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Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’

Speak Up Before It Is Too Late

November 19, 2012 1 comment

I wrote an article the other day about religious intolerance around Asia and it prompted discussion both online and among friends. 

One of the interesting comments, which can also be seen on the article, was that I had been making “a mountain out of a mole-hill”. Now obviously I do not agree with this otherwise I would not have written the article in the first place. 

But I will admit that while religious violence in Sri Lanka is not a grave issue it certainly is something that is unfortunately sprouting up from time to time. Furthermore for those who live in the country would no doubt be aware of the growing sense that a section of the Buddhist population are looking to overshadow the other religions. 

Last Tuesday was Deepavali and when I was driving around the city in the morning I was treated to a sight of a temple hosting a Perahera. Now these are usually held back for Buddhist religious occasions  so I was a little confused as to why this priest decided to hold one on this day of all days. 

The fireworks and colourful celebrations seen in the Kovils was my answer celebrating Deepavali.

This is of course not the first time I have seen this. Last year on Christmas the temple near my house decided to hold a Perahera. Earlier this year before Easter, a section of Mount Lavinia was decorated with Buddhist flags.

So while religious violence is thankfully not a major issue in Sri Lanka, all signs are pointing towards a growing degree of dominance by the majority. I am not saying that all Buddhists in the country support this, or even the majority of them, I am saying that a section does. This needs to be countered and quickly otherwise we could open ourselves to situations as is seen in Pakistan and other such countries. 

The complaint of me making a mountain of a mole-hill reminded me of a quote by Martin Niemoller, a Pastor who opposed Adolf Hitler.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

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Political Dynasties

“Political Dynasties”, a term that is as old as politics. For the ancient civilisations their rulers were concerned with maintaining their legacy, the crown would be passed from parent to child to ensure the family name continues on down the ages.

In today’s political spectrum the idea of dynasties is not too far away (especially in Asia). Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh all pay homage to the idea of a political heritage being carried forward through their leaders. For me, the question that comes to mind is why do we (the voters) continue to decide who will lead us depending on their last name?

In Sri Lanka if you belong to the Wijewardena or the Bandaranaike family you are immediately accepted into the inner politics of the country, whether you take off from there is dependent on your actions but certainly the name will give you that stepping stone. Similarly in India the Nehru-Gandhi family name continues to rule the country, despite its people (and much of the rest of the world) claiming that they are the world’s largest democracy. The Bhutto’s in Pakistan have played prominent roles in shaping their political culture, while in Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina comes from a family of political leaders.

When the Western World talk’s about “Political Dynasties” they refer to them as “misappropriation of power”, an example being the Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il and now Kim Jong-Un succession of power in North Korea. However, for America a family succession in politics is no alien idea with the Kennedy’s and Bush’s being examples (and to a lesser extent the Clintons).

So now that we have determined that “Political Dynasties” are no regional phenomenon, we can look at answering why they are so prevalent around the world. When Sri Lanka achieved independence in 1948 the voters connected this feat to D.S. Senanayake (our first Prime Minister). So naturally, when his son came into politics the people flocked to his side, expecting him to carry out the same work his father did (whether or not he did I will leave up to you to decide). From that point onwards the country was open to the idea of politics being carried forward by the family name.

S.W.R.D Bandaranaike started yet another political legacy in the country when his wife, daughter and son all took to politics (like him both his wife and daughter went on to lead the country). Similarly, as the Senanayake’s before him, his contribution to politics in the founding of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party gave himself a legacy that the people wanted to see continued through his family.

Similar such stories can be shared with the rest of the political families seen throughout the world, but the real reason that these dynasties continue (as I see it) is that the voters hold strong to the notion of not letting the past go. The success of the initial politician has always led to their family continuing on with automatic support of the people. Perhaps the voters feel that their descendants can continue the work they started, or perhaps it is simply a yearning to return to what their parents (or husbands) had done in the past.

A friend told me that this is not so in the UK, their political circles do not see such a trend. I disagree with this remark. In the UK, unlike many other nations, they have retained their monarchy. With this age old tradition of family succession already in place, the people’s yearning to cling on to the idea of “passing the torch down the line” has not been transferred to their politics. The Royal Family may not hold any political power of note, but they are in a public enough position to satisfy this quota.

“Political Dynasties” are, to me at least, not Democracy’s finest moments. The voters choose with their heart rather than mind. While prevalent in Asia it has certainly not died out elsewhere in the world. Whether it will in the future remains to be seen.

I have certainly rambled on in this post, but after discussing this topic till 5 am on a Saturday morning with friends I felt like an outside perspective was needed.