Colombo Telegraph

Handsome Hakeem, Rajavarothayam Sampanthan And The Eastern Province Horse-Trading

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Subterranean dimensions of Eastern Province PC horse-trading ; Leaders and parties are agents of history

It has been said that man makes his own history but that he does it not under circumstances of his own choosing but conditions given and inherited from the past. The parties and leaders now jostling and positioning themselves in the Eastern Province Provincial Council horse-trade are superficially playing for influence, power and posts. True they think they also have an eye on the future. Deeper however, unknown even to themselves, they are setting patterns of community, class and power-block relationships that will define the political constellation of Lanka for the next period. The next period I have in mind is up to the next parliamentary and presidential elections.

The permutations look like this. Handsome Rauf Hakeem of the SLMC is hotly pursued by Mahinda Rajapakse and Rajavarothayam Sampanthan both ardently seeking his favours. A spanner in the works by DEW Gunasekara of the Dead Left, which did not win a single seat, is the proposal for an all-party provincial government. All this may seem crude power play, but the way it turns out will influence national politics for the next period. I am writing now, before the outcome is know, and I want to keep it that way because it allows me to better explore the inner implications of the options.

First however, we need a few statistics. The demographics of the EP are: 40% Muslim, 35% Tamil and 25% Sinhalese. The outcome of the elections: UPFA 12 seats (plus two bonus), the ITAK 11, and the SLMC 7 seats. The UNP managed just 4 seats and Wimal Weerawansa’s NFF grabbed one seat, adding up to a total of 37. Of the UPFA elected 12, seven are Muslims, and one UNPer is a Muslim, with the SLMC’s seven this makes a total of 15 Muslims; but crucially they lie scattered and spattered across three political entities. This is significant because the Muslims have long been snivelling that they have no political clout in the country, not even in the EP which has a Muslim plurality.

What men think they are doing

The simple options are for Hakeem and the SLMC to bestow their favours on the ITAK or the UPFA. If the former, the SLMC will hold the provincial Chief Ministership and the broader reigns of power for the first two years, and the ITAK for the next two. This would go some way to addressing Muslim concerns since this is the first CMship the community has held and it will give Muslim leaders the opportunity to formulate and implement a programme for the improvement of their much depressed community.

The second option is to stick with the government. If Hakeem stays with Rajapakse he will protect his cabinet portfolio and make those SLMC parliamentarians who are in it for perks and money, legitimate or illegitimate, happy. However, if he bows before Rajapakse and rejects the ITAK offer he will be remembered as the leader who threw away an opportunity for asserting Muslim identity and implementing a Muslim led programme. Either way it’s an agonising decision and will likely involve a split among his elected councillors now, or down the road.

The logistics of the all-party option are a nightmare. Who will hold the trumps and for how long each? Will the SLMC, ITAK and UPFA (probably a Sinhalese) hold the CMship and the reigns of power for one-and-one-third years each? Sounds perfectly crazy. Will this all-party circus be able to evolve some circuitous formula whereby it can actually arrive at a working arrangement? I don’t see how and it will so dilute Muslim influence that, de facto, it will be a betrayal of the Muslim masses who have at last raised their heads, albeit through three parties.

The concomitant issue is that this all-party formula is actually a three-party formula since it will and is probably intended to isolate and exclude the UNP. This may turn out to be blessing in disguise for the UNP helping it emerge as the principal oppositional power in the Eastern Province.

What men are actually doing

What men do and what they think they do are different. One fundamental matter is that the Rajapakse autocracy realises the peril of a Muslim-Tamil power block in control of the EP-PC. Any alternative centre of power is perilous to autocracy. No autocrat accustomed to absolute power can survive fragmentation of absolutism. This the sole reason why the Rajapakse Administration is determined to resist provincial elections in the Northern Province unless it is compelled to hold them, kicking and screaming, by the international community. Hence even if the regime is not explicitly aware that it is fighting for its survival at the centre by preventing a Muslim-Tamil block at the periphery, that in fact, is what it is doing.

Hakeem too is probably more aware of the jobs and posts for the boys, protecting his cabinet portfolio, the bribes that his more unscrupulous MPs may be pocketing, and the instabilities he will create for himself by annoying the President. He is probably only dimly aware that it is better to chuck up this impotent mess of pottage called the Ministry of Justice, set up camp in the East (he can’t become CM though) and work towards genuine mass leadership of the Muslim community. But then, Hakeem lacks the will and determination of genuine leadership, he is a nice man not a hard man; he is Hakeem not Leneen! Anyway, individuals apart, the future of the Muslim community is being played out in the corridors of power.

An interesting equation is emerging in respect of the TNA. If the TNA consecrates matrimony with the UPFA in the East (the presence of the SLMC is only a second or lesser wife), it is a matter that has great implications for its own future and that of the Tamil people. Down the line, but in the foreseeable future, will Sampanthan be invited into Rajapakse’s bed in the centre? A cabinet post for a TNA appointee and a deal on devolution will please the international community too. What’s the plum for Rajapakse? The TNA will back the continuance of an executive presidential system and the extension of the current incumbent for another term. True it may not all go this far, but an alliance at the periphery will have overflow consequences in national politics.

This is not all nice and neat for the mass of the Tamil and Muslim people! The other alternative, the emergence of a Muslim-Tamil power block in the East, which some of the seven UPFA Muslim Councillors will cross over and join, will be a fundamental turn of the utmost significance in Lanka’s medium term political future. Will it happen? I don’t know, but you will, by the time you read these lines. If NP-PC elections are held, the UPFA wiped out, and a TNA led PC installed, well the executive presidential system and its current incumbent had better bid politics goodbye.

Much is at stake below men’s daily gaze. I think you will appreciate why I had to write this before the outcome of the horse trading was known. Uncertainty permits deeper introspection.

Back to Home page