15 April, 2024


Presidential Election 2015: Deliberating On Our Decision

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Sri Lanka appears to face an easy choice: continuity or change; stay where we are and the way we are or turn a new page. That, however, is an illusion.

The truth is that Sri Lanka faces two ghastly choices: death by continuity and stagnation or death by uncontrollable radical reform; death by claustrophobic, even suffocating centralization or death by centrifugal downward spiral.

The uncritical supporters of the Rajapaksa status quo do not see the first danger. They see a linear progression in material modernization, which either does not require an accompanying political, educational and cultural modernization or they assume that modernization of the material base will inevitably, inexorably bring the other desired modernizations in their wake.

The uncritical supporters of the Combined Opposition see no benefit from the material modernization. For them it is all a sham and a financial shakedown. For this school of thought, any kind of change is better than none, and this upcoming Presidential election is the last chance for democratic change possibly in our lifetime, so any risk is worth taking.

I cannot agree with the main assumptions of either camp. The uncritical supporters of the Rajapaksa regime are wrong in assuming that it is right to resist political change. They are wrong in thinking that security is best achieved by pure stability and that stability is best assured by complete continuity. They are wrong because their kind of stability leads to stagnation which in turn results in putrefaction, which, given the external and internal ethnic pressures we have to contend with, may culminate in the crackup or diminution of the Sri Lankan State itself.

Simply put, if the present attempt at democratic change fails, the West will almost certainly commence the escalation to harder options, with the ground being prepared in Geneva, March 2015.

To me however, this is not a sufficient argument to make a decision to vote for change at the upcoming Presidential election. Given what we know of the Opposition’s declared strategy and policy at this stage, I am unconvinced that we should vote Mahinda Rajapaksa out.

Change is necessary; even imperative. But what kind of change, where, when and to whom? For the ultimate figure of the fusion of the cold and hot streams of human thought—Realism and revolutionary zeal—we must look to Lenin. For him the crucial decision making criterion was expressed in the Russian phrase “Kto Kogo”, which meant, “Who–Whom?” It is explained as ‘who is displaced from State power and who gets the power instead? Who wins and who loses? Who benefits?’

When applied to the current choices in Sri Lanka, the answer to those crucial questions is excruciatingly simple. On December 10th, International Human Rights Day, Mr. Sirisena addressed a civil society coalition and assured it (and the nationwide television audience) that he “was seeking to occupy the chair of the presidency not for the purpose of remaining in it but precisely for the purpose of abolishing its power and going home”.

Now this was during the same television newscasts that showed the true nature of the place and the persons he was pledging to transfer the power of the Presidential chair to, namely the parliamentarians who before our very eyes, and at that very time, were engaging in a game of musical chairs! So, if we are to trust Mr. Sirisena’s pledge, we can expect the disempowerment of the Presidential chair (and its occupant, to wit, Mr. Sirisena), which is anchored in the democratic consent of the majority of our citizenry (50.1% of the vote), and the empowerment of an institution susceptible to musical chairs.

The counterargument that stability will be assured by the abolition of the electoral system of proportional representation and a (quasi) return to a predominantly first-past-the post system is cold comfort, because JR Jayewardene argued for a strong and stable executive free from the whims and fancies of the legislature, precisely after decades of experience with the Westminster system.

Who is to say that in a hung parliament barely topped by a self-enfeebled presidency with residual executive powers, a concerted infusion of cash by the secessionist network of the Tamil Diaspora will be unable to engineer a government of its choice which will pledge the withdrawal of troops from the North?

In the new configuration as designed by the Opposition’s strategists, domestic and external, the residual presidency of Mr. Sirisena will not and structurally cannot be the decisively pre-eminent power center. It will be the PM and the Cabinet. The dominant political poles of attraction are more than likely to be Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

I have never had a clash or even a problem of a personal nature with them and have indeed supported them openly, albeit critically, at different times (Ranil in 1994-1996, CBK in 1999-2004). My problem is as a political scientist, which is my vocation. One doesn’t have to be Hobbesian (though it helps) to concur that the primary duty of the state towards its citizenry is not good governance so much as the more basic existential one of the protection of life and limb from a violent, determined, ruthlessly marauding enemy. Chandrika and (more so) Ranil miserably failed that most crucial test while Mahinda Rajapaksa passed it with flying colors. He protected this country and its people, liberating us from Prabhakaran’s reign of terror. Therefore as a student of politics, I cannot recommend an outcome that sends Mahinda Rajapaksa packing while restoring Ranil and Chandrika to prominent positions of power and influence–equal to, if not surpassing that of Mr. Sirisena. After all, Mr. Mangala Samaraweera did solemnly declare that it is Mr. Wickremesinghe who will be “the first among equals”.

The type of change we opt for depends on the period of history we are living through. Sri Lanka is still a mere five years after a war. We are in a post-war period. The Rajapaksas fail to recognize that it is POST-war and that we cannot and must not remain trapped in the tunnel vision of wartime. The Joint Opposition fails to understand that we are post-WAR; that the war remains the defining historical and psychological watershed.

It is true that Gen Sarath Fonseka was perhaps the main driver of the victory insofar as the ground war was innovatively designed and determinedly driven by him. It is no less true that this administration treated him disgracefully. However, Generals Fonseka, Janaka Perera and Gamini Hettiaarachchi were in Chandrika’s army for her two Presidential terms and she failed to win the war—because she didn’t believe it could be won; that Prabhakaran could be militarily defeated.  Mahinda Rajapaksa won the war for us because he had political will and clarity and he had a brother, Gotabaya, who could manage the war effort with zealous dedication and knowledge. Together, Mahinda and Gotabaya were able to mitigate the bitter inter-service and intra-service rivalries (Waidyaratne-Kobbekaduwe) that damaged the war effort on President Premadasa’s tenure.

What was the crucial moment of the war? It was a replay of that moment in 1987, when the Sri Lankan armed forces were about to prevail over Prabhakaran in Operation Liberation but President Jayewardene received a deterring warning from High Commissioner JN Dixit. In 2009, President Rajapaksa had two fairly similar moments about which I heard, not only from him, but far more credibly and at first hand, from the Norwegian Ambassador Torre Hattrem and the French Foreign Minister of that time, Bernard Kouchner. It is Mahinda Rajapaksa who sought India’s backing and overruled the US evacuation attempt which had been facilitated by the Norwegians. More crucially, it is he who curtly told  an arrogant, blustering David Miliband that Sri Lanka was no longer a British colony when pressure was put on him for a ‘humanitarian pause’ in the fighting and a resumption of negotiations, a few weeks before our soldiers achieved final victory. (Kouchner’s story, related to me and my wife at lunch in Paris, came as no surprise since I was part of the discussion in early 2007 when President Rajapaksa told US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher “I am sorry Mr. Boucher, but what can I do if my terrorists are not Islamic?”)

Champika Ranawaka, who claims credit for the drive to finish the war, was not even a peripheral figure in those discussions. Gen Sarath Fonseka was not present in the room. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was in the loop but not on center stage. The decision not to blink and to take the war to a finish whatever the consequences was a political and existential one, and it was made by President Rajapaksa. In the final analysis, it wasn’t Gota’s war; it was Mahinda’s, and he must not be made to pay a price at our very hands, for his resolve and his defiance of the West. The Tamil Diaspora wants revenge for the defeat of their Tigers and the death of Prabhakaran. The West wants to make an example of Mahinda for far higher stakes: he opted for China and Russia over the West. The two compulsions converge (most overtly in Geneva).

Consider this carefully: are we ready to risk the possibility that Rajapaksa could be a 21st century Rajasinha (the last king of Kandy), carted off by the West to be made an example of i.e. legally lynched, for his defiance? Do we want that on our collective conscience? Is that how we want future generations to view us? I rather doubt that History will absolve us.

In our present time of transition, we must make prudent choices in the matter of change. The Presidential election is not the occasion on which one elects a new Government: that takes place at a parliamentary election. I certainly think we need a new Government which will push for reform, but that is most appropriately done at the inevitable parliamentary election.

The Joint Opposition’s current program combines the prospects of radical politico-constitutional change and no less radical economic change, given that Ranil Wickremesinghe is an ideologically Conservative, neoliberal privatizer and freezer of public expenditure (as proven during his mercifully brief tenure as PM).  If the contrasting fates of Gorbachev/Yeltsin’s Russia and Deng Hsiao Peng’s China demonstrate anything, it is that political and economic reform must not proceed simultaneously, if one is not to risk meltdown. The scenario of a self-diminished Sirisena Presidency, a shift of power to a volatile parliament, an economically neoliberal Wickremesinghe Prime Ministership, a CBK as Sonia Gandhi factor, an assertive Northern Provincial Council, cosmopolitan civil society-NGO-Western pressures on “cooperation and compliance” with the UN probe on international law and accountability issues, and radical privatization fill me with foreboding because the centrifugal factors outnumber the centripetal ones.

Are we ready for a Western dominated, semi-colonial Sri Lanka of the sort we lived in during the Ranil–Chandrika-Solheim years; that disgraceful decade of diminished and retrenched national sovereignty? Are we ready for the inevitable blowback, polarization and radicalization?

There is a case for peaceful democratic regime change, but what has the current Rajapaksa regime to do with the decades older Executive Presidential system, which is a form of state?

In its narrow judgment in favor of the 13th amendment in 1987, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court ruled that this structural reform which made for provincial autonomy remained within the framework of the unitary state because of the executive Presidency and its powers over the council as vested in the Governor. Without the magnet or ‘maypole’ as it were, of the elected executive Presidency, the centripetal potential of the provincial councils would be greater than their centrifugal potential. This is yet another, doubtless unwitting, danger posed by the joint Opposition’s stated project.

A Presidential election is not about Constitutional change. It is about picking a leader for the country, the state– or more fundamentally, the collective, the community, the tribe (if you prefer an anthropological existentialism). I am reluctant to dispense with the services of the leader who passed the crucial test of the responsibility to protect his people and country from the enemy. Mahinda Rajapaksa is not the main enemy of the Sri Lankan people, and Ranil and Chandrika are certainly no greater friends of the Sri Lankan citizenry than he is. I hesitate to ditch a strong leader and proven success in the most important matter, and replace him with an unproven if courageous, decent man who will cede much of his power to two proven failures. Transitions are tricky and this is certainly not the kind of change we must experiment with at a time of postwar transition, at the level of national leadership. As my father Mervyn de Silva, the acknowledged doyen of commentators on national and international politics until his death fifteen years ago, once cautioned prophetically about a similar situation: “far too iffy; far too many variables”.

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Latest comments

  • 0


    This is a good article.

    Let me just tell you one thing that will solidify your thinking.

    In 2006, a person from India, Guwaharti region, told me, something like “I was on a flight and on the same flight as me was the President of Sri Lanka […] can you believe it? The President was on the same flight as me. How can the President of a country just be on a flight like that?” This was in regards to none other than CBK.

    Do you want to return to those days?

    Tamils will probably vote 50%, 50% for each candidate.

    My reading is that some urban bourgeois population may prefer the opposition, and Rajapaksa will find the rural population dependable. Honestly I am not sure who will win, but that is the fun in elections. I am thinking Rajapaksa will win.

    • 1

      You may be right.
      Even if Rajapakshe would be the winner, his 3rd term will be not at all easy for him and his brothers. So opposition can see it beyond today. Stagnations will not be the case after 8th Januaray. Much more to be revealed ascending to 8th of January. Having listend to Premadasa junior last night, I made my mind clear he has a greater poetential in active politics – many other new faces in UNP will lead it to success no doubt about that. Thinking in that way, it will not be easy for rulers to govern the way they have done sofar even after he would be given a mandate by the rural communities accross the country. I know that many in rural areas are happy with their mobile gadgets, just looking at southern highway, tv channels, threewheelers, but most urbanites suffer as no times in the past since they are well aware of the degree of corrupton being practised by Rajapakshe brothers. We cant 100% rely on any politicians we thought are genuine today since Tissa Aththanayake was bribed to the ruling side, but as Abrahm linken says you can fool the very same nation forever.

  • 2

    I have no reason to doubt your comments about the various busybodies from the West. Swayed by such men RW betrayed his electorate by signing an MOU with the mass murderer and by declaring a ceasefire. It is more than likely that had he continued in power Sri Lanka today would be the castrated State that another author has alluded to. CBK was no better, and the saviour came in the form of Mahinda R. against her expressed opposition.

    Sri Lanka was certainly fighting for it’s very existence and he was the ONLY leader who had the political will to bring the struggle to the desired conclusion. Successful in war, but not so much in peace, his leadership does leave a lot to be desired. The Tamil leadership (the LTTE-proxies) TNA and parts of the diaspora are quite understandably desirous of revenge, but is unable to achieve anything on it’s own, and needs support from the Sinhala malcontents. They have succeeded in their objective, and Sri Lanka MAY YET become the castrated State before long. I wonder whether Sirisena has thought this through, and is willing to become the tool in this vulgar endeavour.

    It is sad to see you getting abused all too often by commenters who are quite happy to assume that they are your betters and are of a superior intellect.

  • 2


    It is all about ‘Geneva’, ‘me’ and ‘my father Mervyn’ for you?
    Listen, SL, Geneva, MR and you are all unimportant sideshows to the West. If the West really wanted to punish the Rajapaksas they would have used different methods. They wanted the LTTE gone, and supported the GoSL, but wanted certain international norms to be upheld.

    In the last decade, foreign policy decisions have been concentrated in the white house, so whatever MR might have told Richard Boucher had nothing to do with the LTTE’s end. It was all for the public’s consumption, while MR and his band of thieves craved everything the West had to offer. You bring up how the same Army generals couldn’t win the war under CBK-Ranil; but you forget how the Karuna revolt and the tsunami weakened the LTTE during the ceasefire, corrupting the LTTE leadership further, which allowed MR to bribe them and finish them off.

  • 4

    Hey Dayan,

    Look at all of the 60+ comments above — obvious question question,”how much more can you suck?” Yep, I did mean it in more ways than one!

  • 2

    If you cut the crap, DJ ultimately goes back to the line Mahinda won the war so support him. No need to read anything more. Intellectually bankrupt. Surely, DJ a little more sophistication?


  • 1

    The truth is that Sri Lanka faces two ghastly choices: death by continuity and stagnation or death by uncontrollable radical reform; death by claustrophobic, even suffocating centralization or death by centrifugal downward spiral.
    We must not fear change. What is needed now.
    Our Loans to China do not have grants. It is a relatively high interest. The investment must give a sufficient return to repay loans. We have invested in Ports. This was to imitate Chinese Economic kick off by having Industry around this. We need the opposition to do this.We have issued foreign bonds. We have to reschedule our debt. This will help our Budget.

    We have invested in Road and related infrastructure to boost Tourism. This is a risky and changing market. Prostitution, Massage clinics, Large Scale gambling, homosexuality and other vices have to be controlled.

    We have commuted to reduce foreign employment as domestic Servants. It is better to have checks and assistance and training.I consider them hero’s . There income helped us arm. Proven professional diplomats can help and also lure industry. During the War they helped but we now need them and not obedient Forces. Obeying and not providing feedback is the main threat today.

    Corruption reduced will be a big boost to the Economy. Independent Institutions as legislated previously and a vigilant Maha Sangha could lead to a large drop in Poverty.

    I believe in a Planned Economy.In USA to they have gone to one. With the Free Press and citizens and Clergy armed with cameras, computers, and new methods of monitoring it could make the difference. The opposition with its different members will ensure the balance of sluggish bigness and mordern monitoring by both here and abroad .

    Our Sovereignty must be ensured. No one internationally can have authority over our citizens.Concrete proposals must be presented by both parties.I believe Ranil achieved a lot in the short space of time including winning the War.Diplomatically the Professional Diplomats achieved a lot from our concesions. That was why the LTTE virtually. backed the President.

  • 2

    If this guy come to face to face with people without hiding behind the bush tails of journalist(MARA worshiping, and Ranil hating, pimping journalists for Sajith Kilimaharaja’s Sirasa curtains, he will learn a better lesson than what he got in the nineties. I just read an interview of him in a Sinhala newspaper this two tounged serpent saying that win or lose Maithree is the best common oppo candidate, all good things about Mathree’s candidacy, and he should not hurry to step down after 100 days and whole host of other good things that Mathree will rule will bring etc. I see the game he plays, he knows Majroty Sl’ns don’t read his English articles, and he says Mathree is nice in Sinhala papers so that his duplicity will not be exposed to the majority of people who are going to vote for Maitree, and to prevent the irate people from stripping his clothes off for the second time. But his true wishes comes out in the English media, knowing most of CT readership either is from abroad, a non voting block or Colombo or Jaffna elite who are not going to vote for MR. So cheap DJ, my god people like you should never get chance involve in deciding the fate of Sinhaleas, tamils and Muslims of SL at UN or any foreign service!!El Cheapo. On the day you will get exposed you will have no one!

  • 1

    I just cannot understand why these Sinhala-Buddhists are not PATRIOTIC, why they are not GRATEFUL to the Sinhala king Mahinda Rajapakshe just like Dayan?

    We Tamils want Mahinda Rajapakshe to be the president because he liberated us from the Terrorists while you dumb Sinhalese don’t want him to be, please read over and over what Dayan is saying, and do not betray the Sinhala king Mahinda Rajapakshe.

    Maithripala Sirisena is a traitor, he will sell the country to the West whereas Mahinda Rajapakshe will only give the country to the Chinese to protect the Sinhalese. Please listen to Dayan and you will be saved, he is the most educated and most intelligent political scientist this world has ever produced. Failing to listen to him will be the biggest disaster for the Sri Lanka and the Sinhala-Buddhists.

  • 1

    DJ- This is a very good analysis that we all should read and understand the Past , present and future scearios which cerailly help to make a better decision undecided voters .

  • 3

    I had enough listening to his useless ramblings of, me, my dad, 2009 geneva win, Diaspora, international conspiracies, last king taking to electric chair. I wasn’t quite sure if I was reading to Wimal Pachawansa’s/SB, nimal siripala Silva Jonston Fernando propaganda presser. What a shame. Now it is high time we send this guy home for good, at least the readers of CT should initiate a petition to common opposition not to take this duplicitous opportunist anywhere near the next government, or their campaign. This guy thinks he is the man, and he has the same complex MR has, what a moron, what ever said and done General Fonseka, planned, escaped life attempt, fought in battles, for godsake During Chandrika’s time they won 75 % of the trouble areas. What the hell DJ did, and he wants to take credit for preventing justice for all the people who lost family members on both sides. This guy talks like MR/GR rescued north/east in 3 years. Pls do what ever you can to prevent this guy from getting on board to SL missions ever again. It is a service for the country. Editor this recycling old garbage one after the other in different ways is quite tiring.

  • 1

    I agree that MR stood firm against all oppositions and pressures from world over to obliterate terrorism in srilanka. But no sensible human could take pride in killing thousands of innocent civilians. If eradicating terrorism is the only criteria to vote for MR then he should be the president of Srilanka till his last breath.Nothing has changed in Post War era In Srilanka other than the newly paved highways and non fonctional Airport and harbour.MR should have taken the next step to resolve the problems of the tamils. If he was not ready to implement the 13th amendment he should have put forward his own solution to the tamil problem instead of doing the necessary he supported the sinhala nationalist movements to create more racial tensions in the country.The duty of a true leader is to protect his co-citizens without any discrimination but MR failed to do that.If the Srilankan people doesn’t vote for a change now then they will have to suffer under the dictatorial leadership of MR forever. If an educated person like the author of this article thinks that MR is the suitable person to rule the country then i think Srilanka is heading towards disaster Economically,Socially and intellectually.

  • 0

    DJ what an idiot you are. You published this very same article under the headline” Punishing Mahinda for Succeeding in War Against LTTE while Rewarding Ranil and Chandrika for Failing” in DBS jeyaraj.com. Hear it goes milder to fit the readership” Under deliberating the decision. http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/36141
    People are not punishing him for winning the war, for the rampant misuse of government power, plundering the government resources, robbing us of democracy, touching the judicial, thugs running the country. People need a better leaders to rule other than thieves, thugs, and cocaine dealers. If we let these people to succeed. our country will soon be another mexico, Colombia where drug lords rule parts of the country. What a shameless person you are. Denying all the contributions done by every previous leaders to control this problem. MR is the one who climbed the Grease pole after many before him climbed and removed most of the grease out of his way. and now he climbed to the top he is the only one to take a bath. This is the famous adage that” just because a person saved a woman from drowning he is allowed to sexually abuse the woman he saved forever analogy” Man do you have a soul? Why are you letting such a person with such law journalistic ethics, to hoodwink readers allowed to be written in forums like this.

  • 0

    One thing is certain.That is,in the event of MR’ victory, the majority considering the current situation which he is going to achieve will not equal the previous results that he had.

    Because the law of diminishing returns has begun it’s play.
    Obviously for him he can at this point of time count on a two year advantage to enjoy power for a term of eight years.

    But the effect of the reduced majority in the election result would not give him a freehand to engineer and manipulate the levers of government easily as he had until January 8th 2015.

    He will have to, from the following day, always keep track of who is breathing don his neck and often look backwards to worry about which one of his crony or henchman would stab him in the back following the un-nerving experience he had with My3.

    He is going to be a lame duck President during his third term and lame ducks can easily get drowned when their feathers are soaked.

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