25 May, 2019

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Advising Mahinda Rajapaksa: A Strategic Perspective? 

By Chamindra Weerawardhana

Dr. Chamindra Weerawardhana

The publication of an email, sent by Ambassador Dr Dayan Jayatilleka to Prime Minister Rajapaksa via Vasudeva Nanayakkara MP, in the Colombo Telegraph has triggered much interest among many Sri Lankans and foreign observers. In what follows, my objective is to very briefly reflect upon the role of political advisors and strategists in the political camp of a populist and successful national leader. This is a crucially important area of concern, as problematic counsel, especially in relation to the management of foreign affairs, happened to be a key factor that jeopardised the Rajapaksa administration’s standing on the world stage, and eventually led to the January 2015 scenario. 

What follows is by no means an expression of support to any political leader or party/coalition. Instead, it is penned from a standpoint of strategic thinking in external affairs management. 

Critiquing or condemning Dr Jayatilleka’s advice  is certainly not my objective. Dr Jayatilleka may have had reasons of his own that may indeed justify the advice he provided. I look at the current scenario in Sri Lanka from a standpoint of a Sri Lankan with doctoral, postdoctoral and practitioner expertise in International Politics, direct experience of holding elected responsibility in a political party, and political lobbying experience in several polities and with political leaders representing divergent political ideologies, in the global North as well as in the global South. 

Sri Lanka’s geostrategic position makes the country vulnerable to external interferences in internal affairs, hence the vital necessity of exercising extreme tact in managing foreign policy. We cannot afford, in any way, to strain our relations with our friends in the West. We certainly cannot afford to damage our close ties with China. Most importantly, we need to maintain excellent, workable and preferably mutually beneficial relations with India at all times. There is a dire need to build better partnerships and collaborations with our friends in the global South. Indeed, it goes without saying that balancing a foreign policy of this nature is an extremely challenging task. 

It is here that the Rajapaksa administration, especially in its second mandate, failed spectacularly. The failure was largely due to two reasons: 1) policy lacunae – problems in domestic and foreign policy formulation, policy incoherence and inconsistencies between the domestic and international spheres, and 2) misuse of human resources, or in other words, the non-deployment of the right people for the right job, in managing foreign affairs. 

The result was severe straining of relations with the Obama administration, with the British Government, with the EU and worst of all, with Delhi. 

In truth, winning an election in Sri Lanka is not a problem for Mahinda Rajapaksa, given his tremendous popularity. The foremost challenge he risks facing, however, is ensuring credibility on the world stage. This is where the good counsel of well-meaning advisors comes in. This is also why some aspects of Dr Jayatilleka’s advice to Mr Rajapaksa are questionable. The tone of the entire email is one of galvanising the ongoing effort to consolidate power, and to ‘mount’ opposition to the UNP-led coalition. Dr Jayatilleka’s advice also somewhat tacitly encourages populist politics of grandstanding, a salient feature of Rajapaksa-style politics [e.g. Galle Face 2017]. There is no need for an international affairs expert to galvanise this spirit. This kind of advice would make sense if it comes from another populist leader in the Rajapaksa camp. 

Instead, the international affairs expert ought provide tactful advice, focusing on crisis management. The advice should be intended at diminishing the crisis, restoring normalcy and international credibility. Moreover, and despite my opposition to the coup, it is not untrue that strategically sound advice could still in fact help solidify the power shift. Under the present circumstances, such advice could include, for instance, the following: 

1. Cut down all drifts to violence, and stop claiming space in state depts and corporations for the moment and take all steps to avoid any violent confrontations of any description 

2. Focus on securing the parliamentary majority ASAP 

3. Appoint a PM spokesperson who is young and articulate [preferably from an ethnic minority] and leave all public statements to the spokesperson and lie low until parliamentary majority is formed

4. Appoint a Foreign Affairs Minister who is preferably female, progressive in the truest sense of the term, and preferably aged below 45. [Strategically, this creates the perfect contrast to the geriatric gentlemen in charge of foreign affairs in the Wickremesinghe government, and albeit momentarily presents an image that contradicts the image the West & the neoliberal lobby upholds of MS/MR].

Concerning point 4 above, finding a person corresponding to the aforementioned profile in the current parliamentary composition is nigh impossible. In that case, another temporary way of working around it would be to keep the foreign affairs portfolio under the President, appoint someone corresponding to the aforementioned profile as the President’s Foreign Affairs Advisor (FAA), and enable them to handle things from behind the scenes, with the support of an Expert Committee. FAA has to be the person who handles key meetings with international partners. This arrangement could continue until the government is solidified. 

To conclude, the international affairs advisor, if not political advisor, should advice, especially in a crisis situation, to ‘contain’ the crisis. When working with populist leaders, this is all the more important, as advice that helps inflame populist inclinations and egos in any way is dangerous. Instead, sound advice, especially on managing foreign affairs, should involve a great deal of tact and restraint, the extent of which is somewhat encompassed in a poem by Nayyirah Waheed: “you don’t have to be a fire to every mountain blocking you. you could be a water and soft river your way to freedom too”. 

Post Scriptum: This article was written from a standpoint of political and external affairs strategizing. The content of this article is not, in any way, intended at justifying or accepting the ongoing coup and drift towards a Sri Lankan Bolsonaro moment. This writer stands by her previous writing on the issue, upholding democracy and recognising Ranil Wickremesinghe as the one and only legitimate Prime Minister of Sri Lanka unless and until a parliamentary majority proves otherwise. 

*Dr Chamindra Weerawardhana is a political analyst. She is the author of Decolonising Peacebuilding: Managing Conflict from Northern Ireland to Sri Lanka and Beyond. 

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Latest comments

  • 5
    14

    Dr. Weerawardhana speaks sense and is a constructive critic. However, I was not writing in my capacity as an international affairs advisor or expert, and even if I were, I was not advising on the foreign policy dimension. I was writing primarily as a political scientist with a certain intellectual and ideological perspective, orientation and commitment. That certainly encompasses the international dimension in that the Sri Lankan struggle takes place in the setting of a new Cold War especially in the Asia -Pacific and declining hegemonic powers have used a playbook of destabilization for decades– a playbook I was cautioning about, and which has to be combated.

    As an international relationist I am committed to help those who have stood for and stand for the national independence and sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of my country and other countries. In the same capacity I stand against those who interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states, and those locals who ally with them.

    As a political scientist above all, I am a realist who has grasped the actuality of the situation, in which the most crucial aspect is not the international policy of the new alliance of the elected President and the PM, but precisely the struggle for power between the national-popular forces ( which some may call the nationalist-populist camp) and the pro-imperialist neoliberal camp.

    It is with this in mind, that I made the policy intervention that is contained in the leaked email.

    • 9
      1

      Dayan,
      .
      Excuses, excuses!
      .
      You are neither a rationalist nor a patriot as you masquerade.
      .
      Remember Mahinda exposing you on Al Jazeera for your vile opportunistic ways? That and that alone drives you.
      .
      Ever so underhanded, war mongering, racist and a conscienceless liar (“no civilian casualty”) who cheer-leaded majoritarian war victory celebrations over State’s genocide of a segment of own civilians arguing that after all the fight against Apartheid was rooted in the aspiration for majoritarian control! Can you explain why the war victory celebrations were discontinued after the moronic village thugs got booted out and some civility returned to the country?
      .
      We have no doubt you would only help lead the gullible leaders in the most disastrous path, thankful for their crumbs thrown at you!
      .
      You are not a scientist, Political or otherwise. It was news to me, but wasn’t really surprised to learn that you were chucked out of a U.S. University for plagiarism or some such. It shows!!

      • 6
        1

        Dayan is a despot loving cheap fellow and completely impermeable to decency! He is totally inebriated with self-serving thoughts and only the underhand leaders tolerate him!

        Only the people who praise him are the known Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists on these forums; this says a lot. I am sure he is ever ready to offer underhand advices to Putin who is another of his champion.

        The despots around the world will not last without the likes of Dayan ang G.L. Peries. Such people are the real bane of Sri Lanka that got us into such a mess now.

    • 6
      1

      Why is everyone giving such prominence to Dayan ……… a miniscule political nincompoop who carries no ability/weight to influence the Lankan voter ……… one way or the other?

      What Dayan did was ………. nothing but to show the Rajapakes that he is on their side …….. an opportunistic stunt just to safeguard/secure his position.

      I don’t think anyone in the Rajapakse camp took even the trouble to read Dayan’s email ………. let alone tried carryout it’s imbecilic suggestions.

      When his language skills are peeled away ……… Dayan is nothing but a pitiful fool that everyone knows …… perhaps with the only exception; himself.

      • 6
        1

        What language skills? The man cannot write simple, intelligible English. His convoluted prose perhaps reflects a similar way of thinking.

        • 4
          1

          I was trying my best to be charitable! :))

          • 2
            2

            Nimal F,
            “I don’t think anyone in the Rajapakse camp took even the trouble to read Dayan’s email …”
            Do you really think there is any MR camp-follower who can understand such high-falutin’ writing? If they could, they wouldn’t be in there.

        • 6
          1

          Fred you are on the button.
          The best writers are those who write simply. This fellow once wrote a sentence which contained 84 words.

    • 4
      2

      Have you read Ranil’s speech at Oxford union on 18/10/18 how he wants to deal with regional and international powers . It is many time meaningful approach than any other foreign policies. You would have badly advised MR on foreign policies .

    • 5
      1

      You should be careful of the two Americans Gotabaya and Basil. They will betray you to the Americans.

    • 6
      1

      Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

      If anything it was Hindia that destabilised this island while you were in South India doing clandestine work (whatever that maybe).

      If there is going to be destabilization in this island, stop worrying. You could not do a thing to stop this island being destabilised.
      Leave the worrying to the Hindians.
      Let them deal with it.

      Please cover yourself properly in this weather. Once you lose your willi in the cold you might not find it again.

    • 3
      2

      Dayan,
      Don’t play double game. You are a power greedy creature. You became provincial minister in a government with a terror group who involved abduction of children with the support of Indian army . You were part and partial of this undemocratic uncivilised coup. You supported the abduction and murder of Lasantha by Mahinda Family. What is the difference between you and a terrorist?

  • 7
    2

    Oh Dayan,

    Seems like you may have to go back to school, and re-start from Politics 101! This time, a decent school please! Perhaps Moscow will pay for that.
    .
    Frankly, you my want to consider first starting with some rapid-teach private lessons from Dr. Weerawardhana!
    .
    Or perhaps you are counting on that MR will never be capable of recognizing, let alone appreciating the difference between truly educated and uneducated. Remember Namal, in the books the singularly exceptional brilliant lawyer that Sri Lanka has ever produced, all thanks to Appochchi?!

    • 1
      0

      Kumar R – This bugger is currently busy taking an “intensive course” in Moscow! I am not sure whether Moscow will reimburse him!

  • 6
    1

    Oh Dayan,

    Seems like you may have to go back to school, and re-start from Politics 101! This time, a decent school please! Perhaps Moscow will pay for that.
    .
    Frankly, you may want to consider first starting with some rapid-teach private lessons from Dr. Weerawardhana!
    .
    Or perhaps you are counting on that MR will never be capable of recognizing, let alone appreciating the difference between truly educated and uneducated. Remember Namal, in the books the singularly exceptional brilliant lawyer that Sri Lanka has ever produced, all thanks to Appochchi?!

  • 1
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 1
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 5
    1

    I too agree with what you say.. but in Sri Lankan politics they do not follow the rule of law or any democratic traditions. Consider what happened time during the two terms Mahinda ruled the country. utter failure in many departments…
    He gave some important jobs for his Military officials. He promoted his own people in foreign service. Some university VCs appointed by passing seniors , Even his son was doing Phd ( fake one) from Colombo university. A lot of corruption took place at the expense of the national interest..
    Dr Dayan is a hypocrite . He changes his colour as and when it suits him..He writes as if he is an expert in politics and foreign policies .. But there is nothing substance in his talk and writing .
    Mahinda would like him to use him..
    How on earth we could earn wrath of India in place of China.
    Have you forgotten it was Indra Ghandi who trained LTTE. Although, Indian government has changed its policy for Tamil issue for many reasons., we must be mindful that India could once again use Tamil factors to trouble us .. if not now but in future.. that is one point …Moreover, we do a lot of business with India. and Indo -Sri Lankan relation is more deeper more culturally and geographically intriguing
    People like Dr Paris and many others might have advised to MS and MR to stage this political coup. It is unsustainable ..
    It will give more damage to MR and family
    It will create more problems for SL
    It will earn anger of many nations..
    Only China will happy for this .
    No western country welcome MR yet…
    Dr Dayan is not a man of democratic tradition but a man of opportunities.

  • 8
    3

    Dr. Jeyatilake is a man with no conscience and his doctorate did not help him to be civilised. I am a tradional left wing supporter but after 2005 I hated the left movement in Srilanka. The left movement lost its credibility because they become part and partial of Buddhist Fundamentalism and their politics become going behind a man who used this land to make his own benefit and completely destroyed the rule of law and justice. They considered people are slave. In most of the democratic countries both right wing conservatrist policies and left oriented politics competed each other but both sides maintained democracy but after 2015 the left politics become anti democratic, anti- rule of law and racist politics. We have seen Prof. GL Peries, Dr. Dayan Jeyatialake and few others became a slaves of a family who destroyed this country.

    • 10
      1

      The trouble started from 1948 when the Government made upcountry Tamils stateless because they were leaning toward left. First Srilanka should become a secular country. The Mahanayakes should not have any say in running the country. They should not interfere in politics, except as normal Srilankan citizens. Otherwise, we cannot stop the people coming to power using religion and race.

  • 9
    4

    It is a shame on the part of Rajapakse and his cohorts to buy MPs giving out millions of rupees as bribe. The question is who is financing such largess that is mind=boggiling! One of the reasons trotted out by Sirisena to dismiss Ramil is the charge of corruption. If so, what does Sirisena do now? Has he become deaf and dumb after 26 October 2018? Sirisena will go down in history as a liar and unscrupulous leader of all times. He bit the hand (UNP) that fed him. He kicked the ladder (UNP) he used to climb to the top.

  • 0
    0

    From a policy standpoint MR is nowhere near Bolsonaro. It is an intentional spin of this ‘strategist’.

    MR/MS combo appears to be working with restraint in managing the crisis through despite Ranils’s (and Karu J) escalation in inviting Western direct involvement and mass mobilisation around Temple Trees.

    Signs of TNA splitting over the issue is an extremely important development. Though tilted towards Ranil, pushing JVP to a neutral stand is still work in progress.

    In that sense maintaining time till the 16th could be critical from MR/MS point of view.

    • 10
      2

      All you Einsteins should have secured the parliamentary majority ………. before this clumsy putsch was pulled.

      The West can easily trump Chinese bribes to the MPs …….. by a simple travel-ban on the coup plotters and their children who are dying to go to the West for education – perhaps they can go to China or Russia :))

      That will stop this nonsense pronto :))

    • 6
      1

      Hela

      Only a day or two earlier, you were full of praise for this public racist.
      Now you have utter contempt for him.
      Why is the sudden change?
      Have seen through his name droppings albeit at very late in the day?

  • 3
    0

    Dayan, you really have no shame. Your old man must be squirming at your antics. It’s too late for excuses now., you have blown it. I think you are dying for another public ‘undressing’, you know what that means ah. Who knows you may get one on your return from Russia which now seems like it might be sooner that expected

  • 2
    0

    Dr. Chamindra Weerawardhana,

    Thanks for presenting an impressive strategic perspective on foreign affairs under a Mahinda regime.

    .But unfortunately Dayan Jayathilake had hijacked your initiative and the discussion turned into Dayan bashing ignoring the thrust of the main article.
    .
    Your article could have been the starting point of a lively discussion on direction of foreign policy under Mahinda, if he emerges from this crisis as the winner.

    Don’t you think that your article is somewhat premature since the country has still not settled down to normalcy after the bombshell of 26 October.

    It is an axiom that foreign policy is an extension of local policy

    Don’t you think a Ranil style foreign policy would strengthen Mahinda approach -populist local policy?
    However I have my misgivings about neoliberal policies as practiced by the UNP government and expectation of FDI as a panacea for all our ills.

    • 4
      0

      Sri-Krish,

      I agree Chamindra’s article is a worthy opening on its own merits towards an objective discourse.

      Nevertheless, as the penultimate para (copied below) summarizes, it is also true that the article itself is the first stone thrown in the “Dayan bashing”!

      “To conclude, the international affairs advisor, if not political advisor, should advice, especially in a crisis situation, to ‘contain’ the crisis. When working with populist leaders, this is all the more important, as advice that helps inflame populist inclinations and egos in any way is dangerous.”

  • 2
    0

    i have commented enough about this chameleon who will soon become a serious problem for the foreign minister
    i have nothing further to add

  • 2
    0

    Dayan Jayathillake is a Karanam expert or Trapeze Artist and his doctorate may be in this area. We shall not bother about whatever he says and we are very sure that nobody read his email via Vasudeva to MR.

  • 0
    0

    Chamindra

    If catering to nationalism and racism in Sri Lanka does not serve MR well on the world stage -despite its success within the island – do you think the same tactic has not worked for Trump?

    It seems to me, given the fact the the Rebublican Party in the US has almost completely caved in to Trump and his agenda, that Trump has emerged victorious in his corralling racists and bigots in the US. And this “mob mentality” does not seem to have affected the US negatively – domestically or internationally; in fact the US economy seems to be performing its best in 50 years!

    It looks like politicians from all parts of the world are taking a lesson; Bolsarano in Brazil and MR in Sri Lanka come to mind.

    What are your thoughts?

  • 1
    0

    Chamindra Weerawardhana has taken up the task of ‘Advising Mahinda Rajapaksa’. ‘A Strategic Perspective’ implies acceptance of the RW-sack and the new new new PM! Et Tu Chamindra?
    .
    Preliminary Sale talk ~ “I look at the current scenario in Sri Lanka from a standpoint of a Sri Lankan with doctoral, postdoctoral and practitioner expertise in International Politics, direct experience of holding elected responsibility in a political party, and political lobbying experience in several polities and with political leaders representing divergent political ideologies, in the global North as well as in the global South”.

    Dayan Jayatileka used to bombard us, the lay-Lankans, with this doctoral-thingy. What the hell is it?
    To catch the attention of MR?

    Sales talk 2 ~ “In truth, winning an election in Sri Lanka is not a problem for Mahinda Rajapaksa, given his tremendous popularity”.

    They say ‘Flattery is hard to detect and harder to resist’.
    .
    SLPP is now MR’s backbone and SLPP will flaunt the language/religion-divide flag. Do you not care Chamindra?
    .
    We have had a coup Chamindra and the International Community is taking us to the cleaners.
    Is this part of your ‘expertise in International Politics’?
    .
    We have quite a few Jayatillekas. Feel free to join them Chamindra.

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