost impercivably and unevenly. In uncoordinated fits, starts, and many setbacks. It will happen because people will figure out ways of making life easier, and get things done better. It won’t be pretty, neat or according to an EU template for a “developing democracy”.

I wish I could be more specific, analytical and intelligible (let along eloquent) but like I said this is my inexplicable gut feeling. Whoever wins we’ll move on to something better. Not because of the winner but because we can despite the politics.

17 comments

  1. actually this is one of the best posts on the subject. i was just reading an e-mail from a friend describing life in Karachi in 2009 and she expressed many of the same sentiments as you did in this post – our resilience and hope for a future with certain encumbrances. maybe that’s all we want – getting the politics out of the way…

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  2. Really great post Cerno. Realistic, yet positive. We forget, too often, that things are bad, but they are not as bad as they could be, and politics isn’t everything.

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  3. I like your outlook on the situation… sure hope this isn’t going to be the almighty “end” we’ve been promised for so many years!😉

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  4. Don’t agree.

    If the incumbent wins family rule will be firmly entrenched and pave the way for a pseudo monarchy.

    If there is a change, then depending on the extent of the implementation of the change programme, there will be some improvement. Overall prospects are a bit dicey, but there is some hope, depending on what is implemented and family rule is off the agenda, if only for a while.

    The economy has been up and down but there has been a steady decline in the level of governance from 1972 onwards and erosion of the democratic foundation.

    Can this be rebuilt entirely? A long, arduous process that may never be entirely complete, but we need to start by stopping the rot, now.

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  5. I agree. The democratic process of election still does exist however screwed up it might be. So whatever government wins or loses, they will have to go to the people for re-election. There will always be another JR, MR or SF. I still do beleive that the our danger was a CBK type of passionless government where selling state assets and making money was paramount.
    A war has been fought and won. This was our countries cross to bear for decades.
    Things can only be better. Good goverence will suffer, but life will go on.

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  6. I really enjoyed this post Cerno, it was so thought-provokingly written. I couldn’t agree more… Feel like I’m missing out on all the election excitement/drama being away though. So all I can say is- here’s to a fair and peaceful one.

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  7. ” A kid in Wanni will have a future of not being hauled off to be cannon fodder for a terrorist death cult — or be brain washed into a suicide bomber ”

    That is the BEST sentence you have written in a while.

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    • Sorry😦 I’m very much off the loop (not that I was ever on it) Not even sure what you are referring to😐 You might want to try David Blacker’s blog.

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