By Rajan Philips –
Real or faked, a Mahinda–Gota split has political implications. A fake split could have unintended consequences, even precipitating a real split. Whether fake or real, the sibling split is primarily over one issue and one issue only: the unlucky Thirteenth Amendment. But the split over 13A goes beyond the siblings and it is no fake but real within the UPFA governing alliance itself. What is not clear is – how is the SLFP split on this? Where does the SLFP stand over the split, real or fake, between the President and his Secretary brother? If SLFP parliamentarians are leaning one way or the other, are they doing it for real, or, are they faking allegiance, while waiting a different leader? Where is the SLFP in the real split over 13A in the UPFA?
If the Mahinda-Gota split is real, it would mean that the split is not only political but also personal. If, however, the split is a political fake, then there is no split at the personal level, and really no split at all. Even on 13A, while the younger Rajapaksa is implacably opposed to 13A, the older brother has never wholeheartedly supported it. The President doesn’t care if 13A is dumped, while the Secretary cannot sleep till it is dumped. A split, it might be, with the Defence Secretary wanting the amendment thrown out right away no matter what, and the President vacillating between diluting and repealing it while trying to ‘shape up’ the fallouts.
As we know, the President is on his favourite hobby horse again – the parliamentary select committee, this time to ‘impeach’, if I may say so, the Thirteenth Amendment. So he has packed the committee with all the rabble rousers against 13A, whose political godfather is Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. With brutal symbolism, the President has also excluded from the committee that dedicated constitutional beaver and supporter of devolution, Tissa Vitarana.
Disturbing and curious
Other than 13A, there is no other sign of disagreement between the brothers. In fact, there are no other governance issues for this government other than using 13A for its own survival. Manifestly and worryingly within the government, there is no discussion, difference, disagreement or debate over anything economic. The economy is not a governing concern for the brotherhood regime. It is all about bloated security and pseudo sovereignty, about debt creating white-elephant infrastructure, and about turning Colombo into a grand, one-way, casino circus – a cheap Las Vegas caricature for those down under. There is no split on all of this. And there is no opposition to question the brothers on any of this.
As pointed out by Kumar David several times in this weekly, the most disturbing aspect about Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s (GR’s) public condemnation of 13A is that it is against every known code of conduct for an unelected public official. Criticizing a constitution or advocating constitutional changes are matters for elected politicians and certainly for private citizens who are concerned about these matters. They are not matters for unelected public servants. Senior public servants are paid, in part, to keep their mouths shut on political matters. They must not articulate political positions publicly unless they are so directed by their ministers.
GR’s minister is his older brother and President, Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR). Naturally, the younger brother is in a special position of power and authority compared to any other civil servant now or at any time in Sri Lankan history. Nobody is denying or begrudging that. But that special relationship and position are also the reason why the younger Rajapaksa should observe maximum circumspection in his public utterances. There is no circumspection, only contravention in GR’s condemnation of 13A. The President goes ahead with the decision to hold elections for the Northern Provincial Council. GR continues regardless to campaign for not holding an election, for repealing 13A and abolishing the PC system altogether. Who is wagging whose dog here?
The second disturbing and curious aspect of GR’s forays into politics is that he has no base in the SLFP and uses political rabble rousers as his base and his platform. To the JHU, NFU and BBS, their political ‘cynosure’, as Kumar David has put it, is GR and not MR. Never mind MR is the popular president and GR is not cut out for the hurly-burly of electoral politics. The marriage between GR and the rabble rousers is not surprising. None of these organizations – JHU, NFU, BBS – have any hope in hell of winning anything in an election except as appendages of the SLFP banyan party. Yet, they want to strut their chauvinistic stilts on the political stage even though their political base is next to nothing. And their only recourse to achieving status, feeling important, and throwing their weight around is to latch themselves on to someone like GR. GR needs them too, to project his own political status, power and ego over and beyond his position and endowments. Where is the SLFP in all this?
SLFP’s blood transfusion
It is known that a good number of SLFP MPs including Ministers are opposed to diluting or repealing the Thirteenth Amendment. It was their opposition along with the handful Old Left MPs and minority Muslim and a few Tamil MPs that undermined President Rajapaksa’s cunningly cultivated two-thirds majority in parliament. The silent opposition stopped the President’s plan to dilute 13A through another constitutional amendment. The setback has incensed the GR/JHU/NFU/BSS axis. But how incensed should SLFPers be about the twists and turns that the UPFA alliance is being forced to take by a political mafia that the SLFP of SWRD Bandaranaike needs to have no truck with.
The SLFP is not a party of strong institutional tradition, whether in regard to its internal organization, or in regard to governing the country. However, it has consistently proved itself to be capable of spearheading successful electoral coalitions and seeing their governments break up before their terms are up. This has been the story of the victories and governments of 1956, 1960 and 1970. The SLFP was in the wilderness for a long seventeen years of UNP rule between 1977 and 1994, and the drought was ended when Chandrika Kumaratunga assembled the People’s Alliance and got rid of the UNP. It is the UNP that has since been suffering a prolonged drought. The SLFP governing coalition itself went through a political blood transfusion in 2005, when Mahinda Rajapaksa succeeded Chandrika Kumaratunga as party leader and the country’s president. Why the blood transfusion?
SWRD Bandaranaike founded the SLFP to realize his ultimate political ambition by providing a democratic alternative to the UNP. But it has never been able to do this on its own and has always relied on coalescing with the Left parties to serve its foundational purpose. Mahinda Rajapaksa has either abandoned the old ways or turned them upside down. He is the greatest beneficiary of the UNP’s 1978 constitution. And he has found a mechanism of political poaching to rob the UNP of its MPs by offering ministerial, or part-ministerial, and other inducements. The UNP new arrivals invariably compete with and displace the SLFP old timers in parliamentary matters. The SLFPers are also swarmed by the JHU/NFU/BBS storm troopers on the political street. If Mahinda Rajapaksa is crowding out the old SLFPers with his new UNPers, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is threatening them with his storm troopers.
The Rajapaksa government is still a powerful government, but it is not an SLFP government from the old block. Worse, the traditional SLFPers have no place to go. Are they being punished on suspicion that they are still Bandaranaike loyalists and Chandrika faithfuls? Their resistance to the regime’s moves to dilute or repeal 13A will only confirm this suspicion, for President Kumaratunga’s lasting legacy is her sincere commitment to finding a political solution based on power sharing within an indissoluble Lankan union. And the suspicion will turn into aggravation for the Rajapaksas by the continuing speculation of a second political coming by Chandrika Kumaratunga.