18 May, 2024


One Shot Politics & Legacy Presidency  

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Uditha Devapriya provides an interesting political take “On arresting Ranjan Ramanyake…” in Friday’s Daily Mirror. It is a refreshing commentary on the arrest of the actor-politician and the politician-actor and his allegedly recorded revelations involving highly placed police and judicial officers. Refreshing, that is, in contrast to all the highfalutin legal commentaries that are doing the rounds. One only needs to say LOL – laugh out loud, in social media vocabulary. In the arrest and in its aftermath, “politics has become theatre and theatre has become politics,” to use Devapriya’s quote of a dramatic one liner. Caught in the mix is President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s New Administration and whatever positive message that the President is trying to send out to the people. Ironically, the President’s message before and after the November 2019 election, is kind of a promise to do a One Shot act in real politics. 

As President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is different from every one of his predecessors by every political criterion. He compares in age with that of JR Jayewardene when the latter became President in 1977/78. Otherwise, his military background, American sojourn, his role as defence secretary, and non-involvement in party politics make him a unique occupant of the executive office. He is the beneficiary of fortuitous charisma that was massively boosted by the yahapalanaya debacle. 

His unusual path to power has created positive expectations that he will exercise his power, unlike his predecessors, to get things done in a professional manner, without corruption and favouritism, to benefit the people more immediately than ultimately. The same unusual path has also created negative fears that his exercise of power could be more authoritarian than democratic. In addition, the same unusual path combined with his age and the term limits of power, make President Gotabaya Rajapaksa a ‘legacy president’ as opposed to a ‘career president’ or politician. 

That is to say, Gotabaya Rajapaksa likely has no political ambition, direct or parental, beyond his presidency. He is, therefore, unlike Mahinda Rajapaksa or Maithripala Sirisena. He is also different from Ranil Wickremesinghe who is being forced to bow out of politics after a lifetime of frustrated presidential ambition. He is different, as well, from Sajith Premadasa who is still young and may want to take another kick at the can.

Must-do and Must-avoid Priorities

Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidential election at the first shot, and for all intents and purposes he literally has a One Shot presidency, whether or not it involves one term or two, to leave behind a positive legacy. What would be that legacy? I am not a crystal ball prognosticator, but it is possible to speculate on what that legacy could be – based on the country’s priorities and which among them the new President is best suited to successfully deliver. 

The country has several priorities, but the President and his Administration must wisely choose a short list of them that they could successfully deliver within the not unlimited, or term-limited, time they have in office. They should equally avoid embarking on projects that will only drag the government into a quagmire and eventually leave the President’s legacy as unfinished business at best. I will place hard infrastructure projects in the first doable group of priorities, and anything to do with constitutional reform in the must-avoid second group. 

In my humble view, attempting a broad constitutional reform will prove to be a worthless misadventure for the new administration and will only stymie the otherwise worthy efforts that the President might launch to leave behind a positive legacy in infrastructure building. The only constitution reform that is now needed are electoral reforms. They are already identified in the initiative completed by Dinesh Gunawardena during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency. They were deliberately not acted upon then. And they were characteristically neglected by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Administration. There is no reason why they cannot be legislated now, in the current parliament, with the required two-thirds majority for the constitutional amendment that would be necessary. 

The 19th Amendment was enacted and adopted under similar parliamentary circumstances in 2015. If the (majority) opposition parties are not willing to support the current (minority) government on electoral reform, the government can then go to the people lambasting the opposition parties over electoral reforms. A constitutional change that is achieved through government-opposition consensus in parliament is far more preferable to one that is voted in by a tyrannical, two-thirds majority government. The spirit of the two-thirds majority requirement presupposes the support of at least some of the opposition parties. A constitutional change brought about by the government acting alone vitiates that spirit. Put another way, a two-thirds majority including opposition parties will be representative of about 60 to 70%, or more, of the national population. On the other hand, a two-thirds majority involving the government alone may not be representative of more than 55% of the people.    

The bone of contention in electoral reforms is of course the cut-off point under proportional representation. It is necessary to remind here that the high (12.5%) district-wise cut off point in the 1978 Constitution was harshly criticized by Dr. NM Perera as targeting the two main Left Parties which were then unrepresented in parliament. The lowering of the cut-off point by the 15th Amendment was not a response to NM’s criticisms, but an act of political expediency to divide the minority ethnic vote. A lower cut off point is obviously more democratic and a high cut off point defeats the very purpose of having proportional representation in place of first-past-the-post system. A low cut off point benefits not only parties of ethnic minorities, but also small political parties in the south. 

As the now arrested-and-released Champika Ranawaka has reportedly said, a low cut off point will only drive small radical parties in the south out of the political process and into the forests. It is also hypocritical to miss the elephant in the room that all Sri Lankan political parties, big and small, are ethnocentric parties. It is a stretch, if not hypocritical, to suggest that any of the two, now three, main political parties are national political parties. This is not to say that the three parties are necessarily anti-minority in everything they do, but to acknowledge the point that ethnicity is an organizing principle of Sri Lankan politics. There is no point hiding it, and the task is to learn to live with it in peace and with goodwill. Neither attribute can be obtained in a sudden flash, but both can be built over time with patience and persistence at the political level. 

National reconciliation, if it is still an objective – even after Mangala Samaraweera’s grandiloquent devaluation of it, is never a dead end-state, but a constant work in progress. Accommodating a low cut-off point in electoral arithmetic is a necessary attribute of that work. It can be achieved by discussion and consensus. It should not be rejected haughtily in the name of a lopsided sense of nationalism.                        

Vistas and Distractions

“Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” – the New Administration’s Viyathmaga motto brings to mind another phrase from a different political era in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. The old phrase – “grand ambitions and sweeping vistas”, is a characteristically felicitous phrase that recurs in Isaac Deutscher’s trilogy of Leon Trotsky’s life. The phrase typified the era of Trotskyism which never wholly took off either in Sri Lanka or elsewhere. It did make a splash, however, and more so in Sri Lanka where the Trotskyist LSSP’s political splash was very much larger than its limited electoral successes. 

In contrast, the current vistas for prosperity and splendour now being projected in Sri Lanka are electorally well validated. Fifty days into the New Administration, there is acknowledgment that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s initial steps are generally in keeping with his promised vistas and the more optimistic expectations of his presidency. At the same time, there is all round amusement about the distractions that are being provided by others within the administration and in the broader Rajapaksa entourage. Almost all of the distractions are at the expense of the now disgraced and disparaged yahapalanya administration, and deservedly so. 

However, the political point about these distractions is not quite clear because they are simply crowding out whatever positive message the new President is trying to send out. More importantly, the continuing derisions of the yahapalanaya government are not going to hurt its partners in inaction anymore than they are already hurt now. Nor are the ongoing revelations going to cause any more disarray in the UNP than there already is. The real worrisome consequence of these distractions is the toll that they are taking on the institutions of judiciary and other law enforcement agencies. 

It would seem that these distractions are intended for the very purpose of disparaging those institutions. To cheer them on, on the one hand, and to express concerns about the state of the judiciary, on the other, not to mention calling on the Chief Justice to rescue the judiciary from whatever rut it has fallen into, is no worse than shedding crocodile tears. The judiciary is in no better or worse state now than it has ever been in the last 42 years. If at all, during the last five years, the judges were not stoned in their homes, assaulted in front of schools, ridiculed in parliament and by parliamentary committees, did not have their Chief Justice removed by impeachment. No judicial ruling was questioned or discarded during the last five years. If the real purpose of the current distractions is to revisit any of the old judicial rulings, that would be to take the country to a past that it does not have to. Nor will it in any way advance the legacy goals of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.        

Another distraction that is equally not clear is resurrecting the controversy over the singing of the national anthem in Tamil along with the more official version in Sinhalese. Singing the anthem in Tamil does not require a constitutional amendment. If one is deemed required, that could be considered as a positive reform measure to the 1978 Constitution! None of this is necessary and that only reinforces my earlier point that all of this is only detracting from the more positive initiatives of the new President and his administration. There have been quite  a few of them, some of which are to be expected and some others deserve to be commended.      

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s smart-casual approach without ceremonial pretensions is to be expected of anyone who has spent time in an immigrant society like North America. His much publicized ‘presidential raids’ to shake up bureaucratic dens have been tried before and by themselves they are not to change how the government works. Governments need to work necessarily slowly to make sure that all questions are raised and answered, and all requirements are identified and satisfied. If someone wants speed in government, they must start the process early, instead of starting late and running through all the red lights. 

That said, where the new President is winning kudos is in the appointments that he has been making to government institutions, Banks, Boards and Corporations – from the Central Bank to the Jaffna Provincial Council, and a host of them in between. All of them are good early starts and time will tell how the new appointees are given the space and autonomy they require to carry out their professional work. I alluded earlier to building the country’s hard infrastructure components as a potential legacy for the new President. One can write at some length on this on a later date and after seeing how things unfold in the next few months. 

Suffice it to say here that in addition to hard infrastructure, a comprehensive development of the non-plantation agricultural sector could be another legacy opportunity. Both the development of hard infrastructure and that of the agricultural sector lend themselves to involving provincial administrations in meaningful ways within the framework of the 13th Amendment. The potential for articulating the two levels of government is well illustrated in the inaugural remarks of the new Governor of the North Central Province, Tissa Vitarana, who is also a prominent Trotskyite of his generation. I do not quite agree with Dr. Vitarana’s political dialectic, but there is no question about his competence and capabilities as a medical scientist and as a professional. 

And even if half of what the Dr. Vitarana has listed in his remarks in Anuradhapura can be achieved at the provincial level under the new President, that will be quite an achievement and will have to be acknowledged as such even by skeptical scribes like yours truly. The prospects are pleasing, but the question is whether the new administration will be able to contain the proliferation of One Shot distractions for the sake of One Shot politics and a legacy presidency.   

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Latest comments

  • 7

    This nation is filled with bitch’s son, so let them be ruled by bitch#s sons.

    By 2015, we all except more of those 7 million of voters were not overlooked how Rajakpaskshe s administration led us to one another Pakistan.
    By 2015, not a single state in developed world respected MR led groups and SRILANKA, because not even basic human rights were not safeguarded by his second term according to CW nations. That was the reasons our GSP plus to be taken away from us.

    Whoever, whatever being said and done today, Goodgoverannce at the begining won so much of rights towards the nation, but people are more or less like, they dont care about values but just enjoy blatant lies about Maharaja, being spread by few TV channels and printed media institutions.

    I think youth would not let it go, if Gotabaya would not hold on to his promises, because GOOGLE make them well aware, that even Ethiopians are among the fast developing nations with the direct mediation of China and EU investments.

    However, our Rajapakshe men and their so called GIGANTIC investments through CHINESE backfired, making the nation ” number one CHINES DEBT trap country” SRILANKA. You may get this whenefver you would just enter and surf ” Chinese debt trap countries”.

    Mattala and Hambantota, just because native places, why should go to build such harbours and airports not having done PROPER feasiblity studies ? SRILANKA not Mahidna Rajaakshes private property, that should be CLEAR to the man, let alone today. If not WE SHOULD rise up against led groups and bomb down their habitations for a better country.

    • 5

      P P Koluwa,

      I don’t think Rajapakse’s understand what a feasiblity study is. Chamal Rajapakse (Least corrupt of the lot) was interviewed on Rupavahini soonafter inauguration of Mattala Airport. The interviewer inquired as to whose idea was to establish the Airport to which Chamal’s answer was that it was a request that came from people of his district and not the entire country as well as future generations have to suffer.

    • 2

      Instead of working hard for a better future, rascals seem to be lining up to destroy the nation again. We have achieved the bascs through GOOD governance govt, but now as I as see it we are reversing.
      BOND scam was abused 100 times more during Rajapkshe abusive rule. BUt lanken media mafia painted it as it came into being under Good governance. If they are clean as the press repeat, why not COPE and presidential commission recommendations are kept away from PRESS. Instead RR’s leaks become WIKILEAKS in the fools#s paradise, why not COPE and president commission recommendations are kept away ? People should improve their awarness in order to save the gulliable led lanken society.

      1) whereever the human beings are not controlled through properly set law and order systems, people behave like stray dogs.

      *****Best examples are plenty – take them from Rajapkashe led srilanka today

      2) No income from so called Chinese investments that the nepotism led family to have brought to SRILNAKA, but the average of this war torn nation are misled by the very same tactics but by a former reguee man, just because his blood relationship to Mahinda Rajaakshe. Mahinda Rajapakshe was then a rebell and high criminal. His govt though had the luck to find the stop to the last phase of civil war, nothing he achieved towards the sustainable solutions for the long standing Ethinic problem in SL



      3). Instead they have now turned out to go for a RELIGIOUS war, abusing the very same war weary nation

      4) People are easy targets because majority of people are born buddists. Buddhists in general would do no harm even to an ant, but their paractises change them REAL BUDDHISTs OR NOT.

    • 1

      Please check it out


      Ballige puthas looted our country by th enames of SO CALLED Chinese investments,
      but aficans are obviously winning their race.

      Today we in Europe, buy flowers and vegetables that are produced in Ethiopia.

      That shows clearly some politicians, have made use of CHINESE support to really help their nations, while our BALLIGE puthas have strenghthened their pockets through COMMISSIONS being given to them by so called huge projects.

  • 5

    The main problem is there is no alternative.

    I mean Ranil / Sajith is no better.

    • 1

      There are enough alternatives candiates, why not an University don be unable to give this country a lead.

      The french elected their president out of unpopular parties. And they have been doing better today.

      I think each and everyone in our country should change their thinking by a paradigm shift. That can then achieve majorityy#s goal.

      If we have one abusive politicians, we d better for a less evil politicians.
      Our choice is Sajith because RANIL was given a chance. No measn should go after Rajapskhes. They were given enough and they have only been abusing it to core.

      100 day program of PREVIOUSJ GG GOVERNMENT achieved a lot for people, but ballige puthas led CURRENT govt even after passing 50 days now, nothing is achieved instead.
      What a TRAGEDY ?
      This is good srilanka filled with RASCALS and their supporters. If all Rajakashe would be beheaded by bringing them to Galle face green would be PLUS PLUS situation for a better SRILANKA. No doubt about that.

  • 6

    Rajan, a very balanced report with a tone of optimism- Gota has already started deviating from promises and appointing their kith and kin for top posts. ( refer CT). If he can keep the Buddhist priests away from politics it will be great. Unlikely though- I think they are trying to legitimise or validate the Sinhala Buddhist Anti minority racial mindset as a principal cultural trait of the Sinhala Buddhist! They got the mandate from the Sinhala Buddhists for this.
    Apart from his bush shirt and resistance to wear the national and the satakaya, his one shot approach is just a show! Pessimist

  • 1

    “Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.”
    ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

  • 2

    In order to save the telephone conversations in CDs what kind of answering Machine Ranjan used, It is possible, conversations went though some specific computer to which it was saved. Then Ranjan received the the CDs. I haven’t answering machine which work with CDs. This should be a special set up.

  • 4

    the americano kallathoni president started off well driving the balls to the boundary on both feet.
    RJ@1. not even 60 days have gone by, I was shocked and astounded that maybe to appease the new family connections of his elder brother he has followed the disgusting traditions of making the in-laws also to share the booty. now there will be more USA $ dollar billionaires who very soon will be popping out of every street corner.
    RJ@2. in shitty sorry Sri Lanka, the sad beleaguered nation holds the Guinness book of records for the world’s largest hypocrites of every aspect ever to abode on planet earth.
    RJ@3. so for the next 5 years or more, it will be a nadakama of a time where the fittest, finest of the corrupt will have the shun shining on their wide-bodied backsides just as their hero’s and masters who will take this once respected island down the pallan’s where getting the economy into the black is only a wet pipe dream.
    RJ@4. the fitting finale conclusion to my short factual and well written is that the rajapuka’s at the forthcoming parliamentary polls by every possible corrupt way which may include thuggery [ ganankara kama ] getting the stupid always their own shit-eating 6.9 million petty-minded uneducated to the core selling their young ones to the old white uncles along with the foolish faithful till they reach the annals of hell or devil’s paradise cardinal’s faithful till death do them part all get together and vote to obtain the much needed 2/3 majority by hook or by crook and change the name of the country to the corrupt capitalist republic of the big arsed rajapukaistan.
    cheers in happiness at being able to expose the doing’s of the always impotent corrupt to the core only interested in feathering their own nests rajapuka’s.
    R. J., the one & only.

  • 4

    Come, come guys and girls. Keep your comments clear-headed and clean. Take your lead from the opinions of Rajan Philips – brief, concise and to the point. Writing garbled nonsense only makes you an item of laughter. Let us readers know that you are a balanced and educated individual through your comments. We read your comments to enlighten and educate ourselves. Not to be dirtied by their filthy content.

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