30 June, 2022


Sobitha Movement In Retreat

By Sumanasiri Liyanage

Sumanasiri Liyanage

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.

SobithaLet 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: sumane_l@yahoo.com

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Latest comments

  • 7

    Sirisena is unfit for the role of a reformer. He is a cheap thug who has no respect for the rule of law.

    People with common sense must seize this moment to widen the spaces for democratic critique and transparency and accountability to the law. The first step to do is to expose this rat. [Edited out]

    • 4

      Dr Liyanage, you have hit the nail on the head. “First it failed to develop a strong social movement that is going beyond Kotte Naga Vihara.”

      This movement was a fraud that only existed on paper. It never had any significant membership. Sobhita thera just tried to create a movement out of nothing.

      The same is true with Athuraliye Ratana thero’s PH movement. Not even all the HU members are involved in this.

      Finally, the entire collective is made up of bitter individuals like mangal Samaraweera, Rajitha and Fonseka who dont have a power base, but just hard feelings towards president Rajapkse.

      They are doomed.

  • 7

    I am still wondering why MR called for a Presidential election when he still had two more years to finish his second term.

    In the next two years he could have finished change of electorate compositions in the North and East to ensure Tamil representation in Parliament or in the N and E provincial council to be insignificant. He could have “helped” enough of the Sinhala voters with free lands and settlement allowances, Sinhala Schools etc to win their votes. He would have built Buddhist Vihara’s in every Pradeshiasabai in the N and E to woo the Sangha and the dissident Buddhist Clergy into his fold. He would have helped more than half the armed forces and their families in the N and E to establish businesses including tourist industries. The Military would have kept the natives in the N and E under control though by threats and “pacification programs”.

    While reading all the articles and comments on the election since MR announced to hold presidential elections I remembered what Governor Okilo of the Rivers State,Nigeria, did. I think it was in 1984. He wanted to identify his enemies within his party and to sideline them. He announced he was not going to be a candidate in the next Governor’s election.

    Immediately many from his parties and close associates announced their candidacy and started distancing themselves away from Okilo and criticised his policies and corruption. Once the “Rats” jumped ship, Okilo announced he was contesting. He sacked all of the “Rats.” He was “elected” Governor again.

    MR did the reverse to fret out his dissenters. He probably did this with the advice of his smart brother BR who helped bring MR to win the 2005 elections. Now, MR knows who his and his family’s friends are. His opposition are in disarray.

    If MR wins, which seem likely, he may not sack those who left him. He may bring some back into his fold and give them some lowly positions to enjoy some perks by sharing a tiny percentage of his potential future family “income” to compensate for the dissenters “income” they would have earned if they had won. Such is politics in Sri Lanka. TNA wisely is keeping themselves out of this “family” quarrel.

    • 4

      NEthir… has got it wrong. MR called the election to rejuvenate his presidency to control the next Parliamentary elections. If the parliament is against him he loses control of everything. If he waited for the full term, the war would all forgotten and one of his main winning slogans is lost..so best is to ensure another 6 year reign (or more) and ensure a longer reign by being able to nominate whom he wants as candidates for the parliamentary election. If he continued for the entire term, he would ‘lame duck’ for the balance term. You are right on one score, this has given him the opportunity to identify the ‘deserting rats’..!

      • 5

        Gota may have supported an early PE with the UN verdict hanging
        out there – to save his skin.

        Mohan P and 10 Judges may have to be thanked for the opportunity given, 2 yrs. ahead, to decide the fate of sri lanka – the last
        and only chance to SB Voters.

  • 11

    My3 had a humble beginning and much clean records over the years. We cannot expect him to do miracles once elected as president but the most important issues should be addressed. Health minister is one of the easiest post to get massive commissions but he remained clean over the years. We expect him to lead by those examples. We expect him to eradicate corruption, which will never be an easy task without executive powers. Having all that power and 2/3rd majority in parliament the present leader only adopted the bad practices. MR has failed as a leader to improve the quality of life of our citizens. He was only interested in increasing the wealth of his family members. Irrespective of race, religion or caste, one should be able to live with dignity in their own motherland. As a nation we should never let any kind of Terrorism whether it is Sinhala JVP, Tamil LTTE or Muslim Jihad to lift its head again in the country. I believe My3 can lead the country with the support from the best in its field such as Fonseka for military, Ranil for economy, CBK for foreign policy, and Ven. Maduluwave Sobhitha for spiritual aspects.

  • 10

    The problem with some people are they give more importance to theories, words and phrases; and create issues without giving emphasis to the reality which is at the present moment is the urgent need to get rid of the evil Govt. The opposition coalition, although composed of diverse groups and views, is very clear in restoring basic democratic systems that are necessary to prevent the country from falling into the grip of a powerful family dictatorship. The focus should be on this need than any other minor ifs’ and buts’.

  • 4

    The writer is the co-cordinator of Marx School. But, we do not know whether this so called Marx school exists and if so where does it exists. The writer is also the Vice Chancellor of ‘SANASA’ university in Kegalle, which is a private university established by the Kiriwandeniya dynasty. Mr. Kiriwandeniya, the founder of SANASA cooperative societies and then the ‘SANASA’ Bank is a close ally of Rajapakse Regime. Now his daughter Samadani Kiriwandeniya is the chairperson of the SANASA banks. Since Sumane was appointed as the vice chancellor of the SANASA university, he cannot afford to oppose Rajapakse. So, he has opted for the safe option of supporting the FSP candidate Duminda Nagamu. When the reader reads Sumanasiri’s article, she must have the right to information to know where the writer’s real loyalties are lying.

    • 0

      I held Sumane Liyanage in much esteem until I read this. That Mafiosi
      truism of “making him an offer he cannot refuse” seems to be overtaking
      even our decent men and women of learning.


  • 2

    Another Intelligentsia bites the dust..Or should we say retired hurt?..

    “My Three Chintana” is totally different to “Sobitha Maithree Balaya” to knife the President..

    My three Chintana is more about getting the SLFP to CBK camp to form the Government and hold the Presidency, as well as eliminating Rajapaksas….

    And ensure young Ms Kumaratunga Bandaranayaka becomes the President or PM in the future .

    And give our inhabitants the Guinness record of electing three Bandas to rule them. from Grand Ma to grand Daughter.

    Perhaps , Ranil who is supposed to be more cunning than a Fox, finally got shafted by his old cousin who used to play marbles with him as kids.

    That is according to my Elders…

  • 4

    A single issue candidate cannot contest and win a Presidential election in SL. More so when the incumbent is a proven Dictator and an Authoritarian who will never hold free and fair elections as all SL can plainly see today. While Rev. Sobhitha’s movement may have pure intentions, he would not have stood a chance as a sigle issue candidate against the MR machinery of ill repute. Selection of MS of the SLFP is a master stroke considering this scenario. The Dictator can be defeated only if a broad alliance can be formed. That is what has been achieved now. MS has to walk a tight rope to appease the various groups within the alliance. The main focus of the Alliance should first be to achieve the electoral win as a United Front. Thereafter, by consultation, compromise and consensus, the main policies of each member of the Alliance need to be addressed. This is not the time for each party of the alliance to talk about their agendas. That has to be done behind closed doors.

    MR too has diverse Groups within his Alliance. He has managed to appease them by bribery and corruption including a jumbo cabinet. That is not what the Maithree Chinthanya stands for.

    • 0

      Th win an election, you need a vision that fires the voters and polls votes.
      It doesn’t matter even if the vision is chimerical.

      Liyanage, and also Kumar David, have absolutely no idea about the feelings or aspirations of the common man. To launch a political movement to out a very strong incumbent on a “constitutional issue” that the public had got used to, since the time of JRJ is complete naivety. Further more, just recently, in 2010, Kumar David had not worry what so ever in handing over this dangerous executive presidency to a very ambitious and democratically unproven Army General.

      I think David and Liyanage should continue to read Althusser, Gramasci, Lenin, and others, and deconstruct them for a few more decades, to find out what the people in Kurunegala are thinking of. Remember, Colvin and NM refused to recognize the parliamentary approach from the 1930s to 1970. L.S.S.P. affirmed that its ultimate objective lay along that of “a direct mass struggle alone and not through parliamentary devices and manuoeuvers.” (See A. J. Wilson, “Oppositional Politics in Ceylon (1947-68),” Government and Opposition, Vol. 4 No. 1 Winter 1969)

      The Left leaders received their education during the period following the Russian revolution. When they spoke of “direct mass struggle” they adopted the rhetoric and imagery of the Russian revolution. They were by practice democrats at their own social level, who hoped to get others to do the dirty work. There is no reason why direct mass struggle cannot be democratic if done via parliament.

      But the Left talked of capturing power by strikes and Bolshevik action, the Right talked peace and practiced oppression. The specter of an anti-religious Marxist dictatorship was raised even in the 1970 elections. The Left’s ambivalence prevented it from having a workable social program or a valid social philosophy.

      The Left had to retain its worker constituency in the hope that its “revolutionary” program would somehow be realized, ignoring political realities. Its Sinhala-Tamil parity policy was crafted to suite the roughly equal Sinhala-Tamil demographic composition of the GCSU (its perceived instrument of revolution) and NOT because of claimed high principles; it gave those up as soon as it entered the SLFP govt and crafted the 1972 constitution of Colvin.

      The Left’s use of the strike weapon through unions served more the propaganda of the Right. When the JVP arrived with its 1971 rbellion the Left was dumbfounded. Today, the Liyanages and Kumar Davids are the followers of that failed line of thinking who are struggling to form a coherent social analysis while staying within a 19th century framework. A framework which reduces the dynamics of social evolution to a simplicity not much better than the 5 lessons of the JVP (possible taught in this Marxist school?).

      Today, Leftist preoccupation is NOT related to democratic principles, but because the only issue that they could think for uniting the opposition was this! Sirisena had done much better in trying to raise the issue of corruption.
      Even today the Leftists are happy to see the Rathupaswela uprising by uninformed villagers who do not know much about natural periodic processes in Soil Chemistry and changing pH. So it must be capitalists polluting the soil.

  • 1

    Ven. Sobitha hadn’t retreated voluntarily for I know very well that he loves the game of politics and what he thinks best to the country. Both Sobitha and Ranil was pushed aside by those with deep pockets, the western embassies. Anyway, now that My3s manifesto is out, his hidden motives are exposed. Wait and see, there will be more questions than answers and everyone in the fruit-salad combine will be dissatisfied and start to abandon the raft.

  • 1

    First of all Maduluwawe Sobhitha thera who initiated the National Movement for Justice has not criticized Maithree(benevolent)pala Sirisena’s manifesto. However, others like Kumar David and this guy Sumanasiri have criticized it. Don’t know the hidden agenda of Mr Sumanasiri Liyanage.

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