By Vishnuguptha -
I was intrigued by an article authored by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka last week, where he argues quite lucidly, as he always does, for what seems to be a four-tiered ‘roadmap’ to counter the present regime. I would rather call it a roadmap than a manifesto. I am sure Dayan, the prolific wordsmith, would agree with me on the usage of the lingo. The basic presupposition of his ‘roadmap’ is a ‘regime change’. As a neutral observer, Dayan presents his arguments for such a regime change based on four prerequisites (emphasis is mine). His contextualization of the whole argument is extremely neat and the evidentiary cases that he presents are worthy and profound in content. I would like to deal with each of his prerequisites as follows:
Firstly, the sources of legitimacy
Dayan argues: “National legitimacy will almost always trump democratic legitimacy, especially in a context of victory. In the context of military defeat, nationalist legitimacy remains as powerful but acts against the regime, as in the case of J.R. Jayewardene after the ’87 airdrop, the Argentinean Junta after the Falklands/Malvinas defeat and Serbia’s nationalists and Socialists after losing Kosovo. Crudely put, any election which pits the present Leader of the Opposition and the UNP against Mahinda Rajapaksa is akin to Marshal Petain running against de Gaulle or Neville Chamberlain contesting against Churchill.”
However, there is an exception to this. In the United States, when Osama Bin Laden attacked the World Trade Centre under the watch of George W. Bush, although I personally cannot think how such an attack on your own soil by a private army of a terrorist group could be termed as a victory in military or social terms, the public relations and media outfit that helped Bush to come to power in the first place, managed to turn that tragedy into a countrywide rallying point for the US President. In fact, it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Bush to gain re-election three years later, if not for the 9/11 tragedy. They turned that security debacle into a rallying cry for the incumbent.
Yet, the fact that the present Leader of the Opposition had lost credibility among the Sinhalese Buddhists, the core voter group in any election in Sri Lanka, is beyond dispute. The legitimacy issue as far as the present UNP leadership and its hierarchy is concerned, is very legitimate and troubling to the dwindling, yet loyal and diehard UNPers in the villages.
This legitimacy issue is even more valid in the context of the youth. All the achievements of the past UNP Governments are not relevant to this segment of the population. The last time the UNP was in power was in 1994. Even a baby that was born in that year is a voter today. For that ‘baby’, the so-called achievements of the UNP Governments are just subjects to read about only in civics or maybe history and geography books. No politician can draw empathy from this new generation of voters.
This trend of new voters increasingly getting alienated from the UNP is more apparent when one observes the attendance at functions organized by the UNP Parliamentarians, whether they represent the Ranil Group or the Reformists Group. One can hardly spot a youthful lad or girl among the attendees.
How can the opposition win confidence or legitimacy as Dayan calls it, from this voter group? If the present lot is not acceptable to the greater majority of the people, and if the present leader of the government would outstrip the current UNP leader, given the bubble within which the UNP is functioning at present, it is impossible to field a candidate from within the UNP against Mahinda Rajapaksa. In such a scenario, all avenues for anyone who is serious about a regime change seem to be closed.
If any noteworthy attempt is undertaken to oust the present President at the next elections, that attempt must include, among others, a legitimate candidate of national stature from amongst the opposition personalities with legitimacy in so far as national pride and patriotism is concerned and that emerging personality should be able to match the current President’s claims for legitimacy, especially among the majority Sinhalese Buddhist voters. I cannot agree with Dayan more that Ranil Wickremesinghe is indeed a very risky choice.
Secondly, the vital importance of shifting to and occupying the centre
In generic terms, a shift to the centre is always more politically savvy and beneficial in the long run. Yet what happened especially in the just concluded US Presidential elections was something else. The victory by the Republicans, spearheaded by the Tea Party faction, at the mid-term elections in 2010 gave them false hope and confidence that the country has made a decisive shift to the right. The Tea Partiers dragged the Republican Party to such a corner, it was impossible for the would-be candidates to articulate any middle-of-the-road policies at the Primary process. The eventual candidate, Mitt Romney painted himself as such a ‘severe’ conservative; any shift back to the centre would have been seen as a retreat for core conservative principles. Consequently Barack Obama and the Democrats did not have to move to the centre, either in rhetoric or actual policy positions. Obama eventually won comfortably even though he did not have to move to the centre which is usually occupied by the undecided, uncommitted voter. The positions assumed by Romney and his surrogates were so far right, those undecided voters chose Obama as the ‘reasonable’ choice.
In Sri Lanka, the present regime has taken the country to a corner all right but as Dayan quite rightly states, the country seems to be comfortable dwelling in that sphere. Repeated appeals to the ‘Mahawansa Mindset’ have buttressed that position so much that any shift from that right-wing corner appears to indicate vulnerability and weakness. Yet most of our opinion-makers who hail from the middle-class and the lower middle-class might adjust to a shift to the centre. But that centre should be portrayed exclusively in terms of economic policies. Any noticeable shift in the ethno-socio positions would be treated as unpatriotic and treacherous. The emerging leadership of the Opposition should be able to strike a very delicate balance among these competing social forces. Occupying the centre is a must, yet one can extract some advantage by defining that centre in his own terms.
Thirdly, a grasp of Gramsci and the importance of triangulating the factors of the ‘national’, the ‘democratic’ and the ‘popular’ or pro-people
If a marriage between the freedom of the individual and that of nation/country (sovereignty), as Dayan points out, could be achieved, the journey towards convincing a majority of the people, whether they occupy the centre or an extreme, becomes much more manageable and would eventually open new byroads in this roadmap. Yet the absence of a credible speaker who could articulate such nuanced political positions is greatly felt in the Opposition corner. The old UNP had Premadasa, Lalith and Gamini who could convince a majority of the people both at public level and at limited-audience level. In this sphere, the acceptance of the speaker or the chief narrator by the people at large and the mutual empathy that should be created between the two are crucial, if not critical. Among the opposition ranks all these talents are available but, at least as of now, they seem to be occupying the JVP ranks. One cannot seriously consider that the JVP is a viable alternative to either the UPFA or the UNP.
Against such a backdrop, it is almost impossible to find such a person or a group of persons within the existing political structure. Having been entrenched in the current stalemate, almost all political leaders in the Opposition seem to be quite happy to be dwelling in their own ‘comfort zones’.
The one who dares to leave this ‘comfort zone’ would ultimately lead this struggle. Yet that person’s emergence is more a product of wishful thinking than that of accurate political forecasting. Triangulation of the factors of the ‘national’, the ‘democratic’ and the ‘popular’ or pro-people seems far away at least for the time being.
Fourthly, political content must not be sacrificed for organizational forms
Among the arguments Dayan presents in this fourth tier, the most compelling case is that of Chandrika Kumaratunga. Whereas, both D. S. Senanayake and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike broke away from the ruling party, (in DS’s case, it was the Ceylon National Congress that was the leading political organization in Ceylon at the time), Chandrika created her sense of independence and tenacity while her Party was languishing in the opposition benches. Premadasa, although he formed a Citizens’ Front would not have broken away at that time with Dudley and JR at the helm of the UNP. The other exception is the DUNF formed by the trio of Gamini, Lalith and Premachandra.
After breaking away, or being banished by the UNP, the Gamini/Lalith/Premachandra trio managed to secure 18% – 23% of the vote base in Sri Lanka at the Provincial Council Elections. We must also be mindful of the fact that Gamini, Lalith and Premachandra challenged the Premadasa-led UNP at a time when Premadasa was in fact the most popular leader in the country. However, many attempts undertaken by the so-called Reformists Group led by Sajith Premadasa and Karu Jayasuriya at displacing Ranil Wickremesinghe from the UNP have failed. The sentiments generated by these groups against the UNP Leader are still fresh and lingering. Nevertheless, there is another option available, not only for the UNP and its reformists but also for the country at large as well.
If the DUNF could muster roughly 20% of the electorate when the leader whom they challenged was so popular and acceptable, the same avenue that the DUNF trod is very much open to the Reformists’ Group. But they will have to say good-by to Presidential hopes. Instead, if they can form another alternative force that can secure 20 % of the electorate vote, they surely will be the ‘king-makers’ in the making at the next parliamentary elections. That option is available and all one needs is a gutty leader who has the courage of his or her convictions. If not, the prognosis is not very appetizing. Is the country or the potential leader willing and ready to go the whole nine yards?
Of course, in addition to the four tiers that Dayan has enunciated, another practical, yet very important issue is the availability of funds and the awesome advantage that the Rajapaksa regime enjoys at present in this regard. It could be safely said that for every 10 rupees that the collective opposition could garner, the regime could offer Rs. 10,000 or more. Thus any credible roadmap for regime change has to take that factor into account.
Courtesy Ceylon Today