By Dayan Jayatilleka –
It is dismaying to watch Opposition politicians and parties unwittingly normalizing the new abnormal, discussing –or even entertaining the possibility of –a common agenda with an unelected, illegitimate ruler who has just embarked on a campaign of ruthless repression against the Aragalaya.
Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the leader of the JVP-NPP, deserves our thanks and praise for the stand he took in his media briefing on the evening that unelected President Ranil Wickremesinghe delivered his “shop-for-props” Throne speech.
Responding to Ranil AKD and his party refused to be confused, fooled or enticed into collaboration with the zero-mandate President’s self-aggrandizing project. In short AKD didn’t fall into Ranil’s trap.
It takes clarity, conviction and courage to take the stand AKD and his party did. In so doing, he presented and constituted a clear alternative perspective, discourse and polarity to President Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Ranil’s Entrapment Strategy
It is not that I don’t have basic strategic criticisms of AKD’s line. I disagree with AKD’s apparent assumption that the JVP and its affiliate the NPP are sufficient to resist and prevail over President Wickremesinghe’s project of creating and consolidating a political space and a recomposed ‘hegemonic power-bloc’ enlisting the support of diverse political parties, fractions and personalities as well as social strata and elements.
Ranil is trying to assemble as many political and social forces as he can, to conduct two encirclement and suppression campaigns using the military and Police—firstly of the FSP and then of the JVP. The JVP cannot escape this or even buy significant time, by sacrificing the FSP. Ranil has to crush the JVP-NPP because, as clearly flagged in his Throne Speech, he intends to end “State enterprise” in the economy and to do so he has to crush the trade unions, which means he has to crush the JVP-led trade union movement.
A mature Left party would be working on constructing a counter-hegemonic social and political bloc which cannot but have as its main axis, a (Leninist) United Front. In the Sri Lankan reality, this means, in the inescapable first place, a left front with the FSP. The failure of the contemporary left, the JVP and FSP, to enter a united front even in the face of Ranil’s repression, could prove a fatally tragic flaw.
AKD’s slogan of a snap General election is correct but only partially so; it has huge hole in it. If a parliamentary is held, and won by an Opposition party, Ranil Wickremesinghe would still be the President, Minister of Defence and Commander-in-chief, who, unlike Gotabaya, would not hesitate to use lethal military force to crackdown on post-election demonstrations for his removal, and rule as a civilian-military junta. Therefore AKD’s ‘early elections’ slogan makes sense only if it is twinned or better still preceded by a snap general election which can be rendered possible by including the provision in the upcoming 22nd amendment.
I am of course in complete disagreement with the slogan of the abolition of the executive Presidency when the current events in Latin America prove all over again that it is the easiest system under which a pro-people left candidate can be elected his/her country’s leader.
What would have happened to any Opposition political party that joined, propped up or let itself be drawn into the orbit of the hawkish UNP administration of Sir John Kotelawala after the Hartal of August 1953?
What if SWRD Bandaranaike, having left the UNP in 1951, helped it in 1953, after chairing the Hartal rally on Galle Face Green, though the SLFP didn’t participate in the Hartal?
The answers of these counterfactual history questions are obvious. Any such party which became a de jure or de facto prop (“mukkuwa”) of the Hartal-hit Establishment which had a harder-line post-Hartal leader, would have been committing political suicide.
Had SWRD Bandaranaike done so, he would not have been the beneficiary of the anti-Establishment tectonic shift caused or denoted by the Hartal and swept into office through the Silent Revolution of 1956.
Why then are the mainstream Opposition parties of today doing or contemplating something even more colossally stupid, of joining, supporting or collaborating with the UNP leader of the Aragalaya-hit Establishment? It is suicidal for two reasons:
Firstly, the leader in question is utterly unelected, totally devoid of a popular mandate, and is therefore a completely illegitimate (though not illegal) ruler.
Secondly, he will drive through a controversial and polarizing economic program, which will sink any party associated with it.
Tamil Parties & Ranil’s Radioactivity
The Tamil parties have a sad history of supporting the rightwing UNP which inevitably winds up unpopular and the target of a huge backlash. The presence of the Tamil parties in a bloc with the UNP, unfortunately facilitates an utterly reprehensible entry of Sinhala chauvinism into the anti-government backlash.
It is utterly counterproductive for the Tamil parties to be in an elitist UNP bloc. It was the presence of those parties in the UNP-led 7-party national Government of 1965-1970 that facilitated the opportunistic or semi-spontaneous injection of Sinhala ethno-populism into the Opposition campaign of the second half of the 1960s, which even more horridly, culminated in the official Sinhala racism after it assumed office, e.g., media-wise and district-wise Standardization of university entrance, the hegemonistic status of Sinhala and Buddhism in the 1972 Constitution.
The Tamil parties should think twice before being enticed into an alliance, de jure or de facto, with the unelected, illegitimate president Ranil Wickremesinghe who will cause a further spike in unprecedentedly high social disaffection by his economic “shock therapy”. It could cause a toxic cocktail as Sir John’s Delft speech did.