By Kumar David –
After I dispatched this article I received Maithripala Sirisena’s Election Manifesto. I was shocked and then Dr Jayampathy Wickremaratne was kind enough to provide a more exact English translation of the Sinhala original. His translation of the relevant portion follows:
“In place of the executive presidency with arbitrary powers, a constitutional structure with an executive tied to Parliament through a Cabinet of Ministers will be established”.
This is TREACHERY! It goes back on all the sacred promises Sirisena made to the nation only four weeks ago that the Executive Presidency would be ABOLISHED. I have issued a brief statement on the matter which appears elsewhere.
In last week’s column, I made the following comment (abridged): “There is alarm in the minority communities of an alleged Maithri-JHU anti Tamil-Muslim alliance which could be a threat to them and to 13A. This is endangering 18% of the vote (Ceylon Tamils and Muslims; 24% if you count Upcountry Tamils)), but what for? The JHU can pull hardly 3% of the ultra-chauvinist vote away from Mahinda”. This was in response to panic buttons that many Tamils both at home and the diaspora had pressed in e-mails and conversations with me. [I do not use the diminutive My3 any longer as a reader found it offensive].
To retain perspective and restrain panic I balanced it with a more reassuring take on the scene after regime change: “The state will remain unitary; there will be no further devolution (that is no 13A+). But 13A may be more genuinely implemented. (Ranil and CBK are liberals; that helps). Wigneswaran and the NPC will have a freer hand, cussed obstacles put in his way by Rajapaksa will ease, and there could be some reduction in militarization”. This remark assumes regime change, which though desirable I have always cautioned, is by no means still certain. While there seems to be a landslide against Rajapaksa in city and urban areas and in minority communities, rural trends have still to crystallise. There are complaints that the UNP campaign is top-heavy and neglects grassroots organisation. Forecasters should not make the mistake they made with Sarath Fonseka four years ago! With these few words I leave the question of predictions to one side; the subject is not my forte.
The big-guns are UNP-Ranil and the CBK-Cluster (I will define it anon). Next the silent guns of the JVP, and then JHU’s and Fonseka’s blazing guns. It seems Rev Sobitha and the NMSJ are a little marginalised. Also on the side are many left caucuses: LSSP (Non-Dead) – spokesman Keerthi Kariyawasam; an umbrella group – spokesmen Drs Michael Fernando (CP Non-Dead), Kumudu Kusum Kumara (Independent) and Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri (Independent), and Prof Vijaya Kumar (LSSP Non-Dead); and civil society organisations; and on the platform is Bahu. This entire left oriented collective, NGOs and Bahu included, I call the Left-Cluster.
From the beginning two or three years ago it was obvious that once the Common Candidate got off the ground and active electioneering commenced, leadership would pass into the hands of the established liberal bourgeoisie, the UNP and the CBKs. What is new is that Tamils fear that a Maithri–Rathana–Champika outflanking attempt is afoot therefore TNA and SLMC support has to be quickly consolidated. Secondly, it is timely that the JVP and Left-Cluster mobilise together for objectives that only partly overlap the big-bourgeoisie’s programme.
Muddied Single-Issue waters
Snags in the opposition (formal moniker National Democratic Front – NDF) such as the Tamil issue and JVP concern that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is biased to capitalism and neo-liberalism were entirely avoidable. They could have been sidetracked if the protagonists had strictly adhered to the Single-Issue (SI) principle; that is abolishing the Executive Presidency (EP) and essential consequential arrangements only. The point of SI is that everyone can focus on one agreed primary task and not be diverted to other issues. The Sinhala- Tamil virus, socialism-capitalism ideologies, one-God versus many-Gods inquisitions; and heaven knows what undigested tripe will be vomited out next, could all have been cast side. Form an SI perspective the first three points of the MoU is all that is needed.
It is not only inflation from one crisp principle to a multiple catechism that is divisive; the fattening of the timeframe from the six-month road-map proposed by Rev Sobitha’s NMSJ, to an obese two years has also created difficulties. Then Maithri promised to abolish EP within 100 days it created a muddle. One hundred days is not enough if parliament refuses to play ball and has to be dissolved and replaced. Six months would have been a comfortable window to get everything done even if parliament was uncooperative.
Devolution and chauvinism
One dynamite issue the SI strategy was intended to side-track was the intractable devolution issue. True, together with the problematic of the state (the authoritarian Executive Presidency) this is one of two fundamental challenges of our time. Those partial to Althusserian categories could say ‘The State and the National Question are the two over-determining issues in Lanka’. The point about the SI approach is that it decoupled the two. If one tries to solve them simultaneously, both will fail – short of a revolutionary overthrow of the state; but this is not a study document for the Marx School!
The Rajapaksa clan must be hooting with joy to hear a Maithri-JHU duet. Can the JHU break a goodly part of Rajapaksa’s Sinhala-Buddhist base – nonsense! Can it attract the hard-chauvinist vote on an “Abolish EP” platform – bollocks! Retaining EP is the core principle of chauvinism and the JHU cannot chip it on the basis of an Abolish-EP ticket – vide Gammanpila’s departure. What fear of an alleged emerging Maithri-JHU axis may do is endanger Ceylon Tamil, Muslim and Upcountry Tamil votes where at least the first two were a guaranteed anti-Mahinda block. This is risking 18% to 24% sure-votes for a small vote that the JHU may be able to swing in the Dharmapala Belt (Nugegoda-Maharagama-Kotte).
Is Sirisena going to visit Jaffna? What is he going to tell them about devolution, the misery of the IDPs and militarization of civilian life? I am assured by those who know him that Maithri is a decent man and a good choice for Ceremonial President, but he seems not so good in seeing the big political picture; Ranil and the CBK-Cluster must step in and deliver on their contract with the nation.
I now need to define CBK-Cluster. Maithri is a lightweight and a hither-and-thither personality. The real powers mobilising anti-Paksa sentiment within the SLFP are the old traditionals who resent hijacking of the party by sleazy gangsters and of course Bandaranaike loyalists. Add to this the fifth column; those who may cross-over later and those who stay inside, collect a few million and wink at the anti-Rajapaksa brigade outside. It is CBK and the traditional SLFPers who call the shots in this game, not Maithri. Then there are non-SLFPers like Rajitha and his influence domain, Rajiva and the small but intellectual Liberal party, and the non-UNP liberal middle and upper classes. For want of a better term I call this entire collective the CBK-Cluster though many are not actually Chandrika personal loyalists.
JVP cum Left-Cluster
Anura Kumara may be uncomfortable on a platform dominated by Ranil, CBK, Rathana, Champika and Maithri and I guess so is Bahu. The tasks of the left at this moment are not identical with those of the NDF though they overlap. The crucial overlap is a commitment to defeating Mahinda, abolishing EP and restoring democracy. Where they do not overlap is socio-economics and an enlightened approach to the Minorities. The JVP is insensitive to Tamils; otherwise I would have said an enlightened approach to Devolution. Leaving 13A+ to one side, the shared concerns of the JVP and the Left-Cluster are: “Will the NDF abolish EP and restore substantial democracy? Will it prosecute corrupt and mobster UPFA politicos? Can JHU influence over Maithri be curbed so that Tamils and Muslims are not alienated and space kept open for a democratic approach to the national question at a later day?”
The JVP and the Left-Cluster should work together; the former as the largest party should summon a working group. (The FSP, a few stray atoms circulating around it and Sirirtunga have chosen to abandon the mass movement and regress into the wilderness; that’s their choice, they have to be ignored).
Some obvious items for a joint agenda are:-
- Ensuring the defeat of the incumbent President while holding the NDF strictly to account in respect of its own programme and promises.
- Ensuring that the election is not annulled and foiling attempts to thwart the transfer of power. Anura’s concept of independent mass mobilisation is very valid.
- Insisting, post 8 January, on genuine democratisation – unshackling the judiciary, a new style 17A, ending police abuses, a freedom of information act, investigation of disappearances and ending threats on journalists.
- Investigation and prosecution of graft on overseas projects and local embezzlement.
- Cleaning up the corporate bureaucracy and the diplomatic service both of which are riddled with place-seekers and nepotistic appointees.
- Dismantling the Basil Rajapakse Economic Empire and injecting economic rationality.
- Promoting reconciliation and extending a hand of friendship to the Minorities.
[I am NOT asking that the war-crimes issue be placed on the agenda of a putative JVP cum Left-Cluster gathering since consensus will be impossible].
Points 4 to 7 have been added because the original Single Issue concept has now turned into a two-stage process. Stage 1 is the basic SI objective to be accomplished in 100-days or six months. Stage 2 – points 4 to 7 – reaches beyond this period but is still limited to a bourgeois democratic programme within the NDF’s reach. I concede that it is not high sounding principles of abolishing EP, democracy etc that is urgent for people in economic hardship. Now that it is to be a two year, not a six month transition, it will not be limited to Stage 1 SI objectives. Industrialisation, employment creation, investment strategy and policy will be on the agenda though limited to a rather puzzling two-year perspective. Discussion of these matters is beyond the purview of today’s piece.