26 June, 2022

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Post-Gotabaya Political Arbitrage

By Kumar David

Prof. Kuma David

Newspapers and websites are filled with columns, essays and Editorials declaiming the botches of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Presidency, the bondage of servile MPs and the vassalage of public officials. Columnists are waking up somewhat late in the day! I did say two months ago that the regime was in terminal decline and I have pointed out recently that the window for military-authoritarianism has closed. We need to move the discussion to other post-Gotabaya options. Three broad possibilities invite tactical consideration by the opposition.

In the face of mounting adversity the President throws in the towel, quits and makes a dash for the exit. If the miserable state of the economy continue, mass living conditions deteriorate and foreign debt obligations worsen and if mass discontent intensifies (what else?) then a wise man will bundle-up his belongings and say adios before he sinks from waist to neck deep in sludge.

The President does not cut and run but clings on for the remainder of his term and either seeks a second term or someone else from the clan is anointed as candidate. Mahinda is debarred so it could be Basil, Chamal, or neophyte Namal. No matter which, any SLPP candidate is likely to be mauled at the polls.

Absent a surprise dissolution, presidential elections come first, parliamentary elections after that. Faced with disaster in both polls what constitutional jiggery-pokery will the regime attempt in its efforts to avert calamity? (The military putsch option is not within the purview of today’s column).

Were you a Rajapaksa or a SLPP strategist what can you do? I have put myself in these shoes and wracked my brain but come up blank. The government’s efforts are all blank cartridges except in pandemic control where the record fluctuates and at the moment is moderately good at less than 1000 new cases a day. The most confident note is struck by Basil: “Confident of not defaulting on debt repayments and will work to improve quality of foreign reserves” he told the Madras Hindu on November 13, however a few days later he was on his knees before Modi begging for a $ 1 billion SWAP deal to tide over repayments falling due in the first half of 2022. The outcome of his pleadings is not known yet but getting indebted to Peter to pay Paul is no solution to a deepening foreign debt imbroglio.

The President announced with much pomp that chemical fertilisers and pesticides would be banned immediately and a Gazette notification was issued on April 26 this year, but on November 24 Agriculture Minister Aluthgamage backtracked lock stock and barrel: “Permission will be granted to import chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides from today”. The fake claim of 70% renewable energy generated electricity by 2030 will be quietly forgotten, the Gnanasara Task Force is being de-fanged. There have been no takers of the UDA’s offer of prime state land to foreign investors for development projects. The Central Bank’s official exchange rate is more honoured in the breach than the observance; it’s an Alice in Wonderland attempt; importers can’t get funds at this rate, exporters are robbed. One can go on and on, but it’s not necessary, there is no one alive in Lanka who does not know it all.

This is how I justify my first two bullet points: It would be entirely justifiable and defensible if Gotabaya were to cut and run, and second there is no way in heaven or earth (leave out hell, outright election rigging) whereby a nominees of the present regime can win the presidency or win a parliamentary majority. Thus we arrive at the opposition needing to nurture political arbitrage. I will lead up by recounting the events leading to the January 2015 convolution. I confess to have been the initiator of the Single-Issue Common-Candidate (SI-CC) concept. The strategy was correct and achieved its objective. I first germinated it in 2012, developed it over time and in July 2014 presented it in full to Ven. Sobhitha’s National Movement for Social Justice.

The Single-Issue Was to ‘Stop free-fall into Dictatorship’ and prevent Mahinda Rajapaksa’s return for a third term as it would have spelt autocracy. The crafty deletion of term limits, the egregious removal of Shirani Bandaranayake from Chief Justice, assassination of journalists, white-vans, the impunity and impudence with which his two younger siblings misused the armed forces, police and state institutions and the crooked financial deals for which they were arraigned before the courts, validates the charge of creeping dictatorship.

The electoral victory was spectacular and Mahinda’s defeat on January 8, 2015 was liberation; ‘the people that lived in darkness saw a great light and no longer walked in the valley of the shadow of death’. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution re-imposed term-limits. But oh dear, life, “thou cunning’st pattern of excelling nature”, outsmarted everyone. The thread that unravelled after the election and jinxed everybody was the common-candidate himself. The necessity of putting forward a common candidate was an acknowledgement of Mahinda’s electoral strength. He had won a war, he had charisma, his machine could bend and abuse every organ of state in elections, and a mountain of money stood behind him. Sans a common person behind whom leftists and radicals, liberals and democrats and the national minorities united, Mahinda would have been unstoppable. But unpredictably, the common candidate turned out to be an oddball, eccentric Pissu Sira. It is true there were early indications that he was gaga, but even if one had picked up the warning signs of personality disorder nothing could have been done after Ranil and Chandrika announced their choice. Acceptance of the common-candidate was a Mephistophelean contract that could not have been voided. The gods of arbitrage extracted from the nation a high contractual commission, imposing a hither-and-thither coot as president in exchange for voiding dictatorship. Still it was a price worth paying.

I had no illusions of the class character and economic programme of the government post-August 2015 parliamentary elections. Did SI-CC strategists have illusions that the yahapalana government would take a social-democratic turn and adopt policy orientations palatable to the likes of me? Very firmly NO. This was the second part of the Mephistophelean contract; the left had no doubt that the government would plumb for a traditional liberal economic orientation but what has to be done has to be done. What is relevant to this essay is that the left worked for the defeat of the Rajapaksa’s presidency and the defeat of his party at the subsequent parliamentary elections knowing that the UNP’s economic orientation was not it’s cup of tea. Mephistophelean Contracts No. 1 and 2 – I saw and accepted from day one with my eyes open.

This was a longish digression for a purpose which relates to the third of my bullet points. To a degree we cannot avoid the primacy of a single-issue again, that is, riding the country of a Rajapaksa regime for the second time. We can expect the Rajapaksa-SLPP combine to try to push a new constitution or constitutional amendments gerrymandered to save as much of its skin as possible. Then a key demand of political arbitrage facing the nation would be to disavow sectarianism and coordinate as trade unions, civil society movements and political parties to defeat such constitutional subterfuges. The JVP, the non-dead left, the parties mobilised under Sajith, the TNA and Muslim parties must display this maturity and foresight. A list of minimum conditions to throw back a deceitful constitution must be agreed and mass mobilisation set in motion to defeat dictatorship by constitutional amendment. Engineering the breakaway of say 10 MPs to undercut the government’s two-thirds in parliament won’t be easy given the low calibre of government party MPs, be they SLPP, Dead-Left or opportunist Muslims.

The next challenge is Presidential and Parliamentary elections due in 2024 and 2025. Arbitrage and understanding between social and political groups, like good wine and cheese, takes time to mature. Sectarianism and unrealistic self-expectation are its worst enemies. It is by no means too early for informal conversations to commence. I am sure Sri Lanka’s ever vigilant network of NGOs and civil society organisations will spring to life when the constitutional draft is made public. Maybe the best way for opposition political entities, ever shy to court each other, to start is to throw themselves into these prenuptials with manly enthusiasm. Nor must the Left when consummating an arranged marriage have illusions; if a right-of-centre candidate is chosen by the country as the next president, too bad but better than the authoritarian alternative.

President Gotabaya’s exit will be more interesting than his entry. His in-between period has been disastrous. The people of Sri Lanka have made bad choices often but they deserve an opportunity to erase this last one.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    0

    Until the opposition comes with an election promise to have a referendum to change the executive presidency and separate ministers from lawmakers the presidential dictatorship and black money spent on the election and afterward letting state resources to give the return to the sponsors of black money prevails.

    If Sajith or someone from SJP, SLPP, or JVP is elected to president, then it will be the same souls of GOTA in the Sajith’s body and nothing will be different.

  • 5
    0

    To chase a badly failed government, similar to this Gota’s government, the emotion of the general public and cheap party political quest for power is sufficient. No need for intellectual backing.

    Attempting only to change this badly failed government, without speaking of building an alternate governance system is an unwise move which we repeat as of 2015.

    Later, these same professors will try to replace the new government again, when they too act in the same way as they do with this government.

    We need objective-oriented intellectuals who are wise enough to think beyond party politics and add value to build rule of law and not to repeat the same mess to which they contributed together with politicians.

  • 6
    0

    The whole of the article by KD, bristling with truisms should open the eyes of the readership. ” Any SLPP candidate is likely to be mauled at the polls”. Sure to be may be more appropriate, any time from now. Protest marches might have been stirring, but to be swept off its feet, the electorate is more than well experienced.

  • 6
    0

    “Absent a surprise dissolution, presidential elections come first, parliamentary elections after that. Faced with disaster in both polls what constitutional jiggery-pokery will the regime attempt ?”
    If it had any sense, that’s exactly what it will do. The SJB would fall into the trap, and would have nothing but its leader’s vacuous platitudes to handle the economy. Oh, maybe Dayan J ‘s contortions would help, as Foreign Minister? End result, like Yahapalanaya, they would get booted out and be replaced by the Pohottuwa Third Coming.
    I am not optimistic.

  • 4
    5

    The sooner Rajapaksas are removed from power the better.

    But don’t expect miracles. SL will be a total failure no matter who comes to power.

    Only solution is 3 mono ethnic nations in the island.

    If the island continues as one nation any longer there will be riots again.

    • 0
      0

      GATAM that is not a solution, it’s a prescription for civil war. As for riots, its only a matter of time, one nation or three.

    • 1
      0

      There are only two ethnicities living on the island from ancient times. Sinhalese and Tamil. Being a Muslim is not an ethnicity but a religious identity. The so-called Sri Lankan Muslims or Moors. as they love to call themselves, are ethnic Indian Tamil Hindu converts to Islam, who started to migrate to the island somewhere around the late 14Eh century onwards, fleeing persecution and for trade from their original South Indian homeland. However, the vast majority of them arrived during the early British rule, especially the ones living down south. The ones living in the north, east, and the northwest coast will be 100% Tamil, whilst the ones living further south will have some Sinhalese mixed in them but still basically Tamil. Any little bit of Arab ancestry took place in their original South Indian homeland. DNA also proves that the Sri Lankan Muslims arrived from India and not from western Asia.

      • 2
        0

        They have no history of owning land or having a nation. Now claiming a homeland in the name of their religion and an imagined Arab origin, that has now proved to be largely nonexistent, strangely only in the Tamil areas, where they share the same language and ethnicity with the rest of the Tamils. Not in the Sinhalese areas where the vast majority of them live and do not share a common language or even ethnicity. They arrived in the Tamil east, a few centuries ago, as refugees fleeing persecution and were given refuge as fellow Tamils. Now thinking that the Tamils are weak is trying to steal large parts of their homeland or the entire east for them, ignoring the fact that the Tamils are still the largest community in the east and they are the indigenous population of the east. This person constantly comes here and advocates for an Islamic homeland, on the island, when it never had existed. Only Sinhalese and Tamil kingdoms and homelands existed.

  • 8
    0

    Rajapaksas are now getting angry against the people and definitely next step is military rule. They are not worried about another blood bath in this soil. The problem is that will they allow people to get another chance to get rid of them democratically. Will the Buddhist Maha Sangha stay with people or stay with the Rajapaksas?

  • 2
    6

    Counting your chickens before they have hatched are we now?

    • 2
      4

      Not only are these fools counting Chickens not born they are also misleading these fools that our our freeloading farmers .. look at this video here .

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ2FUx1WQyw&t=6s

      Does this clown idiot freeloader frog farmer understand the difference between organic agriculture and dumping gallons of Urea in his field? What are our idiot field officers of the Agriculture department doing, and the SBJ and the JVP Murderers who only deserve a burning tire?

      I am in Sri Lanka now and to be honest, I don’t see any problems that other countries are not having during these strange times.

      So David can keep counting his balls till kingdom come.

      • 2
        0

        A14455,
        “am in Sri Lanka now and to be honest, I don’t see any problems that other countries are not having during these strange times.”
        Really? Do other countries promise free fertilizer and renege in 6 months? Do other countries fiddle their LPG cylinders ? Do other countries have barely literate Finance ministers who condemn fuel price formulas ? Which other country is offering free tickets to tourists from a neighbouring country ? The same country against which the navy was deployed to “prevent entry of Covid infected persons”.
        Either you are dishonest, or you aren’t in this country. Take your pick.

        • 1
          4

          Really you clown

          Which country is mad enough to provide free fertilizer to farmers who are freeloading on govt money and not paying anything back ? If they don’t want to farm let them find jobs as Engineers , it seems like David has no problem despite limited faculties..

          What fiddling of LPG gas you fool , every country has a different formula . And as far as I know the only idiots who exploded gas cylinders is the LTTE . even a simpleton like you should know all these are Gas leaks In confined spaces. Duh 2+2 !=5

          I am in the country now. have been for a week or so. and I can only laugh at these storms in a tea cup. Sri Lankans in general are like frogs in a well . only thinking this is only happening to us ? No you idiots ..what can I say.

          Which country or countries filled with fools punishes the country that detected a variant of the virus that was probably was every where else and just not detected ? UK US Germany Austria.. should I go on ?

          • 2
            0

            “Which country is mad enough to provide free fertilizer to farmers”

            Ha ha ha ha ……. that was one of Gota’s election promises, you Einstein!

            Ah, the Lankan intellectual-powerhouse has returned with an Ugly American makeover to unload organic fertilizer from Gota’s posterior ………. hope it’s satisfying your gourmet tastebuds!

            Lankans will be Lankans …… no matter what …………… :))))))

          • 2
            0

            O great know-all,
            Is A14455 your cell number?
            “Which country is mad enough to provide free fertilizer to farmers who are freeloading on govt money and not paying anything back” Obviously you haven’t read your Great Leader’s manifesto. Go read it.
            “What fiddling of LPG gas you fool , every country has a different formula ” There are morons, and there are educated morons who can’t afford a newspaper. Why have all these leaks happened only last week?
            If you just spent less time licking Nandasena’s nether regions, you would know.

  • 4
    0

    ………..But unpredictably, the common candidate turned out to be an oddball,eccentric Pissu Sira………….

    Eventually, the one man who stood to gain was Sirisena himself.
    Some are born great, Some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. Shakespeare.
    Prof..Kumar David and yours truly thrust greatness upon an oddball………..

  • 6
    0

    It is too much to expect that the Rajapakses would pack up and go. They and their backers have a lot of loot to protect, lot of sins to cover. That is why they will fight till the last. Look at the Thimbirigasaya monk, vocal for some time, but quiet after being made Chancellor, purely on merit no doubt. The whole of the Maha Sangha have Benz cars to protect. It is not going to be easy given the money the Rs can spend to have power which means safety. The army may not come to the party. Shooting Sinhalese is not like shooting Tamils or Muslims. The ranks may rebel. That may be wishful thinking too as the ranks can be bought off. The next lot may be oafs like Ranil and Sillysena. We don’t have to be too optimistic but a fight no doubt has to be fought to preserve what is good for the country. More likely we will go around the same circles.

  • 5
    1

    GR to throw in the towel & get back to the simple comforts of USA? Interesting thought, particularly, if he is to face a court case on Lasantha’s murder in the US but he is a Sinhalese warrior (as we are expected to believe) & a ‘ranaviru’ fights until his last breath. Surrounded by his army buddies, he may look tough but on his own in the US, he would be another despot, licking his wounds in exile, that is, if the US welcomes him back. Ranviru or not, he is safe in SL & with all that money the family has acquired, not to mention his generous pension, he would be much better off here.

    Whatever the state of the country, dictators win landslide elections, so I won’t be surprised if GR is re-elected by grateful, patriotic citizens, who prefer to starve to death than be under another terrorist threat. From SWRD & Sirima to Sirisena & the Rajapakses, SL made bad choices but the Rajapakses are not going out without being dragged, kicking & screaming..

  • 2
    1

    Government has become double tailed scorpion to the people these days. Last two years’ the news was this food item price increase & that commodity shortage. Government has been simply discounting it as ” Naaaaa…. that is a lie.”. Now, even if the people find money to give that price, as soon as they walk into the kitchen, the government’s bombs-tanks are blasting. Kinniya mayor is arrested for the 6 boat people death. But government is telling every possible lie on this gas tanks-bombs lie. Isn’t the entire executives of the gas factory should be hanged for this mass murder, massacre deed. Aanduwa is a, back and forth double tailed scorpion in killing the people by hunger and fire.

  • 6
    1

    Sri Lankan leaders in recent decades have never ever accepted defeat unless a poll so determines, and there too, with greatest reluctance. Instead, leaders will lie through their teeth, twist facts in creative ways to fool the people, will get their drooling hangers-on to continue to lie and mislead until finally they are rejected. They can also use the military if they are on-side and attempt mass oppression, merely to hold on to power. No leader that SL had in recent times will do anything honorable with public interest in mind. They are in politics solely for themselves, and that has been clear for decades on end.

  • 3
    0

    Thanks, Kumar; yet another bold article.
    .
    Three bullet points being left didn’t really matter!
    .
    Let’s hope that you’re quite right that, one way or another, we are able to be rid of this incompetent government. I agree that if that happens, we must be ready to replace it with something better. The problem is that there will be so little agreement on who should replace them.
    .
    I agree with you that the best choice is the NPP, of which you are a member. You were on the National List of the party, like Dr Harini Amarasuriya. I’m also sure that you are happy that it was she who went into parliament.
    .
    I’d like you, and other readers, to think this one out at a much deeper level. It may be that we’re all being had by media like Youtube. Perhaps, even the admirable Handunnetti was aware of it, but when a guy like Sepal Amarasinghe wants to interview him, it is not in his interest to be telling hooked listeners about the dangers of Youtube.
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbWoX1dh4BU
    .
    Youtube can only be countered with more Youtube!
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxOuG8jMIgI

    Panini Edirisinhe “aka Sinhala_Man”

    • 1
      0

      S_M,
      Thanks for the links. very Informative and appreciate it.

  • 1
    0

    Gotabaya cutting and running away from Presidency would be the worst thing he can do to the country. Even now he can turn the downfall around. All he has to do is get rid of all the ministers who are rogues, drug lords, and paga kings and form a National Government, bring educated young honest MPs, even from the opposition, to act as Ministers and turn the country around. It’s time to shed the link to the Rajapakse family and become a true honest leader of Sri Lanka, not just for the Sinhala Buddhists but to the entire citizens of the country.

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