By Sumanasiri Liyanage –
National Movement for Justice (NMSJ), a movement that was initiated by Rev. Maduluwawe Sobhitha has planned to hold its first convention on December 23, 2014. The idea that ‘single issue common candidate’ should run at the next presidential election was mooted by Prof Kumar David. Because of the delicacy of the issue, it was suggested that it would be better to have a single issue common candidate without party affiliation. Even Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna appeared to be in favor of this idea. The unanimous decision was that Rev.Maduluwawe Sobhitha should run as the single issue common candidate at the next presidential election. Hence, it began as a new social movement with limited objectives but independent of oppositional political structures. An interesting point that should be emphasized is that NMSJ initiated a discussion aimed at the presidential election when the main opposition party, the United National Party, was in total disarray. Nonetheless, the emergence of NMSJ had become a stimulant for oppositional forces to rally around the issue of democracy that was highly curtailed by Mahinda Rajapaksa regime’s growing tendency towards authoritarianism. I think it was at the same time that another democracy movement, purawesi balaya. Was formed. However, a clear difference between two movements is visible although both have raised essentially common demands. While NMSJ may be placed in ‘center left’, puravesi balaya was grounded on neoliberal democracy. So I believe that the USA and EU preferred and might have supported the latter. Following usual new social pattern, NMSJ had developed short strategy of constitutional change focusing on the abolition of the executive presidential system and the setting up of independent commissions annulled by the 18th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution.
Let me make a confession. I was sympathetic to the idea of the NMSJ so that I informed I would support Rev. Sobhitha candidacy at a presidential election. However, I was skeptic on two counts. First, I saw a chance of eventually sidelining Rev. Sobhitha to field another candidate who had strong party structure to back him or her. In such a situation, I felt that the proposed constitutional changes might not be materialized. Secondly, I saw it as an elite movement that focused only on democratic issues such as good governance, rule of law, human rights. Of course it is imperative to have basic democratic rights to build a just society. The specific issues of subaltern democracy were left out. Democratic issues raised by rural people, free trade zone workers, urban eviction through accumulation by dispossession, student struggles were not emphasized or excluded. One may argue that is a necessary corollary of a short term strategy. Hence my suspicion was that the NMSJ would at one point be eventually either sidelined by or absorbed to strong political structures.
If we reflect upon the events that were unfolded in the last two months or so, we have to sadly note that the place Rev Sobhith’s NMSJ has had is marginal. Although Maithripala Sirisena, main oppositional candidate, has mentioned NMSJ in his Election Manifesto, he has totally marginalized its demands. Take the issue of the abolition of executive presidency! There is no ambiguity in this demand. Dr N M Perera wrote a book anticipating almost all the developments that took place under the Second Republic Constitution of 1978. The principal proponent of the Executive Presidential System was late J R Jayewardene. If my memory is correct, he proposed this in late 1960s and the idea was vehemently opposed by late Dudley Senanayake, undeniably the best liberal democrat politician in Sri Lanka. Within the framework of liberal democracy, the abolition of executive presidential system is to establish the Westminister system of government. There is no ambiguity here and NMSJ stood for that. The demand is not new. It was raised by the social movements in pre-1994. It was specifically mentioned in the election manifesto of the Peoples’ Alliance.
Maithripala Sirisena’s election manifesto is out. What did it say on the issue of the abolition of executive presidency? It says: he will abolish “the executive presidential system with unlimited powers”. That was sub heading. In the text he talked about changing the post of executive president. Further down, the manifesto informed us: “instead of the present autocratic Executive Presidential System, I will introduce a Constitutional structure with an Executive that is allied to the Parliament through the Cabinet’. This is total deviation from the NMSJ proposal. Not only Maithripala Sirisena is playing with words to misguide people of Sri Lanka, he lied to himself. I referred to my oxford English Dictionary and found the word “abolish” has completely different meaning from the word “change”. What Maithripala Sirisena proposed is to have the same executive presidential system with a little bit of scrapping. Chandriaka Bandaranaike and Mahinda Rajapaksa developed their greediness to this powerful executive presidential system after them tasting its flavor. However, Maithripala Sirisena developed the greediness to this enormous power even before he has a chance of tasting it.
Why was NMSJ sidelined? Two reasons. First it failed to develop a strong social movement that is going beyond Kotte Naga Vihara. NMSJ did not make attempt to integrate with multiple social movements of the lower classes of society. Secondly, when a movement is capitulated to Parliamentarism, it has to compete with strong Parliamentary structures. Hence, the UNP, Jathika Hela Urumaya and Purawesi Balaya came forward and began dominate the democracy movement. Can NMSJ encounter this threat? Can it force Maithripala Sirisena to amend his Manifesto? I have my doubts.
*The writer is the co-cordinator of Marx School – e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org