By Dayan Jayatilleka –
So now we know. We know the truth about the no-confidence motion and what happened behind the scenes. We know that the no-faith move could have succeeded. We know who decided to save Ranil. We know why. We know which foreign powers encouraged and backed that operation to rescue him. We know what Ranil signed—yes, actually SIGNED— in reciprocity. We know the role Mangala played. We know what to expect in the coming weeks and months. We also know the plan behind the new Constitution.
We know all this thanks to an in-depth piece of extended political reportage by DBS Jeyaraj, one of the most eminent Sri Lankan journalists and certainly the most authoritative analyst of Tamil affairs as well as the most authoritative Tamil analyst of Sri Lankan and Sinhala political trends. Meanwhile, important new information about the new Constitution is disclosed in an article by President Kumaratunga’s ex-advisor, Harim Pieris.
In his article entitled ‘ TNA’s Key Role in Defeating No-Confidence Motion Against Ranil’ (Daily Mirror April 10th 2018) Jeyaraj helps us piece together how the no-confidence motion was defeated, who played the most crucial role of all, and how that role was the move that set off a chain reaction.
“…The TNA effect on the no-confidence motion exercise was far in excess of its number of MPs. It was more of a qualitative than quantitative nature. It could be argued to a reasonable extent that the weight of TNA support helped tilt the scales in favour of Wickremesinghe in a manner that belies the actual 15 it had…
…The Tamil National Alliance can take justifiable pride in voting against the no-confidence motion. It was the TNA decision that removed uncertainty and tilted the decision in the Premier’s favour. It was after the TNA decision that President Sirisena realizing the NCM battle was lost backed out and asked the SLFP to abstain from voting. It was the TNA decision that thwarted the conspiracy within UNP ranks to vote against their leader. It was also the TNA decision that convinced the fence sitters among Muslim parties to decide firmly on voting against the NCM instead of abstaining. Once it became known that the TNA was firmly behind Wickremesinghe, it was obvious that the NCM would be defeated and this impacted on the voting stances of undecided parties and MPs. Also it was the TNA support which helped Ranil Wickremesinghe greatly to exceed the magic number of 113 by nine more votes.”
David Jeyaraj unearths the role of foreign powers in the rescue of Ranil, the axis between theses external forces and the TNA and the influence they had on the political decision-making of the TNA.
“…There was another reason also for the TNA to support Ranil. The TNA has been closely associating with India and other influential western nations like the USA, Britain, Canada and Norway to help bring about a political settlement and ethnic reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Most of these nations were also of the view that it was politically important and imperative to ensure the continuation of Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister. The perceived somersaults of President Sirisena in trying to re-align with the Rajapaksas has jarred and jolted the international community which now regards Ranil as the sheet anchor of the present Govt. Replacing Ranil with another – least of all a member of the Rajapaksa clan – was not to be countenanced. The TNA being on the same political wavelength concurred with this perspective….” (Ibid)
This reveals that Ranil, rather than President Sirisena, is the poodle of the US, UK, Canada, Norway and India. And the TNA is a twin poodle.
The Jeyaraj report gives us the reasons behind the TNA’s support for Ranil and its expectations of him.
“…Sampanthan realizes and recognizes that among the active frontline Sinhala political leaders only Ranil Wickremesinghe (not counting the “retired” Chandrika Kumaratunga) has shown some keen interest in bringing about a lasting settlement of the Tamil national question through a new Constitution providing adequate power sharing…Wickremesinghe is a neo-liberal with a technocratic temperament. His primary goal is to modernize Sri Lanka and uplift the economy. However he realizes that this cannot be done well as long as the “ethnic wound” festers. Ranil would therefore like to bring about a satisfactory resolution of the Tamil question through acceptable power sharing arrangements in a new Constitution.” (Ibid)
Jeyaraj clearly confirms that “Ranil Wickremesinghe [is] indispensable to Sampanthan’s vision and political goals”! So, no Ranil Wickremesinghe as PM means no realization of “Sampanthan’s political vision and goals”! This view of Ranil is not limited to Sampanthan or even the TNA alone. DBS Jeyaraj underscores the ‘Ranil plus minorities’ nexus –which inevitably lends to the perception that this UNP-dominated government has a minoritarian bias.
“This then makes Ranil Wickremesinghe indispensable to Sampanthan’s vision and political goals. There is a convergence if not an identity of interests…In spite of all his shortcomings and faults, Ranil Wickremesinghe remains the best choice of what is available for the minority communities in general and Sri Lankan Tamils in particular…There was no alternative to Ranil whose unseating was certain to paralyze the political quest of a new power-sharing Constitution…
…The voting once again revealed that the minority ethnicities of the island were solidly behind Ranil Wickremesinghe. The majority of Tamil and Muslim MPs voted against the no-confidence motion. About seven Tamil and Muslim MPs absented themselves at voting time. What is important however is to note that no Tamil or Muslim MP (except Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle) voted for the no-confidence motion against Ranil. Even SLFP Wanni district MP Cader Masthan who had signed the NCM earlier kept away from the House at voting time.” (Ibid)
Perhaps of the greatest importance is the news that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe actually signed a document put before him by the TNA.
“A delegation of TNA parliamentarians led by Sampanthan therefore called upon Wickremesinghe and explained the position. The MPs outlined their grievances and sought a guarantee from Wickremesinghe that he would address them in due course…Ranil Wickremesinghe placed his signature along with a few lines indicating that he had taken due note of the points mentioned and that he would guarantee speedy implementation of those proposals. He said that he would refer to them in his parliamentary speech and also asked Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera who was present to elaborate more on the issues raised in his speech. Samaraweera consented. Thereafter a satisfied TNA departed having reached an understanding with the Prime Minister and obtaining assurances without entering into any formal pact or forging a UNP-TNA agreement.” (Ibid)
The crucial phrases here are “guarantee speedy implementation” and “obtaining assurances”. Of the ten points, later stretched to twelve, that the TNA presented Ranil and he signed off on, the most crucial is point No 2: “Renewing the dormant Constitution making process to enact a new Constitution.”
If it is not a ‘pact’ or an “agreement’, why on earth did the Prime Minister affix his signature to it? If it is merely a restatement of the long standing grievances and demands of the TNA, why not simply accept it as such without placing one’s signature on the paper?
How dare the PM sign a document when the subject matter, including the retrenchment of the Sri Lankan armed forces from certain areas, falls outside his purview and falls squarely within the exclusive purview of the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, the executive President?
Isn’t the PM’s gesture of signing, the equivalent of his earlier unilateral moves of signing the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with Prabhakaran and of co-sponsoring the Geneva 2015 resolution?
Why is this alarming for the country, dangerously irresponsible on the part of the Prime Minister and stupid on the part of the TNA?
The crucial question here is why a NEW Constitution and not an amendment to the existing one, along the lines of the 19th amendment which did not require a referendum? An amendment could rectify any shortcomings in the existing 13th amendment and do so without a referendum. Maximum devolution within a unitary state could be obtained by a reboot of the 13th amendment with a two thirds majority. What is it that requires a brand new Constitution and which cannot be achieved by better operationalizing the 13th amendment?
Obviously it is the qualitative leap beyond the parameters of the 13th amendment. It is the elimination of the unitary (not merely “ekeeya”) character of the Sri Lankan state.
This is what the TNA has pushed, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has guaranteed and signed off on. This is what Mangala Samaraweera indicated, on Ranil’s instructions in his speech on April 4th. This is the project that Chandrika Kumaratunga and Jayampathy Wickremaratne are “emotionally” committed to, but Ranil is the most important driver of, according to the TNA and the West. This is the change that Ranil has promised to expedite, in exchange for the decisive support the TNA gave him at the no-confidence motion.
The TNA and Ranil Wickremesinghe have recommitted to the new Constitution on a fast track, despite the repeated statements by the SLFP that it was opposed to such a change and that President Sirisena had committed only to that which could be changed without recourse to a referendum. They do not seem to mind pressing ahead without the support of the SLFP or most of it—possibly including the President himself.
According to an ex-advisor of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the “political elite” has agreed that the proposed new Constitution will ban ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa from being elected Executive Prime Minister.
“Even if the executive presidency is abolished, clauses that bar two term former presidents from being prime minister has already been mooted. Preventing Mahinda Rajapaksa from being number one has sufficient and adequate support within the political elite to ensure that he personally cannot hold the top most office. That reality means that deciding whether brother number one or brother number two (no pun intended), becomes the standard bearer has created factions and is causing friction within the JO. While the friction is not yet a fracture it can get there and has the indications of getting worse.”
So the new Constitution will give the TNA what it wants, prevent the strongest patriotic political personality we have, Mahinda Rajapaksa from becoming Prime Minister and leader of the country, and create a system in which Ranil Wickremesinghe will be entrenched with the support of the minority parties just as he was at the no-confidence motion! The new Constitution will politically decapitate the majority and structural weaken the state, the nation and the capacity to protect and defend national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.
The course of action the PM has committed to, places us on the path to a referendum, which he is very likely to lose. If he doesn’t care then his loyalties are other than to his party, his government, his country and his own political career.
The TNA for its part probably knows a referendum will be lost but it would have amounted to a referendum in the North and East which will vote one way while the South votes the other. In short it will be a referendum on Tamil “internal self-determination” and the rejection of the unitary constitution.
What is stupid is the TNA and the minorities’ identification of Ranil as their strategic partner and ally. It is perfectly understandable for a community to pick a like-minded political leader of the majority community as their preferred partner, PROVIDED that leader can deliver the majority community. Ranil cannot do this. As the case of Mandela and De Klerk, not to mention Mao and Nixon, classically demonstrate, one’s prudent choice as negotiating partner is the leader who most represents the other side and can that side; deliver the consent of The Other. In Sri Lanka’s case that would not be Ranil, Chandrika, or Mangala. That would be Mahinda Rajapaksa or someone he nominates/supports. The TNA’s behavior is utterly imprudent in that its identification with Ranil will be remembered for years to come, and will colour the conduct of the successor administration that is elected late next year. It is far worse that imprudent—it is crassly unethical—when it is recalled that with 16 seats the TNA calls itself the Opposition, but chose to prop up the PM on a morally indefensible issue, while it had the option of rising above the fray.