Sri Lanka and the Power of Elections

We should celebrate Democracy’s successes as well as its failures. Too few people are aware of what happened in Sri Lanka in January. This video attempts to make up for that.

TRANSCRIPT:

Hello All. Democracy can be depressing. The system can be a mess. It sometimes feels like the process is built to avoid talking about any kind of real issue. The wrong people often win SILVIO. It’s tempting to give up. We should fight against this attitude, though. In well over half of the world’s countries, power now changes hands regularly and peacefully. If you look at the long arc of human history that’s miraculous. Every so often an election comes along that reminds us of this. Sri Lanka’s had one of those in January 2015.

The election was called by President Mahinda Rajapakksa. Rajapaska is the kind of figure we see a lot. He used early successes to consolidate his power, and to try to create a cult of personality. He had been in power since 2005. In 2009 he oversaw the end of the Sri Lanka’s devastating 26 year long civil war. [1983-2009] Since the end of that war, his style had become progressively more autocratic. He used his power to benefit his family, securing government posts and privileged positions in business for his sons and brothers. This network regularly used its power to intimidate the media. Sri Lanka’s freedoms were beginning to slip away, and the government’s approach to the country’s minorities was making a real post civil war reconciliation impossible.

As Rajapaksa ran for an unprecedented third term as president last fall, Sri Lanka was beginning to look like another one of those sad cases where a man gains power through democracy, and then uses that power to kill democracy. But on January 8th of this year, something surprising happened. Rajapaksa lost. (my=tree) Maithripala Sirisena, a defector from Rajapaksa’s government, ran for election as the common-candidate of all opposition parties, and was able to rally the people and win the election in the name of reining in presidential power. This mandate was so clear that Sirisena has already reduced the powers of his own office by constitutional amendment..It’s hard to imagine a US president doing something similar. Corruption, racial politics and the culture of impunity have all declined. Sirisena is of course not perfect, no one is, and there is much work still to be done, but Sri Lanka is now heading down a much more hopeful path than had been expected even a few weeks before the election.
We hear a lot about instances where democracy has failed, but not enough about where it succeeds. The cynical view is that elections don’t matter, and the powerful will keep screwing us regardless. This isn’t actually true. Those of us in representative democracies have all the tools we need. The ballot box is incredibly powerful. Sri Lanka was able to bring about real change. Other countries can do the same…
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