1 October, 2020

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All Set For 3rd Term, Why Not Take A 99 Year Lease On Government?

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

In legal terms, a 99 year lease means that the term of lease would extend beyond the life expectancy of the lessee or lessor. In Sri Lankan political terms (make it – constitutional terms; all that is needed is Q & A with the Supreme Court) it would mean the assurance of regime continuity beyond the life expectancy of the regime founder. In practical terms, elections will continue even more often than now, but only the government will be winning everywhere except for a while in the sore North; and 99 years will be more than enough to permanently dispossess the grumpy Vellalas of their petty property titles. Lanka will be on track to become the dream land without differences, where everyone will be the same and equally patriotic under a perfect dictatorship full of democratic rituals. The ‘perfect dictatorship’ (la dictadura perfecta) was the name given to the Institutional Revolutionary Party of Mexico that ruled Mexico uninterruptedly for seventy years from 1929 to 2000. Why shouldn’t Sri Lanka outdo Mexico? We have a continuous history of more than 2000 years, while Mexico is a mere upstart of 500 years.

The Wikipedia has a list of “Longest ruling non-royal national leaders’ in the world today. Forty such leaders are listed, and President Rajapaksa is ranked 39 with ten years to his credit including the one year when he was the loyal Prime Minister to Sri Lanka’s only Lady President. No doubt, President Rajapaksa will move up the ranks before he sheds his mortal coil in this birth. He is in the distinguished company of 39 leaders, perhaps more distinguished than the hell that Bernard Shaw imagined to be the resting place for all emperors, the popes of old, and other illicit greats of the mortal world. Of the forty men and no women, six leaders have been ruling for more than 30 years, 10 for more than 20 years, and the other 24 for 10 years and more. Geographically, the vast majority of the forty are African and Arab leaders. There are only three Asian countries, Sri Lanka sharing the honour with Cambodia and North Korea. But we are better than both of them, and we can still be better with a 99 year lease government.

Mahinda Ellawala MPut another way, Sri Lanka’s opposition forces as they are currently constituted (make it – ‘unconstituted’) do not deserve to form a government for another 99 years. There are obvious personal weaknesses and subjective shortcomings among those who are in the opposition. And those faults have been highlighted many times, by many people. Let us not flog that dead horse anymore. The opposition’s political ineffectuality is also a systemic outcome, specifically arising, as I have been arguing a few times in this column, from the operation of the Executive Presidential system. Whatever might be said in detraction of the parliamentary system, systemically weakening the opposition cannot be one of its mischiefs. What was critically perceived as a parliamentary tyranny that prevailed between 1970 and 1977 was overthrown effortlessly by the people simply casting their votes. Just compare the swiftness of the opposition victory in 1977 with the paralysis of the opposition under the presidential system since 1978.

It is not just the opposition that has been squashed out of shape, but the very system of cabinet government has been transformed into being the rubber stamp of the executive President. Gone are the days of standout and stalwart cabinet ministers who brought intelligence and independence to the cabinet table for discussion and decision making. The system worked well, very well, in fact. There were instances when the cabinet was dysfunctional owing to ministerial differences, such as when there was a ‘cabinet strike’ to sabotage the Paddy Lands proposals of Philip Gunawardena in the 1950s. But at no time in the past has there been a cabinet of so many ministers doing so little for so long. Yet, from Peradeniya dons to political hangers-on, the common party-line is that the executive presidency has produced economic development, and is on the way to producing new miracles.

On the other hand, the pro-Rajapaksa members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party have determined that there was only one period of economic development in the executive presidential era, and that was the period (2005-2014) presided over by Mahinda Rajapaksa. The earlier two periods, 1977-1994 under the UNP and 1994-2005 under Chandrika Kumaratunga, were development failures according to the Communist Party Central Committee. If so, it is not the executive presidency but President Rajapaksa who is the reason for economic development. And that is good enough reason for the neo-dialecticians of the Communist Party to support Mahinda Rajapaksa in his third presidential election, notwithstanding the constitutional coup to do away with term limits and the democracy deficit that has grown alarmingly under the same President. Not to mention the orgy of government corruption, exposing which became a self-assigned portfolio of the only Communist Minister in the government. But all these ills must be fought from within the regime and not from outside. That is the new self-delusion, and that a 99 year lease on government will help in that internal fight might become the new dialectical argument.

There is a parallel opinion among the chattering classes, according to which no previous government has done so much for the country as has the present government. It has liberated the country not only from the jaws of the LTTE, but also from the machinations of the Colombian Sinhalese (the UNP), the ineptitude of the Veyangoda Radalayas (the old SLFP), and the conniving schemes of the Tamil Vellalas. Exhibit-A, in fact the only exhibit, in support of the government’s achievements, is the beautification of Colombo. It is nothing more than an exhibit, and there is hardly a murmur, let alone outrage, about the cost of this exhibit. To wit, the evacuation of people to make room for palatial casinos; the state of the schools and the universities; the collapse of the public health system; the mismanagement of the electricity sector; and the corruption in petroleum import and distribution. There was a time when the GNP was criticized as not being a true measure of the economic resilience of traditional societies like Sri Lanka where the economic activities of the people are not fully integrated into the market system. Now, with the per capita income emerging as the privileged measure of uneven prosperity, it is fair to say that the mass of the people who fall below the average are doomed to remain underprivileged and neglected. Not to mention, the myth of Sri Lanka’s rising per capita income cannot be sustained without the sufferings of the Sri Lankan maids in the Middle East.  With a 99 year lease on government, there could be more harbours along the coast, an airport in every town, an interchange at every junction, and many more maids flying out to the Middle East to support not only their families but also the government’s economic statistics.

How did we get to this point in our political development after independence? There can be legions of answers to that question, but the question that is more appropriate and perhaps more difficult to answer is about the social compulsions that would have contributed to our present state of presidential politics. Equally important are the social consequences flowing from the presidential political system. Unlike in the case of Mexico, where the Institutional Revolutionary Party emerged as a device to incorporate competing political forces in a virtually one-party government, the presidential system in Sri Lanka is becoming a system of inclusion and exclusion centred on a single, extended family.

Ironically, JR Jayewardene set out to eliminate family bandyism – of the Senanayakes and the Bandaranaikes – from Sri Lankan politics, and he could hardly have imagined that his artful creation, that is the presidential system, would in thirty years become the institution of a single family that would have been nowhere on JR’s social and political radar. What is more, family-identification of political achievements is receiving a new impetus from unlikely sources with scientific credentials. The SLFP, it has recently been claimed, is as much a Party of the Rajapaksas as it is (or, was?) of the Bandaranaikes. That is rational progress of some kind.

To end on a different note, see what the Sri Lankan presidency is doing to the Catholic Church in Colombo. The Church officials are facing a different season of Advent this year. More anguish than Advent, perhaps: Will the Pope come, or will he not come, that is their question. It is the anguish of having to serve two masters, the spiritual Master of their calling and the temporal master of Sri Lankan politics. History has seen this tussle many times over. Recalling its most celebrated instance, it will not be charitable to expect a Sri Lankan Cardinal to be the Thomas More of our time. Equally, and not at all irreverently, it will not be uncharitable to say that no Sri Lankan Cardinal or Bishop should stoop to being a new Cardinal Woolsey. In Pope Francis, many see a new Pope trying his utmost to be different from the Church Pharisees. All one can hope for the Church leaders in Colombo is that in regard to the timing of the Papal visit, they will be led by their spiritual light and not by political expediency. The President of Sri Lanka is powerful enough, and he does not need divine help or Papal blessing, to secure not merely a third term but a 99 year lease on government.

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    “All Set For 3rd Term, Why Not Take A 99 Year Lease On Government?”

    Excellent proposal.

    Only thing is what would be after that ?

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      After that nothing will be left for ruling. Hence do not worry about the 99th year plus 1day.

  • 4
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    All those who voted in favour of the 18th amendment will go down as traitors to the nation in our history. And those shameless opportunists – Vasi Deva, Dew and Withaarana as shit-eaters!

  • 0
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    Rajan Philips –

    RE: All Set For 3rd Term, Why Not Take A 99 Year Lease On Government?

    Why Give up? Whyw wimp? Stop at 2 terms.[Edited out]

  • 2
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    An article, well written as always, and as always, very readable. It is s a pity, then that RP should have concluded it with some irrelevant comments about the Catholic Church hierarchy/State relations, in regard to the planned visit of the Pope in January. Clearly, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in SL has to tread a prudent line in the matter but there is no danger of it being asked to sacrifice its principles in the manner that Cardinal Wolsey and the clerics of his time, did in England all those years ago. Church/State relations have undergone significant changes since that time, and the Church and its ministers have lost the sort of political power they once exercised. So the reference to Cardinal Wolsey is irrelevant as is the reference to Thomas More.

    I have little doubt that the President will not hesitate to use the Papal visit to his advantage – he will do anything he can to progress his case, as others have done before him. RP is perhaps old enough to recall how even SWRD, then with the UNP, famously held out a rosary in the course of a speech in Catholic Negombo. Does anyone realistically believe that the Catholics of SL –at any rate, any significant numbers of them – are going to be influenced to vote for MR because he helped to make the Papal visit possible? Or is it not more realistic to ask whether the Catholics of Negombo and Chilaw will remember better, the two men shot to death in Negombo and in Chilaw by the Police, while engaged in a peaceful and legitimate protest? The days are long gone when people can continue to be exploited through deceit and dishonesty.

    What RP has to say in the rest of the article of course makes damned good sense. The way we are going we might as well formalise matters and establish the start of a monarchy starting with the House of Rajapakse, rather like the House of Windsor and all those other Royal Houses before it. We could also lay down a formal line of succession and decide on all those other accompanying trappings.

    JRJ will certainly not have foreseen that his brainchild would grow into its present grotesque form. He will certainly not have bargained for a Chief Justice who would give his blessings to cross-overs – one thing JRJ was determined to prevent – or for such a weakening of the checks and balances that were once in place.

    If he was still around, he’d be very much a sadder but wiser man. In the meantime, how perspicuous was Lord Acton when he observed that ‘all power tends to corrupt’? It is an enduring truth that is continuously being validated.

  • 3
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    99 year lease for the current corrupt regime? That will never happen! If the government survives the next PE, it will not be tolerated for long thereafter. The storm to wipe it out has already started gathering. It is only a matter of time!

    Sengodan. M

  • 1
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    bright suggestion Rajan. The Rajapakshes will now think about it.
    You should have brought up this proposal before October 2010.
    It would have been certainly done and you would have been credted as its archtect.

    We tamils always tend to come up with such proposals rather late in the day or miss the bus.

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    We all are beating the dead horse. That is what has been let with Tamils for last 65 years. So beating it for another 99 nine years may not suggest anything different on their mind. Their fate was decided long before by Donomore and Soulbury. The earliest decision was 1931 and the latest was 1944. So Tamil have been given to 99 or 165 years lease, that I am not sure; nor can predict anything on that.
    The Sinhalese has a different situation. The 18A is about third term. The popular talks are about the third term. The Supreme Court verdict is about third term. The coming election is about third term. But there was never, ever a third term existed in the real sky. The “third term” is only an illusionary or virtual phenomenon. I can site the Cinnamon Lake Hotel drama, in 2010, as the day the decision was made. Then I might end up suggesting there was a second term, not third term. In fact, elsewhere I had already done that occasionally too. But I cannot conceive the percentage of the accuracy of that kind of statement.

    The war was fought by Tamils youth for the right to study, work and have a family. When you start a war, there is nobody to insure the outcome. That is only pure risk taking. But the LTTE was not fighting in that kind of dark. There were many elements clear and bright enough to predict. Rather getting into all them and muddle through, we just can look at the one, that the one IC and UN’s let down the Tamil. UN had already passed its opinion about Lanka and had sent the Bahawati commission before the war. SLMM had operated inside the land, claiming the wring parties are brutally killing each other. There was a reasonable expectation from the Tamils, that they had the right to fight for their deprived right. But that is what not happened in Lanka. In fact it had cast its shadow on the future of the Lanka; that is whether it is going to be only First term or second term or third term.

    The rebels were put down more violently than Idi Amin. It was not the rebels were put down; it was the wipe out of Vanni in the name of putting down the rebels. America was in the scene. Western countries were there. UN was there. Amnesty international, ICG … everyone was there. Life after life, body after body… like never heard even in the world wars histories, Tamils were murdered. Tamils expectation of under the Sky where the sun comes, in the presence of International community, they had a right to fight for their lost place was shuttered. The IC kept their eyes closed. So it all happened like a dream. But there is more than that.

    The international community kept is eyes shut. But it was not an accidental or natural incident. It was a really well planned scheme. Japan, Norway, America, Europe, Israel were put in the hand. Such a master plan was handed over from one EP to another. Then the plan was expanded. Now the India and China were taken in. Even in ISIL situation, western world is maintaining decency. India has the reputation of handling its North and Eastern states. Communist China is known for the human rights violations. With the newly added partners, borders of the war ethics were redrawn. Old partners sidelined. The master scheme started to turning towards hell. Nevertheless the schemers did know that the old partners will help to the war but will request the accountability too. This is why the war had to be turned into “war without witnesses”.

    Those who did plan the war planned the war to be a “war without witnesses”. To achieve that just expelling few foreign would not do. Wiping out has be perfect genocide, without even a grass or shrub reaming on the land to give any kind of clue. The decision made on the child Balachandran life is the confirmation of this. The Schemers, who draw this plan, draw one more safety value for their safety. That is the decision, if necessary, no more elections! 99 years lease! The lease is, in fact started, with fake election. This was not possible in North. So, North was discarded for election. But India needed that election. So that had been temporally held and defeat was accepted. South cannot be so easily discarded like that. The elections over there have been orchestrated like the masterpieces of the century. Fonseka, after the Cinnamon Lake Hotel Drama, decided there will be no third term for him. Sobitha like inexperienced ones who were betting on CC for third term have been converted. So now it is very clear that the 99 years lease is not going to start. In fact, it had stated in 2005. It was then, one after other plans to do without election were drawn.

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