By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Reply to Shyamon Jayasinghe’s defense of Ranil’s candidacy & leadership
Though I refuse to be simplistic, my stance on President Rajapaksa and the Rajapaksa regime is absolutely clear, as it is about the UNP, the Tamil question, Sri Lanka’s foreign policy, and most issues of politics, national and international.
1. I defend President Rajapaksa from criticism that comes from the Right, while I do not do so in relation to criticism that comes from the anti-imperialist patriotic Left, and in fact endorse the latter. Thus I defend Mahinda Rajapaksa from the criticism that comes from the pro-secessionist Tamil Diaspora, Tamil Nadu, the UN International Inquiry and the dominant elite of the UNP (which appeased the LTTE), while I fully endorse, support and applaud the sharp criticism of President Rajapaksa and the Rajapaksa regime that comes from the JVP (as well as the more muted criticism from the Left within the UPFA).
2. If the choice is Mahinda Rajapaksa or Ranil Wickremesinghe, and so long as that is the main choice available, I support Mahinda Rajapaksa, as does most of the country. This is less to do with MR than it has to with RW. While I opposed CBK’s 1995 and 1997 ‘packages’ (and endorsed the Aug 2000 version), I supported Chandrika in late 1999 when the choice for the Presidency was her or Ranil. So did the country. I also supported CBK’s wresting back of the three portfolios and her dismissal of Ranil.
3. I have no personal issues with Ranil and never have because I have had no personal dealings with him. I supported him in 1993-1997, including in his election campaign at the 1994 parliamentary election, because he had supported President Premadasa while his opponent, Gamini Dissanaike had opposed the late President. I was hardly alone in this stand or even the most prominent among those who took it. It was the stand of the UNP’s former General Secretary Sirisena Cooray.
4. My open political rupture with Ranil Wickremesinghe took place in 1996-1997 when he affiliated the UNP with the International Democratic Union led by the US Republicans and the UK Conservatives and went on to support the Liam Fox agreement. This was a sharp deviation from the ideological and international independence of the UNP. It was a total contradiction of the understanding we had with Ranil Wickremesinghe which was on the public record in the form of an interview I did with him in the Sunday Observer in 1994, in which he pledged a social democratic ideology and program. His support for the Liam Fox agreement signaled a soft-line on the Tigers who had murdered President Premadasa and many other UNP personalities, including my friend Ossie Abeygoonesekara.
5. Early in 1997 the Lankadeepa’s midweek Political Column ran a piece about a ‘Karu-Cooray bloc’, which was the alternative project I promoted for the rescue of the UNP and the Opposition. Within days the arrest took place by the Chandrika administration of the UNP’s former Gen Secy Sirisena Cooray, who was Chairman of the Premadasa Centre of which I was Executive Director. He was kept under detention with a heavy army guard. The Supreme Court chaired by Justice Mark Fernando, dismissed with costs, the case against him. We were about to commemorate the death anniversary of President Premadasa at the indoor stadium named after him. Ranil did not come to the defense of his former Gen Secretary who had nominated him as the Prime Minister, handed him the organizership of the UNP in Colombo Central and later fought to make him leader of the party. Indeed Ranil Wickremesinghe sent orders to the UNP to boycott the Premadasa commemoration.
6. The relevance of my continued criticism of Ranil is that he has reduced the UNP’s vote from the 43% that Srima Dissanaike obtained for it under the worst imaginable circumstances, to well under 30%, despite 20 years of UPFA rule. On his watch there is 1 1/2 times the number of UNP MPs in the government than in the Opposition: 65 to 43. This didn’t start with Mahinda, but with CBK. Ranil has lost not only to a war winning MR but to MR before he won the war and to CBK who had failed to do so!
7. If Ranil is the candidate, Mahinda Rajapaksa will win by a far larger margin than he deserves to. This in turn will help the ruling coalition win the parliamentary election handsomely, which is an otherwise preventable outcome. If Ranil is the candidate, there is no possibility that the JVP will remain neutral or even call for a second preference vote for him. If he is the candidate, there will be more Dayasiri defections BEFORE the Presidential elections, and many after. Similarly, if he remains the party and opposition Leader after the presidential election, there will be more UNP defections just before and just after the parliamentary elections. The UNP will drop from 43 seats to just over half that number. This will be disastrous for democracy.
8. To be perfectly frank, I have no great problem with a third term for a President who won a war, when we have given two terms to two Presidents who failed to ( JRJ and CBK)! However, a large margin of victory will mean the entrenching of the Rajapaksa family, whose rule I oppose. If anyone finds my critical support of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in contradiction with my opposition to the rule of the Rajapaksa clan, may I say that my father Mervyn de Silva was among those many progressives who supported SWRD and Sirimavo Bandaranaike (for their non-aligned foreign policy) while opposing the Bandaranaike-Ratwatte clan. The reason behind Mervyn’s dismissal from Lake House by the Bandaranaikes was his support for Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Leader of the SLFP, Maithripala Senanayake, as a successor.
9. In any event I encourage and endorse an Anura Kumara Dissanayake candidacy for the presidency. I hope to see within my active lifetime, a modernizing Left administration in Sri Lanka which is akin to those in contemporary Latin America. Even in the event of a Sajith Premadasa presidency sometime down the road, a JVP led Opposition with Anura Kumara as Opposition leader, will be necessary as a vigilant watchdog of the people’s and the nation’s interests.
10. If the choice at a Presidential election is Sajith or Karu (with Sajith as Deputy) vs. Mahinda Rajapaksa, it will prove an immediate game changer, by removing the unpatriotic, pro-Tiger stigma from the UNP. It must be recalled that the successful branding of the UNP as ‘anti-national’ has been the formula for success of the SLFP-led coalitions down the decades. It is only when the UNP has successfully shed such a label that it has won. It is no accident – nor can it be swept under the rug, as Shyamon Jayasinghe seeks to–that the Rajapaksas losses and the UNP’s gains in Tissamaharama have taken place precisely when and where a patriotic-populist UNP personality whose profile is that of an alternative to Ranil and ‘Ranilist’ minoritarian urban-cosmopolitan neoliberalism, is leading the UNP in the area!
I have advocated since 1997, a ‘regime change’ in the UNP which will permit the UNP to be elected to office. Surely, someone who advocates a more effective electoral alternative than Ranil Wickremesinghe who celebrates this year, a world record, i.e. his and the UNP’s 20th anniversary out of Presidential office, can hardly be accused of unqualified support for the incumbent administration. My rejection of Ranil is identical to the often articulated public position of the UNP’s General Secretary under JR Jayewardene, most notably during the historic victory of 1977, namely Daham Wimalasena. Thus mine can hardly be logically described as an anti-UNP or pro-Government political position, can it? I also fail to see according to which logic Shyamon Jayasinghe could have the UNP’s interests more closely and authentically at heart than would Daham Wimalasena!