It is just fascinating to watch what is happening in Hong Kong now. Millions of Hongkongers have taken to streets to protest against a controversial piece of legislation that will allow extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China.
Although the bill was suspended after many days of protest, about two million Hongkongers gathered on streets last Saturday to call for the complete withdrawal of it and the resignation of Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam.
The numbers were not always as high as Saturday when the protests started against this controversial bill in late March. According to Hong Kong press, only 12,000 people took part in the first demonstration against the bill on March 31. However, since then the numbers have grown drastically.
The organisers or the facilitators of the demonstrations, such as the famous Umbrella Movement and other civil society and pro-democracy and human rights organisations, have played a major role in getting the people to the streets. They have done that by getting the right information to the public in a very effective way. An informed citizenry, which is a prerequisite of a democracy, is the biggest enemy of the rulers.
Sri Lanka has so much to take from Hong Kong as a country in political and economic turmoil.
When are we taking to streets demanding a better political culture instead of the political deal-making that has been happening since the country’s independence in 1948? When are we taking to the streets asking for the resignation of those who have abused power? When are we taking to the streets calling for proper legal action against those who are involved in corrupt activities? When are we taking to the streets calling for good governance and rule of law?
For that, there are three key things that need to happen. Number one is removing the coloured glasses we wear according to the political parties we prefer and support. Instead of supporting and becoming slaves to a political party or a leader, we should assess the policies they come up with and extend our support based on them. We have to realise that Lee Kuan Yews don’t always happen!
The second requisite is creating an informed citizenry. The role of media is paramount in achieving this. The main pillar of a vibrant democracy is an informed citizen. If the citizens are getting the correct information through media about the political, economic and social developments happening around them, then they are empowered to take the right decisions at the next elections or to take to streets to protect their rights and civil liberties.
Truthful and news that is not sensationalised is vital to create healthy public opinion. If partisan media sources were allowed to influence public opinion, that is bound to create chaos and specially at a time social media play a massive role in spreading news, this could be even more hazardous. Media should be held accountable for what they do and don’t do.
The third requirement is an honest civil society movement that is not an extension of a political party or a leader. The word ‘honest’ should be emphasised as most movements, which pretend to be civil society, are in fact lobby groups funded by political parties, businessmen, non-governmental organisations, multinationals and so on.
These movements should emerge from informed ordinary citizens, like in Hong Kong, against the tyrannical rulers who abuse people’s power. It is equally important not to let these movements be hijacked by the people with vested interests, which would ultimately make those who support these movements disheartened.
Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s civil society space is nothing less than a cesspit, which is dominated by political cronies, crooked professional bodies, stooges of businessmen, certain NGO-types with vested interests and some ambitious and self-centred persons eyeing public office and other privileges.
Sri Lanka is now at a critical juncture. We are battling wars from many fronts and the present political elite, which conspicuously include the leftist political parties, is not helping to pacify the situation. Abuse of power is commonplace and political deal-making at whatever the cost is the order of the day. On top of that, racism is engulfing the country, of which the political leadership in the country is trying to take advantage of, instead of placating it.
If this is not the time to protect our country, our rights and civil liberties as citizens and strive for a better political culture, it is doubtful whether we will get another chance in future, given the rate at which things are deteriorating and how apathetic we are becoming as citizens to all the tumultuous developments happening around us—may it be in the political, economic and social spheres. So, it is now or never. The citizens of the republic have to wake up.