24 May, 2019

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Opposition Must Also Do Strategic Thinking On National Issues

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The inaugural public rally organized by the Eksath Bhikkshu Peramuna (United Bhikku Front) on October 18 revealed the fissures within the ranks of the opposition.  The event was publicised as being the public coming together of a coalition of forces to abolish the institution of the Executive Presidency.  The organizers of the event claimed that it was being held to mobilize public support for their cause and not to promote any one political leader.  They actively sought the support of all opposition parties and civil society groups to this end. In addition, the rally was initially advertised as an event at which the opposition leadership along with their party members would participate.  However, this did not happen.  The only opposition figure of consequence on the stage was former General Sarath Fonseka.  The rest of the opposition leadership did not attend the function.

The number of people who attended the rally was also less than impressive.  While the sporadic rain was blamed for this, the more plausible explanation for the disappointing turnout lies elsewhere. In today’s context the only way to mobilize a large number of people to attend a political event is through the machinery of political parties.  The days in which people would spontaneously attend anti-government rallies are long past.  This is because of the prevailing culture of fear.  Sri Lanka has suffered from repressive rule since 1971 when the JVP made its first abortive insurgency.  This created the basis for successive governments to progressively arm themselves with more and more repressive powers.  Despite the repeal of Emergency Regulations after the war, the culture of fear continues as the methods of dealing with those who are considered to be threats to the government can be drastic.

There is no doubt that there is a vast untapped reservoir of resentment against the excesses of the Executive Presidency and its ability to concentrate power in the hands of fewer and fewer.  There was the hope that the popularity of General Fonseka and distaste for the abuses of power of the Executive Presidency would bring people spontaneously to attend the rally.  However, the culture of fear and the rains were a potent combination to keep away those who might have attended out of personal convictions.  Due to the absence of participation by the main political parties, there was no party machinery available to bring people to attend the rally organized by the United Bhikku Front.  Therefore the organizers had to rely on their personal contacts and the network of supporters that former General Sarath Fonseka had developed during his presidential campaign of 2009.

OPPOSITION TRAGEDY

For the past two decades the issue of abolishing the Executive Presidency has been on the national agenda.  In 1994, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga promised to abolish the institution if she was elected as President.  In 2005, President Mahinda Rajapaksa made an identical promise.  Both of them failed to deliver on their promises.   The task of championing the cause of abolishing the Executive Presidency devolved in 2009 to former General Sarath Fonseka, who had retired from his post as Army Commander to contest the Presidential Elections held that year as the common opposition candidate.  However, after the spirited fight he gave to the incumbent President at the election, he received severe punishment that saw him stripped of his army ranks and pension and also incarcerated in prison for close to three years.  Upon receiving his freedom he has been trying to reactivate his political career.  The rally organized by the United Bhikku Front seemed to provide an ideal forum.

The rally was about a national issue on which there is considerable public interest.  It reveals the tragedy of opposition politics at the present time that the divisions within the opposition prevented it from utilizing an opportunity to make a strong statement about abuse of power to the government.  The poor public attendance that was widely propagated in the media, particularly the government media, was an outcome of the inability to forge a common opposition front. This is a national tragedy as there are many urgent issues facing the country on which the opposition needs to unite. The foremost of these is the manner in which power and wealth are getting concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.  The Divineguma Bill that undermines the powers devolved to provincial councils and has a secrecy clause in it that makes for non-transparency in vast sums of money, is now before the Judiciary.  This proposed law is not about the Executive Presidency but is about the formation of a super-ministry.

There is a tendency in Sri Lanka to attribute personal motivations to decisions that involve institutions.  Even the current tensions between the Executive and Judiciary are being attributed to personal issues. But there are larger issues of institutional survival and integrity that are at stake that must not be discounted.  There is the need to have a show of strength that is mobilized by the opposition parties to make it clear to the government that people are concerned about the excesses of the Executive Presidency and do not wish them to continue. Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was criticized at the rally for his decision to stay away from the rally, as well as for forbidding his party members from joining it.   A handful of his party members who defied the party decision not to take part in the rally will now have to defend their conduct before internal party disciplinary processes.

STRATEGIC CONCERNS

However, it must be kept in mind that it was not only the UNP that kept away from the rally, it was also the JVP.  Both of these parties have powerful party machineries that are capable of easily mobilizing thousands of people to attend any event.    The tactical problem they faced was that their thunder would have been stolen by others at the rally, in particular by General Fonseka who is believed to be the most popular figure in the opposition, due to his charisma and reputation as Sri Lanka’s former army commander who led the battle against the LTTE.  He and his supporters might have been able to claim that the crowds came for the rally because of the General.  By not putting their party machineries to use, the UNP and JVP were able to show that General Fonseka cannot mobilize people on his own without the help of a political party machine.

The strategic approach of opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is evident in his invitation to General Fonseka after the debacle of the rally to meet with him for discussions on joint opposition activities.  There will be a need to discuss how any joint opposition campaign will be lead, and to whom the credit will go.  There is also the need to agree on more than a one-point agenda that is limited to abolishing the Executive Presidency. There is also the need to agree on what to replace it with.  There are also urgent and immediate issues that need to be addressed.  The most important of these is to support the Judiciary to be independent of the Executive.  It is noteworthy that those who assaulted the Secretary of the Judicial Services Commission of which the Chief Justice is the head, are still roaming free.

There are also reports that the government is contemplating abolishing the 13th Amendment to the constitution under which the Provincial Council system was established.  One of the main obstacles to the passage of the Divineguma bill is the judiciary’s determination that all the Provincial Councils should give it their assent prior to its passage as law.  It is now being claimed by government spokespersons that the 13th Amendment is a national security threat as it can be used to divide the country. However, the abolishing of the provincial council system would have major implications for inter-ethnic relations.  It continues to be the only avenue for some measure of inter-ethnic power sharing.  A strategic approach by the opposition leadership is necessary to ensure that the national interest and justice prevails.   It is not only necessary to defeat the rival claims of those in the opposition, but also of those in the government.   The opposition’s voice needs to be heard louder and with more strategy.

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Latest comments

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    Get you facts right! FUTA organized a very successful rally against the regime at Hyde Park some weeks ago!
    Ranil Wickramasighe through his unbridled and shameless greed for power due to which he has not resigned after so many electoral defeats of the UNP is the cause of the destruction of the opposition. Ranil is so power hungry that he will not collaborate with anyone for a larger cause like abolishing the presidency. He does not care about Lanka but only himself.
    Ranil also collaborates tacitly with Rajapakse by destroying the UNP internally, instead of resigning and passing on the leadership to the younger generation. The UNP is the only party that people will vote for to oust Rajapakse but they will NOT VOTE FOR RANIL! But Ranil is too blinded by this greed for power to see that he is destroying the UNP and democracy in Lanka.

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      Quite right! Ranil is useless and shameless and so is his wife who should talk some sense into him if she is such a great feminist!
      Instead of organizing a protest against the Divineguma Bill and protesting against the Presidential system with other opposition members NOW Ranil says he will organize a rally against the cost of living next year! What a bloody joker! The DiviNeguama bill is a disaster for democracy in SL but Ranil has not noticed it seems!
      How bloody irrelevant and useless is Ranil, the shameless dictator and destroyer of the UNP is!- He is actually worse than Rajapakse!

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        Colombo civil society should do some strategic thinking too and speak to the Chinese Embass and ask them to stop militarizing Sri Lanka and helping Gota the White Van Goon Rajapakse to become the next Burmese.. oops Lanka dictator.
        China as am AID DONOR needs to be asked to ensure accountability and transparency to the PEOPLE OF Sri Lanka, and not support the Rajapakse regime-dictatorship and its white elephant infrastructre in Hambantota which has piled on the national debt and crashed the rupee which has lost 30 percent on its value. Rajapakse is looting the Lankan public lands and institutions and trasfering national assets into the family..
        Jehan who loves running after donors should move on the Chinese and ask for accountability to the PEOPLE of Lanka..

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          Quite right JB – spot on – the bloody Chinese are turning Lanka into a Burma style dictatorship and its time for these NGO wallahs to do their song and dance number aginst the China donors! Since the generals are easing up in Burma, and the west is now on the rise there, the Chinks (not to be racist but really!)seems to be looking to turn Lanka into Burma by supporting Gota the while van goon’s militarization and Rajapakse dictatorship in Lanka while doing their String of Pearls number!
          Time for Sri Lankan folk to tell the Chinese to pack up and head home! We do not want their white elephant “development” projects that is causing public debt and crashing the rupee while Rajapakse flies high on useless Chinese loans, satelytes, military bases, harbours and airports!

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    I have seen many who criticise RW for being inactive also post comments in favour of MR otherwise. These are the individuals who berate RW and try to rouse public sympathy against RW not because they only hate RW but because they love MR more. These critics at times talk of Law and Order. When RW instill discipline in the UNP to begin with, they berate RW for it. RW is blamed for not having supported the FUTA strike. What would have been RW’s position had he ventured to do so, now that FUTA has given in. He would have been left high and dry. Besides it is these very FUTA members who aggressively canvassed for MR. Although the writer takes umbrage that the United Bhikku Front Rally was a faliure due to the Opposition not supporting, he must understand that the United Bhikku Front has their own agenda which certainly is not favourable for this Country and it could be far worse than the present administration of MR. So one can not blame RW for his stand as he is far more mature and resourceful than many think him to be and if he is to dance to everyone’s tune he is not a Leader but a Puppet. If these various fronts feel as an Opposition that RW is useless, then why do they not build a force of their own and go forward and topple MR? There is nothing to prevent them doing so.

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      What a bunch of tosh!
      Guess RW pays you for to writ this crap about how mature he is! RW is in fact a shamelessly power hungry scum of the earth who has no integrity or strategy to ensure UNP party succession, Nor does he know how to collaborate with people as politics is all about collaboration and win a simple election – never mind regime change! He cannot unite his own party but has divided it as never before so how to win an election!
      Take it from those of us who are academics and intellectuals and know the meaning of STRATEGIC THINKING which is what FUTA is doing – the long hard slow work of educating the people on the need for regime change rather than snoozing with brain dead power hungry Ranil the prick who collaborates with the Dictator Mahinda!

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        I do not have to elaborate the level of intellect of Academics and Intellectuals of Pathola mind set, as it is there for everyone to see. If this is the strategic thinking and Collaboration, no wonder the Opposition is bereft of succession.

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          Ranil is a pathetic and ridiculous clown!
          Instead of uniting, and peace building within and sorting out his own party the UNP which has been divided by his shameless clinging to power and refusal to hand over to the younger generation, he has offered to mediate for Mahinda Rajapakse with the Judiciary!

          What a bloody absurd situation and what a pathetic liar is Ranil. Does he think that people are fools to be taken in by his attempts to distract from the real crisis which is HIM destroying in the UNP and thus contributing to help Rajapakse destroy democracy in Lanka!

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        If that is so, MR and his thugs are megalomanics as no comparable to any previous leaders. Nor was premadasa like that as a president, though all hated him since late 80ties.

        If RW was not a strategist, how could the peace pact work successfully by saving hundreds of lives of soldiers until MR took the office ? why dont anyone focus on that TODAY ? Branding RW to have dealt secretly WITH LTTE, accusing him of VARIOUS unprovable handlings – our people should be merciless and ungrateful. Again, it was not the magics of MR eleminated the country s terrorists, but several factors converged in defeating Ltters there.

        Besides, if you guys speak about your wisdom, where have you interellectuals during the last 5 years ? why did NOT you come to streets when no fair investigations on crime incidents were FIRST made in recent past ? Academics should in general be more sensitive minded to those issues -is not that so ?

        RW is atleast decent,cultural, respectful and human and not AT ALL a corrupt leader. He has proved this in his previous terms not once several dozens of times. The problems and the gravity of it within the party is complex, it s been the largest party. This you guys though against MR would never consider when droping down irresponsible comments. Sorta comments can only help ruling murderers to stay in power many more years. Sure, there should be a strong opposition in the country to protect democractic values, I have a great hope, I believe, this will be the case in the near future.

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    The Opposition if you call so is only concerned about preserving their positions.Its Leader is selfish motivated by self preservation and will do anything to keep his position.He is not concerned about exposing government’s misdeeds. In short he is satisfied if he can remain as the Leader of the Opposition.For this he is aided by his friend MR. He is a disgrace to the UNP and to his almamater Royal

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    When RW with his great unclue JR and their lot were in power they too treated Trade Union Action an other agitations similar to the that of the recent FUTA action in the same manner MR is treating. Depending on RW and the lot or MR and the lot alternatively to support peoples’ agitation will not serve any purpose as both these lots will never accept people organizing themselves and agitating for their needs which will lead to people gaining power.

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    I feel that the meeting was premature. In a situation like in our country, public invitation for participation doesn’t work.There must be a efficient and effective mechanism is needed to bring all groups together, especially the political parties.Though the Executive Presidential system is being considered as a dictatorship move ,most of the political leaders including RW are of a dream of accruing it.This is a position like”Democratically elected King” who could do anything and everything for his own benefit.Mind you that the forth coming budget has allocated an amount of 74,000 Bil.for the expenses of the President MR for the year 2013. You may imagine the life of the Power + wealth owned President of our country.It is not easy to get rid of this fate of the people but can start from some where….so we should appreciate the effort taken by the General but ,long way to go… the big challenge is to bring all parties together.Who is going to draw up a effective strategy ?

  • 0
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    Ranil Wyckremesinghe is so useless as both an opposition leader and unp leader that the only thing decent left for him is to release the leadership resign rw!!!!!

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