our major political events more than any other, helped shape Sri Lanka’s modern destiny. The winning of independence on February 4, 1948 under D.S. Senanayake as the first Prime Minister of then independent Ceylon, set in motion events that were to create the first seeds of communal suspicion between the Sinhalese and the Tamil communities in the country.
The Prime Minister saw the ‘Ceylon Citizenship Bill’ a necessity due to the failure of talks with the Indian government to settle the issue ‘migrant Indian workers’ - Up Country Tamils. The then Prime Minister’s stated concern as reported in the ‘Hansard’ was that the voting patterns in the Kandyan areas where the Up Country Tamils -who voted at the first parliamentary elections as British citizens - deprived the Kandyan villagers of representation in the newly elected parliament. The leadership of the Tamil community however saw this piece of legislation as a effort to reduce the representation of Tamils in parliament.
The April 12, 1956 election of SWRD Bandaranaike as prime minister, marked a significant change in the political history of then Ceylon. Bandaranaike advocated a non-aligned foreign policy, introduced the ‘Sinhala Only Act’ replacing English as the national language and making Sinhalese the official language of the country. Buddhism was also given primacy in the affairs of state. The Tamils saw these changes as moves aimed at discriminating against them. Protests marches and demonstrations broke out in the north and east of the country. Opportunistic forces used the protests to fan racism and the first Sinhala-Tamil race riots broke out in the country. Communal antagonism has deteriorated ever since.
The election of JR Jayawardene in July 1977 completely changed Sri Lanka’s political landscape. In August 1978, Prime Minister Jayewardene introduced constitutional changes and the position of an Executive President was introduced. His pandering to populist forces in face of growing ethnic or communal tensions led to the disastrous, near three-decade-long civil war. Jayawardene also brought about a turnaround in the economic policies followed since independence and opened the state-controlled economy to market forces, with his famous slogan “let the robber barons come...”.
Today, 40 years later, the robber barons with their anticipated big injection of foreign capital into the economy have yet to come. Instead we had a plethora of injections of loans from the World Bank, the IMF and more recently the Chinese government. No real private investments as the government expected. Sadly, perhaps due to bad marketing strategies we have had mainly fly-by-night overseas garment manufacturers investing in the country... with few major investors if any, introducing new technologies or the transference of technology taking place. The civil war which played no small role as a disincentive in attracting direct foreign investment into the country was brought to an end under the Presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa (November 2005-January 2015) on May 18, 2001. Despite failing to attract foreign exchange, the opening up of the country to market forces resulted in mega corruption rackets.
Ministers under Jayawardene’s regime have been accused of purchasing enormous estates abroad with ill gotten gains from commissions paid to them. Yet others were accused of illegal shipping deals. Jayawardene himself was however not accused of making personal profit from the deals taking place under his watch. Under President Rajapaksa -to whose credit stands ending the civil war- corruption rose to new heights and ultimately the popular president was voted out of office in 2015 by the present regime whose campaign was based on ending maga corruption rackets alleged to have taken place under the Rajapaksa presidency.
Sadly, despite being elected to power on an anti corruption agenda, bringing to an end the executive presidential form of government and lowering the cost of living, the present regime was itself soon embroiled in a mega financial scandal which saw the finance minister dismissed and the prime minister himself accused of involvement in the scam. The President himself who vowed to be a one-term president prior to election, seems to be now looking for ways and means of extending his term. The cost of living is skyrocketing and the masses are in a near state of penury.
Today, the presidential elections are looming and the same corrupt faces of those who made ‘hay while the sun shone’ during their tenure in power are back asking for your vote and mine. The local robber barons of the past and present are begging us to vote for them... one more time! Whither Sri Lanka.