Colombo Telegraph

Dayan Jayatilleka’s Arguments For Supporting Mahinda: False Premises And Faulty Logic

By Niranjan Rambukwella

This article is not about Dayan Jayatilleka – it’s about the arguments he uses to defend the Rajapaksa regime. These arguments are currently the most sophisticated apologies that exist for the Rajapaksa regime. If they are flawed, then the entire foundation underlying the case for supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa crumbles.

Arguments can be flawed for two distinct reasons. First, if an argument’s premises are false. The second cause of flawed arguments is invalid logic linking premises to conclusions. For example, the conclusion in the argument below:

Premise I: Socrates is a man

Premise II: All men are mortals

Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

holds because the premises are true and the logic linking the premises to the conclusion is valid. If either of them were faulty then the conclusion would not hold.

Dayan’s has two inter-linked arguments for supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa. The first argument is to arrive at to the conclusion that voting for Maithripala Sirisena will result in a Ranil or Chandrika government. The second argument, that we should vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa because his track record is better that Ranil/Chandrika, depends on the first. But the first argument is flawed because its logic is faulty. The second fails because its premises are false and also because of faulty logic.

Faulty Logic – A Vote for Maithripala is a Vote for Ranil/CBK

Here’s Dayan’s first argument.

Premise I: Maithripala Sirisena will shift power away from the President towards the Prime Minister. As Dayan puts it, “Maithripala Sirisena will occupy a shrunken Presidency and therefore wield reduced authority and power will be shifted to Parliament and the Cabinet.”

Premise II: Either Chandrika or Ranil will become Prime Minister

Conclusion: Therefore, Ranil or Chandrika will “wield real power and influence” i.e. govern Sri Lanka.

These premises are true, but the logic is invalid. If Maithripala wins, both he and Chandrika/Ranil will share power. Therefore, the conclusion that Ranil or Chandrika will govern the country is at best a mischaracterization. This is because power will lie with both the President and the Prime Minister. Neither will have the quasi-dictatorial power Presidents often wielded under the ’78 constitution and the Prime Minister sometimes wielded under the ’72 constitution. Not to mention that Maithripala’s manifesto also shifts takes power away from the President and vests it in the judiciary, public service and parliament’s committees. The real choice we will face on the 8th is between Rajapaksa family rule and Maithripala-Ranil jointly led democracy.

Faulty Premises – Biased & Backward Looking Performance Evaluation

Even if Dayan’s first argument holds, the overarching conclusion that we should vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa does not follow. In the second argument Dayan says that we should vote for Mahinda because, on balance, his track-record is superior to Ranil and CBK’s track-record. In his words, “what Mahinda Rajapaksa has done wrong- or got wrong–is greatly outweighed by what he has got right and done right. On the other hand, what Ranil and Chandrika got wrong have done wrong, far outweigh whatever it is they did right. Since Mahinda’s positives greatly outweigh his negatives and the opposite is true of Ranil and Chandrika.”

Here’s his argument:

Premise I: Mahinda’s overall track record is very positive

Premise II: Ranil/Chandrika’s track record is very negative

Conclusion: Therefore, we should vote for Mahinda.

The problem is that Dayan’s assessment of the candidates’ track records is based on obsolete evaluation criteria – one that has little relevance to the issues our country faces today. The conclusion that Mahinda’s track record is overall very positive appears to be based almost entirely on his success at defeating the LTTE – the main national concern prior to 2009. The corollary of this is that Ranil and Chandrika’s allegedly overall negative record is because they failed to win the war. That the LTTE was defeated under the Mahinda presidency is true, and that it was not under Ranil and Chandrika is also true. But that is not the only criteria we must use to assess presidential candidates. Right now our assessment of a candidates track record must take place in the context of the country’s needs viz rule by institutions rather than rule by family, democracy rather than dictatorship, good governance, a stable and less corrupt government, harmony among ethnic communities and better relations with the rest of the world. On all these counts Mahinda does terribly, and Ranil and Chandrika are certainly better than the Rajapaksa family.

The second and related logical problem is that Dayan sophistically transforms the question of “Who will be the best President?” to “Who was the best President/Prime Minister?”. Dayan’s analysis of who we should vote for is entirely backward looking, so the logic linking the assessment of track records to the conclusion that we should vote for Mahinda does not follow.

A candidate’s past performance is not the only criteria we should use to assess a candidate’s suitability for office. We also need to consider our future under each of the candidates. Ever since he has come to power, Mahinda Rajapaksa has by hook or by crook – appointing family members, passing the 18th Amendment, impeaching the chief justice etc – grabbed power for himself and his family. If he wins this election he will have at least seven more years to further centralize power. At this point in Sri Lanka’s history, that means establishing a dictatorship based on corruption and fear. A messy Maithripala-Ranil-(and if Dayan insists) CBK led government will create much needed space for democracy, accountability and institution (re)building.

In the final analysis, the choice is not between Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil-CBK. It is between Mahinda Rajapaksa’s kleptocratic, dictatorial, fear-mongering family rule and the restoration of some semblance of democracy as a result of a Maithripala-Ranil jointly led government with power shared and negotiated between the President and Prime Minister. It’s a choice between dictatorship and democracy.

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