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Rise of a Dictator – by Shifana Niyas

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After the Easter Sunday bombing in 2019 which claimed close to 300 lives, a Phoenix rose from its ashes. The stage was set by an electorate choosing politicians who were promoting racial supremacy, xenophobia and war. It soon became a crime to be a woman, Muslim, LGBTQ or any form of minority in a fascist majoritarian government. The concept of too much freedom was introduced while behind the screen surveillance was tightened on groups that may challenge the government and its policies. Sri Lanka which had a troubled democracy since independence was quick to implement these far-right ideologies. To support this, a hegemony of ethno-nationalists and Buddhist monks were contracted to homogenize a diverse community and society. By clever propaganda with the help of racist media outlets loyal to Rajapakse regime, it was said the country needs a Sinhala Buddhist strongman. And not so surprisingly, shortly after, the decorated war hero, former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse announced his candidacy at the presidential election 2019. And the Rajapakse dynasty was once again given the power by the majority. And activists remain confirmed in their conviction that people have democratically chosen to end democracy.

On the onset of COVID19 crisis, President Gotabaya Rajapakse, who lives in his post war fantasy, made an appearance on TV. Despite expectations that this would be a speech on combatting COVID19, it turned out to be a pre-election campaign. Laughing at his own jokes the President informed that the country cannot be lockdown just because “28 people contracted fever”, later to impose curfew island-wide. Also, he reassured that COVID19 pandemic can be dealt military style, hence his faith in the military, but not on the countrys health sector nor on careful strategy.

At this point, the country was already in an economic period with heavy debts, mismanagement of state funds, corruption and poor economic policies. Lack of foresight made it evident that management of this pandemic was doomed to fail from the beginning and as predicted, it did at the end. With elections in sight, the Rajapakse duo, the President and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse were desperate to find a scapegoat to pass the blame for the COVID19 outbreak, and conveniently they decided it would be the “Muslims” Government biased media went on an extensive campaign against Muslims, while the government units made reports racially profiling them.

However behind all these propaganda and mismanagement, Gotabaya Rajapakse carried out his quest to strengthen his power by attacking the fundamentals of democracy. Social media activists were warned not to publish “false news or news that could tamper the efforts of managing the pandemic” Under that guise, so far 17 social media activists were taken into custody out of which one was a dance teacher who thought to make a jest on the day of April&#39;s Fool by stating the president has contracted the Corona Virus. Another was a university student who questioned a certain institution used as an elite quarantine centre. Also arrested was an activist who invited people for an ideological struggle against racism. Meanwhile, a prominent lawyer and human right activist Hejaz Hizbullah was taken into custody under Prevention of Terrorist Act (PTA), yet he was not produced in courts as the PTA states within 72 hours. Infringement of freedom of speech was carried out largely targeting minorities and anti government activists. So it comes as no surprise when the UNHRC ranks Sri Lanka as one of the 15 countries which have violated human rights in the guise of controlling this pandemic.

At the meantime, we have a leadership who claimed he was appointed by the Sinhala Buddhist majority at a conference attended by Mahanayake of all three Buddhist chapters and further goes to ensure the state exclusivity to Buddhism, which is problematic to a nation which calls itself secular. Insinuation as such by the executive is sufficient to stir sentiments that can further polarise the already fragmented society and create more exclusivity and animosity. This is the same community which could be easily agitated and provoked into violence as we have witnessed in the past.

Meanwhile, Gotabaya Rajapakse is not making the mistakes his brother, former president and current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse who was at one point rejected by people. Hence, the racists have been given the unrestricted playground and majoritarian chauvinism is celebrated as nationalism branding people who dont fall in to this definition as traitors or as political “others”. However, there remains only one hurdle from transformation of power from a fascist government to a total dictatorship. To obtain un-contestable power, the constitution should be amended and to do so, requires two-third majority in the parliament. With elections date set for 20th of June, a constitutional crisis is in sight and the government miserably failing to contain COVID19, who will the government lead the sacrificial altar to secure power?

Shifana Niyas

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අප වෙබ් අඩවියේ පළකරනු ලබන යම්කිසි දෙයකින් කිසිවෙකුට යම් අගතියක් සිදුවන බවට පැමිණිලි ලැබේ නම්. තම අනන්‍යතාවය පළකරමින් එම තැනැත්තා විසින් ඉදිරිපත් කරනු ලබන පිළිතුරු අප වෙබ් අඩවියේ පළකිරීමට බැදී සිටී.