By Kumar David –
This piece is drafted on the premise that Mahinda Rajapakse can be defeated on 8 January 2015, which is not the same as saying it is a certainty – that is too early to judge since the gravity of the Maithripala Sirisena (MS) challenge may or may not endure. This assumption delimits the scope and defines the structure of my essay. Brevity being the soul of wit, I eschew repeating “Assuming that my supposition is correct” in the body of the text. The logically separate matter of predictions gets scant mention; Lanka sports a bevy of pollster-pundits who lead and mislead and herds of charlatans and conmen-astrologists to fill an asylum.
Yes, MS, Ranil, Chandrika and their teams have pulled off a coup de grace. The imprecations I visited on their heads in recent months for lack of clarity, coordination and commitment, clearly were excessive.Understandably, the hazards of the stratagem made concealment imperative. Still I am delighted since it is rarely that a prophet enjoys such fulsome validation. The teams have pulled off a Single Issue (SI) challenge (MS says the Executive Presidency will be abolished within 100 days) and established a Common Candidature (CC). Every journey begins with a first step which has been taken, but the road ahead is long with many more steps – to Survive, to Win, to Survive Again, and then to Utilise the Victory. Ok, I had better make some sense of this cryptic ordering of steps!
To Survive till 8 January and to Win
Nobody in his senses should put anything beyond the craft, guile and malevolence of the powers that be: “Beware the Jubjub bird and shun the jaws that bite the claws that scratch” (A little modified with apologies). The clan, in order of perfidy, is struggling to retain its loot, to stay clear of prosecution and imprisonment, and to evade the fate of fallen dictators stained by iniquity. Images of Mussolini strung up on a lamppost, Saddam on trial, and Gaddafi in a ditch, strike dread into febrile minds. It is understandable that the regime is scampering like a headless chicken.
This however is not my point. More important is that jeopardy for the regime after the event is a precursor of deadly peril for the opposition before it. Who can put assassination, palace coups, manufactured pogroms, emergency rule, and bogus threats to national security to justify brutal suppression, beyond the pale? True the worst can be thrown back if the opposition stays strong, united and mobilised, but apart from these mega scale hazards is the litany of electoral perfidy – rigging, abuse of state resources, biased police and state officials, and handouts on a hitherto unseen scale. The antidote is to convince the public that Pakse is last year’s baggage; the prospect of future punishment may deter some government servants and less corrupt (are there any?) police officers. I have adopted a tight style; there is a lot to say and limited column inches to say it in. I beg readers to reach behind the sentences in these two paragraphs and reconstruct the perils more fully in their minds.
Now to ‘Can the Common Candidate win’ concerns. Putting aside the aforesaid perils, the prospects of defeating the incumbent have soared. The MS-Ranil-CBK move (were they or others – Mangala, Rajitha, Rajiva, another – the brains behind?) has turned the tables, but counteroffensives still need to be blunted. For sure expect more surprises, some lurid others comic, in the run-up to 8 December and 8 January. In the meantime there are five hurdles the opposition needs to clear.
- Ensuring that the UNP mass vote turns out in strength for MS. The hard-core needs to see that once EP is abolished and parliamentary elections held, their party, in all probability, will be in office and Ranil will be national leader as new-style prime minister.
- Facilitating well timed defections from the SLFP to the Common Front. If CBK and her allies can pull a quarter of the SLFP base-vote, MS’s victory is assured. I cannot see old loyalists like Ratnasiri and Dimu clinging to a Pakses + rump-SLFP concoction if defections soar. (The solidity of last week’s pro-government Budget vote must have disappointed MS and CBK). A future task is for traditional SLFPers to jettison this corrupt self-seeking clan and reclaim their heritage as a populist national-bourgeois party, its proper historical position.
- Making sure the Tamils throw their weight behind the Single Issue Common Candidate (SI-CC). There is no need to mislead Tamils; a Single Issue is just that – abolishing EP. There should be no deception that socio-economic difficulties will be overcome for the benefit of all, or full devolution implemented for the Tamils. These lie further down the road. The gain for Tamils is that at that stage they will be dealing with a more democratic state, a less chauvinist government and a regime not tainted by war-crimes and human rights violations.
- Convincing the JVP that it is time to grow up. Sure, it is Marxist – hence my favourite among Lanka’s mass parties – and won’t soil itself in capitalist business. That’s fine, but defence of democracy, albeit the bourgeois-democratic variant, is obligatory. I won’t labour this; Anura Kumara and his team should know their Marx, Luxemburg and Gramsci well enough
- JHU backing breaks Pakse in the Dharmapala Belt from Nugegoda to Maharagama, Kotte, Kottawa and Homagama; a sizable conglomeration, maybe 10% of the national electorate. If the JHU swings a third of this to the Common Candidate, the CC’s poll will swell from the mid-fifties to near sixty percent. A sizeable defeat of the incumbent is important for reasons I will advert to later. Retaining both JHU and TNA is predicated on assuring the former that EP will be abolished in ways that do not endanger Lanka’s unity, while Wigneswaran and the TNA appreciate that democratising the centre will afford greater democracy at the periphery.
Readers will observe that I have not made reference to Muslims and Upcountry Tamils in my list of key tasks. A large proportion of Muslims will vote against Pakse irrespective of what hide-and-seek game Hakim and the SLMC get up to. The SLMC has degenerated even more since prostituting itself for 18A; now well past its shelf-life it is time for replacement by younger leaders.
Whatever the gluttonous and booze-soaked leadership of the CWC says, half the Upcountry Tamils will vote against Pakse. It will be 100% if Delhi puts its foot down and sends instructions in the wake of an Associated Press story that the Pakses are toying with a ‘Trinco for China’ delusion. If they try that, forget elections, the stakes are immeasurably higher. Indira ground JR into the dust for a lesser offence. The Modi-US axis will finish off the Pakses and vaporise already flimsy Sri Lankan sovereignty. Morality, I leave you to pontificate about that; this is real-politik. However, an anti-Pakse Delhi intervention is manna from heaven that opposition planners cannot count on.
At this point in the analysis it is clear that the sine qua non for winning big is sustaining the alignment of the constituents of the Common Front. Conversely, the Pakse side, alive to the threat, will strain every nerve and sinew to disrupt alignment.
To Survive Again
I am done with two items on my cryptic list; to Survive and to Win. The next item was to ‘Survive Again’. [‘Utilising the Victory’, that is social renewal, ethnic reconciliation and institution rebuilding, will have to wait for later; it’s too much for one essay]. The constitution is unambiguous; if defeated Rajapakse must step down promptly. But the courts can no longer be relied on to uphold the law, especially if the margin is small. And in that case what about the elections commission? Will courts and commission play fiddlesticks and fabricate a hiatus allowing Rajapakse to flounder on as a lame-duck in a miserable interregnum where nothing gets done and the economy slides?
A defeated Rajapakse will flop and his parliamentary support, except the three blind mice of the Dead Left, will crumble. The UNP will do well in the next parliamentary election and the sans-Pakse SLFP faction will not do badly either. The pro-Pakse parliamentary contingent, after a failed presidential bid, will score zilch. I am not painting a rosy picture of a soon-to-be-rid-of-Pakse Lanka. On the contrary, I fear a hiatus will be a period of great danger; the ‘Surviving Again’ problematic.
Were a hiatus to materialise, government coffers will be in the grip of the venal sibling, the military usurped by the Gobbelsian one. Conspiracies reminiscent of Marcos and the worst African dictators when voted out are possible scenarios. Should the rump-regime try funny business, I see the streets aflame in reaction. Strange coming from a Marxist but I recoil from this prospect. “All mimsy were the borogoves: And the mome raths outgrabe”. This will not be a pre-revolutionary phase heralding of social transformation but a forerunner of anarchy.
Therefore a thumping defeat is best; it will compel Rajapakse to depart pronto without hanky-panky. Neither can abolishing EP be delayed; the people’s mandate must be implemented. If this parliament, which would have crumbled morally by then, fails to enact that mandate, it should be sent packing and another elected. Cromwell’s is one way of doing it!
Students of political, constitutional, and even social change concede that orderly transitions are best. MS, if he wins, should establish an all-party cabinet to stamp moral authority – a shadow cabinet if there is a hiatus. Sarath Fonseka as Defence Minister (or shadow Defence Minister) has clout and connection enough to nullify military subterfuges. Neither do the obligations of the JVP, JHU and TNA end on 8 January. They run on till amendments abolishing EP, repealing 18A and invoking fresh parliamentary elections under the new system are done.
Am I day-dreaming? I think not; I read it over and it doesn’t seem outlandish; after all it’s not the Second Coming, Land of Hope and Glory, or anything like that. And why can’t a prophet be right twice? “Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”