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Let democracy win

| by Mano Ratwatte

( November 21, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) I read that there may be elections around the corner. As an émigré I marvel at the incredible changes in infrastructure development in Sri Lanka since the war ended. It is fascinating to come back once in awhile to see how things have changed over time. Hope the nation will have lasting peace.

The US had what is called "mid-term" elections the first Tuesday of November. President Obama’s party lost and Republicans took control of the Senate and increased their majority in the House as well to levels not seen since the end of world war II. Campaigning was mostly done via rallies and also mass TV and other forms of electronic and print media advertising.

Elections ended. I didn’t see reports of houses burnt, or people killed during campaigning, or opposition candidates assaulted or govt. candidates assaulted. No wall posters to deface buildings either. The day after elections, I am sure Democrats were stunned and sad at the outcome(but the polls had predicted it) but they went to work. Republicans elated went to work. The roles were opposite of 2006 when people voted for Democrats in the same overwhelming manner the Republicans were voted in this time. These things happen. No one loses their job over elections. No one gets killed anymore(There was a time African Americans in the southern states were terrorized, killed and intimidated in the era leading up to Civil Rights Act lest anyone thinks I have no clue about that), no house got burnt. People go back to work the next day and resume their lives.

I recall in 1977 when the SLFP was routed and my Aunt lost the general election which changed Sri Lanka’s political course forever. Best calculations had her party winning or retaining 38 seats but they could only save 8. By 1977 her govt. had become extremely unpopular. The UNP ran an incredibly powerful campaign, and people voted overwhelmingly to defeat the SLFP. In 1976 I remember participating in a protest against the regime after a student was shot and killed on Peradeniya campus. That was the first time a political protest was organized at Royal College. A lot of the student leaders are now very prominent in the legal profession and doing well in Sri Lanka. It was a matter of pride for Royal that the protests were disciplined, non-violent and no one used the strikes to skip school and everyone stayed inside college boundaries. I recall it becoming a political opportunity for the UNP and JVP types to campaign and outside agitators coming into our college premises; and one guy coming up to me and referring to Mrs B as a "bloody b ...". I just smiled and walked away. As a senior in

High School we made sure students didn’t use the protests as an excuse toskip school.

Public resentment against the regime was strong. I must say personal insults hurled against her hurt but there were very few people who engaged in such behaviour. To take a step back even before that, I remember incidents when a notorious cantankerous drunken old prostitute from the Chitra Lane shanty town across where we lived coming and shouting in filth in front of our house; most likely she was paid and given booze by local UNP organizers. That was part of the price to pay for being in the political family! My parents never bothered with it. We laughed at her; it was her right.

Sadly after the election, I remember there was a period of unprecedented violence in the provincial areas and lot of people saw their houses burnt and destroyed over an election result; a few people in State Lorries drove past my parents house hooting and celebrating but in the city of Colombo basically things were peaceful but there were lots of acts of violence against people associated with the SLFP in the provinces. People like President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne were targeted for harassment and framed. Arjuna Ranatunge’s parents’ house was attacked. That was sad and wrong.

After a three-day closure, schools were reopened, and I went back to school. I was a bit worried that I might get assaulted for being "Mrs. B’s nephew" and because my father was closely associated with her being her private secretary. No such thing happened. All my friends were still my friends including the ones I have had big debates over politics. All my classmates at Royal actually cheered me when I walked into class and some of them hugged me and shook hands and teased me. The teachers were nice too. I was relieved. Life went on. Some became very powerful figures in the UNP and others remained in the SLFP but no one cared a darn who was who and life went on. That is a lesson in life to be learnt from Royal College.

My fervent wish is that no matter who wins life should go one and no one should have to lose their lives or property or get humiliated. If we blame the West for a lot of our woes can we also learn from the positive things from the west please? Why should it matter who wins or who loses? Why should someone be killed over a vote? May the elections be free of rancour and violence and may the people of Sri Lanka be the ultimate victors regardless of who wins what. May there never be war and sadness and grieving mothers and children just because it is an election. What does it matter if a person votes Green, Blue or Red? If we bleed we only bleed red and only categories that matter are A, B, AB or O when we need blood transfusions. Is it worth shedding blood and loosing life and limb over elections? Was that the intent of democracy the way the Greeks who gave it to the world visualized it?