Politics & Economy

Unmaking the 'Middle Path': Hate the game, not the Player

This is a revision of a previous post. That was written as a critique of the TNA policy. Highlighting the folly in TNA aspiring to be a “national” party.  Using the same principle, this revision tries to highlight why Tamils or Muslims can never expect justice from the current Sri lankan system.

The principle of median voter theorem is that politicians would move their positions to where the median voter is, in order to maximize their vote. A useful tutorial is here . This leads to moderating positions or middle paths.  Specially at federal or national level politics.

It is fashionable in liberal circles to search for such a phenomena even when none exists. Sri Lanka is an example of this. Many wrongly assume a normal distribution for the whole island and search for that single median voter who represents both a Tamil and a Sinhalese. You will never find one. In Sri lanka, the Sinhala median voter and the Tamil median voter are in completely different “bliss points”. This fundamental truth is ignored. The structural ( Constitutional, Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary ) domination of Sinhala opinion is deeply entrenched in the current Sri Lankan system. So much so that a Sinhala politician ( or any person of power ) will never have to be accountable to a Tamil or Muslim voter. 

Sinhala leaders lose nothing by ignoring Tamil or Muslim plights. On the other hand, they risk loosing the Sinhala voters who are to the right of the Sinhala median voter, if they are seen as catering to Tamil or Muslim sentiments.

The Muslim people’s inability to get wider Sinhala political support for their plight will suffer the same fate as of the Tamils.

Some quick illustrations using a 2 dimensional graph to show the political solution to the ethnic conflict.

The naive ( or idealistic ) view shown above is that the extreme views of a Sinhala voter in favor of unitary state and a Tamil voter in favor of TamilEelam would converge in the median as a federal solution. This is naively repeated by some NGOs as well as very few Sinhala liberals. And this view is almost always directed at the Tamils to convince them to keep trying to work with the existing system.

Even the basic math will show someone that the best case distribution may look like the one below. and it is the “Sri Lankan” view.

The numerical strength of the Sinhalese will skew the distribution to the right.  History shows the Sinhala median voter is at the right of 13A.  Happy in the status quo of 13 minus realm.

My hypothesis is that Tamils and Sinhalese are on their own, decoupled, distributions. And those individual distributions were different during the war and after the war.  The illustration is below.

When the LTTE was militarily strong, the Tamil mean voter “ideal point” would have been closer to TamilEelam and consequently the mean Sinhala voter “ideal point” would have been near 13A. or 13 A plus.  But post war scenarios have both shifted as well as altered the distributions. The Tamils, constantly reminded of defeat, have shifted lot more towards the federal middle. But the Sinhala state, through triumphalism, has consolidated itself near the narrow band of unitary structure.

As repeated in this blog, those supporting the naive model and ask Tamils to work it out within the current system and the process, never acknowledge the impossibility of it.  They now stand exposed by their inability to make any meaningful change to the system despite TNA’s willingness to obediently listen to them.  What history does not teach them, may be math can. But in any case, they are not students of logic.

As the illustration above shows the Sinhala leaders have no incentive to cater to Tamils or Muslims. And TNA or Tamils don’t gain anything by moving their position to the right of the scale.  Are the Muslims also in their own distribution that is not aligned to the two above?  If so, do they overlap more with the Sinhalese or with the Tamils?

There is nothing Tamils or Muslims do or say that will convince the Sinhala median voter to move to the left to meet them halfway as the median voter theorem dictates.

Few Sinhala liberals want to change the player ( regime change ) but keep the game as is. Changing of the player is rather easy. Things have already been set in motion in that regard.

But the game is permanently set in favor of the Sinhalese, and to be specific, in favor of Sinhala- Buddhists.  The permanent and absolute majority of Sinhala-Buddhists is now structurally enshrined. Thus Sinhala-Buddhist can unilaterally decide the destiny of the island under the trapping of a democratic process.  The Sinhala parties ( as the current government has) have gained super-majority that is needed for restructuring the state.  But that majority was always used to entrench the hegemony even further. Now the Sri Lankan constitution is such that it does not even trust the super majority political party with the structure of the state. Even a super majority party can’t restructure the state without a referendum where the majority Sinhalese have to agree. This steady, hegemonic, entrenchment employed parallel tracks of stripping away any protection constitution offered (Soulbury ) to non Sinhala-Buddhists, reducing Tamil participatory means, and by criminalizing Tamil aspirations ( 6A, PTA). This process has now reached the conclusive end of Tamils facing the hobson’s choice of either being assimilated or being eliminated.  It is only a natural progression that the Muslims will also face the same choice. In a true, participatory democracy, there are structural protections against majoritarian abuse.  Only in Sri Lanka, the permanent and absolute majority, despite being that, needs structural protection to ensure it can never be any other way. It is the game that produces a player like BBS.

So if the Tamils or the Muslim continue to dream of a better political future under the current setup, then it has to stay a dream.

Lead photo courtesy: Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP - The Straits Times

© Eelapalan


Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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