Will Sirisena stab Gota in the back? Who is UNP’s best choice in a Gota-less field? – Gota-uncertainty bonanza for others
One cannot draw the hard conclusion from the experience of someone feasting on hoppers and stabbing his host in the back on the morrow that he will undoubtedly screw Gota. But here’s the point: With actions pending in California courts it may take lawyers months to smooth things over and clear the way for US authorities to approve Gota’s renunciation of citizenship. Our top-coot is surely scheming: “If Gota can’t get SLPP-SLFP nomination, how about me giving it another try. If the Gota case is delayed it may be advantageous for me to resign early, forcing the Elections Commission to call early nominations”. The bottom line is this: If nominations close before Gota is released from US citizenship the SLPP-SLFP field is open and any joker can try. Furthermore, if Sira lets Fony have the Internal Affairs Ministry it will be because the Minister as the power, I have read, to annul dual nationality.
On the downside is the shortened tenure in office, devastating for a greedy incumbent if begging MR and SLPP for nomination miscarries. The grasping nature of he who vowed “no more than one term” on election platforms, TV and over the dead body of a respected monk is further tarnished by reports that he is seeking Supreme Court clearance to hang on till June 2020 – five years from ratification date of the 19-th Amendment. The questions then are: (a) Will Sirisena risk early resignation if Gota’s case seems to be dragging on? (b) Will the SLPP risk nominating a screwball as replacement?
Will Sirisena, the UNP and surreptitiously the state, slip ammunition to the petitioners to reinforce the case against Gota? There is no honour among thieves; I think they will. There is so much incriminating stuff worth leaking about Lasantha’s murder to make a spy story read like a fairy-tale. Although both cases are civil plaints, I expect dirt on the cover-up by Gota’s Defence Ministry, white-vans, torture and state-sponsored killings will all be led as supporting evidence. The cover-up is seminal in the Lasantha case, while white-vans and brutality are pertinent in the case of torture survivor Roy Samathanam. Unless both cases are thrown out early, say due to preliminary objections, no US court will deny exposure of the full menu of supporting evidence. Do you recall the O.J. Simpson civil-case and laundry loads of dirty and bloodstained linen washed at the proceedings? The families of victims Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman won their suits and Simpson was ordered to pay $33,500,000 as damages.
Politics of uncertainty
One can speculate endlessly, but two matters have to be addressed soon. If the citizenship-dump is not finalised in say a month or two, Mahinda and the SLPP will have to name an alternative. Delay will undermine the credibility of the replacement candidate and cut into his/her image burnishing time. There is also the conundrum that if Gota is cleared after someone else has been named, but prior to nomination day, it would not be feasible to re-switch without pandemonium on the campaign trail and creating enmity between loyalist cliques and the candidates themselves. Once another person is substituted the change will have to be for keeps – do you agree? In this snare will Mahinda see advantages in abolishing the executive presidency? Trapped between Scylla and Charybdis – Homeric whirlpools and monsters – what else are his options?
The second matter of critical importance, if we assume Gota is out of the race, is who is the UNP’s best choice? My nose says that elimination of Gota at the same time diminishes the need for Sajith because competition for Sinhala-Buddhist appeal is diminished. Hard core Sinhala-Buddhists in love with Gota are less besotted with Chamal, while our drug-defying domestic Durante is a write off. For this reason I think Gota’s absence will strengthen Ranil and Karu, as opposed to Sajith, as the UNP’s choice.
This is important because denying Gota, Sajith or similar ideologically narrow candidates the presidency may prolong liberal democracy for a while longer. (Do you disagree with my classification of Sajith? I am open to discussion). No one in the UNP will take notice of my views, but I am addressing a different clientele and writing for posterity. What we have seen, globally, in the last decade is a retreat of liberal norms and guarantees of rights. Modernism was expected to press race-based nationalism and rigid social hierarchies into oblivion. Instead, Netanyahu’s victory for example, is a setback for this hope. He promises his Base hard measures against Palestinians, expansion of West Bank settlements and exclusion of Arab Israeli voters. Exclusion of Palestinians is the common sentiment of both orthodox and secular Jews. Visions of a non-apartheid state of Israel have evaporated.
Figures like Trump, Durante and Netanyahu put the struggle for democracy not only on the Sri Lankan but also the global agenda. Unifying leftists, liberals, radicals, youth, workers, rural folk, writers and artists on a minimum programme for democratic rights is a priority all over the world; In Sri Lanka it is time to take out our January Eighth easels and start sketching a united action plan again. The task is unfinished; we have to go further than last time; it’s not too early to wake up.
Interacting with people
At this point I need to digress to correspondence and feedback on previous columns. The first quote below is from a gin-soaked buddy; the second from a one-time cut-table addicted, hooch loving and recently reformed Marxist comrade. The third is a riposte pulling me up for my usual derogatory adjective-laden slurs on people in the Trump Base:
“If Trump is re-elected and the Rajapaksas return to power as Netanyahu has, we are all doomed. And, to be honest, I can’t see this scenario not coming to pass. Like Netanyahu, Modi will return to power in India; all indications are the Rajapaksas will in Sri Lanka. Little hope is left for democracy (however flawed) as we have known it in our societies in the past”.
“The struggle for democratic rights cannot be sustained if economic crimes are not fought with equal vigour; the ongoing democratic struggle in Sri Lanka is without a serious commitment to minority rights; the government fears facing PC elections. The top 1% is attempting to use the democratic struggle to establish its own political and economic agenda”.
“They (people in the Trump base) are decent people, generous and warm, not hypocrites and “deplorable and irredeemable” as Hillary Clinton rather fatefully called them”.
There is merit in these comments. On the first quote, I accept the danger but am less pessimistic; I see an uphill task for any Rajapaksa. While the second comment is true, what is, perhaps, more important in the electoral arena is economic performance per se. Here the picture is more multifaceted than what we usually complain about – see for example Nisha Arunatilake “Improving quality of jobs in Sri Lanka Can exports be the panacea?” – Island, 12 April. We snivel that debt is too high and growth not export oriented but we have also been a lukewarm beneficiary of the Asian Century. A graph compiled by the Financial Times (25 March 2019) from freely reproducible IMF data is shown alongside:
The chart ranks countries by GDP-PPP – China goes from second place to first and India from fifth place to third, and so on, between 2000 and a 2023-projection. Burma, according to the IMF, will leapfrog 24 places and Sri Lanka though it jumps over many non-Asian countries will have the lowest GDP-PPP in Asia – the chart omits tiny enclaves like Bhutan and the Maldives. It seems we are letting the Asian Century pass us by. This unhappy economy will decide the fate and future of democracy.
The third comment is significant. A reader rapped my knuckles for indiscriminate denigrations of the millions of people in the Trump Base. Yes many are “decent people, generous and warm, not hypocrites”. Therefore one must separate critique of an ideology or a leader from scorn for the mass of the people. I have relatives and friends who are warm, decent and welcoming but with radically opposed political views; chauvinist Sinhalese and LTTE besotted Tamil friends and relatives, wonderful Jewish colleagues who carry deplorable attitudes to Palestinians, and so on. I am sure this is not different from what every one of you encounters.
We have to reject false ideologies and foul leaders but deal with people in a variegated fashion, patiently explain the perils posed by leaders with certain backgrounds and agendas. Bernie Sanders showed how it can be done when last Sunday he strode into the Lion’s den, the Fox News channel and set forth his platform, avoided gaffes, and answered every question to audience applause. He shone before a TV audience that other Democrats fear as deplorable and irredeemable. But he did not refrain from eviscerating Trump, adding “I don’t think the American people are proud to have a president who is a pathological liar; and it does not give me pleasure to say that”.
Tweet and media traffic and hate-hysteria exploding after summons were served on Gota manifest a semi-fascist pulse in polity. Getting Lanka out of this dark-age and into the modern world is a challenge; religion and traditional values have been tried and failed. Leaders void of global perspectives (Sajith), remote from minorities (Gota and Sajith) and with a reputation for rights abuse (Gota) are hazardous. Despite Yahapalana’s manifest failures the19th Amendment established the Constitutional Council which ensured the appointment of independent Supreme Court judges, who in turn ended last year’s 51-day Presidential lunacy. Lanka cannot risk the return of a Rajapaksa monstrosity; whatever democracy that has been restored is fragile, and the hysteria whipped up around the Gota fracas augurs the possibility of reversal. It is necessary to reawaken and reunify the January Eighth Movement at a higher programmatic level. That’s our job for the next few months; a theme I will return to time and again.