By Dayan Jayatilleka –
“They lifted a rock against us which they will drop on their own feet”– Zhou Enlai
“There is great disorder under heavens! The situation is excellent!” – Mao Zedong
Look, there must be a reason why Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe has been in occupation of Temple Trees three (relatively brief) times, but has never made it to President’s House and doubtless never will. I think he is going to have to pack his bags yet again. The many and several reasons that would necessitate, sooner rather than later, the dismissal of the Ranil Wickremesinghe-Mangala Samaraweera government by President Sirisena, could be summed up under one thematic heading or as the French would say, chapeau: the fusion of arrogance and stupidity.
Does the Prime Minister and his UNP not know that the only version of the 19th amendment that could be implemented is one that the President is entirely comfortable with and that if he is on board, so might be the SLFP, and if it and the JHU are not, it could be a symptom that the President has his doubts? Why waste time with an oversized 19th amendment?
The entire debate as to whether or not the mandate was for abolition is meaningless because it cannot be resolved. A decision must be made and only one man can decide upon this, namely the President. He wields a veto. Can’t Ranil Wickremesinghe recognize that? If he can, then why not simply ask President Sirisena to send back an amended draft that can be regarded as final? Surely President Sirisena would re-cut it in a manner that the SLFP and JHU can be brought on board. As for the more ambitious version, it can await the result of a parliamentary election and a new balance of forces in the legislature. If a balance which would permit the passage of a more ambitious original version of 19A is not forthcoming, then that must be recognized as the reality and the issue left to another generation.
Yet another waste of time is the argument that it was the UNP that brought President Sirisena to office; therefore it is the authentic custodian and interpreter of the mandate, which makes it morally imperative for the President and his supporters to go along with the UNP’s proposals on the status of the Presidency. This is a dubious claim. With all the votes the UNP brought in, candidate Sirisena would have lost if not for the surge in the North, East and the hill country, none of which is attributable to the UNP.
If Ranil Wickremesinghe cannot negotiate realistically with President Sirisena, his coalition partners and an Opposition led by a pliant leader, how on earth can he be expected to negotiate with the TNA?
The second most important manifestation of arrogant stupidity that will make imperative the dismissal of Mr. Wickremesinghe’s administration is that it has publicly insulted China or permitted China to be insulted, to a degree that China may disengage itself from Sri Lanka to an extent that is economically utterly unaffordable for this country and our macro economy. In other words the arrogance of the Wickremesinghe-Samaraweera-Karunanayake UNP and its shocking pink poodle, the JVP leadership, may pull the plug on our economic development and the living standards of the people. One rather doubts that President Sirisena and his party and his allies will opt to go down with that ship.
In sum, whatever number of safety pins that the charming Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga uses to keep the President, the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader together, they are being driven apart with each passing day. They and their patroness, the gracious CBK may have a pet hate in common, namely Mahinda Rajapaksa, but this is a subjective-normative factor, while the objective clash of interests is driving the PM and the President apart. The President will have to choose between the SLFP and the Ranilista UNP cohort. Please note that I did not say the UNP as such, because there are sensible centrists within that party who would be the perfect political partners for President Sirisena.
There are simple, speedy ways in which to end the deadlock. Firstly why not simply implement that portion of the 19th amendment that everyone agrees with, i.e. the reintroduction of a reinforced version of the 17th amendment and presidential term limits? Secondly, why not appoint Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy as Governor of the Central Bank?
Matters aren’t helped by the cosmopolitan civil society intelligentsia. They are mimicking their most famous predecessors– those in the former Soviet space after the fall of socialism. Those reformers moved through two psychological stages, the first being an overoptimistic utopianism which advocated shock therapy and big bangs, on the basis that “one cannot cross a chasm in two steps”. Thus we saw the 500 day Shatalin plan etc. When everything fell apart and Russia hit a downward spiral, the radical reformers lamented that the old party-state Establishment and old authoritarian peasant mentalities were still around and were thwarting reform. In other words they lamented that Russia was not Western Europe! The silliness ended when the Russian people realized that they had not lost a war, in fact had won WW II, but had been taken for a ride by the Reformists, who had dismantled part of the state, weakened it and caused the retreat of the country. Russia then turned to Vladimir Putin more than once.
In Sri Lanka today the regime ideologues are going the same route as their Russian counterparts. What they fail to realize is if the old bureaucracy and SLFP is thwarting reform, those reforms have to be downsized and spaced out into stages so as to be acceptable to the state and party establishments—and most importantly the military, which the neoliberal reformists overlook. An ‘alliance of moderates’—actually an alliance of muddle-heads—will not do. All crucial stakeholders and players have to be carried along with the reform process, not have it thrust down their throats which only ensures that they vomit it out.
With their accelerated and oversized program, the Sri Lankan neoliberal ‘Reformists’ are making the same mistake as their Russian counterparts and predecessors, and will wind up with the same result. Despite the shrill, meaningless propaganda of the Sri Lankan neoliberal reformists, the parallel is not a defeated Germany’s search for Der Fuhrer, ‘The Leader’, but rather, the militarily unvanquished yet politically and ideologically humiliated Russian heartland’s rediscovery of the need for a Vozhd, a strong patriotic father figure.
It is a similar process that has led to the strongest spontaneous grassroots surge I have seen in half a century of being witness to Sri Lankan politics; a grassroots current that is a far more organic, and therefore far more authentic, truer, civil society phenomenon than that of the clutch of cosmopolitan Colombo reformists. This is the Mahinda Movement which is gathering momentum and awaits its moment.