By Dayan Jayatilleka –
“Indignez Vous! Time for Outrage!” – Stephane Hessel
In a recent TV interview, Basil Rajapaksa said that this was a failed state. He is wrong. What we have is not a failed state. It is a failed government, with a failed Prime Minister. The 3.3% growth rate and the Central Bank Bond scam are but two symptoms of this failure.
Elections are symbolic choices. This time it is between what Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and ex-President Kumaratunga symbolically represent and what ex-President Rajapaksa, the JO leadership and ex-Minister Basil Rajapaksa symbolically represent.
Symbolism, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Ranil plus CBK vs. Mahinda plus BR symbolize different things in the eyes of different people. To me, Ranil and CBK symbolize failure, incompetence, retreat and pauperization/povertisation. Mahinda, Basil and the JO leaders represent a time of relative success, competence, growth, development and prosperity.
If you vote for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP this time, you are saying the Central Bank Bond Scam was OK, and are then morally responsible as a citizen for more such scams being pulled until 2020.
If you think Ranil’s government– Bond Scam, a lousy 3.3% growth rate, Geneva resolution, quasi-federal constitutional draft and all– is better than Mahinda Rajapaksa’s performance; if you feel you, your family, your neighborhood, your community and your nation are doing/ did better under Ranil’s government than Mahinda’s; if you feel you have progressed since Mahinda’s departure in 2015; you should vote for this government.
If you feel otherwise, if you feel the opposite, if you feel cheated by this government, then you should give the government a signal by voting for the Opposition. If you don’t, the government will keep on keeping on, doing what it is doing, heading along the same path.
It took Russia a decade (the 1990s) and Putin to escape the madness of economic neoliberalism and genuflection to the West. The USSR was bad but all opinion polls prove that the Russian people think the West-centric Yeltsin was far worse, and therefore they keep voting for Putin because they never want to go back to another pro-Western liberal. We Sri Lankans have a choice. Either we can go through this cycle of neoliberal politics, crash the economy and burn in the fires of ultranationalist blowback, and then come to our collective senses, rebuilding from the ashes– or we can short-circuit the cycle and start exiting the matrix with the forthcoming local government election.
The economy is contracting or in a downward spiral, with just over 3% growth this quarter. If Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s UNP wins the upcoming local authorities elections, they will reshape Sri Lanka in such a manner that the ownership and control of our island home, and therefore our destiny, is irrevocably out of our hands and placed in the hands of the US and India which sees our island as strategic real estate in their attempt to prevent China from changing the global and regional power balance and reforming the world order in a more equitable manner.
The PM will give the Trincomalee oil tank farm and a chunk of the Trincomalee harbor, the Mannar-Trincomalee highway as well as an airport in the deep South to India; confer quasi-federal powers over land to the provinces of Sri Lanka, most crucially the North and East; dismantle the state sector of the economy; dismember existing labor and land reform legislation, and allow foreign corporations to own large tracts of arable land on this small island.
Far from the claim of restoring democracy, only an ignorant, moronic administration would do what no government anywhere in the world has dared to: risk destabilizing democracy by humiliating, affronting and enraging through war crimes probes agreed upon in Geneva, a huge, patriotic military of which 40, 000 regular infantrymen received Special Forces training (be they currently in service or not).
If on the other hand, the UNP loses the local authorities election, there will be much rethinking all round and the chance for a new political and economic equilibrium, in which we have to adjust to external realities but regain, retain and exercise our national autonomy.
The collective consciousness of the Sri Lankan political class has long been divided, and remains divided in accordance with attitudes to 1956. The basic divide is between those who hold that 1956 was good, positive, progressive, and those who think the opposite.
The upcoming local government election will mark the death or the rebirth of 1956, the disintegration and end, or reassertion and new arc, of the progressive 1956 project. It is also a battle of values– between the progressive values of 1956 and 1970, and those of appeasement, capitulation and neoliberalism of 2001 (Ranil’s CFA) and 2015.
In the 1950s, SWRD Bandaranaike incarnated the Spirit of Bandung, of Afro-Asianism, in contrast to the UNP which incarnated identification with and loyalty to Anglo-Americanism. The SLFP government recognized Fidel’s Revolution before Mao’s China did. Che Guevara visited Ceylon in the Cuban Revolution’s first year which was to be SWRD’s last.
In the decades that followed (right up to 1989 and the Premadasa ‘pivot’), Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the strong symbol of those Non-aligned values and identity, and more essentially, of national resistance against the alignment of Sri Lanka with the West during what scholars defined as the New Cold War.
If I may lapse into the language of the latest Star Wars movie, I see Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and his UNP as the loyal local puppets of ‘the First Order’, a successor Empire which strives to maintain over-lordship against all comers and all those who seem to challenge or resist it. The sleazy satraps of the US-dominated First Order, the UNP, for whom Sri Lanka is only a location to sell or rent, not an ontological identity, will constitutionally carve up, sell off and convert this island into a colony, a link in the chain of the First Order’s Indo-Pacific ‘grand strategy’ against our consistent friends and allies in Eurasia (China and Russia).
In this scenario, Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Joint Opposition-SLPP represent the Resistance, the Rebellion. I see Mahinda as The Last Jedi. If I may switch to an earlier movie (with Tom Cruise) depicting heroic nationalist resistance to a ‘modernizing’ Western puppet Prime Minister in Asia under a patriotic but vacillating Emperor, Mahinda is The Last Samurai.
Mahinda is the closest Lankan approximation of two qualities that Princeton’s Emeritus Professor of International Law, Richard Falk, testifies were shared by the Vietnamese and the Palestinians: “desired national narrative [which] collided with the geopolitical ambitions and commitments of the United States…” and “empowering and charismatic resilience is the core identity”.
It is all very simple really. This election is about you. If you vote for the UNP, you think that the country is better off under Ranil, is doing better and will do better under him as PM than it did when Mahinda was in charge. If you voted for regime change in 2015 it is because you thought that a government with Ranil and Chandrika driving it would or could do better than one under Mahinda.
Elections are great clarifiers. Elections are also the ultimate contests of relative merits. No election take place in a vacuum, just as no election is about absolutes. We have to choose how we vote according to context: what is the prevailing situation and which way do we want it to go? Elections are the ultimate comparison: are these folk better than the last bunch or are they worse?
The track record of Mahinda Rajapaksa as President shows that, on balance, his merits greatly outweighed his demerits.
There was no disenfranchisement of a whole community a la DS Senanayaka. There was no Sinhala Only a la SWRD Bandaranaike. There was no Thousand Day Emergency and unarmed civilian suspects dropping to their deaths from the 4th Floor of the CID a la Dudley Senanayaka. There was no ban on the transport of rice and people eating papaw skins out of trash cans a la Sirimavo Bandaranaike. There was no six year postponement of parliamentary elections through a fraudulent and coercive referendum, followed by a mini-pogrom against the Tamils, and 70, 000 foreign troops on Lankan soil a la JR Jayewardene. There were no guns given to the LTTE a la Premadasa. There were no bodies of youth strangled with plastic handcuffs, floating in the Diyawanna Oya a la Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. There was no calling off of an LRRP hit on Prabhakaran, a 3.3% economic growth rate in peacetime and selling off strategic ports, and proposals for an underwater tunnel to Tamil Nadu a la Ranil Wickremesinghe.
There was however, an end to the assassinations, suicide bombings, overrunning of military camps by the Tigers and a victorious end to a thirty years war over the world’s most powerful terrorist militia, which successive leaders had failed to do. There was a post war growth rate second only to China, in Asia.
The country is divided between those who think that the present government is better than the earlier one, and those who think the present government is worse than the previous one. More specifically, society is divided between those who think this government is bad but not as bad as the last set, and those who think the last bunch were bad but not as bad as the present lot.
Some think this government is proceeding on the wrong track but not as wrong as its predecessors and others who think that the previous government was proceeding on the right track or was on the wrong track but not quite as wrong as the present government. The election results will show exactly what the country thinks about these propositions.