By Kumar David –
A Single Issue (SI), Common Candidate (CC) strategy anchored on a Road Map (RM) is making progress but not without hassle that has to be sorted out step-by-step. We are not yet out of the woods nor is it assured that a SI-CC-RM challenge will materialise though trends are encouraging; I refer to the UNP-Sobitha parley where consensus was reached on many matters, the JVP’s promise to support a common candidate, General Fonseka’s consistency and Chandrika slow awakening.
Then on 9 July the Island has a prominent front page picture and story that Sobitha and Wimal Weerawansa who is 100% in favour of retaining the Executive Presidency (EP) “reached an agreement and resolved to work together”! Who is fooling whom? But first I need to bore you with an encore performance recapitulating SI-CC basics because new folks, sans background, are joining the discourse all the time. An outline of the Road Map is also needed because it has not been presented previously in the English press.
The Single Issue and the Common Candidature are inseparable; they are twins indivisibly bound more firmly than any Siamese pair. This will have a bearing when I discuss Ranil and the UNP later. The crucial point for now is that one can have a common opposition candidate, if and only if, it is for a shared, a common, an agreed objective. There is nothing at this time that unites as large a segment of political society as determination to be rid of the Executive Presidential malaise. The JVP and UNP cannot agree on socialism versus the free-market; the TNA and the JVP, or for that matter the UNP, do not see eye to eye on devolution, and so on. But most people (even segments of pro-Mahinda rural folk are not pro-EP), left, liberal and democratic society, professional associations, the NGOs, and most of the SLFP rank and file, abhor EP. It is against the tenets of the SLFP, and technically anti-EP is not necessarily anti-Mahinda. Who is pro-EP? The Rajapakse family clan, an SLFP minority, JHU-Wimal and extremists, and a few cranks. There is no pro-EP organisation or mobilisation in the country. Abolishing EP is a common thread that binds the whole opposition and huge sections of society together.
Do all these sectors see the issue as important enough to put aside other differences, for say six months, and cooperate on this project? The curses poured upon the Eighteenth Amendment, anger at wrongful use of executive authority in the faked-up “impeachment” of Chief Justice Bandaranayake, and abhorrence of ubiquitous abuse of executive power, lead one to believe that the answer is yes. Censure of the government on economic, governance and BBS related issues also helps. It is likely that if a few remaining obstacles are overcome, a joint opposition candidate to abolish EP and quit will materialise (there is no need to quit; when the constitution is amended EP will cease to exist). I have explained the SI-CC concept ad nauseum previously; now it is time to turn to the Road Map.
The Road Map
A crucial Road Map (RM) was paved by a many-sided team (liberals, leftists, and persons of diverse faith, political and civil affiliations); call it the Sobitha Team (I am not part of it). RM binds the president-elect to a step by step procedure. Point 1: The manifesto will contain the proposed constitutional text. Point 2: Will explain the draft to the public. Point 3: A mandate to dissolve parliament if it shrinks from the mandated constitutional amendment will be sought. Therefore the presidential election will, de facto, be a referendum on the proposed abolish-EP constitutional text and an authorisation of a Road Map implementation procedure.
Two other matters in the Road Map will be affixing dates to milestones and the constituency pattern for the new parliament. The milestones, for example, will say: The constitutional amendment will be tabled X days after electoral victory, it will be promulgated in X+Y days, the old parliament will be dissolved on day X+Y+Z, elections for a new one will be held in say another month. Provisions such as this will be contained in the election manifesto as a Road Map whose remit will run for six months and a mandate secured to implement it. If the draft constitutional text and Road Map are approved at a de facto referendum there is no need for delay. RM is procedural and precludes procrastination and cheating as Chandrika and Mahinda have done; twice each.
Electoral demarcations and constituency arrangements will have to be laid out in the manifesto; how many first past the post, how many PR, how many multi-member constituencies, and such like matters. There is a Dinesh Gunewardena report usable as a starting point. This is the aspect on which there is still work to do before finalising the manifesto. There is time enough since presidential elections are unlikely before the Pope’s visit early next year – Mahinda is reciting his Hail Marys, eager to fool the Catholics, but little does he realise that the Catholic minority, like other minorities, is fed up with the Rajapakses. The desperate President is also invoking a Hu Jintao visitation; another publicity stunt.
BBS despoils credentials of all monks
The gross misbehaviour of the BBS has given rise to an unexpected hiccup. Up to recently the minorities were receptive to the idea of Sobitha Thero as a candidate. In any case naming a candidate is a future matter and anyone who can win the election and do the promised job is good enough. His/her policies in general are irrelevant for someone who will be gone in six months. Sobitha appeared to be one of the persons who should be considered alongside Chandrika, Ranil and Karu – there are no other credible SI-CC-RM options. But after the BBS monster raised its head I have detected some reserve among Muslims, Catholics and Tamils towards a monk, especially among those unfamiliar with Sobitha’s record. Has he condemned the BBS and excoriated anti-Muslim extremism – I am not aware.
One hopes that this is a passing phase until Sobitha’s suitability or unsuitability is better understood. However, I must repeat, since I have been called a Sobitha advocate (I don’t know him and have never met him), that I am not pressing his case but only stating that the field be kept open by retaining his name among others. The priority at this stage is not naming a candidate but educating the public about the single issue, about a common opposition candidacy and explaining the road map.
The muddle in the UNP
The TNA, JVP and Fonseka have declared support for a Common Candidate to abolish EP, though there may be some haggling when it comes to a name; but I see little wriggle space. If the elections are on a Single Issue with an explicit Road Map, it is impossible for the TNA and Tamils to say they won’t vote for a member of the Buddhist clergy, or for the JVP and the left to reject a liberal bourgeois candidate, or for a Son of the Prophet to demand that the candidate convert to Islam! When the chips are down, immature sectarianisms will have to evaporate.
The worry is the muddle in the UNP, and unfortunately the SI-CC strategy will fail without deep UNP involvement; that is certain. Karu and the UNP Leadership Council have endorsed abolition of the Executive Presidency; Sajith is a blockhead and irrelevant. The problem is Ranil. Though he was not present at the discussion with Sobitha Thero, Resolution 2 at the UNP Conference demanded abolition of EP. The first of ten principles in the Samagi Balavegaya (a broad people’s forum) statement to which Ranil is a signatory, also calls for abolition. Ranil and the UNP are committed; there is no going back.
Still, some people fear that Ranil hankers to occupy EP rather than abolish it, and worry that he has not made categorical and unambiguous statements demanding abolition and endorsing the SI strategy. But there is no option of retreat for Ranil and his party, so he must put an end to harmful speculation by issuing a clear explicit statement endorsing EP-abolition and the SI-CC strategy. The public must also demand that the UNP commits itself to the Road Map. Only after these steps is it meaningful to discuss names for the common candidacy.
Ranil and the UNP should take note of five points. (a) Mahinda Rajapakse can be defeated this time because he will be hard pressed to secure 60+% of the Sinhala-Buddhist vote, that is 40+% of the national vote. (The UPFA polled only 58% even in Rajapakse heartland, the Southern Province, in the recent PC election). But he can be defeated only if the main opposition parties and groups field a joint candidate. (b) The way to get a joint candidate is to focus solely on the abolition of the executive presidency and exclude all diverging social and economic policies, including the UNP’s. (c) The road map must be unambiguously endorsement by all to give the public iron-clad confidence in the procedure. (d) If Ranil wishes to be prime minister in the future parliamentary system, there is no point in craving for a six-month temporary presidency. (e) If the UNP wishes to propose a name from its ranks for this “short-term job”, say Karu, it had better toss it into the hat now.
JR and the UNP inserted the malignancy of Executive Presidency into Lanka’s body politic; Ranil was the JR acolyte holding the syringe when JR injected the venom. Much blood and poison has since flowed under Lanka’s lamentable bridges; it is time for the UNP to discard this odious legacy and turn its back on the Executive Presidency in perpetuity.
Hameed / July 13, 2014
A good thought provoking article indeed, but at this stage it just boils down to speculation. Yes Ranil must show his cards, but I think he’s biding his time.
I as a Muslim and many of my coreligionists I have spoken to have no qualms about voting for Ven. Sobitha Thero, though if it comes to a monk I think Ven. Amila thero would be a better bet, because he has spoken in favor of national unity at inter religious gatherings.
By thew way, I don’t think the pun that ‘a Son of the Prophet to demand that the candidate convert to Islam!’ was necessary. Also Muslims have never called themselves ‘Sons of the Prophet’ ever.
Thiru / July 13, 2014
Abolition of the executive presidency is not going to solve any problems for Tamils or Muslims for that matter.
Anti-Tamil actions from 1948, and a pogrom in 1958 started long before the EP was in place, in fact under Westminster style “democracy”.
There is no single issue in Sri Lanka – there are several issues of the minorities and the issue of authoritarianism.
Sobitha has exposed his biased hand by not condemning the Aluthgama, Beruwella anti-Muslims riots while Dalai Lama has condemned it.
Sri Lanka might end up with a new religious devil to replace old ones!
Unless Sinhalese people are liberated from the Mahavamsa mind set nothing will change.
Banda / July 13, 2014
A Common Candidate(CC) and/or Single Issue (SI) is a myth. Ranil is the UNP Common candidate and Anura is the JVP Common candidate. Ven Sobitha can be NGOs and other Common Candidate. They all can have their own Issues.
So, as I wrote here for so long, your project (CC and SI) has become a joke. But we realize that the aim of CC and SI sponsors is no Joke. Their aim has been to wag the dog by its tail. Simply, control the majority by the minority like yesteryear (the days of Thondaman and Ashroff).
Professori says, “The Single Issue and the Common Candidature are inseparable” to defeat MR. Is this Single Issue the need of the hour? What would it have in store?
Just because Common Candidate with a Single Issue wins the Presidency, he just cannot issue a decree and abolish the Presidency. He has to be sworn-in as the President and follow the constitution. He’ll have to appoint a Prime Minister within this parliament to run the government, or dissolve the parliament and seek two third majority to fulfill his pledge.
At a Parliamentary election, leave out a two third, can the SI and CC president get even a simple majority? No. Will he be able to agree on a common program to cobble a government? NO. The whole country will be without proper engine and start to float in a limbo like during the second term of Chandrika regime. That’s what these professori guys want and aim at. So, his buddies, the Separatists can slowly but surely slog on to their goal.
Abolishing Presidency in an ad hoc manner is a recipe to bring disaster to Sri Lanka. No executive President or No Prime Minister with a majority in parliament means there will be a power vacuum. When there is a power vacuum, the outcome will be political instability.
We have seen the propositions and proposals passed by our Tamil brethren at the Northern PC. Had not the Executive President and his Governor check and constrain the powers vested to PCs through 13A, they would have declared UDI by now. Political instability in the country will give an ideal opportunity for them to go for their goal – Eelam.
Fortunately, majority people do not share ven Sobitha’s view. They feel the ‘Presidency’ brought them stability. Majority people acknowledge that the Presidential powers held the government together and defeated LTTE and continue to usher peace and development after the war. Vocal but only a small section of the populace care for the so-called Single Issue.
Checking the President and abolishing Presidency in an ad hoc manner are two different things altogether.
Safa / July 13, 2014
The hydra headed monster has to be dismembered. Can it be killed by decapitating one head or all as in Greek Mythology. I think at least two as the monster has much to lose, not just the EP. It is not just the EP but the dynasty we are up against. Will they do a Gaddafi? Or will it be a Marcos style exit.
K.A Sumanasekera / July 13, 2014
EP is bad because Ms Shirani got the sack.
If not for the EP just imagine how many luxury Pads she would have accumulated in her Real estate portfolio, bought on mates rates..
Dr Kumar doesn’t mention the baddest thing which the EP enabled, which is sending the LTTE to the paddock.
He doesn’t even mention the other worse things like, rescuing 300,000 LTTE non Vellala captives and resettling them to elect the Vellala Tamils from Wellawatta to run the he North.
And the inhabitants finally knocking on the door to enter the Mid Income Nation club, catching an AC bus for an express ride to Colombo to seek specialist Medical Treatment, sending the kiddies to school without the fear of suicide bombs,and being able to find a job to put the food on the table.
Dr Kumar reckons even these poor inhabitants don’t want EP and are firmly behind the JVP, Anura Kumaran Somawansa, Sobitha, Chandrika, and even the LTTE proxy TNA and the NGOs to castrate the President.
Looks like even Mahinda Rajapaksa chanting thousand Hail Mary’s with the Pope Francis ain’t going to save the Presidency.
Wonder whether the President pleading with the designated Head of the Eelaam Catholic Church , Bishop Raiappu to lead the Hail Mary will save him?.
JimSofty / July 13, 2014
I think, Kumar David [Edited out]
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