By Kumar David –
At last it’s done! SI-CC has been endorsed; it was a steep and at first a solitary climb, but you and I dear reader, now have a different task. We need to hold the Alliance and its leaders to account; hold a sword over their heads as it were. It is not those who loyally served Mahinda Rajapakse in cabinet and parliament for nine long years who best know the evils of the Executive Presidency; or those who upheld the system when graft, abuse and rights violations proliferated who best understand the state of the nation. The thousands who fought resolutely (I am a lucky unit-of-one in this throng), defied threats and scorn, and in the worst cases disappeared, are the true agents of change.
Don’t trust governments, neither the one which may go out, nor that which may come. Our motto should be: “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom” (John Philpot Collins 1808 and Wendell Philips 1852). Anura Kumara of the JVP warned the public not to overly trust the Alliance. Good; its sole purpose is to get rid of EP; it has no long-term socio-economic programme and understandably the JVP did not sign the MoU on 1 December. It has nothing to offer on devolution either so the TNA has not signed on. However, this does not mean these two parties will not join in the lesser objective of defeating Rajapakse and abolishing P. Still, one may legitimately ask: “If the Alliance is a blunt instrument why back it?” The answer is that a Common Candidate is an imperfect but necessary first step without which progress is not possible. When you break out of a dungeon don’t expect blue skies at once; bore through walls and travel down narrow passages first. Electing the Common Chap is an essential though imperfect first step. A blunt instrument is all we have; there is no sharp and shining scalpel in our hands.
My Casus Belli
What recently provoked my ire are inane remarks and dotty stunts of some opposition figures – thankfully CBK and Ranil have held their tongues and shown decorum so far. Harsha de Silva (HdS) of the UNP pledged in parliament on 24 November that prosecution of Pakse regime leaders will be prohibited. A similar unsolicited pledge from candidate Maithripala Sirisena (My3) says: “I’ll protect all members of the Rajapakses family” (Island, 28 November). Irrespective of what domestic law enforcement or international agencies may uncover, My3 and HdS have sworn blanket immunity. War crimes against the Tamils is what these two grandees offer guarantees for, no doubt to seduce the Sinhala voter. One of them, HdS, declares himself a “proud Southerner and a Sinhala-Buddhist”; I can see the veins on the neck swell and the chest heave with hela-jathika abimane.
What starts like this may grow into immunity for all political criminals and all crimes. If it is not the law that matters, immunity may in time extend from crimes against humanity, to robbers who sold the country for commissions, graft ridden cronies and drug peddlers? Disregard for due process is one trait of authoritarianism, which is what these worthies accuse the Rajapakses of! I follow HdS’ contributions in parliament; his economic discourses in the media are interesting. Better keep it that way and not put one’s foot in one’s mouth pontificating on extraneous topics.
Shortcomings not withstanding, a Common Candidate is necessary, but this most certainly does not mean that we must take any s**t that comes out of the Alliance. On the contrary, from day-one its leaders must be kept in line and firmly disciplined. Let the decline of the Rajapakses be a warning of the fate that awaits errant politicos at the hands of an angry electorate. The people must be watchful and prevent recurrence of past evils. My central message today is: “Hold the Alliance on a tight leash; don’t let it ever get away with hanky-panky”.
Mangala Samaraweera is described as a UNP heavyweight but of recent he has been heavy on daftness. He tried to pass it off as “misreporting” but that cock won’t fight. Asinine comments overreached his status so he had to cow down and pretend it never happened. Contradicting My3 and the UNP official statement which explicitly says EP would be abolished, Mangala took it upon himself to declare “The joint Opposition will retain the executive presidency sans dictatorial powers exercised by incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa”: (Island, 28 November). Presumably Ranil read him the riot act forcing a humiliating retraction next day.
Worse was to come when he promised that parliament would not be dissolved “so that MP’s pensions could be protected!” So people’s representative and voice of the citizen is all hogwash; it’s a matter of lining one’s pocket, eh Mangala? So that’s what sets dissolution dates for parliament!
Foreign affairs is deadly serious business; regime change would not be on our agenda today if the Pakses had shown common sense in dealing with India and the West, and had had a modicum of restraint in exploiting the Chinese connection to maximise graft. Economic links between Lanka and China were cosy in the Pakse era for two reasons; first, China had no inconvenient human rights hang-ups and unlike India and the West was not exposed to pressure from the Tamil diaspora and international human rights agencies; second it was easier and slicker to collect graft from Chinese sources. It is not that Chinese organisations are more corrupt than Indian or Western companies, it is that for certain political reasons, collection procedures were slick.
There will be a shift away from an exclusive China reliance to a balanced relationship with Beijing, Delhi and the West. This is healthy and Beijing will be happy about a stable and less corrupt government in Colombo in the wake of Xi Jinping’s anti-graft drive at home. Beijing is in search of global stability for economic growth and respectable great power status in the next decade; she does not need shifty jobbers in pot-sized nations. Nor is she interested in strategically encircling India (the silly String of Pearls thesis) or contesting US-Indian naval superiority in the Indian Ocean. China’s strategic obsession is her littoral waters and Japan, the South China Sea, and her land borders. Only dummies think that if India or the West poses a threat, China will send a fleet of sampans to rescue the Pakse clan! If the regime changes in January, Beijing will merrily send its heartiest congratulations to the new government.
If My3-HdS-Mangala amateurishness is repeated in foreign relations, damage will be done. I have insisted all along that even a broomstick would do as CC if he/she could abolish EP. Now My3 is the candidate of choice for tactical reasons; that’s fine, he can deliver. There is no presumption that he has other skills, especially in foreign affairs. HdS’ expertise lies in economics and Mangala is rather a bull in a China shop (bad pun). There is a great deal of delicate rebalancing between China, India and the West that needs to be handled by skilled hands. Mrs B was adroit and expert at finding a stable foreign policy centre of gravity. It now remains to be seen if the three new heavyweights, prior to and after a new parliament is elected (if there is regime change), Ranil, CBK and My3, can recapture that deftness.
One favour Delhi can do the people of Lanka is to whisper in the President’s ear that coups, whether palace or military, will not be tolerated; abrogation of democracy in this fair isle must be countered by a swift response. The options are many.
China in transition
The present in Chinese politics, economics and international affairs needs fuller treatment, but with pandemonium in Lanka, elections, possible regime change and the Pope’s visit, it is unlikely I will find an opening. It is a matter of global significance, so I will smuggle in a few paragraphs here though only indirectly relevant Lankan hot issues. China’s economic growth is slowing and that is good; the new-normal rate of GDP increase should fall below 7% in the interests of the people. This mad rush of GDP adrenaline is too much. In advanced Western economies 70% of output goes to consumption, the rest is shared between government and investment; in China only 48.5% is consumed by the people, and they are much poorer. She has been the growth engine of the world economy for thirty years in a quest to become the largest. That’s enough, the madness must stop; save less, invest less, let the masses consume more – healthcare, education, working-class housing.
Income and wealth disparity is obscene; worse than in the United States. The Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality where zero means perfect equality, had by 2010 risen to a staggering 0.73 (Professor Li Shi, Beijing Normal University, China Daily, 27 November); far worse than any advanced capitalist country (Sweden 0.23, US 0.46). Worse still, the wealth gap is massive and worsening. The richest 10% owns 64% of property, the poorest 10% below zero, they are in debt. The capitalist world, thanks to democracy, pressure through the ballot, trade unions and mass action is nowhere near as bad. The Chinese Communist Party has lost the plot!
In my paper at the Hector Abhayawardena Commemoration Symposium in December 1999 I held that the state-form in China was indeterminate, its directions contradictory. It is now possible to make a definite classification; it is State Capitalist. The crisis in Hong Kong (HK) is a forerunner of bigger things to come in the Mainland. HK’s naïve student activists are simpletons who muddied the waters, annoyed and alienated literally everybody by blocking the city’s arterial roads for two months.
The real issue in HK is increasing inequality and the end of the economic miracle. In China too Xe Jinping and the CCP leadership know they are sitting on a volcano. The anti-graft campaign is an effort to contain it, xenophobia an attempt to divert it. More radical policy shifts are needed if she is to contain future mass discontent (the CCP is capable of this shift). Don’t be misled by ritzy malls and a stunning building boom. The populace is all a dazzle, but that’s superficial; when the crunch comes the fireworks, a Chinese invention, will be more lurid.