By Sumanasiri Liyanage –
There have been many indications that the next presidential election would be advanced and be held in January 2015. Even astrologers have begun to say that holding presidential election in January would be favorable to the incumbent. The Third Amendment to the Constitution has made holding a presidential election if the incumbent is prepared to do so four years after the last election. Ex-CJ has already raised that if the President Rajapaksa could contest although the Eighteenth Amendment has allowed a person to contest more than two consecutive periods. Here my intention is not to discuss the legal nature of the issue but to deal with the political strategies put forward by the opposition forces in Sri Lanka in facing President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the election in January. If the Supreme Court decides that Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot contest there will not be a presidential election in 2015.
There have been three main views on how the Sri Lankan opposition should face President Rajapaksa in the next Presidential election. First view suggests that the main issue today is the issue of defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa and eventually his family’s hold in power. Reasons given are inter alia strong tendency towards fascism or totalitarianism, deep rooted corruption and nepotism, heavy dependence on loans especially from China, regime’s increasing tension with the West (so-called international community) and poor economic performance. The argument is that no matter whatever happens this regime should be defeated and it would be good for the country. Hence, a winnable common candidate has to be named as the candidate opposing MR. This view that seems to be sponsored by the Western embassies is shared by the traditional business class, the UNP, NGOs, liberal democrats and the pinkish left. For them the removal of MR from executive presidential post is adequate to reestablish democracy, rule of the law and to promote economic development. In other words, they appear to believe that there have been no structural flaws that generate above mentioned issues and problems. As we have seen in the past, this strategy would produce circular results creating a situation to pose the same issues in a future presidential election. What are the mechanisms that would be in place to counter anti-democratic tendencies inherent in the system? What guarantees could be given that the new regime would adopt that would reduce cost of living, raise standard of living of the masses, reduce concentration of wealth and promote economic development? This whole idea of regime change without reasonable structural change will be tantamount to a repetition of time and again the same cycle.
The second view has made an attempt at least partially to address this flaw of the first view. The movement led by Rev. Maduluwawe Sobhitha has highlighted that the problem is not only the persona of Mahinda Rajapaksa but also the constitution that gives enormous power to the executive president. Hence, it argues that first and foremost the system of executive presidency should be abolished. And the movement has presented a road map as to how the implementation of its proposal would be carried out. It is a two issue short term road map including the abolition of the executive presidency and the reactivation of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. Of course as many observers have indicated that there are many flaws in this strategy. It depends so much on the existing Parliament in implementing these changes and never even mentions the need of a constitution assembly if the present Parliament fails or refuses to adopt the resolution for the abolition of the executive presidency. One may also argue that a program that focuses only on two issues is not adequate to launch a strong campaign against the incumbent president. Given the nature of the strategy that is essentially short-term, this criticism may not be fair. The legitimacy of the second view depends in my opinion on two factors. First, it should be able to unleash a process that will lead to more reforms going beyond the stated double issues. It depends of the forces that back Rev Sobhitha’s candidacy. Secondly, it should clearly inform the public what is their alternative if the announced road map fails to work. This would raise the demand for a provisional government and for a constituent assembly.
The third view does not focus on immediate regime change, but on building a social left movement to confront all kind of policies that are anti-democratic, and against popular classes. Sri Lankan experience has amply demonstrated that democracy and social justice depends on the strength of the social left. Social left means new structures, processes, attitudes and values. Third view advances the idea that the intervention in the next presidential election should be on a comprehensive program that covers all aspects of the current crisis with a focus on this medium term objective. Hence it holds the view that social left fields its own candidate in the next presidential election.
Can these different views be linked? I will turn to this issue shortly. First, let us take the first and the second views. At least some of those who hold the second view may accept a retreat and would support the first if they think the first and foremost task of the next presidential election is the defeat of MR his regime. Hence, even successful, this will not produce results that would help popular masses. Linking the first with the third is impossible since there is no overlapping of interest between two groups. Can the third be linked with the second? If social left can develop a new mechanism of campaign (something like AAP campaign in India) and new structures, it can identify the second as a point of departure. Point of departure should not be a complete solution. It should posses transitional capacities that depends on structures the campaign creates, institutions it builds, new values it inculcates and new attitudes people advances.
*The writer is a co-coordinator of the Marx School. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org