By Kumar David –
Mahinda Rajapaksa and his poroppaya scored a significant victory and the yahapalna parties suffered defeat. The electorate reverted to January 2015. By ‘reverted’ I mean, the Feb 2018 statistics are like January rather than August 2015. In Jan MR polled 47.6% of the national vote. He drew a small Muslim, Upcountry Tamil and Sinhala Catholic vote, say 4%, and therefore a core 44% was Sinhala-Buddhist (SB). This implies that about 63% of the nation’s SB population threw in their lot with him. This time poroppay polled 44.7%, nearly all SB, same as MR’s SB vote in Jan 2015.
Those, like this correspondent, who wanted racism defeated and the crooked punished are appalled – though in my inner circle I was the only lonely soul who voiced a possible poroppaya win. MR gained for two reasons; one objective and the other related to the stupidity of leaders. Sinhala Buddhism as an ideology has a grip on the mass mind, an objective fact. The subjective: Everyone, including yours faithfully, believes that President Sirisena and PM Ranil are shielding crooks, killers and bribe-takers of the previous regime, as well as corrupt yahapalana politicos. I mean it literally when I say, I have not met a single person who disagrees. Some blame either the President or the PM more, others explain that it is difficult to do otherwise, but all agree that it is happening.
The hegemony of SB ideology
The much-loved man in the street reverses my priority; he holds that the subjective factor, shielding criminals (or having links to crooks – Bond Scam, MS’s siblings and progeny) enraged the public. Hordes of UNP voters abstained while poroppaya people turned out in bulk. The former were disillusioned, the latter determined. But this is the shadow. To see the real pith and marrow of SB-substance read the voting numbers in SB dominated Pradeshiya Sabhas. I have stacks of results before me – Ambalantota, Rajagama, Padiyathalawa, Karandeniya, Bible and it goes on). Poroppya polled 50-65% to the UNP’s 25-30% in the SB heartland. And suburban petty-bourgeois cultural hubs like Maharagama, Kalutara, Horana, Galle, Matara and Gampaha responded to rata, jathika abimane.
The writing is on the wall: This is Sinhala Buddhist land, culturally unprepared to modernise or enter an economic nexus with the outside world. Devolution and liberal notions of holding Tamils and Muslims in fraternal embrace is emotionally alien. The Ranil-Manik-Mangala economic project, in the form articulated, is in shreds. Though there was hope after the defeat of Rajapaksa presidency and parliament that SB hegemony of ideology and state would recede, the hope has turned sour. True, state racism is muted – military oppression in N & E and state hostility to minorities has receded – but the perceptions of the petty-bourgeoisie mass is still primitive.
Readers will observe I am emphasising the racial dimension and Pres and PM inaction on criminality more than economic concerns. I stated in my 4 Feb column that livelihood issues would have less effect on the electoral outcome than these. The results confirm that if cost-of-living was a burning issue urban centres would have gravitated more heavily against the UNP. But the UNP won Kalutara MC Hambantota MC, Badulla MC, Kollonawa UC, Galle MC (surprise, surprise) and a spate of other urban centres in addition to Colombo, Kandy, Dehiwala and Nuwara Eliya. If this is attributed to the swing of minority community voters, it reinforces my other argument as well.
Some UNP imbeciles want a UNP-Only government so that they can pursue their economic agenda unimpeded and “win the next election”. Bollocks! The Ranil-Manik-Mangala project is not election winning populism. A UNP-Only slate can win future elections by facing a blank slate. How? Just nab and prosecute crooks; then MR will have no candidates, they will all be serving time. This is not humour, it’s a deadly serious suggestion.
The partition into urbanites, and rural farmers and suburban petty-bourgeois is a signal. While fertiliser shortage was a brief irritant, opposition to modernisation and willingness to swallow “Save Mother Lanka”, “Muslims endanger our culture” and such like primitivisms are a better explanation. Every pro-poroppaya man-in-the-street I chatted up in the last week spoke of “horakang” and “rata beraaganeema”. No surprise that in post-election pronouncements Rajapaksa continues to play the Eelam card and the LTTE card.
I once again assert, that a candidate without any minority support, say Gota, can obtain 42% at most in a presidential poll. This, however, is if bourgeois democracy still prevails. Ranil and Sira have squandered a brief democratic spring, whose residue is now being challenged by an ideologically racist, politically authoritarian, personally Rajapaksa led, backlash. In presidential unlike in general elections all anti-Rajapaksa voices and votes unite.
If you reckon I am overstating the case on race, I will return to you a Prabharan or two later! If soon, due to Sirisena shenanigans, or in the 2019-20 election cycle, a MR-GR-SLPP regime returns, I am unable now to predict how Tamils and Muslims will respond. But remember, the racist leopard does not change its spots, neither will a populace live long oppressed.
Dividends from restoring democracy
I need to make a crucial point of long-term significance. Reinstating democracy has enabled the return of independent officials to key positions. The Central Bank Governor who exercises power appropriately, the Elections Commission Chairman and Members who do what they have to and tell PM and President to piss-off if need be, the Supreme Court whose newfound independence would in Rajapaksa days have seen the old fogies impeached or ‘Lasanthad’, and the Auditor General.
This creates a new imperative. If high officials are acting without fear or favour it is of the utmost importance that only persons of high calibre head Commissions, Corporations and positions of public oversight. No more botches like the deplorable Sri Lankan Airlines Chairman and Board, the clueless but dicey Telecoms Regulator and other rotten choices of yahalana Ministers. Yes, Ministers have to be chosen to balance political factions and the public keeps returning riff-raff to Parliament, so nothing can be done to improve Cabinet quality. The way to balance this is to put tough, rough and able institutional heads in place. (See box Nothcote-Trevelyn Report). Though Sri Lanka must ensure that only the best and the brightest are appointed to head public bodies, in the wake of the rising semi-fascist backlash, such hopes may sound like farting against thunder.
Quoted in Economynext 8 Feb 2018
It can safely be asserted that the Government of the country could not be carried out without the aid of a body of permanent officers, occupying a role duly subordinate to the Ministers who are directly responsible to Crown and Parliament, yet possessing sufficient independence, character, ability and experience to be able to advice, assist and to some extent influence those above them. (Emphasis added).
Brief remarks on the economy
I need to talk about getting real on economic exposition. Ranil and Mangala wet themselves fantasizing that they are neoliberals. They are not! It’s damned funny; bogus populists and dead-leftists, clueless about neoliberalism, vociferously allege that these two are neoliberals; but in action they are not. Sure, the duo sings neoliberal duets, cheered by JR’s ideological progeny, but what of their actions? They are handcuffed, bolted and condemned to a state-driven economic strategy. Who said FDI was $1.4 billion last year? Most was direct or indirect, state-to-state; Hambantota, Colombo Port City, power-projects, LNG terminal, proposed Eastern Economic Zone, new highways! PM and FM, how much private capital investment came as FDI last year and has been included in your much repeated $1.4 billion?
Ranil’s fantasies are dead in the Twenty-First Century; but it is unlikely, Ranil or Mangala, if they remain in office much longer, have the inclination or the intelligence to switch to an explicitly dirigisme, mixed-economic, strategy. Worse, if the Rajapaksa gang takes over economic policy will be pure mayhem; a swindler’s mad house!
The cornered mouse
And that brings me to Sirisena, the mouse that roared. He is in a corner; castrated, he has to go in one of three ways; kneel before MR, embrace Ranil more tightly, or choose to have no executive ambition beyond 2020. The difference is that in former two he salivates after crumbs from MR or the UNP after 2020 – a ceremonial role. Otherwise he relinquishes greed and seeks an honourable exit. Maybe he can devote time to rooting out corruption, though frankly, I think that, now, all politically controversial prosecutions will be side-lined thanks to the wisdom of our voters.
Sirisena blows as he wills; beyond logic and balmy. Be that as it may, a danger has surfaced and citizens must mobilise. To whom must a call to guard against the return of Rajapaksa be directed? Those who stand for democracy, the January 8 Movement, the left in all its complexions, the national minorities who are first in the firing line and constitute over a quarter of the population, and liberals whose spines did not jellify at the first sign of setback. The battle has only just begun. The dark side is unified and mobilising; but democrats, the left, national minorities and bold liberals are splintered into a hundred pieces. This is the first task to address.