By Dayan Jayatilleka –
The SLFP participation at the Ratnapura rally trumped the cooptation (‘National Government’) tactic of the SLFP Rightwing.
The anti-Mahinda tendency of the SLFP is now caught in the coils of its own contradictions. If it follows the dictates of Chandrika “Sonia” Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and facilitates the passage of the 19th amendment in its current reinforced form, it collaborates in transforming the SLFP’s new leader Maithripala Sirisena into a lame duck President, which means weakening his capacity to dispense patronage and which thereby weakens the SLFP while strengthening the PM and therefore the fortunes of the UNP. That would further legitimize the charge of a sell out and embolden the SLFP rebels.
If it abolishes the Presidency and plunges Mr. Sirisena into the race as Prime ministerial candidate he stands to lose all, because the UNP is not likely to forgo the chance of a government of its own, and will therefore enter the race with Ranil Wickremesinghe at the helm.
If the SLFP campaign is led by a quasi-neutral President Sirisena plus a few SLFP fat-cats and warhorses gingered up by Champika Ranawaka and his Magnificent Three, it will suffer an exodus to the pro-Mahinda enterprise and burial electorally.
The websites have it that the SLFP Rightwing hasn’t played its last card, which is the induction of Chandrika into parliament so as to give leadership to the party. There will of course be some degree of restoration of compliance. Indeed I had suggested in print some years ago, that the SLFP was the only other social institution I know of, in which a ‘Madam’ is an indispensable feature at the helm of affairs. However CBK’s political appeal is shopworn. If CBK’s parliamentary induction is the pro-Western Establishment’s last card and it is played, one is somehow reminded of the title (not the plot) of the old Sinatra flick, ‘The Joker Is Wild’.
It is also a possibility that the new ruling troika may decide on political escalation in the form of keeping Mahinda Rajapaksa out of competition by removing his civic rights or detaining him and/or Wimal Weerawansa. After all, J.R. Jayewardene moved against Sirimavo and Felix Dias Bandaranaike and Vijaya Kumaratunga. However, he had a 5/6ths majority in Parliament, a booming economy (with a phenomenal 8% growth rate), and Madam Bandaranaike was socially unpopular at the time, as the memories of economic privation would last for many years to come. None of those conditions prevail in the current context, and Mahinda Rajapaksa’s personal popularity is beyond reasonable doubt (a veteran parliamentarian described the crowd response at the rallies to me as an “unprecedented emotional frenzy”).
A government that persecutes Mahinda Rajapaksa and condemns him to political martyrdom, only engages in what Lanka Guardian editor Mervyn de Silva indicted the Jayewardene administration for in the 1980s: “self-destabilization” resulting from “confusing legality for legitimacy”.
Thus we arrive at the only viable solution to the mounting crisis—a parliamentary election. While Champika Ranawaka and Rajiva Wijesinha are correct in their sharp criticism of Ranil Wickremesinghe and Chandrika’s constitutional hit-man (on loan to Ranil) Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne for their planned constitutional power-grab, the SLFP for its part is off target when it insists on electoral reform as a guarantee of stability, following the constitutional castration by 19A.
JR Jayewardene followed Lee Kuan Yew in identifying Sri Lanka’s Westminster model with its first-past-the post system as the source of ethnic and welfarist outbidding, and thus of the instability and volatility that impeded economic takeoff and ethnic reconciliation. Therefore it is wildly illogical to hold that a return to that electoral system or an approximation, in a context in which the executive presidency has been castrated, is a guarantee of political stability of any kind.
The way out is a Roundtable; a political all-parties conference on the 19th amendment so as to arrive at a consensus. How can an administration which refuses the politics of consensus-seeking and insists on fast track unilateralism on something as basic as the Basic Law, expect to arrive at consensus on far more emotive ethnic issues? Perhaps there too, the approach will be a fast track unilateralism—an approach which has, when practiced by Chandrika and Ranil in the decade 1995-2005, produced only deadlock and blowback.
To return to the general election which seems unavoidable in the second half of the year, a few questions remain: (a) will it not have to be held before the September session of the UNHRC because the new government seems determined to arrive at the kind of compromise which will be disastrous at an election? If this is the case, then the elections will have to be in the third quarter of this year. (b) Will the UNP and SLFP contest as an alliance, reflecting the actual Ranil-CBK bloc but wrecking the equilibrium provided by a two party system and leaving an Oppositional vacuum to be filled by a new mix of forces, or will the SLFP and UNP run against each other, which will be rather more difficult for the SLFP, having been seduced into sleeping with the enemy? How many votes can “kiss and tell” bring?
The upcoming election will give the citizen the possibility of rectifying several anomalies: firstly that of an unelected administration; secondly, a presidential election at which the demographic majority played a less decisive role than the minorities and indeed the demographic majority’s choice lost; thirdly, a power structure which would not have come into existence if not for the votes in the ex-separatist/quasi-separatist Northern periphery and is therefore seen to depend upon it; fourthly, a ruling troika in which two members were failures in dealing with the grave existential threat facing the country but are in power, while the man who succeeded and is the most popular single personality on the island is in enforced retirement and sought to be placed under siege.
The upcoming election provides the chance to redress the anomalies and rebalance the political equation. If the base of the System is not broad-based and made more authentically representative of demographic realities, by reincorporating the forces that regard Mahinda Rajapaksa as emblematic, then no structural reforms will be sustainable or even possible, because there cannot be stability while a natural (‘organic’) majority feels inadequately represented and thus politically marginalized.