Political astrologers and soothsayers are crawling out of the woodwork: it must be election time!
They are busy crying themselves hoarse exhorting voters to deny a two-thirds majority to the SLPP in this week’s parliamentary elections. One strand within the Sinhalese anti-2/3rd group wishes to stop the electoral ‘landslide’ to arrest the general authoritarian drift, ensure a strong parliament and preserve 19A. The other miniscule Sinhalese one, apparently impressed by arithmetic, is urging ‘vote tactically’ to oppose the 2/3rd and block the President acquiring more power but is apparently scheming to prop up powers of the Prime Minister (against the President) in return for the usual acolyte’s perks. What could they be? Another diplomat’s post? A perch in the Foreign Ministry via a national list? Time will tell.
The pro-2/3rd majority Sinhalese group unabashedly looks forward to the mailed fist coming down on all who oppose the President’s endeavour to build a virtuous and disciplined society in ‘the nation and our motherland’. Another Pohuttuwa devotee eagerly expects the new SLPP government to clean up ‘the Augean Stables’.
Let’s try to make some sense of this feverish discord.
Up-Country Tamil, Ceylon Tamil and Muslim Peoples don’t need prodding. They together with residual Sinhalese (UNP?) voters had decisively cast their votes to rescue democracy from the jaws of autocracy in the 2015 presidential election. We expected them to restate their commitment to democracy in 2019; Tamils and Muslim Peoples did but Sinhalese voters, drawn by ethno-religious calls to present a common front to the ‘enemy’ by and large defected to the SLPP. As one Sinhalese analyst explained, the ‘down trodden, persecuted, humiliated majority community’ backed Rajapaksa’s victory. Whether or not to grant a 2/3rd majority to the SLPP is a matter for the ‘down trodden’ Sinhalese People to decide.
The support for Premadasa in the 2019 presidential election was based overwhelmingly on Up-Country/Ceylon Tamil and Muslim Peoples’ votes. In the parliamentary election due in three days, most of Premadasa’s non-Sinhalese votes will dribble into the respective Up-Country, Tamil and Muslim parties. To influence the Sinhalese constituency he would need to supplement UNP’s remaining but divided votes by clawing back some from SLPP’s ‘down trodden’ Sinhalese vote bank – predominantly Buddhists reinforced by their clergy – or form electoral alliances with the Up-Country, Tamil and Muslim political forces. Short of a miracle within the next 72 hours, neither option is likely.
Apologetic assertions that Premadasa is the ‘progressive centre’ possessing a ‘social base’ reaching back to his father’s time and evidenced in the 2019 presidential election are delusional at best. Bluster about ‘organic opposition’, ‘populist pluralism’ and so on is hogwash!
Lastly, a word about blocking the lurch towards autocracy. During the run-up to the November 2019 presidential election some painted an almost doomsday scenario. One Sinhalese analyst alleged the choice is between dictatorship and democracy, between SLPP’s Gotabaya Rajapaksa and NDF’s Sajith Premadasa. Our astrologers and soothsayers, many with titles in front and alphabets behind their names, beseeched Sinhalese voters to manipulate their preferential votes to deny victory to Rajapaksa. But the Sinhalese constituency willingly voted for a ‘strong’ leader. Our political science ‘pundits’ failed to see it coming although the writing was clearly on the wall!
The Sinhalese anti-2/3rd ‘democracy’ group blames mainly the Rajapaksa brothers for the drift towards authoritarianism. But they are merely continuing a tradition former President JR Jayewardene introduced and accelerated with his 1978 Constitution, buttressed by his Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Rule. Jayawardene’s ‘Dharmishta’ government is reflected in Rajapakse’s ‘Virtuous’ society; Jayawardene brutally ‘disciplined’ the working classes and their trade unions while Rajapakse is instilling ‘discipline’ in society. Coffee table liberals and democrats in the South cheerfully welcomed (albeit with occasional bleats) the sorely needed stability Jayewardene’s Constitution promised; Rajapaksa has similarly assured a stable government. As Jayewardene’s army intensified militarisation first against Tamils in 1979 and later in the rest in the country, most southern liberals and democrats patriotically muted their opposition (‘Terrorists have to be killed, no?’) in order not to hinder the war against ‘terrorism’ in the north. The militarised administration in the north and east post-2009 and the Task Forces Rajapaksa is installing are integral parts of, and are deeply rooted in, Jayewardene’s authoritarian tradition. Southern liberals and democrats who supported, condoned or were deafeningly silent about the above are complicit in the authoritarianism they so abhor. They are compelled to live the dividends of their opportunism and should relish the rewards.