By Jude Fernando –
“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament” — V.I. Lenin, 1917.
“The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to reject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion” — Paulo Freire, 1993.
The Common Candidate Club’s (CCC’s) choice of Maithripala Sirisena to challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa is undoubtedly prudent. Maithripala’s 100-day national government promises to revitalise the political culture that has lost its resilience and failed to counter the country’s slide towards plutocracy, and if permitted stratocracy, under an autocratic executive presidency. The CCC should not presume its position resonates enough with the majority population to muster sufficient votes to defeat Rajapaksa. It comprises strange bedfellows united primarily in response to the country’s miserable state that they primarily attribute to the autocratic Presidency. None has established ‘populist credentials’ sufficient to match those of the Rajapaksa’s. Sirisena’s victory is not assured. Could we expect a change in the current obstreperous political culture under the Rajapaksa regime?
The political culture to which I refer is the culture of governance (i.e., ideas, norms, values and power relations) that evolved since the introduction of the executive presidential system in 1977. The CCC is a response to multiple crises. First, the culture has evolved into an autocracy typical of patrimonial regimes where the autocrat subordinates the economy and society as an “extension of his household” to the logic of economic and cultural tributes upon which his survival depends. The system produces corrupt rent seekers and wealth appropriators dependent on the autocrat’s patronage. Corruption breeds corruption and is permitted as long as the autocrat’s power remains intact. The rule of law as a safeguard of freedom and expression of “moral consciousness” is broken, and society is brought to anguish and submission. Destroyed are the capabilities of the nation to protect its economic and political sovereignty and interracial justice and equality. This system of governance, typical of neocolonialism in post-colonial states, is, paradoxically, advanced under the pretext of protecting the country from neocolonialists.
Second, the above contradictions prevent the system from working for the general interests of society. Rather, those in power pursue their own self-interest. The rupture between the culture and the rest of society is widening. Fixing that rupture is unimaginable without abolishing the presidency because the boundary between the culture and the president is indistinguishable. Presidential immunity breeds a culture of impunity in all areas of governance. This culture survives because either society is fearful and deprived of necessary democratic freedoms and institutions, or society has internalised the idea that the hegemonic culture is normal and no viable alternative exists. The idea that the culture could survive even after abolishing the executive presidency is put forth by those complicit with the status quo and those ignorant of humans’ historically proven capacity to change their world.
The upcoming presidential election is less a battle between democracy and autocracy than a battle between the CCC and the current political culture. Can the CCC induce the majority of voters to reject the current culture and, within three months, endorse the idea of a national government as paving the way for a more democratic future? This entails erasing doubts about the presidency, the common candidate and his agenda, and the potential stability of a coalition government. What is called for is a self-reflexive critical analysis of the limits to the ruling regime’s bases of power and authority: patron-client relations, neoliberal economic policies and ethnoreligious nationalism and xenophobia. The public remembers that many CCC members established or nurtured these power bases. The opposition faces not only the incumbent president and his firm grip over the culture that sustains him but also the country’s mainstream education system, religions and media. They provide little help for developing a broad-based counter-hegemonic political consciousness. These uncertainties favour the opposition’s arguments for abolishing the presidency rather than arguments to prune presidential powers.
That the presidency is the primary target of dissent is no accident. President J.R. Jayewardene’s government imposed the presidency on society by violating all democratic procedures. The presidency’s evolution is inseparable from the progressive undermining of democratic institutions, the ascendency of the neoliberal economy and the increased influence of nationalism and xenophobia in state affairs. Every subsequent president’s consolidation of power meant increasing deprivation, the dispossession of the masses’ economic, political and cultural rights and rising levels of violence and militarisation.
Critical discourse of the presidency as an institution is largely limited to urban areas. Residents of rural areas may not make connections between the presidency’s concentration of power and the numerous issues they face. They may not support its abolishment. However, underestimating the rural population’s political consciousness would be myopic. Conventional political analyses (i.e. historicist types) often underestimate the progressive political consciousness among the ‘illiterate’ and ‘uninformed’ masses (i.e. subaltern classes) and forget their historical roles in counter hegemonic action. They may simply be waiting for an opportune moment. The opposition could leverage that opportunity by strategically appropriating the public appeal of the post-war images of the president.
The president as king may be appealing to the majority because he embodies and protects their identity and cultural aspirations. The LTTE’s defeat reinforced the popular perception of the necessity of an all-powerful authority to safeguard the country’s unity and integrity, and Rajapaksha alone has proven he can provide such leadership. The successful defeat of the LTTE as evidence of the presidency’s importance is misleading. Most presidents gained great political mileage forming opportunistic alliances with and/or later waging war on the LTTE rather than sincerely investing effort into finding a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict. A constellation of many different forces ensured the LTTE’s defeat including many Western countries. Yet the regime distributed honour for war heroes and war victory dividends to consolidate its power.
After winning the war, Rajapaksa extended the image of the warrior and unifying president to further consolidate his power. The opposition has rarely challenged the sociological and historical bases of the popular images of presidents and their political exploits. Such questioning risks making the popular images appear as the cause of ethnic conflict. Instead, opposition leaders nurtured the same images for themselves. Some joined the regime when they decided it was unlikely that a leader other than Rajapaksa would be able to cultivate such an image.
Many believe Rajapaksa is fair and benevolent, but his siblings and their close dependents are not. The president often assumes the role of peacemaker in disputes attributed to members of his ruling coalition. The media reinforces this good cop-bad cop dialectic with unsubstantiated stories on divisions and tensions within the Rajapaksa family. This has helped the regime to disguise how power and authority are distributed among family members and deflect dissent from the places where the power is really concentrated.
The resolution of the good cop-bad cop dialectic within the family equates family with the state. The state is represented as an ethical idea, the embodiment of reason, the actualisation of freedom and a place where contradictions in society are resolved. Hence, all citizens must subordinate themselves to its will. In reality, however, ethics and reason as embodied in ‘Mahinda Chinthanya’ meant ever-increasing consolidation of power within the family-state, alienation of the masses from the affairs of state, subordination of the their economic and political freedoms to the family’s will and greater restriction of society’s freedom to pursue alternative means of restoring these freedoms.
President Rajapaksa admitted that all presidents have abused power, but still extended his term through court approval rather than a referendum. The regime turned profoundly anti-democratic as the president harnessed popular nationalism to consolidate his power over every area of governance and substitute his popularity for the substance of democratic rule. The implicit message was that he alone could protect democracy.
The presidency is under threat because populism is fast losing its ability to disguise the links between the president’s abuse of power and crises of democracy and the economy. He must rush the election to benefit from whatever social and military capital he still possesses. Even if he voluntarily “pruned” his powers, doing so would not lead to substantive changes in the way power is distributed and exercised within the regime and in every institution important for democracy.
Enter Maithripala Sirisena
Sirisena’s popularity lies in the president’s failure to create political stability based on democratic foundations and a sustainable economy. Sirisena’s political life so far is untainted by allegations of abuse of power and corruption. As a politician, he would have been unhappy with the grim prospects of his climbing the political ladder and the marginalisation of the SLFP within the ruling regime. Even as prime minister, his powers have been nominal. Still, voters’ primary concern should not be his political ambitions, but the lack of democracy within the ruling regime and its abuse of power. These are primarily moral issues that can make even the most corrupt politician to rethink his /her political trajectory. Voters should assess Sirisena’s credibility in terms of his proposal to abolish the presidency, his willingness to share power with the opposition leader and his dedication to checks and balances. They should note the fundamental difference between the incumbent president, who admitted that all presidents have abused power and continues to extend his influence, and a presidential hopeful who vows to abolish the presidency.
Stability of the Coalition
The UPFA and CCC are coalitions; the question of stability should apply equally to both. The CCC is about seizing political space from the ruling coalition and democratising it. The ruling party, however, will cast doubt on the potential stability of the national government under Sirisena.
One chief minister of the ruling regime claimed that Sirisena is a loser whether he wins or loses, since a win would ostensibly make him Ranil Wickremesinghe’s puppet. Both prime ministers and presidents can abuse power. The government campaign will invoke Wickremesinghe’s political legacy when he was prime minister under the JRJ government. He has lost 29 elections and failed to both consolidate his leadership within the party and present a credible plan for the country’s future. Wickremesinghe, who will likely become prime minister, could be a liability for Sirisena’s victory, unless Sirisena convinces the voters that his reforms contain checks and balances to prevent Wickremesinghe’s repeating his political legacy. Ruling regime will campaign will continue to raise doubts stability of a 100-day national government under Sirisena diverse in many respects.
The CCC and the ruling regime are diverse in terms of ethnicity, religion and race. Diversity in the ruling party coalition is meaningless when the distribution of power and authority among its members is asymmetric. The president and his siblings control over 60 percent of the national budget. The number of ministers who defected from the government indicated that their ministries are powerless to serve the country’s interests. Their survival depends on internalising the ruling family’s values and interests and endorsing its policies. Decisions are made not on the basis of shared ideology through a democratic process, but through force and patronage. Despite defections and public exposés of corruption and nepotism, the ruling coalition remains unwilling to democratise governance.
Creating a stable democracy does not require a monolithic state where the prime minister and president belong to the same party, as feared by some undecided voters, but a system that eliminates the asymmetrical distribution of power the executive presidency established. Recently, hard-line ethnonationalists argued for the containment of President Rajapaksha’s powers, as opposed to abolishing the presidency, primarily to reduce minorities’ bargaining power, claiming that those minorities are aligned with external threats to the country.
Maithripala’s prospects of winning the election depend on how he helps the masses to process the dilemmas between benefits and anxieties of regime change that from the contradictions in the current bases of political power (e.g. Patron-Clientalism, neoliberalism, ethnonationalism.)
After the war, the ruling regime’s stability stemmed from the president’s ability to purchase political power through patronage, not from loyalty to him or his political ideology. The crisis of the ruling regime is patronage’s limited ability to maintain loyalty to the president. The patronage system is imposed from not only above by unscrupulous leaders but also inside and outside the ruling coalition by those seeking alternative ways to increase their share of government spoils. This system has completely shattered the authority of democratic institutions over economic and political transactions, rendering them racist, xenophobic and violent.
A successful campaign to abolish the presidency should focus on the patronage-based political power embodied in the presidency itself, not the president as an individual. Viewing an individual as the locus of political power is misleading, when that power is maintained by a complex and dynamic horizontal and vertical system of patron-client relations dispersed throughout society. Patronage is so ingrained and normalised in every sphere that any alternative seems alien and risky. People may not realise the extent to which their conduct in daily affairs is about exercising power according to the imperatives of the centre. This is characteristic of a society with no shame in accepting or giving patronage and where legal safeguards against patronage are dysfunctional or work under the same system.
Regime change is not simply about capturing the centre when the centre’s power is distributed throughout society and rationalised and made meaningful through a complex array of ideological and material interventions. These practices disguise the power on the periphery as emanating from the centre. Thus, people struggle to make connections between the power of the centre and the periphery. Internalisation of the centre’s power in daily affairs means that people fear regime change equates to abdicating their personal identity, autonomy and security.
Governments since 1977 progressively used patronage rather than merit as the main qualification for entering the judiciary, civil service, security forces and Foreign Service. Patronage is also the primary mechanism for resource allocation and decision-making freedoms in economic development and the distribution of benefits to wider society. Patronage is a strategy to cope with the deprivations and dispossession resulting from neoliberal economic policies and the politicisation of democratic institutions. The influence of patronage on intellectuals is suspected when they omit and distort facts about the ruling regime and periodically shift their seemingly critical positions of that regime. Challenging patronage means challenging the way society normally operates.
Patron-client relations are not entirely internal to Sri Lankan society, but are deliberately reproduced and incorporated by the neoliberal capitalist system and geopolitical forces to disguise their control over the country’s economic, political and social development. These relations thrive when the neoliberal economy is no longer able to access resources and mobilise the people’s compliance for its reproduction and manage crises without state intervention. Patronage is essential for increasing market share, while laying the responsibility of managing public dissent against economic inequities on local leaders’ shoulders.
The patronage system is the accumulation of power through the dispossession of power. Hence, the system is riddled with contradictions and inherently unstable. Patron-client relations are not completely voluntary agreements between two parties, but agreements based on mutual fears and vulnerabilities. Clients are disenchanted when they realise patrons use patronage to deprive them of equal voice in governance. Navin Dissanayake, at his press conference, hinted at the country’s economic and political vulnerabilities to geopolitical exploits when patronage is bankrolled by geopolitical powers, meaning greater sacrifice of the country’s economic and political sovereignty.
The patronage system’s legitimacy does not rest entirely on its direct material benefits to clients, but its appeal to people’s religious, ethnic and social aspirations. In multi-ethnic societies where identity politics play a critical role in legitimising the state, patronage systems are not inclusive, but discriminatory and prone to conflict.
Rejecting patronage becomes dissent against the regime, which could carry harsh punishment, especially for clients with plenty of secrets the patron could exploit. Then loyalty is maintained through unlawful means, such as usurpation of democratic institutions, threats like undated resignation letters and secret files on ruling party members. The president survives through allowing citizens to indulge in misdeeds and using those misdeeds to punish them when they become a threat. In order to cope with the uncertainties and risks in holding the regimes potential opponents as hostages, it has to increase monetary and ideological investments in national security apparatus-which is also an opportunity to make investments socially and economically viable in the post-war political economy
Patronising the national security apparatus is essential when economic expansion is inextricably linked to expansion of that apparatus and when the war against terror loses its ideological appeal. Then the majority’s compliance to the regime’s policies is no longer assured. This is especially true when the public resists the acquisition of property and other resources for commercial purposes. Enhancing the investments and powers of the national security establishment in development comes at the expense other areas of social investment and the freedom of the civilian institutions. The government suspicion of civilian institutions is likely to increase its reliance on institutional loyalty of the military active and retired from service. The security forces’ loyalty to the regime cannot be presumed, particularly during times of acute economic and political crises. To cope with possible disloyalty, governments could resort to the discriminatory distribution of patronage. Such divisions endanger the military’s autonomy and integrity and ability to safeguard national security. Martial law becomes a real possibility when the regime and its dependents have too much at stake to lose power and civilian institutions fail to prevent public discontent.
The opposition’s battle for regime change faces a broad array of forces that benefit from and bankroll the regime’s patronage. Abolishing the presidency makes sense, as the presidency coordinates the power relations evolving from patron-client relations and forms an obstacle to transforming them. The opposition’s victory depends on its ability to win the voters’ confidence that its proposal for a national government has can create an alternative institutional environment that would seek political stability through non-patron-client relations.
The Neoliberal Economy
The post-1977 executive presidency inevitably resulted from the increasing governmental burden to rapidly create institutional conditions for the expansion of neoliberal economic policies and suppress dissent. Such policies endanger equality, increasing a minority’s accumulation of wealth through dispossessing the majority; hence, the economic system is unstable and vulnerable to economic and political crises. The crisis of the presidency today is also the crisis of the neoliberal economy, where both public and neoliberal institutions attribute these crises to the failure of governance under executive presidency.
A national government under Sirisena is unlikely to entertain an economic ideology radically different from neoliberalism, and neoliberal institutions are unlikely to permit any type of governance contrary to the interests of global plutocracy. This is precisely the reason the public needs a democratic space. The opposition campaign needs to convince the public of the dark realities behind the high growth in GDP and publicly visible mega infrastructure development projects. Broader social and environmental interests must challenge notions of these projects’ efficiency.
Let’s take a few examples. As agriculture and water become important means of the minority’s accumulating wealth, an increasing number of people face food and water insecurity, unfortunately in a country rich in soil, water, genetically diverse plants and well-developed agricultural know-how and infrastructure. Poverty among the peasantry grows with the increasing wealth of agro-chemical and processing industry and supermarket shareholders. Land prices and inequality in land ownership continue to increase as commercial investors acquire land. The authorities are not concerned about population displacement and the environmental consequences of land alienation. The prices of urban high rises and gated communities are beyond the reach of most citizens, and soon citizens will not be able to afford even houses, as these housing development schemes have the indirect effect of increasing overall housing prices. Public investments in health, education and transportation do not increase according to citizens’ needs or maintain and improve their services. The increase of private sector investments in these areas drives prices. Hard earned remittances are used to fund sectors that are of little benefit to their earners and the most citizens. Such biased development caters only to a small minority of the rich, while the majority suffers from the consequences of gentrification and urban sprawl.
The entire development agenda is driven by borrowing at high commercial interest rates, and the developments are unlikely to pay off these debts, meaning future generations will have to bear the burden of debt and high inflation. The rapid progress of these developments is accompanied by the increasing militarisation of the economy. Militarisation is not simply an imposition from above that began with Rajapaksa’s regime, but a structural necessity of the neoliberal economy for rapid and profitable acquisition of property according the wishes of the investors and their political patrons through bypassing due process and managing protest against such practices.
Development of the post-war economy is represented as essential to safeguard the ethnonational ideal of the state. Minorities are told that peace will trickle down from development, and the state hopes that gains from development will stop their demands for political rights. The development-induced restructuring of the landscape and acquisition of resources could disproportionately impact economically and politically vulnerable communities. Such negative implications may not be a concern for most voters when they are represented as essential for protecting “national interests and security.”
The opposition has not offered a compelling alternative economic paradigm to address these issues. What it offers is a political paradigm based on the premise that these issues stem from the ruling regime’s bad governance (e.g., corruption and lack of transparency and accountability), which the new regime’s good governance will correct. This argument has the blessing of neoliberal institutions, which usually attribute economic failures to political failure.
The people’s protest against the regime’s economic policies and support for good governance does not necessarily mean they would embrace a new economic order: socially and environmentally sustainable lifestyles. This is simply an expression of their desire to acquire what the current regime deprives them of. Both the oppressors and the oppressed have internalised the same economic ideals. They both fear radical changes in the economic paradigm.
Majority support for alternative economic paradigms poses even more of a challenge in a society where religions, as guardians of society’s moral consciousness, fail to provide a moral critique of neoliberalism. Moral critique does not entail their support for an alternative paradigm, either. Most religious leaders attribute economic failures to political leaders’ moral bankruptcy rather than to that of the neoliberal ideology. Doing so would undermine the economic and social bases of their respective religious establishments. These leaders provide a religious look to good governance’s agenda of neoliberalism, thereby blocking the possibility of counter-hegemonic economic consciousness.
Alternative economic thinking is also unlikely to emerge when the centres that produce knowledge of economic development (e.g., Economics departments) are subservient to neoliberal ideology. The presidency is a product of mobilising state power to put neoliberal economic knowledge into practice. Ironically, these economists protest reductions in the government’s investments in education and low teacher salaries without recognising that these reductions stem from the same economics they produce!
With promises of millions of jobs and short-term relief packages, the regime deceives the people. Neoliberal institutions are unlikely to adopt any economic policy contrary to their interests. The CCC’s best option is to expose the limits and dangers of current economic policies and demonstrate how its reforms will increase democratic deliberation on those policies and establish checks and balances. The people must also hear that the president and his cronies’ excessive control has precluded their actively participating in economic affairs and benefiting from them, but rather increased the country’s economic and political vulnerabilities.
Fear of the “Other”
The ruling party’s election campaign will avoid discussion of the presidency, focusing on Rajapaksa’s ability to protect the country against external threats and conspiracies. Some in the ruling party already claimed that Sirisena’s presidential bid is an external conspiracy, and the president vowed not to let external forces dominate the country. Sirisena and Dr Harsha de Silva quickly promised that they would protect the president from inter-national tribunals on war crimes. This is indicative of the power that the external enemy commands in the nation’s political consciousness and the challenge it could pose for Maithripala.
Constructions of external enemies are racist and projected against vulnerable minorities and anyone who threatens state power. The regime is in crisis, as the public becomes aware that these constructions disguise the fact that the creators of these enemies are enemies of the state themselves, and their policies to safeguard the country against external threats are about strengthening the ruling elite’s power. More important, they have made the country even more vulnerable to external threats than any other regime since independence. Still worse, the country is devolving in terms of economic development and democratic freedoms.
True enemies of a truly national government are the ethnoreligious nationalists, xenophobes and culturists spread across the entire spectrum of social and political institutions. This needs to be understood in light of competing claims for a symbolic and real collective identity in an increasingly atomising and highly competitive society under neoliberal economic policies, the marginalisation of class in favour of ethnicity and race in politics, the blurring of the distinction between the political and economic positions of the left and right and the political parties’ refusal to rally people around a national identity different from the hegemonic one.
Since the war, the disjuncture between the inclusive and exclusive meanings of “national” has widened. The former meaning has grown more popular. In fact, the government’s economic, political and security projects have institutionalised it. The majority and the government do not see the disjunction as an issue that needs urgent attention in their nation-building efforts. CCC members either have been silent or have directly and indirectly nurtured the monolithic, romanticised, distorted and racialised representations of the history and archaeology underpinning the exclusive meaning.
Although the war against the LTTE was justified as a precondition of resolving ethnic issues, the opposition political parties never showed a sincere interest in ensuring that the government honoured its promise. They rarely had the moral integrity to challenge the discriminatory applications of laws on activists and journalists to prevent racism from undermining communal harmony. Nor did they challenge the sociological and historical bases of ethnoreligious nationalism and xenophobia. The educational system, media and religions do not facilitate the development of such critical political consciousness, either.
The absence of a critical discourse of racism and nationalism in higher education and media has deprived society of an environment in which people can confront racism and xenophobia and at least start being politically correct. This critical discourse is limited to a small minority. Their outreach is limited. Opposition political parties generally maintain a distance, since members of this minority are marginalised and branded as collaborators with external conspirators.
The priority of the religious establishment is not preserving the integrity of the moral teachings in their respective defences of the nation, its economy and politics, but their parochial interests. Even minority religions voice concerns against the ‘external enemy’ when perceiving threats to their respective faith community. Preservation of religious teachings is of secondary importance to protection of race, territory and the economy.
The majority is complicit in the suppression of human rights abuses and political dissent when protecting ‘national interests’ against the external threats theoretically emanating from Western countries—despite the overwhelming evidence of non-Western powers’ colonisation of the country. Efforts to protect the country against external interference failed, and the country is more isolated from the international community than ever. The regime seeks to overcome isolation by making alliances with those forces that have the least regard for human rights and seek control over the region. The opposition was never a critical voice against the political exploitation of anti-Western rhetoric in situations where Western criticisms were legitimate and provided a voice to local people whose rights were violated. In international forums, the opposition always distanced itself from those transnational actors and the local civil society organisations critical of the ruling party’s human rights abuses. In fact, opposition leaders asserted that if they were in power, they would not have allowed international interference in the country’s internal affairs, preventing the UN inquiry into war crimes.
The opposition’s strategy is to use the incumbents’ response to ethnic issues to capture state power and enhance its own public credentials among the majority community as better equipped to safeguard national interests against foreigners. Like the government, opposition leaders treated violence against minorities simply as law and order problems, not injustices resulting from systemic problems and ideological position of the mainstream political parties. The opposition blamed ‘extremists’ (for riots against minorities) and the government (for failing to maintain order), but not the hardliner’s or government’s ideological narratives that the majority population could be complicit with.
Executive Presidency is both indispensable and inadequate for the ethnonationalist project. Ethno nationalism provides continuity to neoliberal economic project by simultaneously disguising and combining regime’s neoliberal identity from the ethno nationalist’s identity. It is also inadequate as the continuity of the neoliberal agenda undermines the popular ideological foundations of the ethnonationalist project. Herein lies the explanation for the cracks within the ethno nationalist camp, and it’s divisions and periodically shifting political loyalties that are based on bourgeoisie nationalist ideology it shares with the mainstream political parties. Giving up the bourgeoisie foundations in favor of politically and economically egalitarian foundations is likely to undermine the racist foundations of ethonationalism. Paradoxically, spirituality-based moral claims of the ethnonationalist camps could turn the masses against the regime.
The regime is in crisis not because the masses have now arrived at a critical consciousness of ethnoreligious nationalism and xenophobia, but rather their fears of ‘external’ enemies are less of a concern than the issues they face and the regime’s abuses of power. Similarly, the exodus of the hard-line nationalist parties from the regime means the influence of ethnoreligious nationalism and xenophobia on maintaining the stability of the regime is falling, rather than indicating radical changes in their ideological positions. Simultaneously, containing their influence over democratic institutions is impossible while the executive presidency sits at the apex, and institutions’ power requires patronising these ideologies. Abolishing the presidency, rather than its containment, is essential to marginalise the influence of these ideologies on governance.
Both the opposition and ruling coalition are multiethnic and multireligious. Minority political parties can play a pivotal role in the opposition’s efforts to democratise governance if they can ensure the opposition’s MOU is sincere about creating an institutional environment for minorities to pursue justice and equality.
The election is about people’s entitlement to a democratic space to pursue freedom and justice. It is about reclaiming that space that the governments, particularly since 1977, have seized. It would be politically inexpedient to expect the common candidate to directly challenge or promise immediate change to the culture of patronage, neoliberal economic policies, ethnoreligious nationalism and xenophobia. Most likely, these forces will find ways to resolve their contradictions and limitations and rehabilitate and continue to exert their power under the new regime. The promise of the reforms under a 100-day national government is that the new leaders will interrupt the status quo and prevent further erosion of the public trust in democratic institutions, which is one of the most urgent preconditions for creating a space to pursue alternatives. This would minimise the influence of those forces responsible for social and economic injustices and restore checks and balances on political leaders, preventing further abuses of power. Bringing such change means self-destruction for the ruling regime. Thus, we must take our chances with Maithripala Sirisena.