Colombo Telegraph

National Democracy Or Neo-Colonial Democracy? By Way Of A Reply To RMB

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

“Sirisena was supported by a broad coalition including leading Tamil and Muslim parties and the United National Party…Rajapaksa still earned more support from the Sinhalese community than Sirisena, the ethnic group that comprises about three-quarters of the country’s population… the Rajapaksa brand isn’t toxic — not yet anyway. He lost a close election and his name will always be linked to the defeat of the Tamil Tigers…” – (‘What’s Next for Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa?’ Taylor Dibbert, The Huffington Post, Jan. 29, 2015)

What kind of democracy do we want: A National Democracy or an anti-national or non-national, Neocolonial Democracy?

What Sri Lanka will be like by Independence Day 2016, depends on which of two contending projects succeed. One is a hegemonic project, that of hegemony over the majority of people, of the citizenry, who happen demographically, to be Sinhalese. This is the UNP-TNA-CBK-Western project of recreating the Ceylon of the colonial and semi-colonial times; a Ceylon serving the West and dominated by a bloc of social minorities, led by the pro-Western bourgeoisie linked to Western markets.

The specific project of Tamil nationalism and its Sinhala allies is to recreate the Sri Lanka that would have come into being had essentials of the ‘union of regions’ package, the CFA, the ISGA and PTOMS succeeded.

The executive Presidency is sought to be abolished precisely to prevent that insidious project being overturned by a strong executive President, susceptible to the pressure of the majority.

Standing against this project is that of the scattered, confused patriots; the project of the Sri Lankan nationalists. The nationalist-patriotic project is not and should not be a Sinhala project still less a Sinhala Buddhist one. It must be multiethnic, multi-religious, multilingual and multicultural; in short, pluralist. However, inasmuch as the Sinhala community is the demographic, cultural and civilizational core of this island, a truly patriotic and nationalist cannot but be a project that accords the majority community its natural leading role—as distinct from a dominating or oppressive role. There cannot be a Sri Lankan nation, which is de-centered; without a civilizational core—and that center and core is naturally that of the Sinhalese, as it would be that of the majority in any society especially in the ex-colonial Global South which is still engaged in nation-building. It is by no means accidental that the Sinhalese were the main force of the anti-British colonialist rebellions and resistance. It was sometime in 2011 or 2012, very late at night at the Café de Flore, famously patronized by Jean-Paul Sartre (and introduced to me as a boy, by my father on our first visit to Paris in the Sixties) that a French Marxist scholar turned from my wife Sanja and myself to his companion and our guest Natalie Cardone, celebrated for her performance of Carlos Puebla’s song for Che Guevara, ‘Hasta Siempre Commandante’, and explained with great emphasis to her that “the Sinhalese are one of the oldest nations on earth”.

If Mr. RMB Senanayake wishes to be played for a sucker that’s his business, but he cannot take the people along for a ride. When, for decades, the executive presidency was rightly regarded as allowing the minorities to punch their weight at the elections, and in the immediate aftermath of an election at which the Northern, Eastern, Hill country and minority votes in general have proven decisive, why does the TNA unambiguously support the abolition of the executive Presidency and the return to the parliamentary system? This all the more glaring a paradox, when one recalls that all the discriminatory legislative acts against the minorities took place precisely when Sri Lanka had the Westminster model and not a single one was passed after the conversion to a Presidential model.

Furthermore, why does the TNA support a dilution of the system of proportional representation as an electoral system, when it is precisely the model of pure PR that permits maximum representation of the minorities?

There can be only one answer. The TNA supports the abolition of the executive Presidency and the return to a Westminster model because the game-plan of Tamil nationalism is not fair-play, full equality of citizenship or greater devolution, but the weakening of the Sri Lankan state and its strong center; the diminution of its centripetal capacity; and the enhancing of centrifugal potential. Tamil nationalism’s is an incremental ‘exit strategy’. The TNA supports the dilution of proportional representation and a partial return to the first-past-the post system because that would restore the old ITAK/Federal Party dominance of the North and East and totally marginalize the anti-separatist, integrationist/devolutionist patriotic Tamil element represented by Douglas Devananda, Karuna, Pillaiyan etc.

The Tamil nationalist project has two aspects:

  • Disproportionate dominance of the strategic heights of the State and the economy by restoring the colonial and immediately postcolonial/neocolonial pre-1956 colonial social status quo.
  • Weakening the Center, weakening the ties between center and periphery, inducting Western and South Indian influence into the North and East, thereby setting up a halfway house for an independent political existence or a Greater Tamil Nadu.

The first stage of the grand strategic plan has already been accomplished—it is exactly that which the West tried in Malaysia with Anwar Ibrahim. In Sri Lanka it succeeded because Mahathir Mohammed had no powerful brothers much less intelligent than himself (or he wasn’t reliant upon them).

The second step in the game-plan would be the ensuring the victory at the parliamentary election of its long standing ally the UNP of Ranil Wickremesinghe. The UNP has been the strategic Southern ally of Tamil nationalism for decades, long before Mr. Wickremesinghe, precisely because it has never been a nationalist party along the lines of the Indian Congress. With the striking exception of the period of the patriotic Premadasa Presidency, it has been the party that was most sympathetic to imperialism. It was the sense that Independence was incomplete, with the retention of the British colonial bases and the detestable anti-Chinese foreign policy exhibited in Bandung in 1955 (on the advice of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s father Esmond), that led the masses, especially the Sinhala masses, to sweep the MEP coalition into office in 1956.

Today’s government, an unelected one strengthening its grip on the levers of power, is essentially a UNP government, and quintessentially a UNP government with an unreconstructed CFA ideology and profile. This is evidenced in some of the key appointments it has made. I certainly do not mean in ethnic terms, since I would have been delighted to see one of the most intelligent persons I know, Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy, as the Governor of the Central Bank– but that was not the Government’s choice. The difference between the UNP Government of the CFA years and today is that it has a significant ally in the form of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and her faction of the SLFP. Chandrika represents the transformation of a segment of the ‘national bourgeoisie’ represented by the SLFP, to a pro-imperialist big bourgeoisie or the comprador capitalist class, through the process of ‘compradorefication’. Thus the CBK-SLFP represented, from the days of the Sudu Nelum movement and her anti-unitary state ‘union of regions’ packages of 1995 and 1997, the same class interests and ideology as the right wing (the non-Premadasa wing) of the UNP which had taken back that party after the Tigers murdered Ranasinghe Premadasa.

The great victory of the Sri Lankan people at Nandikadal in 2009 was the confluence of two factors: the renaissance of Ruhuna and a great leader from our Deep South and the rise of China in Asia and the world. The conscious alliance of these two trends enabled the victory over Tamil separatism aided by elements in Tamil Nadu and the Tamil Diaspora.

The response of Tamil nationalism was to diligently and intelligently leverage the West and Delhi, while also allowing itself to be used by them, in the competition with China. The gross errors of the Rajapaksa administration in its second term especially in the realm of foreign relations enabled the success of this strategy.

Now the Tamil nationalist project has placed its domestic (Sinhala) allies in power and hopes to cement that victory at the upcoming parliamentary election either by assisting the UNP to win outright or to form a coalition with it as in 1965, broadening it with a pro- CBK component of the SLFP.

The roadmap of Tamil nationalism is clear. It is the creation of a halfway house or stepping-stone to complete exit, using the models that the Tamil Diaspora sees around it. These are instances of referendums which stop just short of secession, such as of Quebec, Scotland, Catalonia; grey zones of de-facto independence such as Kurdistan; actual separations assisted by the so-called international community such as Southern Sudan, Kosovo.

The cat was let out of the bag in Delhi, by Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera (the poster boy of the bloc of Chandrika’s SLFP faction and Ranil’s UNP) when he ticked off the Thimpu proposals, the Mangala Moonesinghe formula and the CBK “package” as the acceptable components of a political solution. Mr. Sumanthiran’s Sunday Observer interview clarified matters still further, when he said that the TNA had always held that the full implementation of the 13th amendment was not a lasting solution.

The TNA’s Mr. Sritharan, MP, claimed on Sirasa/MTV news that the US and India owed the Tamil people for having won the Cold War against China by peacefully ousting Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is reasonable to expect that the pay-off will be forthcoming after the dust settles on the parliamentary election—an election in which a UNP artificially exalted by the CBK backed President Sirisena, faces the SLFP divided and confused by CBK and President Sirisena.

Mr. RMB Senanayake expects us to blind ourselves to the writing on the wall, or he expects us not to care. He engages in obfuscation as does the unholy alliance of ideologues around the new administration.

Mr. Senanayake writes of me thus: “He is hung up on the issue of the unitary versus federal status- a distinction used by political scientists to describe widely varying arrangements for the devolution of power.”

This is more than merely a fib. Federalism is NOT merely a technical term for one form of the devolution of power. Devolution means precisely that– the sharing or flow of power from Center to periphery or apex to base. It can be effected by a parliament or a President. Federalism on the other hand is the voluntary union of constituent units, in which irreducible powers are enjoyed by the units and the center, and the power of the peripheral unit cannot be abrogated by the center unilaterally (unlike in the case of devolution, in which it is revocable).

Mr. Senanayake is correct when he says: “The crux of the issue is that in general political parlance the division of powers between the Center and the periphery cannot be altered unilaterally in a federal state but can be so altered in a unitary state where the Center is superior and it is the Center that devolves the power and a future government is not bound by the division of powers that prevails and could unilaterally change it.” Dr. Colvin R de Silva, an outstanding historian, recognized as such within the Commonwealth explained in 1972 during the debate on the first republican constitution, that given the historical patterns of external incursion and internal fissure the island required a unitary system. The Center is superior because it represents the larger whole. If the Center lacked the capacity for unilateral action, President Premadasa could not have dissolved the NEPC in 1990 after it threatened UDI. Mr Senanayake as well as the UNP hierarchy (with the probable exception of young Sajith Premadasa) seem to agree with the basic project of the TNA: placing the Center on par with and not above the peripheral unit; de facto federalism and the abolition of the executive Presidency. Given our geography, demography and history, I regard this combination as a recipe for the weakening of the state, and thereby, for disaster, including the erosion of the May 2009 victory over secession in our Great Patriotic War.

How then to avoid this catastrophe? Here is a modest proposal then, in the mood generated by Independence Day. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) should withhold the two thirds majority needed for the passage of any bill for the drastic remodeling of the Executive Presidency, other than the proposed restoration of independent commissions and term limits. It should, in short, defeat the proposed abolition or disemboweling of the executive presidency and the drastic shift to a Westminster model. The proposed counter-reform should be fought tooth and nail in the parliament, the courts and if necessary at a referendum. It can be defeated.

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