4 August, 2021

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Defeating The GR Regime Requires ‘Peopleizing’ The Opposition 

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

A mainstream party, the UNP, was killed off and another, the SLFP, is buried alive, barely breathing. These parties were the pillars of Sri Lanka’s two-party democratic system. Relatedly, the most hawkish Sri Lankan administration since 1948 is in office. That administration, the GR Presidency, didn’t kill off the UNP or almost kill off the SLFP. The ascendancy of the GR Presidency is the result of the same process that did for the UNP and SLFP.

It is not primarily a question of personalities, though it matters more than it otherwise would, when a personality incarnates an idea or ideology (Ranil Wickremesinghe, Gotabaya Rajapaksa).

It is far more a current of ideas and ideology, generating states of consciousness, of mind—and a social agency that peddles these ideas.

It is a series of wrong strategic and tactical moves animated by wrong ideas that culminated in the wrecking of the UNP and SLFP and the triumph of Gotabaya Rajapaksa with his Hard-Right team such as Sarath Weerasekara. 

An identifiable stratum is responsible for spreading these wildly erroneous ideas and lobbying for these disastrous political choices for three decades. 

This social stratum has been the wellspring and ideological disease vector for the Covid-19 pandemic of bad political ideas that has placed Sri Lankan democracy in the ICU. 

1. After the defeat at the local government election at the hands of the SLPP in February 2018, when the UNP found itself turfed out by President Sirisena, it should have realized that had it used the chance and remained in opposition, building itself up and going on the attack, it could have done better. It certainly wouldn’t have been in office during the Easter blast. This after all is what Mahinda Rajapaksa did when he lost the presidency in 2015. Instead of supporting the call for an election and facing the voters, the UNP strained every nerve and succeeded in being reinstated, only to be wiped out electorally. 

2. When the UNP was reinstated in office after the 52-day interregnum, it should have focused on the inevitable Presidential election of 2019, in a context it had been defeated together with the SLFP by the newly founded SLPP in February 2018. It didn’t. Instead it counted on the project of a new Constitution, the content of which further strengthened the SLPP and the Gotabaya candidacy, and further eroded its own electoral base. One of the reasons for this miscalculation was that the UNP thought it had a win-win scenario. Either the new Constitution would abolish the presidency or the US would disallow Gotabaya’s relinquishment of his US citizenship and thereby forestall his candidacy. Both calculations went horribly and predictably wrong because they were no-brainers.

3. Sajith Premadasa was named candidate well after Gotabaya had done several laps around the track as candidate. Premadasa was not given the leadership of the party as his father had been, enabling the UNP to turn a new page. The Presidential election manifesto carried over some of the biggest electoral liabilities from the Ranil years. Ranil Wickremesinghe himself popped up on stage including at the massive Galle Face Rally and made speeches while his poster popped up where he didn’t and his proxies like Ravi Karunanayake never failed to mention him in his speeches. What right-minded person could have thought Ranil an asset rather than a liability? Despite all this deadweight, young Premadasa scored 42% to GR’s 52%. How much narrower would the UNP’s margin of defeat have been were it not for the Ranil millstone around Premadasa’s neck?   

4. The relative importance of Sajith, Ranil and the UNP brand was evidenced at the parliamentary election of 2020. With Sajith, the UNP clocked 42%, but without Sajith and with Ranil at the parliamentary election, the UNP sank beneath the waves, with Ranil sinking the deepest, while Sajith and his band made it into parliament clocking a more impressive performance than SWRD did at his first election in 1952. 

5. These monumental miscalculations were only the endgame of a chain of such blunders made by exactly the same set of people in both the UNP and the SLFP and outside by zealously pushing the same politically suicidal line from their civil society redoubts. The list includes the PTOMS that the Chandrika presidency pushed in its last phase, with a senior diplomat as its front person (running contrary to the views of Lakshman Kadirgamar), and the CFA and the prospect of acceptance of the LTTE’s ISGA during Ranil’s earlier premiership. It is these flagship ideas, the CFA, the ISGA and the PTOMS, that saw Sinhala ultranationalism surfing a tidal wave of Sinhala nationalism and populism. It is that tidal wave that turned tsunami which finally swept Gotabaya Rajapaksa to presidential office. 

6. All these disastrous ideas were pushed by the same set of people, and the same ideas- factories, such as the Berghof Foundation, which Lakshman Kadirgamar disliked and distrusted. It is the Berghof Foundation’s so-called ‘security sector reform’ ideology that finally metastasized into the ethos of the neglect of security and degrading of the armed forces that opened the door for the Easter bombings.

7. The same personnel who were ensconced in Berghof during the first CFA of Ranil Wickremesinghe, were the ones who helped draft non-unitary, non-Presidential Constitutions decades later, when he returned as PM, for the very last time.

8. This same neoliberal mindset misled President Kumaratunga into pushing for her federalizing (‘union of regions’) non-unitary constitutional ‘package’, which was utterly needless as she could have fully implemented the 13th amendment. Worsening matters was the infamous Sudu Nelum movement, which Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte held responsible for the drop in recruitment to the military and the consequent horrific military losses of the 1990s. At the 10th anniversary seminar on the Indo-Lanka Accord held in Lucerne, Switzerland, the brilliant, pro-LTTE DP Sivaram (‘Taraki’) had the participants in stitches with the tale of how the civil society intellects sent by Chandrika to Jaffna in early 1995, returned and reported that the LTTE would not go back to war—only to be followed by the LTTE’s mini-‘Pearl Harbor’ attack on two Navy boats in April 1995. One of the same civil society luminaries, an academic, followed his 1995 prognostication ten years later by declaring in print that the ongoing war during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa could not be won by the Sri Lankan military. It is the “Package” and Sudu Nelum that generated the first wave of Sinhala ultra-nationalist agitation (which included Ven Sobitha). The second wave arose with Ranil’s CFA and radicalized the armed forces. These two waves led to the Gotabaya project and its victory.  

9. By 1988 we had two civil wars, North and South, and an external military force on our soil. This was the result of a crisis and its mismanagement by the Jayewardene administration but dating back to the Sirimavo Bandaranaike administration. By 1990, two of the three problems had been solved. One civil war had been over for a year and the foreign military force had left. The Sinhala ultranationalists were utterly marginalized and when Prof Nalin de Silva was removed from the university of Colombo there was scarcely a ripple and when the impeachment conspiracy came about, the clergy of all religions supported Premadasa. 

10. However, when the UNP split and the DUNF rebelled, the civil society neoliberals supported the faction which contained the UNP elite which had been responsible for the two civil wars and the intervention which Premadasa as a powerless Prime Minister had little or nothing to do with as he was not in the highest decision-making loop. The Sinhala ultranationalists, including at least one personality who is among the most influential in the GR camp today (certainly the most influential civilian), resurrected from defeat and dormancy with the DUNF and triggering the rioting against President Premadasa government, driving him to the wall and providing the unwitting diversion for the LTTE to assassinate not only Premadasa but the whole UNP leadership barring Ranil. The UNP was never elected to lead the country again.      

Lincoln was able to free the slaves because he was fiercely fighting a war against secessionism and for the unity of the country. Indeed, he was able to do so in the course of that war. The heroic John Brown and other Abolitionists were unable to do so by igniting rebellion, earlier. The great emancipatory reform took state power and “a genuine patriot” –as Vice-President elect Kamala Harris described President-elect Joe Biden on the first joint interview conducted by Jake Tapper on CNN today. If she had her head clear, and listened to Lakshman Kadirgamar and Anuruddha Ratwatte, President Kumaratunga could have achieved this. She didn’t and that was the last chance for Lankan liberal democracy–until now, with the birth of a new Opposition.

Sri Lanka’s political neoliberals stood against the war to defend the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, and impeded that historic task at every turn. Thereby they discredited the very ideas they stood for, including some good ones. By overshooting the mark, they have rendered devolution, autonomy, accountability, radioactive. Association with them, their neoliberal-reformist political slogans and program, has ruined the JVP as well. Sri Lankans neoliberalism has almost finished off Sri Lankan liberal democracy. 

If the Sinhala ultranationalist autocratic regime, flecked with fascistic elements, is to be electorally defeated at the first possible opportunity, beginning with the Referendum for the new Constitution and culminating with the Presidential election in 2024, the democratic Opposition has to reverse the massive shift of the majority of the Sinhala majority to the ultranationalist-absolutist cause and camp. 

To achieve this, moderate-centrist patriotic space has to be reconstituted as an alternative for the Sinhala voter. The democratic camp and especially the new democratic Opposition have to be vaccinated against this deadly neoliberal ideological coronavirus that has long corroded and well-nigh destroyed the moderate political center.  

The leader of the SJB and new Leader of the Opposition, Sajith Premadasa, must “people-ize” the Opposition (to adopt a term of his late father).

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Latest comments

  • 3
    11

    Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka,
    .
    Ideas themselves doesn’t create governments.
    Political environment creates governments.
    .
    Read the article by celebrated “Yahapalana” member of election commission Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole. Barely few days out of the seat.
    .
    Do you frankly think our opposition stand a chance with the support of these people..?

    • 7
      0

      S. C. Passqual

      “Ideas themselves doesn’t create governments.”

      Without ideas there is no progress.
      Look at you how you are trapped in your own Mahawamsa thoughts, with that the Wrong (strong)man thinks he can make things work, drag the country to a position where he wants Singapore to emulate Sri Lanka.

      • 2
        11

        Thala Veddo,

        With or without Mahavansa this land belongs to the sinhalayas and you tamils belong to Tamil Nadu. Inspite of the destruction of you Tamils we are still ahead of most other south Asian countries in terms of GDP per capita. Our biggest achievement has been kicking out 1/3rd of the Tamil population out of the country. Prior to that we managed to kick out the majority of the estate Tamils back to toilet Nadu.

        Accept man you tamils have been defeated

        • 3
          1

          RAVI PERERA
          Sinhala Speaking Demela

          “With or without Mahavansa this land belongs to the sinhalayas and you tamils belong to Tamil Nadu.”

          If that is the case when are you leaving.
          Go ask your Diplomatic mates at the Hindian Embassy.

          Hindia is doing well, particularly the south, you can reclaim your land in Erivirapattinam.

          “Inspite of the destruction of you Tamils we are still ahead of most other south Asian countries in terms of GDP per capita.”

          I can see that here in this forum,
          and in the parliament,
          and in the media,
          and the loans and financial support you beg from foreigners, Hindia, and selling family silver to foreigners,
          how you treat Covid 19 victims,
          and the prisoners,
          and the women
          and the children,
          ….
          Please go away look around and then come back and tell us how the country is being maintained, your squalid attempt to portray this rundown country is an embarrassment.

          Stupid Man with stupid ideas.
          Go teach your Ranavirus how to count.

      • 1
        6

        There is no nation for more than 78 million Tamils in this world. British gave a name to Tamil Nadu, Madras (may be due to Madrascals living). They talking about the oldest language is Tamil also. Even Kamala Harris will not able to make Tamil Nadu a Tamil Nation. She just a puppet of white America the even USA a rule by the white senate and congress. Is Barak Obama the first black president of the USA also not did anythings for the Black people even his country of origin Kenya and adopted country Indonesia. They are just administrators and workers same as Sugar Plantations and Tea pluckers of Tamils. There is one and only Sinhalese Aryans country is Sri Lanka (Heladiva) Tamils are not a Aryans.

  • 13
    3

    “Peopleization” , to those old enough to remember, is the term Dayan’s idol Preme snr used , to disguise privatisation. Is he trying to drag us back to that era of Preme’s tedious monologues on all channels ?
    I for one don’t need that, nor do I want an Opposition that simply follows the inclinations of the dumb majority in order to win elections. The Opposition should come up with new non-majoritarian ideas, and be able to convince the people. Pandering to the lowest common denominator will keep the country in the same old rut.

    • 6
      9

      old Codger,
      The opposition do not follow the inclinations of the majority; they lick the sss of dumb minorities to win elections.

      “nor do I want an Opposition that simply follows the inclinations of the dumb majority in order to win elections.”

      • 4
        2

        Eagle,
        “The opposition do not follow the inclinations of the majority;”
        Why did you leave out one word there? It starts with “d” and comes before “majority”.

      • 4
        3

        Eagle Brain Dead Blind Eye

        “The opposition do not follow the inclinations of the majority;”

        May be they don’t want to commit suicide along with the stupid majority.
        By the way your Majority accounts only 42% of total electors.

    • 4
      0

      “Pandering to the lowest common denominator will keep the country in the same old rut.”
      OC, that is being very optimistic I guess.

  • 5
    7

    Why the hell this guy wants to defeat GR regime if the people in this country except racist separatist Vellala Tamils, sympathizers of LTTE Tamil terrorists, Wahhabi Muslim extremists/terrorists and their sympathizers want GR regime

    • 4
      0

      Eagle,
      So “Vellala Tamils, sympathizers of LTTE Tamil terrorists, Wahhabi Muslim extremists/” are 48% of the population? Wow!

    • 1
      0

      EE
      True that the majority wanted it, but will they in the months to come?

  • 7
    2

    For peopleizing the opposition all the opposition parties in and outside the Parliament should come under on banner and should be under one leader and should speak in one voice. Then the people will open their eyes. Until and unless this happens nothing will happen in SL and “Racist Based Politics” and political parties will thrive.

  • 5
    2

    More money and innovative lies will achieve the objective.

    Soma

    • 5
      1

      soman

      “More money and innovative lies will achieve the objective.”

      Exactly, we have seen the strategy in 2005, 2010, 2019, 2020, …. in addition keep stalking fear among the people, keep paranoia alive, ………….. and keep the wrong(strong)man in power.
      Long live Fascism!!!!!!

  • 2
    5

    Political Science in the service of a personal favorite.

    Soma

    • 4
      2

      Where do I hire a Political Scientist and what is the going rate?

      Soma

      • 4
        0

        Soma,
        Do you have any influence in Havana?

      • 5
        0

        Soma,
        You could ask Killi Maharajah.

      • 5
        0

        soman

        “More money and innovative lies will achieve the objective.”

        Exactly, we have seen the strategy in 2005, 2010, 2019, 2020, …. in addition keep stalking fear among the people, keep paranoia alive, ………….. and keep the wrong(strong)man in power.
        Long live Fascism!!!!!!

      • 6
        1

        soman

        “Where do I hire a Political Scientist and what is the going rate?”

        You don’t need Political Scientist just listen to the ordinary people.
        You will learn a lot.
        Or listen to the the clip below:
        https://youtu.be/3wmUPXYP7rk

        This young man is fluent in all three languages and well informed.

        You can learn a thing or two from this young man.
        Some dumb assess who were sitting in front of him found it difficult to play the game but were trying very hard to play the man.

        • 2
          2

          Native,
          The only real Political Scientist I can think of is Tissa Vitharana PhD.

        • 2
          0

          N V ,

          Thank you for the link. Honestly a brilliant guy and a smart and
          successful guy . He’s very comfortable with his English and quite
          fluent in Sinhala than Tamil , after all being a Tamil . I already
          read that Imtiaz had thanked him for his stand on Muslim
          cremation issue and of course on Catholics grievances too. A true
          Nationalist he sounds ! Well done !

          • 1
            0

            whywhy

            True
            Brilliant

  • 1
    5

    Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka
    “A mainstream party, the UNP, was killed off and another, the SLFP, is buried alive, barely breathing.

    “These parties were the pillars of Sri Lanka’s two-party democratic system”

    what a load of bullshit.

    I didn’t read rest of what I am certain more rubbish.
    nor will I contribute in the forum.

  • 6
    2

    Ranil and Sajith have no chance of winning a presidential election in SL after what happened in 1989. Unfortunately Sajith is made to pay for his father’s acts. A fresh candidate is needed. UNP and SJB must come together with JVP. Minority votes are anyway going to come.

    UNP+SJB should give a chance to young guns like Chameera Perera, that bakery guy and others who can talk to starving masses.

    Their slogan at the next presidential election should be – racism cannot put food on the table. Racism cannot give you jobs. Racism cannot save the nation. Racism cannot develop the country. Racism cannot give you a better future.

    At the same time get another party to contest on a Sinhala nationalist stand making promises to make Buddhism the state religion, get rid of 13 amendment, reclaim the BS things claimed by Sinhala nationalists.

    Rajapaksas will be history.

    • 1
      0

      G
      You declare
      “Racism cannot give you jobs. Racism cannot save the nation. Racism cannot develop the country. Racism cannot give you a better future”
      and follow it up with
      “At the same time get another party to contest on a Sinhala nationalist stand making promises to make Buddhism the state religion, get rid of 13 amendment, reclaim the BS things claimed by Sinhala nationalists.”
      *
      So the idea is to pander to racism to defeat racism?

      • 3
        1

        SJ,

        Not pander into racism but to divide the racist camp. That party cannot win even 5% of the vote but can divide Rajapaksa racist votes ensuring their defeat. Divide and rule.

  • 6
    0

    Big arguments and great theories are not necessary. Simply, everybody – UNP, SJB, SLFP, JVP, TNA, Naganandas and Pallewattes should join together to chase away the Rajapakse Family Party and bring up Sri Lanka.

    • 2
      0

      RW
      You may remember that several of them got together and drove out Rajapaksa in 2005.
      What they did in the next five years brought his family back with a mighty mandate.
      The challenge is not just being rid of a menace, but act to ensure that such things do not raise their heads again.
      It requires rejection of sectarian and parochial politics and working honestly with an agreed programme towards a publicly declared goal.
      That could mean working outside electoral politics altogether.
      *
      How will setting aside arguments big or small and theories great or tiny bring about your simple solution?
      *
      The looming threat is not just the economic crisis, but something more serious– a fascist government with military backing. That need not accommodate the family, if the family proves to be a liability at some stage.

    • 0
      0

      RohanaW ,

      What do you think Yahapalana was brought to the hot seat ?
      Not the direct and indirect involvement of the guys you
      mention ? The SLPP used the same tactics SWRD used ,
      exactly the way you wanted , No big argument and Great
      theories ! The exception this time was , creating a new enemy ,
      Muslims !

  • 4
    0

    DJ, good luck with that. Racism and more racism is only formula to win elections in Lanka.( cant blame SP, he tried but could not match the past performance of Rajapaksas). What ever you suggest may win election but definitely will not help in moving foreward. The reason I say is , take a look where we are after seventy years or so”. Rajapaksas call this transformation as “from poor/under developed to prosperous,splendor nation”. DJ, could you think of 1) countries which had more than 30 years of civil war, two insurgencies and Easter tragedy, yet failed to learn a single lesson. 2) Country which had nothing but family dynasties in the name of Democrazy for over 70 years, since independence. 3) Country which elected the whole family to govern their fate.(MR,GR,CR, BR, NR—-) 4) Country which could claim ZERO casualty after a deadly war or a worldwide pandemic (there is plenty more). If you can identify such a country, then you some thing to compare . Yours is just a “sales pitch”

  • 4
    0

    UNP was wrecked by RW. SLFP was wrecked by MR.
    In the case of RW he was arrogantly selfish; in the case of MR he was selfishly arrogant.

  • 1
    0

    Majority of Sinhala Buddhists need to get back to its secularism, the original
    state of the country under all its past leaders except the incumbent ! The
    current regime has started a stinking , lowest and cheapest journey towards
    winning and sustaining in power . Dividing the country’s top most resource
    that is , its people , on religious and linguistic basis quite openly ! Becoming
    Racists is a very dangerous step . Maybe even the first step towards becoming
    a Military Junta . Large portion of the population wanted that kind of rulers ,
    not for overall good of the nation but the rage that has been lingering for quite
    some time in every corner of the country waiting for the right time to explode !
    Slogan now is , not for rice from the moon , some other kind of thirst and every
    thing that is possible at the earliest is being taken care of to quench this thirst .
    A dangerous trend to confront ! I would cite Muslim cremation is one such step
    to consolidate their resolve to keep the momentum high in the air for future use .

  • 0
    0

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