By Kumar David –
Constructive paradigm shifts in politicians must be welcomed; Mangala taking sagacious initiatives
Many have been wary of Mangala Samaraweera (ManSam) because of Wayamba and because he has jumped from one party to another rather too often. The Sunday Leader once said “The infamous Wayamba 1999 election is the biggest black mark in Sri Lanka’s violence riddled election history” and ManSam was the point man who masterminded this infamy; a shame not to be forgotten or forgiven! He has somersaulted between UNP and anti-UNP camps more often than I can remember; his loyalty was of concern even in the run up to the recent presidential poll. However, to give the devil its due, in the last 100 days as Minister of External Affairs (MEA) and on political issues, he has blossomed into rather a sensible bloke. Still, it is imperative that we treat it all with caution for a while more.
As MEA he smoothed India’s ruffled feathers after the Rakapaksa’s kerfuffle and prepared the ground for successful Sirisena-Modi sessions that mended Indo-Lanka relations. He met Kerry in Washington and travelled to Beijing, both successful visits. Kerry’s remark, “One thing about this Sri Lankan Government seems clear: the president, prime minister and the foreign minister are not afraid of tackling tough issues”, is perhaps a little too generous to the first two.
ManSam also paved the way for the delicate negotiations with Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein which secured a deferment of a potentially harsh UNHRC report on human rights violations and war crimes of the Rajapaksas and the military. Let me add, lest there be confusion, that I support an international inquiry and I believe the truth will not out without international pressure, but I also support deferment of the report till after elections and the final rout of the pro-Rajapaksa bandits. The truth is that political consciousness of the Sinhalese people has not matured to where they can stomach censure of the military and denunciation of Rajapaksa racism. A negative report would have been manipulated by the bandits to eviscerate the Sirisena-Ranil alliance and to drive a wedge between the government and the international community. This needed to be prevented; let’s wait till September and pressurise the government to act after that.
There are three interventions by ManSam worthy of approbation; recognition that 19A is imperfect, need for a new constitution, and discussion of a tripod on which Lanka’s foreign policy should stand. Speaking on 19A in parliament he affirmed:-
“January 8 should be remembered as the day which heralded the beginning of the end of the all- powerful executive presidential system. Since introducing the First Republican constitution in 1972 we journeyed from a Westminster form to the all-powerful Executive Presidency of the Second Republican constitution. However both Republican constitutions were inadequate to meet the aspirations of all communities. . . This amendment alone will not be the panacea for all problems. Reduction of the executive powers of the Presidency is only one important step . . .The Supreme Court held that to abolish other powers, a referendum is needed. It will be the task of the next parliament to abolish the executive system in favour of parliamentary democracy”.
There is much that is correct here. First it recognises that the enactment of 19th Amendment, its many defects notwithstanding, is a significant forward step, second the better option is full parliamentary democracy and abolition of the executive presidency, and third hope that the next parliament will complete the unfinished tasks. True it does not spell out the defects; but it would not make sense for a Minister to stand up in parliament during the 19A debate and undertake this expose. That task belongs to political analysts and though I have done before it is of such great importance (crikey, it is the nation’s Constitution we are dealing with!) I do not think the Editor will deny me a repetitious paragraph to articulate what ManSam should have but maybe will utter on another occasion.
The first major defect in 19A is that two overlapping centres of power – elected President and strong Cabinet and PM – is a deadly decoction for instability. Secondly the Council of State is a vacuous imitation of a second chamber. And now we have a capitulation on the composition of the Constitutional Council (CC) which vets high level appointments (Judges, IGP, AG, Bribery C and many key posts). CC was to include seven independent persons of high repute appointed by the President upon nomination by the PM, Leader of Opposition, political leaders etc. Sirisena-Ranil in a sick act of supine capitulation agreed to replace them with seven MPs. The incestuous relationship between the CC and Parliament undermines the division of power between Legislature, Executive and Judiciary and frustrates the effort to restore the checks and balances of 17A which Rajapaksa axed.
The expectation of a new constitution or substantial further changes within a short timeframe is naïve. Once a country goes through the arduous and unsettling process of complex constitutional revisions, 19A in point, it is ingenuous to believe that the body politic will have stomach for doing it all over again. This is the reason I was so aggressive in my criticisms of the shortcomings of 19A; it is naïve to expect correction of these defects any time soon. For better for worse we are married to JR’s excrement, moderately decontaminated by 19A, till ‘death do us part’.
Foreign policy orientation
In a sensible presentation entitled “Sri Lanka’s Foreign Relations: Three Policies We Can Adopt” on the web, Minister Samaraweera laid out what we can take as a statement of policy. The three pillars: India, China and the Diaspora (by implication both Tamil and Sinhalese). No more need be said on the first two but the stress on the diaspora is sensible in more ways than one. There is an implied commitment of the government to do its bit to ease senseless hatred between Sinhalese and Tamils in the diaspora; a reciprocal loathing worse than anything I have seen at home, deriving from the mutually exclusive ghettos in which they live, brood and breed. The worst imbeciles are beyond redemption but the majority inhabit a middle ground where bridge building is possible. If officialdom can help – good. The Minister had better energise his minions in the embassies.
The rise of China, post-Deng, is an exemplary case where the diaspora was the seed element in the resurgence. In the first five to ten years post-1979 it was money and goodwill of overseas Chinese that watered the shoots of growth; the rush of global companies and MNCs came later in the 1990s. I was in Hong Kong from 1983 and saw it at first hand. Hong Kong’s small industrialists and entrepreneurs set up plants (garments, textile, shoes, durables, toys) on an ever expanding scale in Guangzhou Province. Financiers who fled Shanghai in 1948 and prospered into tycoons in Hong Kong were conduits for big money, trade and shipping. (In those days it was disconcerting for leftists like yours faithfully to behold Chinese Communist leaders and Hong Kong’s magnates in a cuddle; one is accustomed to it now).
Then there was eminence grise Deng’s celebrated visit to Singapore in November 1978 on a tour that included Thailand and Malaysia. The delegation was met at the airport by Lee Kuan Yew, Deputy PM Goh Keng Swee, Foreign Minister Rajaratnam and Finance Minister Hon Sui Sen. They went on a state drive followed by meetings in the Cabinet Room stimulating Singaporean investment in China. The visit so impressed Deng that it sowed the seeds of joint ventures, sparked the Suzhou Industrial Park and stimulated further expansion of Shenzhen and Tianjin. The point is that in the early stage overseas Chinese loyalty and pride in the motherland played a leading role. ManSam has hit the nail on the head if he desires to replicate this on a slimmer scale with the Lankan diaspora.
The restoration of dual nationality is eminently sensible but processing needs to be expedited; it should be a right unless there are disqualifications such as a criminal record. Every dual national is a source of psychological and financial support and loyalty for the nation. Many countries, for example the UK and Canada I believe, but I am not sure, do not rescind the citizenship of those who acquire naturalisation elsewhere. As for the EU, what is ones nationality? It is time to grow up and let Sri Lankans belong to the world.
However ManSam’s three pillars omit a fourth as important as the other three. The West; Europe including the UK and the US is our largest export market. Historical, cultural, language and educational ties with the English speaking world have put down deep roots. The reason for ManSam’s reticence on this score is the Mahinda scumbag-pack howling hypocritical anti-imperialism. Marxists need no lessons on imperialism from proto-fascist froth and understand the rapacious interests of investors whether from West, Far East or across the Palk Strait to the North. Capitalists invest for profit, not for love of God. Third World nations need to drive hard bargains and play the game; they need investments and markets and they also need to protect the interests of their people. Even Cuba and Iran have come round to this realisation.
Nevertheless, as a practical matter ManSam deserves credit for facilitating Kerry’s masterly statecraft at the Kadirgamar Institute last week. The two men have warmed to each other and Lanka can benefit from mending relations with a great power while preserving rapport with China and India.
I will dangle one more provisional carrot before ManSam. Provisionally because the man has to prove that he has staying power on a matter where many blossom and flourish and then wither and perish; I am referring to the national question. I have noticed, and others have commented that ManSam is the Cabinet Minister who has spoken most frequently and fervently of the need to reach out to the Tamils. That’s a good start to be translated into action; if he keeps it up I am prepared to raise the C+ credit-grade implied in this piece to a generous B. The Global Tamil Forum, a diaspora group, has made a firm statement in support of 19A, no doubt responding to the government’s friendly outreach to Tamils at home and abroad.