Colombo Telegraph

An October Revolution: Political Crisis, Transition & Transformation – A Political Science Perspective 

By Dayan Jayatilleka – 

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

1. As the Buddha and Heraclitus, to name but two of the greatest minds have said millennia ago, the only thing permanent is change. Change is of two sorts. One is gradual, evolutionary, incremental, with things remaining on a continuum. The other is ‘ruptural’, discontinuous, and dramatic. The first kind of change is quantitative. The other is qualitative. There two are not separated by a Chinese Wall. There is a transition from one to another. Ruptural, qualitative change is preceded by quantitative, gradual change. The signs and symptoms are always there to be read. The writing is always discernible on the wall, except for those who cannot or do not wish to see.

2. Political change, however dramatic, usually takes place through routine means of periodic election and according to the rules of the game. However, in any country, when the rules of the game are violated, for example, one party commences life as an unelected minority government, the majority in the Opposition is deprived of the official status and role of the Parliamentary Opposition and the post of Leader of the Opposition, elections are postponed etc., then the political game either moves outside the rules, or exceptional procedures embedded in the rules themselves kick in, just as there are emergency exits on an airplane.

3. Though it may or may not be traceable to Einstein, the saying that the definition of lunacy is to keep repeating the same thing while expecting a different result is a truism. If, 15 years ago, economic policies which hurt the living standards of the people and external, ethnic and security policies which affronted the national identity of a majority, combined to make a set of people deeply unpopular and vulnerable to intervention by the elected executive, and met with a disastrous end, a similar course of action 15 years later will inspire a similar outcome—an outcome endorsed by the electorate 15 years ago and likely to be repeated 15 years later. 

4. A leader who is elected by the country as a whole always has greater and higher legitimacy than one who is elected on a far narrower, localized basis.

5. Everything has to be located within the prevailing system and understood systemically. The rules and norms of the Westminster system either do not operate or operate only in a limited sense, in a different system. In an executive presidency, however reformed and modified, the center of gravity is the Presidency and the legislature, both upper and lower houses, have a different, subordinate relationship with the executive, which is located outside and above the legislature. The executive is relatively autonomous of the legislature. It is illogical and unproductive to seek to apply the logic of a Westminster system to a system in which the only leader, who is elected by the majority of the country taken as a whole, is the President who therefore is entrusted with executive power. In such a system it is the President who ultimately decides in an exceptional situation.

6. In some countries the political system is Presidential and unipolar. In other countries the political system is Presidential but is multi-polar, with, however, the Presidency being the hegemonic or dominant among the poles. The center of gravity in a Westminster model is the Parliament. The center of gravity in a presidential system is the Presidency—which is why the system is called Presidential! While a Presidency after reform may not enjoy a quasi-monopoly or even be as dominant as it once was, it is still preponderant in terms of power.

7. All politics is, in the final analysis, a matter of state power, and state power is different from government power. In a presidential system, the elected executive is the principle wielder of state power. 

8. State power is always politico-military, not purely a matter of legislative arithmetic. Mao may have overstated it a bit when he said ‘All political power flows from the barrel of a gun’, but as a philosopher, politico-military leader and poet, he got to the crux of things and expressed it pithily. What he said is essentially true even in a democracy insofar as the elected president is also the Minister of Defense and the Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces. 

9. While state power is always ultimately politico-military, political power in general always derives from and rests upon the people. The overwhelming weight of evidence of political change the world over proves irrefutably that a combination of economic policies which generate popular hardship while also hurting the national entrepreneurial class, political policies which cause or signal a retrenchment of the national state, external policies which cede control of national assets and/or territory to foreign powers or entities (Brussels in some cases, Geneva in others), taken together or in any permutation or combination, generates a social and national backlash leading to dramatic change. 

10. Such changes almost always take place through or are endorsed at elections, resulting in the victory of populism, usually nationalist-populism, be it of the Left, Right, Center, center-left or center-right. This global dynamic of contemporary history which goes back to Russia in the 1990s and the Russian people’s durable, repeated, continuing rejection of the economic liberalism (‘shock therapy’) and West-appeasing policies of that decade, are unknown to or ignored only by the politically illiterate or ignorant, and they have obviously ignored it at their very considerable political peril.   

Back to Home page