By Kumar David –
Danger has surfaced, there is a threat of a return to authoritarianism which may harden into semi-fascism. The dark side is unifying and mobilising. Those who are for democracy, the Jan 8 Movement, the left in all its complexions, national minorities and liberals must prepare to join battle. In 2015 we decided on a common candidate to use as a lever to resolve a Single Issue, restoration of democracy. Democracy has been restored; the lever MS has rotted and been discarded; no problem. If the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, then the people must reawaken every time peril returns.
About half the LG councils are “hung” in the sense that no one party has a clear majority to form an Administration. This is a consequence of Compensatory Proportional Representation (CPR). I described CPR with an illustrative table in my column on 4 Feb. Take Jaffna MC; the ITAK polled about 37% and was awarded 16 seats (FPP+PR). All others shared 63% and secured 26 seats (FPP+PR); Gajendra Kumar’s party 13 in total, the EPDP 10 and smaller entities 6 seats. Fifteen of the ITAK’s seats were FPP; only one PR. GK’s party and the EPDP won 9 FPP seats between them, but pocketed a thumping 13 PR places under CPR. Had it been an all-FPP, 40-constituency election, the ITAK would have bagged about 30. (All numbers are for illustration).
This pattern has repeated itself all over the Island; not one LG body in Jaffna District has a single-party majority. SLPP got 40% to 50% in many Sabhas but is unable to form an Administration since the balance of power lies with others, UNP, JVP, UPFA/SLFP or CWC. Wheeling and dealing goes on; as usual in Lanka, politicos are bought and sold by the crate. Those who anticipated a power struggle and crisis between a RW-MS Centre and an MR Periphery bungled their arithmetic, again.
Crisis of Government, not State
I remember reading 10 days ago in the pro-Rajapaksa Island newspaper (not to be confused with Sunday Island) an assertion that the polls ushered in a state of Dual Power. Rubbish it did not! In revolutionary Paris in 1848 real power (physical control of the city, its institutions and the streets) was contested; two regimes were at war. The writings Pierre-Joseph Proudhon describe it well. It was dual power, though the term was coined 50 years later by Lenin to describe chaotic conditions in Petrograd from Feb to Oct 1917 when two governments, two armies, two state-powers prevailed. The nearest Lanka came to dual power was in the Vanni in the 1990s when two states overlapped. The currency was Colombo’s, Colombo paid salaries, sent food and ran services, while the LTTE had an army, police, Ministries (Forestry, Agriculture etc) and levied taxes. Two governments ruled the same people and the same territory simultaneously. It is like that in Syria and Iraq’s Kurdish territories now. Only a novice would call the post LG-election predicament in Sri Lanka dual power.
Still, let’s not quibble over terminology; is there a latent crisis of state power, is dual power on the horizon, are we heading there? I don’t think so; but here’s a hypothetical scenario, and were things to go this way, it would be dual power. Say Rajapaksa mobilises his crowds for direct action, say the streets are occupied with throngs demanding Ranil’s removal, say Ranil refuses and the President is trapped (he cannot dismiss the PM without a vote of no-confidence in parliament). Say fired up masses flaunt de-facto power like in Cory Aquino’s yellow revolution, say relations between LG bodies and the centre break down, the country becomes ungovernable and the military wavers. Now that would be dual power, but we are nowhere near, and most unlikely to get there – except what I will say later regarding the national question.
One other comment before moving on. Prof Hoole’s “Let’s Not Insult Women: Devolving Powers To Women Is No Burden” (Colombo Telegraph 17 Feb) is lucid and essential reading to understand how the 25% minimum quota for women will be implemented. Many people are not clear how this excellent new provision will be executed.
Can the Unity Government recover?
A crisis of state power it is not, but a crisis of government is upon us. If Ranil goes as PM – possible only if his party wills it – it can be used to advantage by yahapalana. Whether RW continues as party leader while, say #, becomes PM is beside the point. The odds favour the status quo, that is a MS-RW-Administration (MS-RW-A) enduring, but be that as it may, what will the UNP do to try to recover by 2020? It will have to undercut Mahinda-SLPP’s three trump cards; racism, the corruption dilemma and cost of living. This yahapalana menagerie is incapable of addressing the first, but it can make headway on the other two.
The government has blackened its copybook by consorting with rogues and killers. If corrupt Ministers – there are stacks – had been prosecuted and thrown behind bars, if the Lasantha case had not been wilfully derailed by powers at the top, if rogues like Mr Tenpercent, Mr MiG and Mr SL-Airlines were in prison, then MS-RW would not be spat upon as now. If the UNP hopes to rebuild barricades by 2020 it will have to make amends for harbouring criminals. I doubt it has the willpower, balls and guts to mount even a belated offensive to throw felons into whatever pit they deserve to be dumped in (unfortunately the death penalty has been abolished). If the UNP acts even now (forget MS he is dead meat) it could improve its electoral prospects. Those calling for Fonseka to be Law & Order Minister are sending the same message in their own way.
A key statistic is that 1.49 million UNP voters (13.04% of valid votes cast) abstained in Feb 2018 compared to August 2015. If the UNP cannot win back this vote bank it does not have a hope in hell. Also note that if, say, half these votes had been cast, the apparent percentage of the SLPP would have slipped from 44.7% to 40.7%, the SLFP/UPFA from 13.4% to 12.2%, and so on with others. I make this remark because, perhaps, chastened UNP voters may not boycott in such large numbers in future Provincial, General and Presidential elections.
Let me touch on cost of living concerns. How is MS-RW-A (or MS-#-A) likely to respond to the popular demand for more goodies to eat and enjoy – long-term development be damned! I am not a UNPer and have no role advising it; my job is to judge what it is likely to do. My answer is, it will swing to economic populism. Mangala’s perspective and budget were long-term and development oriented – it is not neoliberal, notwithstanding the ‘analysis’ of left ignoramuses. It is growth-oriented capitalism. Not my cup of tea, but my point is that this will be pruned. Guardian angels in the IMF will permit more deficit financing (jargon ‘fiscal loosening’), allow increased debt (jargon ‘debt slippage’) – it’s the mutts who come after 2020 who will pay – and wink at concessions to consumption over development (jargon ‘hand-outs’).
People want to eat, drink and anjoi no! The culture of sacrificing present consumption for future betterment is not Lankan, unlike the ethos of East Asia. So, our ensnared government will shift gear to give people what they want. What I anticipate for the next two years is that MS-RW-A (or MS-#-A) will swing in a populist direction to recoup lost electoral ground. Even privatisation – good riddance if Sri Lankan Air goes – will be for the purpose of raising cash to feed the masses. Ranil has attributed the defeat to economic setbacks, this of course is to deflect attention from his failure to fight corruption, but it does indicate that more “hand-outs” are on the way.
Populist economics and an aggressive drive to lock up Rajapaksa era crooks and murderers may pay dividends. My view is that with no other options, this will be the government’s game plan.
Dead-end for Tamils
As for the national question, prospects are bleak. Political prisoners will not be released, return of military occupied land to owners will be at snail’s pace and fittings will be looted before return, rehabilitation at 5000 a year will take 20-30 years to complete, and what about devolution and the constitution? Rajapaksa chauvinism killed devolution, Sirisena was an accomplice. Race and religion, overt or subliminal, have been bigoted for 70 years; deep racial pathology changes very slowly, if at all. Even if the government contains pressure by addressing corruption and easing cost of living concerns, the one trump in the Rajapaksa-SLPP pack that can do much mischief is racism.
The Tamils and the TNA are up the gum tree; the poor sods have been taken for a ride for the fifth or sixth time. They are better off buying real-estate from Elon Musk to settle on planet Mars than to expect justice from the Sinhalese. Tamil nationalism will strengthen, overshadowing a progressive trend in Kilinochi (Chandrakumar) and pluralism in Mannar and Vavuniya.
There will be no devolution, constitutional amendments may scrap the executive presidency but not devolve power to minorities, no police powers, no release of political prisoners, minimal resettlement, inadequate reconciliation and aggravation of the psyche of alienation. This is where a crisis of state power will ripen, slowly but surely; this is Lanka’s latent crisis of state.
The government will awaken to the tactical benefits of economic populism and it cannot evade the corruption quagmire any longer, but it cannot do anything about the Tamils. However, it is neither the government or its supine leaders, but mobilisation of people – including of course the lower rungs of the UNP – that can be a bulwark against tyranny. Hey, any UNP Ministers ready to discard comfortable sinecures and come join and organise the real struggle? Welcome!