29 May, 2023


Presidential Challengers And The National Question: “Single-Issue” Challenge Will Unify All

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

If there is one demand on which a cross-section of society, irrespective of ideology or ethnic and religious persuasion can be rallied, it is the demand for the abolition of the Executive Presidency (EP). The Sinhalese, the minorities, persons of all faiths, a majority in the SLFP, the UNP, the JVP, the Frontline, the Backline,  indeed everybody who is fed with the EP and thinks the Eighteenth Amendment and the rotten EP-regime is blight upon the country can unite for this single well targeted objective.

The one-issue framework is a necessary condition for bread-based unity. A single-issue candidate is a person whose platform consists of the sole task of abolishing the EP and setting in motion the processes for amending the Constitution or writing a new one as necessary to supplement this change. On the morrow of victory it may be necessary to dissolve parliament and elect a new one if the then existing one refuses to align with the mandate to abolish the EP, or it may be better to institute a constituent assembly, etc, these are later matters and bridges to be crossed when reached. The crucial point at this stage is that a single-issue candidate declares: “I will abolish the EP, ensure that a parliamentary system is set up, and then I’m off, I have no further political ambitions”.

A name that has been suggested as a single-issue candidate is that of Ven Maduluwewa Sobitha Thero and he is a good choice if he presents himself as a single-issue challenger. However I have been informed that the good Thero is not interesting in the presidency because of his religious role. Since the single-issue president will hold office for only a very short period, say one year, and since he/she will be tasked with just one duty, abolishing the EP and putting in place a parliamentary system, I don’t see any objection to any person who has courage undertaking the task. Defeating the incumbent is a precondition for getting started on the task hence a candidate who can break Rajapakse’s Sinhala-Buddhist petty-bourgeois base is the most suitable. Abolishing the EP can truthfully be called a matter of national salvation which surely is not beneath the dignity of a monk!

Several other names have been bandied around; Chandrika, Sarath Silva, Justice Warawewa and of course Ranil himself, but the first two have ruined their reputations and won’t stand a chance at the pools, and frankly speaking even if they swear till they are blue in the face that they are single-issue devotees with no further ambitions, nobody will trust any of them. People say that Sobitha is the exception and that if he gives such a promise he will keep his word.

Why the national question?

It can be reasonably said that the attitude of a single-issue candidate to the national question, economic policy, foreign relations or anything else is irrelevant. Once the EP is abolished the person will go home and play no further role in running the country; so what does his policy stance on any of these issues matter? This is true and this is the strength of a single-issue candidate and underlines the prospect of drawing upon a wide support base. Nevertheless there are two reasons why public perceptions of the candidate’s stance on the national question will be important.

Capturing the Ceylon Tamil, Muslim and Upcountry Tamil vote will provide a hefty boost to the chances of victory. Certain candidates can challenge and break Mahinda’s grip on the Sinhala petty bourgeois vote and fracture his rural base, but to deliver a coup de grace the candidate needs to capitalise on the 30% non-SB vote in the country. If the candidate is seen as a narrow SB-nationalist, the minorities may rightly choose to stay away and let dog eat dog; it is churlish to throw away such a large sure-bet vote bank. It is true that some Tamils voted for Fonseka despite allegations of war-crimes while a large number also abstained; does the next challenger wish to take the same risk?

The second reason why the candidate’s stance on the national question matters is that though he may present himself as a single-issue candidate, his outlook and ideology on other issues will have an influence the new constitution and/or constitutional amendments. And the NQ is a constitutional matter unlike socio-economic or foreign policy. The single-issue challengers views on the NQ though unrelated to the EP will still form an unwritten mandate for constitutional amendment; so they do matter. Therefore it does count a great deal whether the candidate is a progressive or a reactionary on devolution, providing constitutional guarantees for minority rights, language, religion, and like issues.

What is known is not so good

The general perception is that most Sinhalese politicians are SB-nationalists if not chauvinists. Some (Sobitha, Sarath Silva) were movers in the campaign to release Fonseka; I too supported this campaign but for different reasons. My concern was democratic rights, opposition to trumped up charges and resentment at convicting people in kangaroo courts to slake the vengeance of the Rajapakses. Many like me, who demanded the release of Fonseka, did so because we wished to take a stand against the trampling underfoot of democratic rights. The rhetoric was different among others who wanted a hero who had fought the evil enemy and saved the country from Tamil terrorists honoured, not incarcerated! Well that’s ok for people of a certain ideological persuasion, but it’s just a hair’s breadth away from SB-chauvinism.

The other thing that seems not so good is this. What have some of these potential candidates done since the end of the war to mix with, understand and alleviate the harsh reality of Tamil life in the occupied regions? I wonder whether any have visited IDP camps and dismal resettlement colonies and apprised themselves of the ground reality. Never mind electioneering, isn’t this what one would expect from any righteous person? Better if a prospective president mixes and associates with Tamils and Muslims a lot more. On this count Mahinda is far ahead; he can even speak a smattering of Tamil.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Yes, we should have a Sinhala buddhist candidate against Rajapaksha regime fighting on a single issue nothing else. We all can unite around irrespective our political faiths.That single issue should be our foreign policy. The opposition candidate has to camping to cut all relations with China/Iran and forge the strongest ever relations with US and its lieutenant in the region,India. We need to become the Israel of Asia.

    • 0

      Enough local issues, foreign too
      No need to cut all, but use profitably.

    • 0

      but this always rice board should be stopped
      if people do not have that virtue, might as well give up all hope, SL will never change

      this Buddhist only should not be too much of an issue
      look at Kobbekaduwa, Sir James Peries, Kadirigama
      a capable person, a good person
      look at India, Sikh Manmohan, mixed Gandhi, southern Rao
      additionally learned minority is appointed president, now a Bengali, before Muslim scientist from small fishing hamlet and temple town Rameswaram, Gujurati Moraji Desai and before son of a Parava ayuruveda dr from Kerala
      a black man in US, top of the white mans world
      we fellows are stupid, backward and lacking virtue.

  • 0

    It is not a “Regime Change” that is presently required but a “Change in the Attitude ” of the Regime to ensure ” Good
    Governance and the Rule of Law ” The people have witnessed a rapid deterioration in this sphere, and the fear is that it may eventually lead to utter chaos .An immediate solution may be to get back to the 17th A. If a proper C C is constituted and the different Commissions are permitted to
    function without political interference ,there could be a ray of hope that the nation may begin to settle down . The
    President , with a plethora of goodwill
    on his side , could help achieve this
    change of Attitude !

    • 0

      Its a bit late for that now
      Infact there is no regime but family & co.

      The regime will have to change some day
      Want these fellow for ever…….
      well bullet more powerful than ballot now,
      so that may well be the case.

  • 0

    Chandrika has lost lot of golden opportunity. Nevermind, let us back Chandrika to see the final victory.

    Chandrika has the support of the international community, SLFPers, UNP, may be the Tamils from the North and East.

    All other candidates are not good to challenge Rajapaksa.

    Now onwards let us work on the candidacy of Chandrika.

    She made lot of mistakes to ethnic conflict and the UNP.

    Let TNA get everything in written form before the Tamils back her in the future election for the President.

    Also let the UNP do the same with Chandrika about removing the Executive presidency. UNP should maintain one strong position, the UNP members who are presently with Rajapaksa should not be recruited back.
    It is obvious they all join Rajapaksa to avoid case file against them on corruption. But they are worst racist politician of today.

    Look at GL Peiris, Rambukkala, Mahinda Samarasinghe, former Foreign minister Australian, Ranjit Seneviratne and many others. These people run today Rajapaksa’s regime.

    Chandrika is the only possible candidate who win again Rajapaksa.

    • 0

      There has to be ballots to win, not possible with bullets.
      Sooner they eat and destroy the country, the better
      Then people will not be stuck in past hype and bogus tales
      Will fight for what is right and kick them out.

  • 0

    The idea of a single-issue candidate is excellent. But it has its drawbacks too, from an electioneering perspective. The family rule must go, and in must come true democracy with rule of law, good governance, respect for civil and human rights and accountability and last but not least, a viable political solution to the national question.Of course, a saffron robed candidate would appeal to the Singala Buddhist chauvinism-dominated polity. In this context, I would suggest a candidate with a common minimum agenda: an immediate rewriting of the constitution to accommodate the abolition of the executive presidency/a devolution-based political solution to the National Question/reverting to the old constituency-based system with the first-past-the-post electoral system or a mix of both the proportional representation and a first-past-the-post system. As a nation our civil society has done its home work and is ready with solutions for all our political maladies, you know. So, lets no waste time, money and energies trying to reinvent the wheel and get down to the brass tacks.

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