By Dinesh D. Dodamgoda –
The recently concluded Parliamentary Election has created a ‘kind of hostile politics of the enemy-friend bi-polarity’ in terms of intended political reforms and the proposed reconciliation agenda of the new government. An analysis of the election results would show that a little over 50% of voters are for reforms and a little less than 50% of voters are against reforms. What does this mean in terms of bringing intended political reforms into reality and implementing a reconciliation process successfully?
It is evident from election results that there can be a serious ideological resistance to political reforms and to the proposed reconciliation agenda by almost half of the population that voted for former President Mahinda Rajapaksa led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). There is no doubt, former President Rajapaksa is the legitimate, symbolic leader of the anti-reformist / reconciliation agenda. However, one could argue that President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga should be able to win the symbolic leadership position of the anti-reformist / reconciliation population by gaining and securing power in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Central Committee as well as in the UPFA Executive Committee. In my opinion, although Sirisena-CBK group could gain ‘majority’ seats in those bodies, they will not be able to gain ‘legitimacy’ so easily. Therefore, ideological resistance to reforms and to the reconciliation agenda by former President Rajapaksa led population will remain as a serious obstacle. Furthermore, former President Rajapaksa led group’s resistance to political reforms and to the reconciliation agenda will reinforce the group’s political survival as well. Hence, the said obstruction is strategically important in terms of the group’s survival and, therefore, the obstruction is almost inevitable.
In order to emphasise my argument, I would like to note that almost 95% of pro-President Sirisena candidates that contested from the UPFA list did not make it to Parliament as there was an internally orchestrated negative campaign against them by the pro-Rajapaksa group. Some of the pro-Sirisena candidates who got defeated were powerful figures in the last Parliament. Hence, the vote that the UPFA received in this election can be viewed as a pure pro-Rajapaksa vote in which Rajapaksa led group derives its political power. The vote percentage that the group received is well over 47% of the total voters. Hence, bringing mere structural changes to Party steering Committees to secure Sirisena-CBK majority will not help the group in gaining ‘legitimacy’ amongst the UPFA voters who are capable of disrupting the new government’s socio-political agenda.
How does this affect the new government’s proposed political reforms / reconciliation agenda? The answer is if not handled / or tackled wisely, the opposition can seriously destroy or disrupt the new government’s reformist / reconciliation agenda.
It is not necessary to emphasise that the new government’s reform programs should be implemented smoothly as possible. The UNF government, therefore, should carefully and unconventionally devise its strategy. First, the UNF government should be careful when devising its strategy as any careless mistake would cost dearly. Second, it has to be devised unconventionally as the strategy should be aimed at reaching a consensus among politically polarised groups, the task that goes beyond traditional political boundaries.
Giving the nature of the hard line political stances that the President Rajapaksa led group displayed in the past, it is reasonable to assume that the group would resort to similar kind of political opposition even with regard to the proposed reforms / reconciliation process. On the one hand, the group has indicated that it aims to comeback to power in the near future. On the other hand, a hard line approach would weaken the new government by derailing its reformist agenda in which the government aims to sustain its minority as well as the international support. Therefore, identifying of an appropriate strategy that would mitigate any hard line opposition from the 47% of Rajapaksa led population is of paramount important for the new government as it decides the UNF government’s success as well as its internal and external political survival into a considerable extent.
The Maithri-Ranil government’s past eight months’ track record was not so impressive in terms of mitigating Rajapaksa Group’s hard line political opposition. There was a political as well as a personal hard-hitting hostile approach from Maithri-Ranil government against Rajapaksa group during last eight months. As a result, some of the Rajapaksa group’s members are still in remand and investigations are going on. In my opinion, the Maithri-Ranil government’s hard-hitting approach against Rajapaksas had reinforced the group’s desperation for its political and personal survival and that led the group to form and group a strong political opposition that rallied and eventually fielded pro-Rajapaksa UPFA candidates in the recently concluded Parliamentary Election against Maithri-Ranil government. The question is, ‘Should Maithri-Ranil group continue with the same hard-hitting, hostile strategy in the future as well?’
If the Maithri-Ranil group want to continue with the same political and personal hostile strategy against Rajapaksa group, it is reasonable to expect a similar kind of reaction. There is no doubt, this is the way Rajapaksas’ think and in fact, the decision by the former President Rajapaksa to perform as an ordinary MP in the new Parliament is an indication of the ‘never giving up’ attitude of Rajapaksas’. They would fight till they die. However, the context that this hostile approach would create is not the most favourable context that the UNF government want (or should have), if they want to successfully implement intended political reforms and the reconciliation agenda.
The question then is ‘how should both groups move forward?’ The answer is ‘they should create a context of political and personal co-existence for both groups that would guarantee UNFG’s smooth functionality at least in terms of proposed political reforms and the reconciliation agenda. However, it will not be so easy to achieve this context of political and personal co-existence for both groups unless both sides work hard, strategically and patiently. There are a few things to note. Since the hostile attitude in both sides is relatively high, a middle ground should be created to facilitate initiating a constructive dialogue. The best way is to utilise proxy groups or ‘behind the scene strategists’ in both sides to open up a dialogue. Thereafter, modalities and terms can be laid out. Hence, the most important task would be to reach an agreement between proxy groups to be constructive and then to bring the level of hostilities in political actors of both sides at least to a less destructive point. If this is possible, we can have a hope at least in terms of bringing intended political reforms into reality and implementing a reconciliation process successfully.
As a final note, I would like to mention that this an important opportunity that the country has to strengthen the civil society by bringing intended political reforms and to end the cycle of ethno-religious hatred by implementing a process of reconciliation that aims at increasing the level of socio-political tolerance. The task would not be possible unless both political sides, Maithri-Ranil group and the Rajapaksa group, are ready to reach a political and personal compromise, at least to facilitate intended political reforms and the process of reconciliation.
*Dinesh D. Dodamgoda, a Fulbright scholar and a lawyer, has a M.Sc. degree from the British Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham (Cranfield University) on Defence Management and Global Security. He was also an MP from 1995-2000.