By Kumar David –
You will know the final results when you read these lines. Trends at the time of writing show Mr Sirisena comfortably ahead; this piece assumes it will be sustained. While celebrating the fall of the Rajapaksa monster we should not pull the wool over our eyes and loose sight of the reality that so long as an executive presidential monstrosity remains, the new government is liable to go the way of previous ones and Maithripala decline into a carbon copy of Mahinda.
I will touch on two topics, one practical and the other philosophical today. The practical matter is, what are we going to do now that Mr Sirisena has won the Executive Presidency (EP) for six years? I do not expect him to honour the sacred pledge he made before the nation at Vihara Maha Devi Park to abolish it in wholly; unless of course he is compelled to do so by the people. This is the ‘What Next’ question.
The proposition to which I devote the final paragraphs is that the thesis ‘The people are good, but misled by corrupt and power hungry politicians’, is superficial and false. This is simply not true; there is a symbiosis between masses and leaders, but the truth mostly is the other way round; sham leaders rise to the helm when the mass is corrupt. My assertion skews a two way interaction a little in one direction, but it is important to refute the false thesis at this juncture. The relationship between masses and leaders is not an exclusively Lankan matter, it is ubiquitous across nations and time.
Dealing with President Sirisena
Abolish the Executive Presidency
Abandon hope in Mithripala Sirisena
Maverick-who-changes-his-mind-every-two-weeks Mr Sirisena has been elected president. He is signatory to two flagrantly contradictory documents; the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) where he unambiguously promises to rid Lanka of EP, and second a Manifesto in which he reneges on that pledge. Leaders who do such things are unreliable. The MoU floated with fanfare and endorsed at a public gathering was signed by several parties; the Manifesto, or at least the portion on constitutional change is a plot hatched in dark secrecy with reactionary agents of the night. We the people must demand Mr Sirisena’s absolute allegiance to the MoU sworn before the people; we must reject the Manifesto at every point where it contradicts the MoU. If we allow him to get away with a con, we the people will have nobody but ourselves to blame down the road.
In my mind everything flows from a compromise that I acquiesced to a fortnight ago, viz: (a) Vote to defeat Rajapaksa, which amounts to vote for Sirisena though he is a flip-flopper; (b) Do not acquiesce to the Manifesto, a crafty behind the back deal hatched with Hela Urumaya; insist on adherence to the MoU; that is, insist on abolition of EP; (c) forge a no-nonsense mass movement to exert vigilance against venal, nepotistic and authoritarian trends. Why trade Mugabe mark-1 for Mugabe mark-2; we can do better. It is not Paksas, Siris, Ranils and CBKs that are the guardians of democracy; it is the people. For weeks I have been making a song and dance about keeping a new government on a short, sharp leash of accountability and good conduct. There is no other political duty more sacred to the people of Lanka at this point in time. We must not abandon our responsibility to goofs who call themselves heroes and leaders; we paid a bitter price for having done it before.
The TNA too spoke out in support of Sirisena, but repeatedly said his pledge to abolish EP was a cornerstone of its decision. Those like me who raised hell a fortnight ago about a Sirisena-JHU pact reflected in the constitutional proposals of the Manifesto, have good reason to be mighty pleased. Mr Sirisena has gone a little quiet the “effectively Executive” nonsense and backed out of giving the JHU further prominence. The TNA statement is evidence that he reached an unwritten deal of sorts to lay the JHU bogey to rest in the minds of Tamil voters. Patali offered to return to the Paksa fold if the latter would promise to screw-up 13A; proof to me that Mr Sirisena has assured the TNA he would not mess with it. The Northern and Eastern voter has done more than his bit to drive Rajapaksa from office; now will new president and government take him for a ride one more time? Déjà vu!
Vox populi is now unanimous; Sinhala progressives, respected clergy, educated opinion, the working class, the city bourgeoisie and last but not least the Tamil and Muslim minorities. “Abolish it!” they have called out. However, the people must be mobilised by those who have the ability to do so, especially the JVP, UNP and TNA, to compel President Sirisena to abolish and abandon EP within the promised 100 days. (Politicians never give up power until they are forced to). If parliament demurs it must be dissolved forthwith and a compliant replacement elected. The pubic demand is “Abolish”! None of this “essentially Executive” claptrap!
I grant however that it was neither the high principle of democracy versus authoritarianism, nor I am certain, the cost of living (the new government cannot do much and people know it), that turned the tide; it was graft, abuse of power, cronyism, and impunity for corrupt politicos and drug dealers. This swelled the anti-Rajapaksa tide. An anti-corruption drive is crucial and will be credible only if it reaches to the very highest levels of power and cronyism and tackles corruption, impunity, conflicts of interest and influence peddling across the political spectrum including the Mr and Mrs Rajapaksa families and their stooges. Is a Sirisena-CBK-Ranil combine capable of such boldness? I doubt; but to be fair let us give these people wankers a chance and the benefit of the doubt for a while.
JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD) forcefully stated this case in a 2-hour speech at Pilyandala on 15 December, The election is not the end of a struggle; it is simply the beginning of another, he said. If Rajapakse is eliminated the next stage will be on a better batting wicket; if Rajapksa a weak and frightened autocrat wins a third term, the wicket is stickier but the outfield remains fast. Either way, on January 8 people stopped the rot; but more important is the next stage, that has now commenced. This is an impeccably correct position that I have no hesitation in endorsing.
I wish to pick up another point elaborated by Anura Kumara at the Pilyandala rally. The argument is that whoever wins the presidency, parliamentary elections will soon follow. If Rajapaksa wins his gall cannot stomach a parliament where a third of his cronies have fled; Sirisena if he comes out on top will dissolve in 100-days – what more does he want from residual garbage? Therefore a crucial side to post-election mobilisation is preparation for a parliamentary election soon to be upon us. Syriza in Greece did not win first time; it was premature, but it may win elections that have just been called. It would be premature for the JVP to expect a majority at the next election but why not a million or more votes and dozens of MPs? If we can back Sirisena for the presidency is it not a great deal more congenial to push JVPers into parliament? If not who else!
I am impressed by AKD. He is not NM, parliamentarian cum constitutionalist par excellence, but the clarity of his logic, the meticulous preparation that underpins his presentations and his awareness of responsibility as a people’s tribune, is reminiscent of the sobriety of NM and Pieter rather than Philip’s choleric distemper or Colvin’s towering rhetoric. Are you appalled to read these lines from the author of Tharunu Ugathunge Deshapalanaya? I plead adherence to the dialectical method; it is not I but the JVP that has changed!
The “Good-People Rotten-Politicos” garbage-thesis
I provide just one example to press the thesis sketched in the second paragraph of this essay. It is important because I have made such an issue, not only today but previously too, that raising the consciousness and mobilising the people is the crucial challenge in the post-election conjuncture. The illustrative example I have selected is Sri Lanka in the mid 1950s; the 1956-phenomenon when the nation rejected the Left which had led the anti-colonial and progressive struggle for three decades and put its rotten apples in a chauvinist basket. In vision and achievement the SLFP was dung compared to the LSSP-CP then, and in personality and achievement, SWRD a nobody beside NM.
A society that has gone rotten will choose a leader cast in its own mould and reject better alternatives. If the conscious of a people has been drowned in chauvinism they will choose leaders to match. They choose; they are not misled, they mislead. The masses had a choice in 1956 and they made theirs. It is drivel to say the Left did not appreciate the deep needs of the Sinhala-Buddhist psyche; the truth is that at that time the Left refused to capitulate to primitive racism that pervaded the body politic.
Germans knew perfectly well what was being done to Jews but preferred to look the other way and remain silent. They marched in their millions in Nuremburg rallies and Berlin parades. Blame Hitler, but don’t be foolish and oversimplify history. I don’t need to press my point; surely it is transparent to intelligent readers. The corollary is this. It is not Sirisena, Rajapaksa or another nondescript or rotten egg that matters; it is the consciousness of the people that counts. I rest my case.