Can we change the rotten Political culture of Sri Lanka

By Dhaka Dickwella

The voice for a change has been echoed on the streets of Colombo & across the whole of Sri Lanka. Peoples’ frustration over issues that has accumulated over the years as well as the anger towards the pitiful current conditions have been expressed angrily. The need for a drastic system change is the core of the demand while equally emphasizing on bringing the leaders to accountability for their misgivings – corruption , creating space for youth in national politics , and immediately addressing the commodity shortages , fixing the inflation among other things.

The events unfolding have all the characteristics of a true grassroot movement. Of course there are parties with vested political /  geopolitical interest lurking around biding their time to strike devastating blows to whatever their targets. That is true to any political uprising. 

However if we are to abolish the current political practices & embrace a true change it is of paramount importance to understand the actual Sri Lankan political culture & its dynamics . To know how things work in real time is the way to change it naturally. 

Irrespective of the political ideology the hierarchy & the  party structure in most of the Political parties in Sri Lanka remains the same. Let’s begin with the nucleus. The smallest unit of a Political party is a branch association. This is based on a GN division of an electorate. There are times where one branch association would be formed with the combination of a couple of Divisions depending on the population. The branch association will have it’s elected members that command its membership. Branch associations are largely independent, subjected to the authority of the electorate’s organizer. There could be tens of such branch associations in an electorate.  These various associations combined will form the Electorate caucuses. The elected members of the Branch association would be the only people who are eligible to represent the branch at the electorate caucuses level. Unless the electorate is huge in size, there will be only one caucus for an electorate. The organizer appointed by the party will be the head of such an electorate caucuses. This person could be an elected / ousted Parliament member or a Provincial councilor. In very rare cases even the mayors & self made political leaders are appointed.  He or she has the absolute political say in an electorate caucus. Then there will be a district caucus comprising of all the electorate  caucuses of a district. The leadership will be elected within the district’s organizers. They are responsible in deciding the Political decisions, election rallies, nomination lists , election campaigns etc in the district. The collective of all the district caucuses will form the national caucuses. The Party leader will be the sole decision maker of a national caucus depending on the party.

There are other affiliated associations that support the Political party. These will be labor unions, student unions, youth organizations, religious bodies, association of professionals, journalists & the intellects etc as well as the elected council members, provincial councilors.

The party organizer of an electorate  makes all the decisions that have any & every political value at an electorate level. He will seek the recommendations of their Branch association heads in certain regional matters.. These would include government jobs, development projects such as roads , anicuts, community spaces etc. The branch chairperson will give his recommendations to make sure that what is given to the community has a political gain to his party. Needless to say that no one with qualification would get a job, rather a partly loyalist will end up doing a job that he has no qualification over. Same goes for development projects. Some roads will be paved & some would never see the sign of tar. The organizer of the electorate will decide on development  projects such as main roads, schools ,  power stations , vocational training centers etc. You have to expect some kind of bias in their decisions. The organizer could punish an area where he gets lower votes very easily by withholding or diverting certain projects. It is a very well known secret that the electorate Organizers  command undue influence on  the Police units of the electorate. That is why petty criminals, illicit liquor producers manage to escape scot free. It will not be an overrated statement  to say that the area’s police force would work loyal to the party organizer provided he is from the ruling party.

Each party will have their unique method of mobilizing the support base for a campaign , anti campaign , protest or anything political for that matter. Without a clear understanding of these realities it is impossible to challenge the existing system with just slogans alone. End of the day in an election , votes count but social media likes do not.

Whenever there is an election or a national political issue such as the current one , the Political parties would do their utmost to mobilize the masses to back them. Such campaigns are designed at the highest strategic level. Electorate  organizers will have to convene  the electorate caucuses & inform the decisions made presenting an action plan. The message will be carried to the village or the GN division by the branch heads. Then they will implement whatever they have been asked to . This could be gathering people for a rally, door to do awareness , poster campaigns, localized agitations, marches etc. The scope of this is mostly on practical political activities.

If a youth movement is to challenge this kind of a well formed political structure , they are guaranteed to have more than slogans & social media posts. Without the votes from rural masses which is the absolute majority of the Sri Lankan vote base , an election could not be won. They have to find a mechanism to approach the unurban population with a sound understanding of their sensitivities towards diverse topics. People are scared of change let alone radical ideas. So even the most progressive concept could cost them dearly unless you weigh the consequences. Remember “Brexit” really happened. Everyone bothered to address the youth & none of them cared to pass the message to the generation before. These are fundamental flows in any social movement.

The unchecked political powers wont do any good to any society. The existing political structure in Sri Lanka paves the way for corruption & a number of burning social issues. It is time we change that. But this is the core of the entire Political culture of Sri Lanka. The earth shattering changes could only be done if one is able to comprehend the existing dynamics & find ways to counter or find ways to work around them. A tumor could be surgically removed but a spread cancer takes more than a surgery.

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