2 December, 2021

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Failed State Or Failed Presidency: America’s Sneeze & Sri Lanka’s Pneumonia

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

If nothing else, the phenomenon of Trumpism in America has created a rather morbid global curiosity about American politics. Sri Lankans, whether they are in Sri Lanka or America, are no exception. And ‘dual citizens’, both current and former, are likely to be doubly curious. All of this is reflected in the current coverage of American politics and news stories in the Sri Lankan media, including the Sunday Island. The latest news story and commentary are about the beating President Biden’s Democratic Party took at a few of America’s off-year elections last week. In the wake of that beating, Newsweek’s Bill Powell has speculated that “Democrats are staring at the possibility of a failed presidency” for Joe Biden. President Biden himself seems to be quite open about it.

He has reportedly said, “I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens.” “What happens” – refers to Democrats’ ability, or lack of it, to pass major legislations before next year’s mid-term Congressional and Senate elections. Two massive pieces of legislation, one for physical infrastructure (with a price tag of $1.0 trillion) and another for social welfare measures (at $1.75 trillion slashed from $3.5 trillion), have been stuck in Congress for months mostly due to disagreement among Democrats – between the progressive and the moderate wings of the Party. A pox on both your wings, the voters in jurisdictions where elections were held seem to have told Democrats. Republicans, still carrying the cross of Trump, ended up winning.

The delay in passing the much-touted legislations is believed to have been a major factor in the Democratic candidate’s defeat in the Governor’s election in the State of Virginia and other down ballot positions. Biden won Virginia in the presidential election last year by a 10-point margin. The defeat in Virginia and poor showings in other off-year elections do not portend well for Democrats in next year’s mid-term Congressional elections. Democrats have a slender majority of 10 seats in the House and the parties are evenly split in the Senate. After last week’s elections, Republicans are widely predicted to retake control of the House and the Senate in 2022. That would leave President Biden a virtual lame duck president and potentially leaving office after a single term. Hence, the premonition of a failed presidency.

Sri Lanka’s Complications

What has all of this got to do with Sri Lanka? And its President, who is no longer a US citizen? When can one talk about a failed state? And when about a failed presidency, or government? The ‘failed state’ diagnosis was once part of political commentary, and even Sri Lanka was at times diagnosed as being, if not one already, at least enroute to becoming one. Failed state talk has since faded away. Failing governments are more commonly experienced than failed states. Governments fail and are felled at elections by the vote of the people. The process is clear-cut in a parliamentary system. Not quite in a presidential system like the US, and it gets more complicated in Sri Lanka’s hybrid presidential-parliamentary system.

For instance, in a parliamentary system, the legislature (which also encompasses the cabinet executive) can express ‘no confidence’ in a government and precipitate a general election prematurely, and the people will have the opportunity to elect a new or different government. In the US, there is no provision to express ‘no confidence’ in a president and force him to face the people in an election. The only provision for expelling a president is the impeachment process and that too is not for political failures but for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” . And the process is designed as a legal procedure conducted by elected legislators.

The two arms of the Congress are elected periodically for fixed terms with no provision for election or change in between. Members of the Congress cannot be Ministers, and are not part of the executive, or Administration. Failures between elections are attributed to the Administration and the blame falls on the elected President and he/she will go out of office at the next election, and into history as a failed president. The system works, as it has worked over two centuries.

The system is also sustained, apart from the separation of powers and the checks and balances in Washington, by the distribution of powers among the States and other jurisdictions. It was their independence from Washington that thwarted Donald Trump’s very serious efforts to steal the election in 2020. At the same time, the Trump presidency exposed the vulnerability of the system (or any system, for that matter) to abuse, stress and even collapse, when a president chooses to bend the system to his/her will and not abide by the system as he/she must. And Trump was seen as an aberration, a costly exception that proved the rule.

The optimistic belief that accompanied Joe Biden’s victory and Trump’s defeat was that Americans are so disgusted with Trump’s nasty antics that they would warmly welcome the new President steeped in government experience and widely support his restorative presidency. Last Tuesday’s elections and Biden’s plummeting popularity in opinion polls have exploded that post-election optimism and belief. Be that as it may.

In Sri Lanka’s hybrid system, the President, similar to the American system, enjoys political immunity and is removable between elections only by impeachment for violating the constitution, treason, bribery, or misconduct. But unlike his US counterpart, the Sri Lankan President can monkey with the timing of elections, not only presidential elections, but also parliamentary elections. This is an enormous power for the president of a globally powerless country that even the president of the world’s most powerful country does not have.

There are other peculiarities, but mentioning one is enough. Sri Lanka’s parliament can express no confidence in the government, but not much will flow from it unlike in a normal parliamentary system. Only the cabinet of ministers (all of whom are MPs) “shall stand dissolved,” but not the President even though he is the head of the cabinet. And the President can reconstitute a new cabinet if he so chooses and not dissolve parliament. A far cry from what an American President is not allowed to do.

The American system provides for flexibility through fixed terms and rapid turnovers – the House Members are elected every two years; Senators have longer six-year terms, but the Senate is also replenished by electing a third of the Senators every two years; and the President is of course elected every four years but for no more than two terms. For a President to succeed, he/she needs to have majority support in both the House and the Senate. It is the possibility that Democrats might lose their slender majorities in next year’s mid-term elections that is fueling speculations about a failed Biden presidency. At the same time, it is equally possible that President Biden could salvage his presidency and restore it to its inaugural promises if Democrats are smart enough to do better in the elections next year. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s situation is very different. His is already a failed presidency.

A Failed Presidency

In addition to the constitutional powers over Parliament that a Sri Lankan President has, the current President also has a solid majority of MPs in parliament. A majority that was enough to pass the 20th Amendment, and is expected to hold long enough to even pass a whole new constitution. In spite of all these presidential powers and parliamentary majority, the current presidency stands beleaguered unlike any other presidency or government ever before in Sri Lanka. As I argued in this column a few weeks ago, the country is in the throes of a paradox of constitutional stability in the midst of all encompassing crises. It is the current hybrid system that provides the shell of stability to a presidency and a government that have totally failed.

To be fair by all the critics of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, not one of them wanted him to fail when he was elected President in November 2019. Everyone wanted him to succeed, because the country could not afford another failed presidency after the single term of Maithripala Sirisena and the second half of the second term of Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is a different story in the US. Even after Trump, or because they are beholden to him, Republicans utterly want Biden to fail even if it would wreck the country. When Barak Obama won his first election in 2008, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnel vowed to limit Obama to a single term. In contrast, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the non-traditional politician who self-confessedly made a study of Trump, became President with universal goodwill. Now the goodwill and the vistas of prosperity and splendour have all withered away.

Yet, it is not the Opposition that is trying to bring down the President or the government in Sri Lanka. And while the government cannot bring itself down in a constitutional sense, it has politically erupted over its own energy deal with the US company, New Fortress Energy. A midweek headline in The Island is quite revealing: “Govt erupts over US energy deal, crisis threatens SLPP’s near two-thirds majority.” Eight prominent members of the SLPP parliamentary group, including three Ministers, staged a public protest meeting against the deal, after “the top government leadership” comprising Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena reportedly “failed to convince the dissident members” to avoid going public with their protest.

The SLPP’s crisis is apparently a crisis of numbers, and it is solely self-inflicted. The SLPP’s parliamentary group has 145 MPs. Although SLPP members account for 117 of them, their preponderance in normal times becomes meaningless when the two-thirds majority of 150 MPs gets calculated. Even though the dissidents who assembled at Solis Hall in protest are numerically pathetic in normal times, they get weightier when the craving is for a two-thirds majority. And for whatever reason the SLPP and the President believe that they cannot govern without a two-thirds majority. They have had it for over a year. Where is the government to show for the two-thirds majority?

President Biden doesn’t need a two-third’s majority in either house. He is never going to get one. All he needs is a simple majority of one in both chambers to become a historic president – surpassing both Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society presidencies. A not implausible criticism is that President Biden got carried away by the flight of history and went too big too soon with his infrastructure and social spending initiatives. On the other hand, the common take about Democrats’ infighting (between the progressives and the moderates) overlooks the fact that Democrats in Congress (House and Senate) have never been more united!

The bolder initiatives of every Democratic President after Johnson (Carter, Clinton and Obama) were stymied by their own party legislators more than by Republicans. Biden’s problem is just two holdout Senators of his own Party who are wielding their veto over his agenda in deference to corporate interests in their respective states. In one sense, he is farther ahead in the political field than Carter, Clinton or Obama ever was. But after Trump the game rules and goal posts have all changed. And that is President Biden’s metaphorical challenge. Comparatively, it is only a political sneeze in America. In Sri Lanka, it is political pneumonia, successful Covid vaccination notwithstanding.

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Latest comments

  • 9
    0

    Govt of SL’s Face Value Money Printing (FVMP) debt continued to scale new heights for the third consecutive market day, Friday (5), this time increasing by Rs 3.322 billion (0.19%) to a new record high of Rs. 1.7648 trillion due to a sustained lack of Govt revenue.

    One time jail bird to head a task force on law. LOL
    “Gnanasara Thero to head Task Force on ‘One Country, One Law’. October 27, 2021. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa “.

    “All teacher-principal trade unions are planning to stage a massive protest in Colombo on November 09, the Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU) says. “

    • 9
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      Bert

      “One time jail bird to head a task force on law. LOL”

      One time jail birds Nelson Mandela, Jawaharlal Nehru, ….. became head of state or prime minister of their respective countries, why not our own jail birds.

      I couldn’t help comparing two different circumstances Sri Lankan style.
      Take care.

      • 7
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        “Failed State Or Failed Presidency”

        Does it really matter? …….. We are well and truly Fu****!

        All’s now left …….. is to fight for the deckchairs on the Titanic.

      • 1
        0

        I don’t blame you for comparing Sri Lankan style looking at the characters elected to parliament.

      • 0
        0

        Native,
        Have you ever considered a career as a Presidential spin artist? Lots of money in it.😁😁😁

      • 0
        0

        Native Vedda, what about 4th Secretary-General of United Nations, Kurt Waldheim, during the 11 world war, an intelligent officer for Nazi Germany’s “Wehrmacht”, became chancellor of Austria. So many honorable monks were killed and jailed by the British ruling time. LTTE loving catholic Priests still barking for LTTE and still funding for these priests and it is a well-known secret also

    • 7
      0

      Dear Sensitive readers,
      .
      Just returning from SL after having 2 weeks stay back in home country, I am telling you guys, that not a single person I met was happy about BPs rule today. Most of them prayed all gods to liberate them from medamulana criminals.
      Depreciation of rupee is a sign about ground reality of lanken economy. I recieved 270 rupees for one EURO.
      Can you imagine ? You have to pay like 300 rps for a meal packet (rice and curry).
      Roads are filled with vehicles. Most of them are luxury SUVs and cars. To ones like me who lived outside and travelled back home, do question, as to why the lawmakers failed to implement any good systems and laws as due.
      If incumbent president would go to hold his usual GAMA SAMGA PILISANDARAK, no doubt, people would jump and tear off him into flesh and bones. Peoples angers are no different to those tribal folks in Ruwanda today. My eyes could not believe but true, how much suffering is there in terms of collecting their daily needs.

      • 2
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        Dear LM: Welcome back. Give us a little more of the S/L situation as you saw and experienced. Thank you. Keep well.

  • 5
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    RJ,
    Thanks for the well written, clear and concise document.

  • 3
    1

    RJ,
    Thanks for the well written, clear and concise document. What more do you want to “Fail”? To consider it as Failed!? It’s established!!

  • 8
    1

    Rajan: The Sinhala Buddhist Los Angeles Diaspora has been Weaponized!
    US Citizens Basil and Goat are in turn weaponizing Ethno-religious identity politics in the island to Divide, Distract and advance the interest of the DeepState a.k.a the military business BIOWARFARE and LAWFARE industrial complex in this strategic island on Indian Ocean Submarine Undersea Data Cable Routes that keep the global economy and financial system going.!
    Sri Lanka is in the cross hairs of US war on China. – this is the turbulence all over the Global South, as the Covid-19 biowarfare project has backfired on Euro-America it seems? The sale of the Kerawelapitya Power plant to supply the US war machine in the Indian Ocean is key here. But the Global South is in the midst of coups, chaos in Africa’s Sahel region, Assassinations as in Haiti by US Special Forces, regime change operations and proxy wars as in Ethiopia.. Afghanistan and Burma are chaos also largely CIA owned ISIS engineered..
    This tell us that the New Cold War is hotting up, particularly in the Indian Ocean Region where there is a Hybrid Maritime Trade and Cyber war ongoing.
    In fact this Third World War (with a Covid-19 mask that enables digitalization of Economy and Society, cyber attacks and surveillance), is conducted by the West on the Rest – to make Euro-America and its crashing empire Great Again and re-boot COLONIALISM with a CORRUPTION PANDEMIC and US Dual Citizens!

  • 14
    2

    Rajan, it is neither failed state nor Presidency. It is about a failed Sri Lankans. Failed Appuhamy! That is all about this pathetic land we call Sri Lanka today. The average voters are losers because the so called intellectuals who were educated with the tax payer money have miserably failed their duties to secure a democratic and corrupt free country that can prosper with the abundant resources the country already have. They conspired with the politicians since 1970 UF government to make this land this miserable. Current Presidency is not a failure at all, because they have shiploads of wealth in overseas tax free lands, enough for their many generations to come. It is the average Appuhamy who is the worst loser in this game but then again he votes these world class rogues again and again the moment he watches a TV programme on ‘vanda koththu’!!

    • 9
      1

      Jit

      Have you noticed, unusually there is a long long long queue to apply for passport?

      • 3
        2

        NV ,

        I guess the unusual long queue for passport is to save money from
        possibly , expected fee increase in the upcoming budget ! Majority
        rural people didn’t know passports and air tickets till 1977 and
        most free entry West countries started to shut their doors in the
        same year and the following year. Even the Mid East has started
        reducing the numbers . There are certainly bigger issues for the
        opposition .

      • 6
        1

        Sri Lankan interpretation:

        Sri Lanka under the Rajapaksa govt have turned from a have not country to a wealthy nation and its people now want to enjoy their wealth seeing the world, so their flocking to get a passport to travel.

        • 1
          0

          Correction:
          they are

        • 0
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          Bert,
          “Sri Lanka under the Rajapaksa govt have turned from a have not country to a wealthy nation and its people now want to enjoy their wealth seeing the world”.
          Very true, they are so wealthy, but minds ‘struggling to focus’, because of too much pressure ‘Down Under’ and that’s why they are going to pay 8 Million dollars, because the stupid blocked minds opened LC’s incorrectly.
          Proof of the pudding is in the eating.
          True evidence of prosperity!
          Sure go and explore overseas, but don’t go by boat, but by air!!
          Would be very nice!!!

      • 0
        0

        Doesn’t matter NV, that wont take them anywhere – just wast of money on ‘same day’ service. Because no country in the rest of the world want Sri Lankans in their lands. Who wants punnakku eating two legged fellas there??

  • 7
    2

    “America’s Sneeze & Sri Lanka’s Pneumonia”
    Can someone clarify which power is dominating over Sri Lanka: I have heard too often that it is another country on the East.

    • 9
      2

      SJ

      “I have heard too often that it is another country on the East.”

      Definitely mere thought itself will make you very happy.

    • 6
      0

      Don’t worry? East can black list your bank if you don’t accept free Bacteria or Corona Virus!

  • 4
    1

    Bert

    “One time jail bird to head a task force on law. LOL”

    One time jail birds Nelson Mandela, Jawaharlal Nehru, ….. became head of state or prime minister of their respective countries, why not our own jail birds.

    I couldn’t help comparing two different circumstances Sri Lankan style.
    Take care.

  • 6
    1

    I had a quick look at the policy statement issued by the President “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa stressed today that the revolutionary changes mentioned in the “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” policy statement will definitely be made. It is very beautiful written document like many other policy statements but after two years sadly the Justice Minister have to give his resignation and farmers are on the streets. Do we need any further assessment?

    • 0
      0

      Hi Ajith,
      “Do we need any further assessment?”
      Yes, my friend.
      In modern resplendent Lanka, nothing or no event comes to a conclusion, without
      1. the appointment of Special Presidential Commission (SPC)
      2. Submitted report on findings to the appointing authority (AA)
      3. The report is read by the AA to understand, if he has the cognitive ability
      4. Depending on the outcomes and future action, if any unfavourable to the incumbent authority, is filed of record with notation NFA or NAR
      5. Then the system proceeds as nothing has ever occurred in this great isle
      6. This has been numerous occurrences since the advent of the Republic, more specifically from the time of the 1st executive presidency
      Sadly, seems the SPC portion of the act is incomplete to “Close the File”. That’s the way to spend Tax Payers Money (TPM) and hoodwink ‘Manioc eating for want of Sparse Rice, if not starving’ Public – to fool the electorate!
      One more simple step to completion, otherwise, all concluded – ‘tickety-boo’!

  • 6
    0

    It is neither Failed State nor Failed Presidency, it’s clearly FAILED VOTERS! It’s the voters who elected this President with two-thirds majority and it’s the voters who elected this government. When will we learn to elect honest, hardworking, educated, and knowledgeable MPs to the Parliament and to other local government bodies?

    • 6
      0

      Don’t blame all the voters. In Presidents own words its the Sinhala Buddhists that elected him.

  • 3
    0

    I notice that there is something wrong with our way of looking at “State” and “Governing” functions. For example, the title of this article (I don’t mean to underestimate it) is ” Failed State Or Failed President”. In my opinion, the “State” and the “Government” fail because of the “FAILURE” of the “Leader” (Presidents, Prime Ministers, and all other Leaders) who runs the country’s Governing Functions. The “STATE” is well planted by the “Constitution” and the “Governing Functions” of that “State” are well “Defined” to function under the “Legislature”, “Executive” and the “Judiciary”. So, if the “PERSONNEL” (Legislators, Judges, and Bureaucrats) who are entrusted with these “THREE” functions “FAIL” (Do not carry out their functions as per the Laws of the country) obviously the people tend to say very “WRONGLY” the “STATE” has “FAILED”. NO. It should be the other way about. All those, involved and entrusted with the functions in “Legislature”, “Executive” and “Judiciary” when failed to function responsibly, diligently, honestly, and efficiently, the “BLAME” must be laid to to rest with them and not with the “STATE”.

    So, with permission, I would re-title the article as: “Failed President Failed the State”.

    • 5
      0

      My dear Simon, hope you are keeping well.
      I had been busy with my travels all these few weeks, that may be the reason me not to have added my usual posts. Having spent 2.5 weeks, I returned to europe last night. Fertilizer ban issue will surely be the apocalypse of BP Nandasena and all the bunch of medamulana criminals. As I predicted two years ago, Gota s knowledge is not even similar tot hat of imprisoned high criminal.
      Please watch will you the video below.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoanYnQWYSk
      One panalist himself is a prof whose PhD has been completed in China. He has been telling the truth, whoever whatever being said and done against these experts. With this being the ground reality, medamulana animals have been continuing their nature of people s unfriendly politics as if their senses are totally inhibited.
      I met those who then talked all high about Gotabaya s wonder making capabilities, and they themselves behaved this time as if they did not say anything pro-Nandasena. MOst of them react as if they are permament memory losers. That is the nature of our people be them graduates or just simple simons. Most of them are locally produced graduates that work as high ranking officers for various organisations in the country (Directors, lecturers, Profs or the like).

  • 6
    0

    Certainly it is a failed State. 20th Amendment was the cause nullifying the system of Checks & Balances. When the President leaned towards cunning China, he expected a booming economy in Sri Lanka. But China had other ideas to expand its military in the Indian Ocean and had virtually dictated terms. Now the cost of living has soared to an unprecedented level together with the inflation of the currency due to corruption. Rajapaksas’ relatives were assigned top posts as well as in the Cabinet. Moreover, the President began to sell some vital sections to India and USA, as a result there were strikes all over the country. There are shortages for Gas, food, restrictions on the use of electricity, etc. Parliamentarians close to the Rajapaksas had expressed dissatisfactions over Rajapaksas’ regime. Famine began to emerge with the unwanted statements of Chamal Rajapakse to eat Tapioca when there is shortage of rice and a statement to restrict the daily use of coconut, all of which gave rise to suspicion that Government is about to collapse. Meanwhile when the people are suffering in the country, sons of Mahinda Rajapakse are enjoying themselves at Dubai reminding the situation in France before the bloody revolution.

  • 4
    0

    AR
    They will get stronger and stronger in the past who thought they will be back in arena with strong back up,even it might be surprised for them but gives the remedy,
    We keep voting for TNA like wise…but country will prosper if we have all inclusive and work together and betterment for country and the future generations.

  • 5
    0

    A load of bull from Ali Sabry to save face.

    “Justice Minister Ali Sabry submitted his letter of resignation, from his membership in the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), his parliamentary seat, and the justice portfolio, to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa last Friday (5), The Sunday Morning reliably learnt.

    The President had, however, refused to accept the resignation letter.”

    • 3
      0

      So he did not give his resignation but offered to give.

      “Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, yesterday (7) said that he had offered to give up his portfolio over the appointment of Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera as the head of Presidential Task Force (PTF) to study the “One Country, One Law’ concept.”

      This guy is not even wearing a hat. So what is he flipping?

      LOL

  • 6
    0

    Bert you wrote”When will we learn to elect honest, hardworking, educated, and knowledgeable MPs to the Parliament and to other local government bodies?” This will never happen in the paradise because the sinhala-buddhist masses are taught to believe to the core, all the ills in the paradise are due minorities (Tamils and Muslims). Now Eagle shit will respond to my comment id length.

    • 0
      3

      V
      Do Tamils, Muslims and Hill Country Tamils elect anybody who qualifies?
      We all deserve what we choose.

  • 0
    0

    Bert,
    to be fair, we must add, “and some MP’s of Muslim parties, who want to go to heaven with 7 virgins, who voted for the 20th Amendment success”!

  • 1
    0

    SJ,
    Very good point! So, what? Do we have to sell Sri Lanka to China or USA or India or all?

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