By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Given the lowest economic growth rate in 16 years—since Ranil was last the PM in 2002– the inescapable conclusion going by the hard empirical evidence, is that electorally the UNP is a ‘Dead Man Walking’.
Mr. Wickremesinghe has repeatedly failed his party and his government. He has lost elections many times and this is the second time in as many decades that he has been sought to be removed as PM. His campaign jingle ends with a chorused chant which reaches a crescendo (usually unaccompanied by applause): “Ranil! RANEEL!” That’s entirely apt, because there is nothing more to be said after almost quarter century of his leadership, but to exclaim or sigh “Ranil, Ranil…!”
While the educated youth of the West, the US and UK, are demonstrating and voting against the right in their respective countries, here in Sri Lanka, the Westernized young adults are not taking a stand against the man who broke tradition and organizationally affiliated his party with the federation of the international rightwing, the International Democratic Union, founded and led by US Republicans and the UK Conservatives. I’m referring the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
I’m not really surprised though. I got over my surprise and dismay at the westernized Ceylonese youth back when I was a teenage schoolboy, who travelled annually to the West and had the best collection of rock records in class, when I could not understand how my schoolmates who borrowed my Woodstock triple album, were also pro-US in the Vietnam war and anti-Che Guevara, which was exact opposite of the views of our generational counterparts in the West. Nothing has changed in the class and the neighborhood I defected from long ago, I guess.
Meanwhile the issue of the Executive presidency has resurfaced with the JVP planning to move a 20th amendment for the abolition of the executive presidency next month. This move is fraught with the bitterest irony. If the 20th amendment were to be introduced with the 13th amendment still standing (and the latter cannot be abolished or truncated as it issues from a bilateral accord with India) provincial autonomy would automatically cross the border between devolution and federalism.
If that is ironic, given the JVP’s bloody track record against the 13th amendment and provincial devolution, then the conclusion on the executive presidency in a considered intervention by legal scholar, Dr Nihal Jayawickrama, is downright hilarious. He writes:
“While politicians belonging to all the parties vociferously argue that the executive presidency should either be retained or abolished, they appear to have overlooked the fact that the executive presidency established by the 1978 Constitution no longer exists. The 19th Amendment has effectively abolished it… The Presidency has been stripped of all these fundamental executive powers. In respect of all these matters, he is essentially a constitutional Head of State. Therefore, the question arises whether an expensive, divisive, nation-wide election is required to elect the next President, merely because he still possesses a few, relatively unimportant powers in respect of provincial administration and the appointment of President’s Counsel.”
What makes this hilarious is that the election of a strong leader as President, supported by a parliamentary majority for the party he belongs to, would show us all whether or not the executive presidency has been “effectively abolished” and is therefore “illusory”. In fact I volunteer to quote this paragraph a few months after Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Chamal Rajapaksa or Dinesh Gunawardena is elected president, backed by Mahinda Rajapaksa who will go on to be elected PM, with the 19th amendment in place.
The illusion of the “illusory” character of the executive Presidency is due much more to the exceptional, and exceptionally vulnerable, political situation of the present President than to any decisive Constitutional decapitation or castration. The crucial factor involved is the political balance of forces.
I am fairly certain that the same scholars who argue that the executive Presidency has been abolished will shriek about the tyrannical executive presidency when (not if) a personality from the Joint Opposition is elected to that post.
Contrary to a Yahapalana ideologue and senior social science academic, the failure of reform which he defines as the 2015 Geneva ‘accountability’ Resolution and the New Constitution project, is not because the Sinhalese are irreversibly wedded to an immobile “ethnocratic” state, but because the Yahapalana reform agenda just like that of its precursor, the Chandrika/Ranil project of 2001-2005, was not a Realist one. The only successful reform agenda possible in Sri Lanka and most places, certainly in Eurasia, is a Realist one (Deng Xiaoping was a great Realist reformer as were Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohamed). That means recognizing three realities:
1. The results of the Thirty Years war cannot be overturned, dismantled or diminished. The South won. The North cannot win by diplomacy or constitutional reform what it lost on the battlefield.
2. The results of geopolitics and the bitter Southern civil war of the 1980s cannot be overturned or overstretched. The13th amendment is here to stay. India will not allow it to be dismantled. The North cannot stretched it beyond its parameters. What the North could not achieve while waging a civil war and with an episode of Indian intervention in sympathy with its people, cannot be achieved having decisively lost the war.
3. As the intellectual giant Godfrey Gunatilleke has explained at length, Sri Lanka’s social ethos is one of social democratic welfarism, with the state as guarantor, intervener and leveler. No reform agenda which couples ethnic reform, externally driven accountability and free-market fundamentalist neoliberal globalism can do other than sink or blow up, taking the reform agenda with it, and generating a wave which replaces it with a more statist model.
Instead of intellectual bleating and handwringing about the fate of the reform agenda in Sri Lanka, academics should broaden their horizons and adopt a comparative global perspective. If they are to understand Sri Lankan dynamics and trends, perhaps they should place the 2015 Yahapalana reform agenda and the blowback it has generated, in global perspective. Consider the following assessment of Putinism and western post-modern liberalism by John Schindler, a former analyst of the apex US intelligence agency, the National Security Agency (NSA). If read intelligently, it can shed a revealing light on political and ideological equivalents and approximations of liberalism and populist blowback in Sri Lanka.
“…they are irredeemably WEIRD, to cite the social science acronym for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. I explained this four years ago, when I noted that Putin had placed himself at the head of an “Anti-WEIRD Coalition,” which was loose and broad, appealing to diverse people from many places who have yet to find a happy home in the post-modern Western orbit. As I elaborated:
‘In the last several decades many Americans, and essentially all our elites, have internalized a worldview based on affluence, individualism and secularism that makes us unique, globally speaking. So much so that we seem unable to comprehend that there actually are opposing viewpoints out there.’
Our WEIRD elites accepted over a quarter-century ago that the future of the world was like them: democratic, liberated, secular and consumerist, and no other viable models existed. That history had therefore ended seemed like a statement of fact rather than a mere wish. The conduct of Russia—and China too—in recent years demonstrate that this post-modern Western conceit was a hope rather than a plan.
Putin’s Russia embraces an aggressive nationalism that is grounded in revanchism left over from the last Cold War and the Soviet collapse. Its roots, a potent admixture of Slavophilia and militant Orthodox Christianity, appear strange and incomprehensible to the West today yet are deeply plausible to many Russians, since they are grounded in centuries of their history. Paeans to the Third Rome and mystical Slavic unity sound downright bizarre to the WEIRD contingent, but they retain a coherence among many average Russians that Marxism-Leninism never possessed…Vladimir Putin and his regime possess an official ideology, as they state plainly. Anyone who pays attention to Kremlin media outlets, especially those connected to Russia’s powerful intelligence services, cannot fail to notice their nationalist and religious essence, unless you really want to. Putinism has constructed itself in opposition to the post-modern West’s political, social and moral values across the board, especially in sexual matters.
…We should note that by no means are all Westerners comfortable with rapid sociopolitical changes, as attested by the rise of right-wing populism to political prominence and power in many Western countries of late…It’s therefore deeply unwise to simply dismiss Westerners who have some sympathy for Putinism, as Freedman does, as mere misogynists, racists and homophobes—that is, obvious retrogrades whom polite and decent people need not worry about. If the WEIRD contingent, our elites, choose to make their stand on that ground, dismissing large swathes of fellow citizens as unwashed rubes who need lecturing and enlightenment, don’t be surprised when some of them object.
If the West makes its choice binary—accept the full post-modern social program or you’re with Putin—we should not be shocked when some people choose the latter.” (‘Russia Has an Ideology—and It’s as Entrenched as Communism Was’—John R. Schindler)
So, what’s the bottom line of Schindler’s Realist analysis? Eschewing “wailing and gnashing of teeth” at lost opportunities for liberal reform, the former NSA analyst proffers a hardnosed strategic policy option in this situation:
“…At the dawn of the last Cold War, the West, led by the United States, made serious political outreach to social democrats to embrace law-based democracy, to undercut the appeal of the Soviet-backed far-left. This effort bore considerable fruit and needs to be copied today to undercut Moscow’s aggressive messaging. This means reaching out to moderate nationalists and social conservatives…”
Sri Lanka’s WEIRDO elite (some part of which lives overseas) stands for “Westernized (not Western,), Educated, Identity-driven, Rich and Democratic”. If it wants to survive—not lead, because that is so OVER–it must reach out to “moderate nationalists and social conservatives” (Schindler). This means Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena; the JO-SLPP and the SLFP. If it doesn’t do so now, abandoning its comfort zone of postmodernism and Ranil-Mangala-CBK’s neoliberal globalism, it will only render inevitable, and hasten the forward march of a Sri Lankan Putin and more importantly, a Sri Lankan Putinism.
Not that I would mind.