Warning signs

Saturday, 19 November 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

While many indulged in a heavy dose of schadenfreude at America’s expense following the election of Donald Trump as Commander-in-Chief last week, the post-election autopsy has seen many political commentators the world over try and make sense of a turn of events so outlandish that pretty much only the Simpsons saw it coming!

Throughout the election cycle Trump supporters were labelled as racists, misogynists, xenophobes and deplorable, much like the man himself. This, while remaining an accurate description of some who voted Trump, falls woefully short of understanding his entire voter base. There were folk who simply chose to overlook Trump’s plethora of shortcomings and simply vote for a change, more specifically, a change in the establishment.

This stemmed from their growing disillusionment when it came to the American government. In rural America, ‘liberal values’ were trumped, if you will, by an overwhelming perception of a government that had stopped working towards the betterment of the masses. And no matter how bad a Trump-led America might have looked, to many it couldn’t be any worse than it already was.

This is where the parallels to Sri Lanka begin. The 8 January vote in favour of good governance was a vote for change, albeit more akin to Obama 2008 rather than Trump 2016. Since then the bond scandal, accusations of nepotism, and a lacklustre crackdown on corruption have left many disillusioned with the state of this Yahapalanaya Government.

Indeed, if you are reading this piece seated somewhere in Colombo and are feeling disillusioned with the present Government, take a moment and try to comprehend the state of mind of the rural Sri Lankan. Ask yourself if anything has changed significantly for them since the new regime came into power. This is not to say that the present Government is not doing its part to help rural Sri Lanka, but it is a warning that widespread discontent can be harnessed by nefarious forces, as evidenced by one Donald J. Trump, if the legitimate grievances of the masses are not addressed. 

In this context it is important to recall that Mahinda Rajapaksa was ousted despite gaining some 49% of the vote, and the man who ousted him only managed to secure the rest as he took away several SLFP votes from Rajapaksa. So just as America is in a state of upheaval now, with half the country having voted for Hillary, it would be foolish to presume that half of Sri Lanka is completely content with the present state of affairs. When you then take into consideration some of the more racist and nationalist elements that have reared its head in recent years, it is obvious as to how these vile forces have used and continue to use mass discontent to cultivate support.

After all, a blend of salient grievances mixed in with racially-charged rhetoric is a potent cocktail in any part of the world; in Sri Lanka it was dealt a hefty blow with the ousting of the Rajapaksa clan and their cronies, but elements of it still bubble under the surface. So, if even the ‘world’s greatest democracy’ can succumb to a loudmouth demagogue, how long before a Yahapalanaya Government faltering in the eyes of the masses falls to their own personal Trump?