24 July, 2024


Reading Election Manifestos

By Sumanasiri Liyanage

Sumanasiri Liyanage

Sumanasiri Liyanage

Tariq Ali, once informed us that democracy will perish even before capitalism reaches its end. Does it imply a new phase of capitalism with the absence of democracy? In a way it is not a novel phenomenon since in its short history, not going beyond 300 years, capitalism and democracy have not always co-existed. Modern democracy was invented under capitalism, but it has not been an outcome of capitalism. It has been an outcome of multiple struggles waged by different social layers of society invariably against capitalism. Sri Lanka has witnessed a strong tendency towards authoritarianism since the advent of a constitution with executive presidential system as its constitutional architecture and neoliberalism as its economic framework. While the presidential system facilitated the introduction of neoliberalism the latter in its turn reinforced the executive presidential system. This has made it easier us to imagine a life without democracy but not a life without capitalism. Nonetheless, once again, democracy has become a key issue in the forthcoming presidential election in Sri Lanka ambiguity prevails over what democracy really means notwithstanding.

The forces that have been mobilized against the incumbent president have rightly raised the issue of democracy as a central issue facing the country today. Democracy means different things for different people, for different social groups. However, almost all the oppositional forces, except Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) had come to a consensus that in order to reestablish democracy in Sri Lanka one of the crucial prerequisite is the abolition of the executive presidential system. It was explicitly states what is needed is to abolish it and replace it with a different system. There was a debate on the alternative system but the majority of the opposition wanted to go back to the Parliamentary system. Will the democratic aspirations of the people fulfil after the presidential election? Let us review the election manifestos of the candidates. At the moment, I have three manifestos with me. I will focus first on the Manifestos of Candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) and candidate Maithripala Sirisena (MS). It is not uncommon to have some degree of rhetoric in election manifesto. Figure 1 summarizes proposals in two manifestos on the issue on constitutional change. ( Click here to read MS manifesto and here to MR manifesto)

SumaneIt is interesting to note there is no basic difference between two candidates as far as the constitutional change/ amendment is concerned. While MR leaves the changes for the proposed constituent assembly only submitting his ideas on certain issues, MS has given detailed list of changes he is planning to make within 100 days thus leaving present constitutional architecture intact.

Hence, my conclusion is that with regard to the issues that have been raised by various democratic fora in order to improve democratic governance in the country were either marginalized or neglected in the two manifestoes. Since its inception, especially since the late 1980s, people in this country voted for the abolition of the executive presidential system. Constitutional drafts and proposals submitted by citizens’ initiatives reflected this aspiration of the people. However, the individuals who began to taste and enjoy the power of the EP refused to change it. Ironically, Candidate MS has refused to change it after making a promise to that respect even before tasting and enjoying it. In such a situation, can we expect democratic governance after January 8?

The current democracy discourse in Sri Lanka is marred by a very narrow definition of democracy. This definition that was advanced for the specific needs of neo-liberalism following in the context of developing countries the Augmented Washington Consensus focuses principally on issues like governance, rule of law, non-interventionist state. Freedom of established media and so on. In other words, the basic objective of democracy is reduced to the operational needs of neo-liberalist phase of capitalism. It would be interesting to compare the definition of democracy adopted today with that of pre-1994 period. Before 1994 election, democracy included as an inseparable element the power-sharing arrangement although what it meant was not explicitly stated. At least it meant going beyond the 13th Amendment. It also included offering a ‘human face’ to capitalism. Above all, the abolition of the executive presidential system as an intimate element of comprehensive constitutional redesign was included as a pre-requisite of the reestablishment of democracy. This clearly shows the degradation of democratic discourse in the last 20 years. What does it imply? Jairus Banaji, an Indian Marxist, once informed us about three meanings of democracy.

1. Democracy in the sense of the formal framework of a constitutional democracy with the rights to freedom and equality, the right to life and personal liberty, to freedom of religion etc that it guarantees.

2. Democracy as a culture of resistance grounded in the constitutional rights given under my first meaning.

3. Democracy as an aspiration for control. One can see the Communist Manifesto as a generalization of democracy in this third sense (of the mass of workers aspiring to control their own lives, economically, politically and culturally) and as a culmination of democracy in both the previous senses.  Thus for communists (in Marx’s sense) the mass element in democracy is crucial, it is what defines democracy in its most complete sense and historical form.

In the last twenty years we witnessed two types of democratic struggles. Democratic struggled initiated and led by various ‘citizen’ democratic groups operated within economico-legal structure of neoliberalism with the main objective of achieving those formal democratic rights. These struggles fell under the rubric of first meaning cited above. And many of these movements are basically urban and elitist. In limited sense, some of them went beyond the first meaning falling at the boundary of the second meaning.

The second type of democratic struggles were not even depicted democratic struggles as they had questioned the basic economico-legal structure of neoliberalism. Here, I include, Tamil struggle for autonomy, the Free Trade Zone struggles against proposed pension bill to integrate EPF into accumulation process, struggles against forceful eviction of urban people, protests by rural masses on various issues related to their day to day living and the student struggles against commodification of education. In these struggles, even in limited sense, peoples’ aspiration for control was expressed. It is also interesting note that these struggles were led by subaltern layers of the Sri Lankan society.

Two main candidates have failed in their manifestos to address even key issues raised by elitist citizen groups. As indicated in the Figure 1 above, both have refused to touch the unitary character of the Constitution. While MR have said that he would suggest to the proposed constitution assembly to keep the unitary character of the state, MS have informed he would not TOUCH the unitary and non-secular nature of the present constitution. Hence ensuring majoritarian rule over numerically small nations would remain unchanged.

It was in this back drop, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has also refused to present an alternative. It has taken an opportunist position to show that it has not yet broken from its coalition politics that began in 2004. Similarly Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been silent on the principal democratic demands of autonomy. The same can be mentioned on the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). All three parties have clearly capitulated to parliamentarism claiming that only two alternatives are open. The best option opened for TNA and SLMC in my view is to field candidates on the basis of their major demands or to form a front with other subaltern forces on a minimum common program. In the absence of those three forces, the only light at the end of the tunnel is the manifesto of the Left Front that comprehensively address the issues of democracy in its all three meanings. The Left Front led by 34 year old former student leader with consistent track record, Duminda Nagamuwa, proposes a setting up of a constituent assembly comprising not just Parliamentarians but the representatives of trade unions, peasant organizations and many other peoples’ organizations. He ensures autonomy for numerically small nations and ensures what has been already provided for then will not be allowed to take back. A strong and vibrant social movement of subalterns dealing with all three meanings of democracy cited above is imperative if the Sri Lankan need democracy after January 9 whatever the outcome of the election.

*The writer is the co-coordinator of the Marx School. e-mail: sumane_l@yahoo.com

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Latest comments

  • 6


    This election is turning out to be a referendum on Rajapakse governance. It will be a judgement on the past- a mixed bag of major, but critical failures and some visible, but rather glitzy positives. Most citizens seem to be convinced that something is wrong with our country and are right in tying it up with Rajapakse governance. The problems the voters are identifying are like the parts of the elephant the five blind men, identified as objects they were familiar with! Most political analysts are also mistakenly identifying the governance structure as the cause of our problems, rather than the men and women we elect to govern us. How can such men, suggest remedies to a system, they have helped to sabotage, subvert and corrupt? Ours is like a situation where persons who are sick because of bad eating and behavioural habits, seek medical remedies, without changing their bad habits!

    I think the common opposition is right in identifying specific issues that are sapping the vitality of our society as requiring immediate solutions, but wrong in proposing constutional solutions, without wider consultations and much deeper study. A Cconsitutional Commission of eminent persons should be appointed to propose constitutional changes. This is not an issue that can be or should be canvassed in a presidential or parliamentary election in detail.

    We need a regime change, because it is good for democracy, a new direction and to,halt the present drift into a malevolent familial dictatorship.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 0

      Good analysis by both Drs.

      Well we may not have an ideal set of groups in opposition. But it is good enough to displace this this familial rule which had highjacked the democracy of the country.

      It is good they have 100 day target, hopefully while everybody is in same frequency let them change constitution so that the system will not create another monster like MR.

      Next they have to start off economic development, creating industries (manufacturing, Value added services, soft industries etc.), encourage SMEs. Without dividents going back to ordinary people this coalition not going to last.

      Get all the big poltiicans in opposition contribute development. Give them each targets. Get educated, capable people team up with these politicians to to work on these economic development effort.

      Get everybody to contribute to the country be proud of the achievements.

      • 1

        You expect all this from our current group of opposition leaders?

    • 0

      Dear Dr Narendran,

      In my opinion we should not reduce the forthcoming presidential election to a referendum on MR. If it is read as a referendum, it should be a referendum on/ against Sinhala Buddhist hegemony in Sri Lankan politics. Two main candidates operate within this hegemonic framework, BBS with MR and JHU with MS. It was hilarious that Champika Ranawaka and Rev Athureliya Ratana who justified the attacks on Muslims in Beruwala, Aluthgama and Dharga Nagar were invited to address the meeting in Beruwala organized by UNP Muslim leaders.

      • 0

        Dear Dr. Liyanage,

        Your consistent and sincere empathy with the Tamils and other minorities in Sri Lanka is much appreciated. I wish we had more of your kind.

        However, I consider the upcoming presidential election, as one transcending our parochial considerations. This is the first election in my living memory that has brought national concerns to the forefront. These concerns are of importance to every community- majority or minority. This if perceived correctly and promoted with a broader vision,may be the first step towards building a national consensus and possibly start the process of national reconciliation. It is yet a hope, but which is worth pursuing. Of course, we may be disappointed too at the outcome, as we have seen how the MR government laid to waste a golden opportunity after the war ended in May’2009. The JHU of course played a significant role in subverting this oppportunity. I have more faith in Rathana Thera than a narrow minded Sinhala-Buddhist extremist like Champika Ranawake.

        What is required is a change and doubts about the JHU, should not stand in the way of this change. A change is absolutely necessary in this country. Even a marginal change in the quality of governance, will benefit the Tamils, as citizens. The concerns of the Sinhalese at this present juncture, are the concerns of the Tamils and Muslims too. The concerns of all communities have jelled on the issue of good governance. It is a straw we have to grab, because of nascent possibilities to turn around the political culture in this land that is ours.


  • 1

    Sumanasiri Liyanage –

    Executive Presidency kept

    Secular and no secular..

    Who can believe politicians…but MS is a better choice compared to MaRa.

    No-separation of Church and State. Hegemony of Politicians, Priests, and Monks maintained.

    “‘Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”[15]


    So, ability to make good people to do do bad things will be kept.

  • 1

    Sumanasiri Liyanage –

    RE: Reading Election Manifestos

    What is the Election Manifesto of Basil, Gota & Dullas Rajapaksa?


    ‘We don’t recognize sovereignty of Sri Lanka’ – Basil, Gota & Dullas declare in USA

    Rajapaksas opposition to imperialism is a fraud as they, as ‘Green Card’ holders, have given an oath before God to ‘defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America’ and to ‘bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law’, says the Member of the Political Bureau of the JVP Somawansa Amarasinghe. He has revealed this in an interview he had with ‘Lanka Irida’ weekend newspaper.

    He makes this argument based on the ‘Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America’ that has to be made when

    granting full citizenship to anyone of foreign birth. The oath foreign subjects have to make when becoming a citizen of the USA is “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform non-combatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

    Any citizen from anywhere in the world including from Sri Lanka should make this oath to get citizenship in the USA. The Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the Minister of Youth Affairs and Skills Development Dullas Alahapperuma have taken this oath before god to get citizenship in the USA and act according to it. This is evident when investigating their past behaviour.

    An important instance of this link between Rajapaksas and the USA is the defence agreement signed by Sri Lanka and USA in 2008. Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa signed on behalf of Sri Lanka and Robert O Blake signed on behalf of the USA. By this agreement Sri Lanka is obliged to provide facilities for the USA during any war situation in the region. The trio, instead of being loyal to Sri Lanka, goes to the USA occasionally to confirm their allegiance to the USA with the ‘help of God‘. As such, Sri Lanka is only a resting place for them.

    The anti-Muslim movements throughout the world are launched with the leadership of the USA. Recently, anti-Muslim tendencies surfaced in Sri Lanka as well and authorities were directly accused of manipulating such tendencies. Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaska getting involved in opening offices of BBS and this ‘Sena’ declaring they would support Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa at the presidential election have direct links to the ‘SL – US’ link.

    Related news: Rajapaksas’ US assets revealed
    Source: ‘Lanka Irida’

  • 0

    Six TNA members from the North and the East join Mahinda Party.

    They are Ragavan,Susubaharan,Kandei,Rammaiyah, Pakayanadan and Lechchaman..

    All are elected members of the District or Provincial councils.

    They all say that the freedom , peace and ability to earn a living of the inhabitants who elected them are at risk.

    Tamil Politicians at the coal face are finally realizing that that Opportunistic Opposition is nothing but a disaster for the country.

    Despite the secret pact Ranil Signed with My Three on behalf of Sambandan and Abraham, TNA will have to change the name to..Tamil Vellala Ararasakattu (TVA) after the Election…

    • 1

      Athal Sumane..
      How much they were paid by the Rajapaksas from their hard earned money?

      My guess is those no-name politicos will cost less than 10Million?

      • 0

        Matilda Ellepola

        “My guess is those no-name politicos will cost less than 10Million?

        The politicians will get the money, the people will vote the dsame way, against MaRa, to help him retire, and the MaRas need to write off the money, Stolen money given to the politicians, when they are defeated..

      • 0

        You don’t have to tell me …Matilda,

        Dalits worth nothing in the eyes of the Vellalas & the Elite.

        So even LKR One Mil each is a lot of dough for them…

    • 2


      You fool are trying to find happiness where there is none. Let me explain to you that these TNA members have been paid by MR with the momney looted to score points. Tissanayake was paid 100 million and these lads would have been paid a million rupees each very cheap indeed. But for them it is dowry money for their daughters and if it is a Secret Ballot you have in Sinhala Lanka they would vote against MR having taken the money.
      Just for your information even with rigged votes at the NPC election 87%voted for TNA and no amount of money will buy Tamil votes. SWEET DREAMS.

    • 3

      K.A Sumanasekera

      “Six TNA members from the North and the East join Mahinda Party. They are Ragavan,Susubaharan,Kandei,Rammaiyah, Pakayanadan and Lechchaman..”

      How much was the deal worth?

      Did you make sure they were not Vellala Catholics?

  • 2

    It should be clear to all from the increasing familial grip and authoritarianism in governance that democracy is steadily waning in the country. MaRa calling for an election two full years before the due date shows his ulterior motives. Rather unusually a great sense of danger to democracy has been felt by the combined opposition consisting of diverse forces. Under these circumstances, it would be best for the country to have a change of regime!

    Sengodan. M

  • 1

    Dr Liyanayag there in not that possible self-determination for Tamils in Sri-lanka. Ours is small country it is quite impossible to be divided our land. Tamils having own homeland in Tamil Nadu-India.

    Why do you want to split Republic Of Indian? Tamils are largest Population India as well Tamil Nadu is largest Tamil population in world.

    If possible Tamils want own home land India. Do you want support Tamils in India for their own land?

    • 1

      Sirisena Yatawara

      “Ours is small country it is quite impossible to be divided our land.”

      What has self determination got to do with division of the country?

      “Tamils having own homeland in Tamil Nadu-India.”

      Are the Tamil Nadu Tamils demanding homeland in this island?

      “Why do you want to split Republic Of Indian?”

      Who is splitting Republic of India? Even if India is split why do you care?

      “Do you want support Tamils in India for their own land?”

      Tamils of Tamil Nadu already have their own nation (Tamil Nadu = Tamil Country). Did they ask you for help?

      By any chance you are related to K A Sumanasekere?

      • 0

        Dear Native,

        Don’t you and your mates always vote for the Vellalas?.. Isn’t that self determination?.

        Or do you want a Vellala Police at Omanthai and Thoppigala, with what ever left of our Kuveni Land which still belong to the inhabitants, transferred to the Vellalas?..

        • 1

          K.A Sumanasekera

          Why don’t you have a kit kat and take a break from all your rumblings.

          While the Vellalas and Dalits deal with your perceived problem why don’t you stop aggravating theirs further?

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