Sri Lanka Elections : The Muslim Vote


First published here for Groundviews.

Images have been making the rounds on facebook, with various hues and shades, highlighting the fact that the sixth executive President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, won with the support of minority communities in Sri Lanka, whereas Mahinda Rajapakse, the last President obtained the votes of a majority of the majority. There is another image on facebook, that of a line drawing of a rabbit, requesting those who have time to go about colouring a map of Sri Lanka to induce racism, to colour the rabbit.

That is how much Sri Lankan society has been polarised over the last few weeks.

President Rajapakse was the clear front runner to win the elections in November 2014 when elections were called. The probability of him winning the elections kept thinning since then, when the General Secretary of his own party defected to the opposition to occupy the mantle that was the common opposition candidate. Come election eve, Mahinda Rajapaksa was still the favourite to win, albeit only just.

Never did I come across someone who whole heartedly committed to the fact that Mahinda would lose, even in the predominantly anti-regime circles that I move in. The most optimistic notion doing the rounds was that Maithripala had a very fair chance of winning, that optimism however was swiftly disqualified by that commonest of statements – should the unthinkable happen, the Rajapakses are so entrenched in their power politics, that they will never let go, and even if they did it would be after a bloodbath. Days before the elections, the prices of vegetables and other household commodities soared as a premonition soaked public stockpiled for the violence and curfew that was expected to eventuate.

The unthinkable happened, Rajapakse lost, he allegedly tried to use the military to create chaos, the army refused, and what ensued was probably the most peaceful elections and post election climate in my close to thirty year lifetime.

The Muslims and Tamils voted en masse for the opposition, particularly the Muslims. Not because they had faith in the opposition, but because the Rajapakses had to be deposed.

Under the Rajapakse’s, Sri Lanka descended from a precarious political balance to an utterly damaged one. Media freedom was stifled and Sri Lanka went from being a benign smiling island nation to a surveillance state, with state of the art technology mustered to wage the war now being used to protect the power balance of the regime. Journalists were killed in broad daylight; media institutions and other organs of a functioning democracy were stifled at best or bullied to submission. Ostentatious construction projects were instituted, some meaningful, some not so – but the incentive behind many such projects were the fruits of corruption enjoyed by those involved.

Political appointees were common place, and many at the highest echelons of power could trace some link to the Rajapakse family. Sri Lanka’s first female Chief Justice was impeached allegedly for blocking a project largely involving one of the Rajapakse brothers. The impeachment process itself was not moral and the very process reflected the tatters in which political decency lay, where it is rumoured that one of the loquacious ministers of the government addressed her derogatorily in Sinhala as ‘baby’.

As a nation many felt that we had lost our spirit under the Rajapakses. As a people, we were being groomed to dislike the other, in a land which abrasively and wrongly claimed to be that belonging to just one race. Racism was allowed to thrive; indeed bureaucratic apparatuses were struggling to survive without it. Ministers and ministerial offspring were running amok and thugs in robes went about desecrating the sanctity of the noble philosophy that is Buddhism.

Corruption was so rampant that it became such a deeply ingrained and embedded element of our psyche. Indeed when one lives in abnormality for long enough, that which was once considered abnormal slowly yet firmly goes through a subtle metamorphosis to become normal. Decadence becomes so gradual that it happens without grazing the sensitivities of our collective consciences, and eats away at our soul.

The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), largely unrepresentative of the average Sri Lankan Buddhist wrought carnage upon the carefully evolved and preserved Sinhala-Muslim relationship. To the credit of the Muslims however, they have been astute to identify the BBS as a terror group and not of a representative wing of the majority Sinhala community. The BBS was out in the open, in its aggression towards Muslims, a country where law and order is considered sacrosanct would have no dilemma in having many of the BBS charged and punished. Instead, they were harnessed and even prospered under the watch of the last government. Among the reasons for their invincibility in the sight of many was their perceivably close relationship with the former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse.

Hundreds of properties and close to dozens of mosques were damaged, causing immense physical and emotional trauma upon a beleaguered and innocent Muslim community. It was, and as of today, continues to be a symbol of the decadence of our society that hate speech so easily spewed from the electronic mouths of many educated Sinhala youth under the watch and connivance of the state.

However in all this, Muslims must not, should not and should never be tricked to indulge in turgidity that this was a victory brought forth by the Muslims and other non-Sinhala ethnic groups.

Rajapakse had to go, and the people rose against him, and that is all.

Muslims should move beyond the parochialism that has plagued politics in recent decades, it didn’t use to be this way; abnormality has once again come to be known as normal. It is understandable that circumstances pushed Muslim politicians down that path, but that time has now passed. Muslims should integrate- not necessarily with the Sinhalese or Tamils – but with all those who identify themselves as Sri Lankans, bar none.

I was amongst the tens, if not hundreds of thousands at the last rally by Maithripala Sirisena in Maradana of the Colombo Central electorate, and amongst the elated crowds at the Independence Square when the new President was sworn in. The former is a Muslim stronghold and the evergreen bastion of the opposition United National Party, the latter is a national treasure. Remarkable was the fact that in one instance, Sri Lankans rallied against the incumbent, and in another they rallied in support of the new incumbent, not as antagonistic warlords who had momentarily laid down their arms, but as a harmonious clutter of Sri Lankans of all shades, celebrating what they deserve.

Maithripala Sirisena’s Presidency, or indeed his new government should not be considered better than the last unless they actively prove to be so. They have made promising new steps, but they have miles to walk. This new government has to be held accountable for all the steps they take, commended for the good they do and taken to task for the wrongs they do. Indeed never again should a regime as dastardly and corrupt as the last be allowed to surface to soak the founding principles of Sri Lankan society, one that still teaches ‘values’ in her schools.

This is not a victory by the Muslims or Tamils neither did the Sinhalese win with the help of their other racial counterparts.

In the oldest democracy in Asia, her peoples got together to depose what they thought was a representation of everything that isn’t Sri Lankan, they did so to regain the Sri Lanka they know.

That is how it should be.

I am a Muslim, I voted for the winning candidate – it is against the grain of these sentiments to highlight that I voted in a Sinhalese, but I did and not just because there wasn’t a suitable Muslim candidate. Together I am from the political majority, a majority that should embrace the minority to form a cohesive Sri Lanka, not monotonous as a people, but one people nonetheless.

Image from here.


Filed under 2015, politics, revolution, Sri Lanka

Rajapaksa Using the Term Munafiq

What is this world coming to.

For those of you who don’t know, ‘Munafiq’ is arabic for hypocrite, and in Muslim communities around the world, the word has more of a religious bearing than it has linguistic connotations.

Considering how detrimental and damaging to Muslims this current regime has been, I am inclined to question the sincerity of the religious faith of the smart Muslim PR chap who gave the President the word to be used, to sort of mollycoddle the Lankan Muslims to believe that he is one of them.

If anything it comes across as patronising as it can get. David Cameron using the term ‘effing Tories’ during the Scottish referendum campaign comes to mind.

I do wish the Muslims use their vote wisely come January the 8th. It is disgusting and sad to note how most Muslim politicians have behaved.

1 Comment

Filed under 2014

Backing Ed

Notes from a Broken Society

Like a lot of Labour Party members and activists, I’m angry and confused at the moment.  I’m angry that with the Tory Party in disarray, losing MPs to UKIP and humiliated in Europe once again as a direct result of its fear of UKIP, the media focus appears to be all about Labour’s leadership “crisis”.  And I’m confused because, with millions in poverty while working ever-longer hours, with some of the worst child poverty rates in the developed world, with hundreds of thousands of people dependent on food banks, and with our National Health Service being dismantled in front of our eyes, you might have thought that the handful of Labour MPs briefing anonymously against Ed could have found something more useful with which to fill their day.

While our anonymous comrades were busy talking to the media, I spent yesterday in an activists’ day here in Brighton Pavilion, in…

View original post 675 more words

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Of Geoffrey Bawa & Being Overrated

Anoma Pieris from , is an Associate Professor in Architecture at Melbourne University, whom I have had the pleasure of acquainting over the last few years on matters to do with Architectural theory.

I have always maintained that Geoffrey Bawa is overrated, and that the propping up of Bawa as an Architect goes beyond his skill as an architect and there are other elitist socio-political reasons as to why Bawa is revered and beatified by Sri Lankan society at large, for this I have of course taken much criticism for being pompous – one shalt not criticise Bawa and live in Sri Lanka at the same time.

Anoma Pieris responds to this question and identifies why Bawa is is so overrated, and why that is so wrong, a view I am delighted to always have held.

This cultish reverence of Bawa has in many instances given Sri Lankan Architecture students very little outside Bawa to aspire to, it is important that a more diversified balance amongst Sri Lankan architectural greats is maintained.

1 Comment

Filed under 2014, architecture, Uncategorized

Independence Referendum: The Morning After


First published here.

A win for independence in Scotland would have led to drastic changes to parliament in the UK including the short-to-medium term irrelevance of Labour

A little over half of those who went to bed last Thursday in Scotland, wondering what Friday will hold, woke up to the news that the United Kingdom will remain as it has been for 307 years and that Scotland will not break away to form an independent state. The campaign has been marred by allegations of scaremongering, increased verbosity of the establishment, heated debates on fiscal matters and devolution.

Irrespective of the outcome, it must be concluded that the Scottish referendum was a great celebration of democracy with extremely high turn-outs for voting. Estimates suggest that more than 80 per cent of those eligible to vote turned up for voting, compared to only more than 50 per cent who voted in the Scottish elections of 1999 when powers were first devolved.

The decision to hold a Scottish referendum was made in October 2012, by allowing the Scottish parliament to hold a referendum that was legally valid to confer independence. The terms of the referendum were a matter of great debate, but as George Eaton identifies here, contrary to most observers, it was Alex Salmond in his political astuteness who outmanoeuvred David Cameron – who, according to many, is reflective of a political class that was extremely complacent about the aspirations of the Scottish peoples. There are at least three factors Eaton identifies that helped Salmond outplay Cameron.

Westminster retains the constitutional authority to determine when a referendum can be held, and even though the initial date was September 2013, this date was moved to September 2014 in return for Salmond deciding to allow a one question vote, thereby winning another year’s worth of vital campaigning time for the Yes side of the debate. The second move Salmond made was in determining the wording of the referendum question. By managing to stave off pressure from the recommendation of the electoral commission to have the question read “Do you agree that Scotland should become an independent country?” having it read instead as “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, Salmond found a much easier way of channelling nationalist energy towards an eventual yes vote. The other vital concession Salmond managed to garner was the right for 16-17 year olds to vote in the referendum, even though voters in this age group do not vote in UK or Scottish parliamentary elections. Young voters are more inclined to vote for independence, as this YouGov poll reveals.

The complacency of the Better Together campaign, headed by Alistair Darling, was evident from the very beginning with Westminster taking for granted that Scotland would vote to remain in the UK. This notion was not without basis, as the opinion polls consistently showed that those in favour of voting No outflanked those in favour of voting yes by a double-digit margin. Then came the disastrous second debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond, where Salmond vociferously and passionately argued about the case for independence, managing to appeal to many of those who were dithering on which way to go. Even though the debate wasn’t the primary reason, it was probably the last straw on the camel’s back. The double-digit lead that the No campaign had held for so long eviscerated over a matter of weeks and panic hit the No camp when aYouGov poll on 6 September showed the Yes camp to be in the lead for the first time.

The panic that set in was probably good for the Yes camp and was just the bad news that was needed to galvanise the whole of Westminster together. All three leaders of the main parties went on a very strong door-to-door campaign, even to the extent of cancelling Prime Minister’s Questions last Wednesday. Further powers of devolution were promised to the Scottish parliament and last ditch attempts were made to make packages of political appeasement that would swing the momentum from the Yes, back to the No.

It is also worth mentioning here that there were many voters who, indeed, wanted to stay in the union and vote no to independence, but due to the deep involvement of the toxic establishment and their support for the No camp, many of these conscious No voters were deterred. Right-wing media organisations, the BBC, big corporations and banks all fought vehemently against independence and this galvanised many voters to look at this vote as a statement screaming of anti-establishmentarianism. It must be mentioned however, that Rupert Murdoch, that great icon of the establishment is an avid fan of Alex Salmond.

It is also important to note as Owen Jones does here, that the same establishment that put its weight behind the No campaign will, similarly, be taking part in the alleged scaremongering tactics against Ed Miliband and the Labour campaign come the General Election in 2015. Labour, which was complicit at worst and connived at best with these tactics, will have to know that some of their friends in the No campaign will be some of their worst enemies in a matter of a few months.

In all of this, one thing that is glaringly evident is the second coming of Gordon Brown. Brought up by a father who was a Church of Scotland pastor, Gordon Brown is also the author of Courage, a compilation of eight biographies of those who have shown resolve and courage during times of difficulty. Sadly for many on the left of the spectrum, Brown got lost in Tony Blair’s New Labour, and many wonder what would have become of Labour if Brown inherited John Smith’s leadership of the Labour party as he was touted to, instead of Tony Blair.

It is widely thought that this passionate speech by Gordon Brown, on the last day of campaigning tipped the undecideds (about 14 per cent at most times) in favour of voting no and that it was this momentum that helped carry the No camp along.

What would have happened if the Yes camp had won?

The No camp won, and all is well. But what may have happened if it went the other way? David Cameron had made it clear that he would not resign if Scotland decided to vote in favour of independence, and indeed he would not be constitutionally obliged to resign.

I am of the opinion that New Labour’s advent in 1997, which led to the negligence of the welfare of the working class and, therefore, the erosion of Scottish Labour – which gave rise to an otherwise emasculated Scottish National Party (SNP) in the Scottish parliamentary elections that followed – is more to blame. Those who wield the knife out to Cameron as the prime minister who potentially oversaw the end of a 307-year-old union should have a memory that stretches far beyond 2010 when he became prime minister.

If Scotland had voted in favour of independence, there would have been a Tory backbench revolt that may have culminated in Cameron resigning. This would mean that Theresa May or George Osborne would have most likely become Tory leader, unless William Hague would have been recalled as a caretaker leader to steady a wobbly Tory ship. What is less spoken of is that Scottish independence may have also ended Boris Johnson’s leadership ambitions, if not delay them. Of course, this uncertainty in the Tory camp would translate into voter discomfort and Labour would have solidified its current lead to land Ed Miliband in Downing Street.

However, if Scotland legislatively moved out of the United Kingdom in 2016, it would have nullified the mandate of Labour MPs representing Scottish constituencies. Going by the current electoral standings, Labour would lose more than 40 MPs in Scotland, whereas the Tories would lose their one MP (as the joke goes – there are more pandas in Edinburgh than there are Tory MPs in Scotland). Thus, with such a colossal haemorrhage of MPs to independence, Ed Miliband would no longer be the leader with the largest party, and parliament would have to be dissolved, and General Elections will have to be recalled. When this happens, the Tories will romp home to what most analysts believe will be a clear majority, coupled by the fact that Labour will be electorally and arithmetically much weaker without the legal recognition of Labour in Scotland. As such, Labour will be transformed into a mere ideological sister party and the Labour coffers will be much weaker than the Tory funding to refight in a general election. It must be noted that this current electoral status quo remains only due to the currently incumbent culture of hung parliaments.

The Tories would then have proceeded to change electoral boundaries to suit them and that would cast Labour into the wilderness until it found inroads back into the mainstream.

Thus, should Scotland have become independent, we may have been looking at an increasingly right-wing England in the medium to long term.

What happens now?

Scotland has however voted against independence, and the speculations made above will not come to fruition, yet. Therefore, political life in the union will go on as it has been for the last three centuries.

However, the three party leaders have to make sure they do not renege upon the promises made to give increased powers to the Scottish parliament. Tory MPs are already preparing to revolt if greater devolution packages are showered upon Scotland. In his speech on Friday, Alex Salmond referred to the fact that Scotland isn’t independent “yet”, leaving room to speculate that if Westminster breaks its promise for greater devolution in Scotland, the SNP may perhaps take the route Quebec took when there were successive referenda that plagued Canadian politics in the mid-to-late 1990s.

As a friend of mine specialising in constitutional law noted, “This may have been a defeat for secession but it was definitely a victory for self-determination,” and the Scots as a people should be proud of this.

Image from here.

1 Comment

Filed under 2014, england, politics, UK, Uncategorized

Islamic Intellectual Resurgence : Looking Westwards

handmade revolution

From my experiences in living in three different and distinct regions in the world, I have always maintained that an intellectual Islamic resurgence has the greatest chance of starting in the West. Dr Tariq Ramadan in his reasons for not attending the ISNA and RIS conferences very clearly outlines the following, which are as pertinent to the West as it is for democracies in other parts of the world like Sri Lanka, where Muslims live as a minority community.

“I have said it once and I will say it again: Western Muslims will in the future assume a critical role. Educated and living in free societies, they must acquire greater knowledge of their religion and become free, active and outspoken citizens, fully aware of their duties and dedicated to the defense of their rights. In the United States, just as in Canada and in Europe, they must defend everyone’s human dignity, and refuse to keep silent in the face of intimidation by the state. Drawing on their spirituality and their values, their commitment will be their finest contribution, the best possible example of the contribution of Muslim citizens to the future of the West. The leaders of the previous generation are too cautious, too fearful; they dare not speak freely.”

“I am also a member of a generation that is passing on. It is up to the new generation to produce leaders who have understood that in bending over backwards, in saying “Yes sir!” they sacrifice not only their dignity, but forget and betray their duty. I dream of a new feminine and masculine leadership, educated, free and bold, a leadership that does not confuse the concept of dialogue with the authorities with unacceptable compromise and intellectual surrender, a leadership that does not transform Sufism, the historical underpinning of so many liberation movements, into a school of silence and cowardly calculation. As I look around me, I see the first premises of a dream come true, alhamdulillah”

Image from here.

1 Comment

Filed under 2014, england, Islam, politics, revolution

Qur’an Recitation From Prison

This is a boy from Burma who was arrested in Malaysia for not having proper papers. He may well be a Rohingya who fled persecution to Malaysia, though I don’t know.

This is one of the most melodious Qur’anic recitations I have listened to, I say this on the authority of having listened to a lot.

Please do listen, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Non- Muslims, this isn’t an attempt to proselytise you, you will most certainly appreciate the voice and melody in this.

Where is the fairness in the world when Justin Bieber can roam freely and a boy like this is in prison ?


Filed under 2014