One of history’s biggest political earthquakes which hit the United States at the Presidential Election this week has vital lessons for democratic countries including Sri Lanka.
In a stunning if not sensational turn of events, the billionaire businessman Donald Trump – who had not held any elected political office or government post swept to a landslide victory in the Electoral College, winning 310 of the 530 votes. The Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton – was predicted to win in almost 95% of the opinion polls won the popular vote by a majority of about 300,000, which meant she won 47.7% while Mr. Trump received 47.5%. According to most analysts the tables were turned or the political system was turned upside down mainly by millions of middle class working Americans and their families who felt that during the past fifteen years they had been virtually disenfranchised and marginalised if not oppressed by the Washington based political establishment. This silent majority believed that the government had been taken away from them and the benefits of whatever growth or development went to further enrich the rich and ruling elite. These blue collar workers and their families believe they have been left out though politicians often proclaimed the founding father Abraham Lincoln’s motto of a government of the people, for the people and by the people.
The political parallels with Sri Lanka are similar, like the former Rajapakse administration Mr. Trump often spoke in blunt terms. He threatened he would arbitrarily tear up bilateral and multilateral trade deals which were disadvantageous to the US. He also threatened to deport millions of illicit immigrants, impose a total ban on Muslims entering the country and force Mexico to build a wall across the border so that drug pedlars, rapists and other criminals could not enter. Mr Trump also said he would double the US military strength and wipe out ISIS, though many 5 star generals themselves wondered how in hell he was going to do this.
In Sri Lanka too most people were stunned as Maithripala Sirisena was elected President on January 8th 2015. Though Mr. Rajapakse’s United Peoples Freedom Alliance still had a two thirds majority in Parliament, President Sirisena immediately appointed United National Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister, though the UNP had only 47 seats. It was a calculated risk but it worked and the new government even managed to get Parliamentary approval for the 19th amendment which transformed the dictatorship into democracy with the promise of good governance and social justice including a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources.
Some 22 months after the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government was brought to office largely by people power coming from movements based in rural areas, the serious questions about what a national government has done or not done in outspoken speeches last month and again this week at a meeting to commemorate the first death anniversary of the Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, President Sirisena spoke sincerely of the problems he and the government faced in implementing the pledges given to the people at the Presidential election in January and the Parliamentary elections in August last year.
Despite all the good moves there is including the 19th amendment, the national medicinal drugs policy based on the Senaka Bibile principles, the benefits of this changed have apparently still not touched the lives of millions of people, mainly the working class and the more oppressed poorer classes. Analysts believe that for better or for worse in the United States this silent majority voted on November 8thessentially for change.
Here in Lanka the national government which most analysts say is moving far too slowly has promised that 2017 will be the year of poverty alleviation to a sustainable eco-friendly and all inclusive development strategy covering urban and more importantly rural areas. We hope these words or promises will be turned into deeds.