By Kumar David –
Joint Opposition shreds Govt’s jugular; Ministers at cross-purposes; People are irate – Is this a One-Term government?
The Joint Opposition is like a bull elephant in must, but the disruption and uproar it is creating are not insanity without strategy. Racial intolerance and religious extremism, a toxic mix, is a calculated tool for a purpose. The purpose is not hidden; it is frankly declared, flaunted and avowed: “Bring down the government by the end of the year”. Documents (eg Vasu’s letter to JO MPs on 28 December 2016) and a profusion of press reports (cranky GL, joker Bandula, profane Wimal and invective spewing Dinesh) are explicit declarations of war. The regime, for its part, blunders; Ministers are at cross-purposes (a day does not pass without some Minister flatly contradicting another) and corruption spreads. But the government’s shenanigans are not my topic today; but soon I promise.
Sirisena and Ranil (S&R) haven’t the foggiest notion how to deal with the mounting threat and that’s what this piece is about. Government supporters, citizen’s movements (civil-society is a misnomer) and the grass-roots that went out on a limb to jettison Rajapaksa on 8 January are flummoxed. In my not-so-short lifetime I cannot recall a government, here or elsewhere, more laid back, prone flat on the track, paralysed in the face of a hurtling freight train. Three-wheeler drivers, trade unionists and fish vendors paint this sangfroid in graphic terms. In rich colloquial Sinhala one hears about the missing portions of Sririsena’s anatomy above the neck and Ranil’s below the waist. In public perception, cabinet, premier and president are at a nadir. Still the crucial point is this: It is not manifest blunders and rising corruption that are the prime grounds for public censure; it is inability to stand up and fight the JO on platform, media and eventually the streets. This is what undermines the government’s ability to govern and this is what will demolish its prospects of re-election.
Spent cartridges of the January 8 Movement
Let’s see what the government in running away from. Allow me to quote Ranga Jayasuriya – Daily Mirror, 7 March (edited for length). “JO members are couriers of MR so the issue revolves around him. The JO has obstructed every initiative, good, bad and ugly. It undermines economic programmes; in the words of its members it is waiting till ‘Sri Lanka crashes like Greece’. To that end its goons run riot in Hambantota, it has petitioned court against land lease to the Chinese for an economic zone. It (is doing) the utmost to scuttle constitutional reforms or accommodate Tamil aspirations”. Let me pile it on; the JO incites the GMOA to disrupt medical services but the state does not serve vacation of post notices. It eggs on medical students to boycott classes but the authorities handle them with kid gloves. The JO does all in its power to engineer a schism between President and PM who are failing to work as a team. Bigots dispense racism, flagrantly, to undermine the constitution. In summary, the JO is going for the juggler; the government is on the run.
President and Prime Minister have eschewed responsibility for mobilising the people to defeat this onslaught. Actually however the JO is weak; it can be confronted and beaten by mass action if Sirisena and Ranil had backbones. Unfortunately Sirisena has the wrong kind of backbone which allows him consort with chauvinism. Maybe both understand that once the masses are on the move, conservative leaders will not be able to hold back the sweep and momentum of events. Not stopping at trouncing JO and Rajapaksa rump, the movement will enlarge to socio-economic and democratic tasks that crooked Rajapaksa battalions nor S&R’s disheartened regiments ever dared to touch.
The Russian Revolution rose from February to October by defeating Kornilov’s coup in August. The great event was not October but the defeat of the counterrevolution in August; after that October was a foregone conclusion. Our born-loser leaders will take us down with them by letting reaction win by a walkover. Not Russia August 1917, but Chile September 1973 may be our prototype if the January 8 Movement does not wake up and defeat dark clouds and black hands.
Yes that’s right, Sirisena and Ranil are born losers; they will not mobilise nor will they come into the open. The January 8 Movement will have to intervene directly. Never forget that January 8 belongs to the people not to Maithripala, Ranil and Chandrika. It belongs to us, not them. True they intervened and played a very important role but the backdrop had been prepared by others in the two previous years. My Single Issue, Common Candidate concept caught on; highly regarded personalities like Rev. Sobitha came on board, dozens of citizens movements united to throw out Rajapaksa, the minorities joined and no denying the UNP mass vote bank made the difference. The SLFP by and large, including the scum now hugging cabinet portfolios, was a solid flank unified behind Mahinda in January 2015. Once again many SLFP ministers are playing a similar role; Mahinda’s fifth-column in the heart of the government ready to jump in whichever direction opportunism beckons.
The first test of whether this is a One-Term government will come in October – unless a constitutional amendment is enacted or a new constitution adopted before then. But a new constitution or substantial amendments before taking on and defeating (“on the fields and on the beaches, on the streets and in the gutter”) the counterrevolutionary forces is not possible. Nonsense, such a strategy is back to front and pie in the sky. No political victory over the JO NOW, means no constitution, no functioning economic programme, no effective trials of MR era goons and rogues, and no re-election in 2020! Only a fool can fail to see that the equation is as stark as that.
In about October three provincial elections will have to be held; Sabaragamuwa, North Central and Eastern Provinces must go to the polls. There is no way of circumventing it, no way to play ducks and drakes as with local government elections because the constitution is clear-cut. That is the catch-22; no mobilisation and political victory, equals no substantive constitutional change. Then the provincial elections will go ahead with the government’s tail between its legs. Provincial elections without a prior political victory over the JO amounts to certain defeat for the government in Sabaragamuwa and NCP. After victory the JO and the Rajapaksa will be emboldened. Catch-22!
This piece is 1300 words to make one simple point which is obvious once stated. Whether this government is a One-Term government or not will be decided in the next few months, it will be decided by whether the January 8 Movement (and the UNP, SLFP Sirisena-rump, and non-dead left, with S&R bringing up the rear) mobilises and defeats JO-Rajapaksa and the chauvinist counterrevolution NOW. The encouraging side is that several (but not enough) January 8 groups have woken up and got down to grassroots work and political mobilisation. So don’t think the die is cast; reaction can be thrashed, there is still time enough.
There are those who think conventionally and inside the box. The run of the mill commentator muses that if the government pulls off an economic miracle (debt, deficit, growth, BoP – you know the usual formulae) that this is what will decide whether this government survives or not. I have a different take. These goodies will help and help a lot, but something else is more fundamental; who will win the political battle “on the fields and on the beaches, on the streets and in the gutter” – if you will forgive me borrowing florid verbal decoration – in the months ahead, long before 2020 dawns. Modi’s (more than BJP) stunning victory in the Utter Pradesh and Utterakhand state level elections last week show that the upward swing of global new-populism has not ended. The JO and MR are an egregious form of populism and should not be discounted.