27 May, 2018

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Sri Lankan Politics 2015-2018: From Fantasies Of Unipolar Hegemony To The Reality Of Multipolarity & Resistance

By Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

The Yahapalana project was predicted upon the assumption that the UNP and SLFP together would amass such an overwhelming preponderance of votes that the coalition would establish a stable hegemony in Sri Lankan politics, possibly leading to a fusion of the two parties into a center-right behemoth, reversing the split off by SWRD Bandaranaike and restoring the uni-polarity of the system and the UNP dominance of 1947-1956.

Today that dream of bipartisan centre-right hegemony of the pro-western bloc in Sri Lankan affairs looks pathetically ridiculous as it lies broken and scattered. Far from a stable unipolar hegemony, Sri Lankan politics is more multipolar than ever before.

Someday, as early as 18 months from now, when this time is viewed in retrospect, the main observation will be how blind the elites, both the decision-making and the opinion-making, were; how distant they were from the people and their sentiments and how deaf they were to the rumblings of a social volcano of proto-revolutionary proportions.

All the signs are there right now though. What happens when the protracted crisis of a political party, which is in government, coincides with a dramatically mounting economic crisis? The UNP is the country’s second oldest political party. Never in its 70 year history has it been out of the apex of power and the top leadership role in the country for as long as it has been during this stretch: a quarter century. The other main contender for power, the SLFP has never been out of the top spot for 25 years. The UNP has had lean stretches before in its long history, but even in defeat it has been led by large personalities who were popular, and had a broad personal constituency and support base. This is manifestly not the case today. During this entire period of almost quarter century out of the top spot, the UNP has been led by one man. Today there is open dissent against his leadership; dissent that makes it to the TV news almost every single day.

The UNP which, while in office, would have impressive marches on May Day, culminating in a huge rally on Galle Face Green, is today devoid of the capacity to mobilize a march, and penned itself into the Sugathadasa indoor stadium at which even this writer, in an earlier avatar of Executive Director of the Premadasa center, has spearheaded a May Day event back in 1997. Today’s UNP, though in office, has no powerful Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya to organize a May Day parade.

These manifold manifestations of the crisis of the UNP take place less than 18 months before a national election. What if the election were held tomorrow? In what shape will the UNP be in, this time next year?

What we are witnessing is the crumbling of the UNP. It has already been beaten into second place by the Pohottuwa. Though its strategists are counting on the abolition of the executive presidency, projections show that at a parliamentary election the UNP would clock 60 seats while the JO-Pohottuwa would clock 120. So there’s no comfort there either. Wherever the UNP turns it is a dead-end.

All of this comes on top of a rupee that is at its historic lowest, a flat-lining stock market, an economic growth rate that is the lowest in 16 years and a rise in the price of staples. 

As a conscious, if precocious young observer, I’ve seen the UNP from 1965 through to its defeat in 1970– and of course from that point forward. I must say I have never seen the UNP in as bad a shape as it is now. I venture to predict on the record that at the next nationwide election, the UNP will plunge to its lowest ever percentage. It will be the worst defeat in the UNP’s history.

The only silver lining for the UNP is Sajith Premadasa’s speech at Sugathadasa stadium and the uniquely tumultuous applause both he and it received. ITN cameras repeatedly cross-cut to the supercilious smirks and bemused exchanges between Ranil Wickremesinghe, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam and Navin Dissanaike, as Sajith made a blistering critique of neoliberal economics, exposed the horrendously unequal distribution of wealth, emotively invoked his father, President Ranasinghe Premadasa, and rolled out an electorally compelling, pro-peasant/pro-youth populist policy package. 

Sajith is the sole populist in the front ranks of a party dominated by an unpopular neoliberal globalist elite, at a time that populism is on the rise globally and neoliberal globalism is on the retreat. Way ahead in the UNP leadership stakes, he won’t get there in time to salvage the party in 2019 despite his super-subtle signaling that he hasn’t ruled out running as candidate (“endorsed by hundreds of thousands at Galle Face Green”). When the party crashes and burns in 2019, he will get the chance of leading it into the parliamentary battle of 2020.

The SLFP too is at its lowest ebb ever, in terms of electoral percentage. It is in a governing coalition and yet, its trade union wing just broke away and the party is unable to mobilize a parade for May Day either. 16 MPs have broken away from the Unity government, moving into the oppositional space which over 50 SLFP MPs had opted to stay in, back in August 2015. Thus the great majority of SLFP parliamentarians and voters are in Opposition, with only the Chandrika-ist rump faction of 23, remaining in government. If anything, the number in opposition will increase, not decrease. This too is just one Vesak Poya away from a national election.

The SLFP however, is better placed then the UNP. It has two options. Either it goes with Mahinda Rajapaksa or regrows its base by fighting had as an independent Opposition party albeit with links to the President. The latter project may not quite work because the link to the incumbent may be counterproductive in the scenario of a massive anti-incumbency wave. But the SLFP retains the option of throwing in its lot with Mahinda Rajapaksa – and his designated Presidential candidate—thereby clambering on board a winning coalition bandwagon. The UNP by contrast, has no such option between now and 2019-2020.  It is doomed. 

The only hope for UNP MPs is to imitate the Pohottuwa and the SLFP Sixteen and break away, sitting in Opposition as an independent entity (as Dayasiri Jayasekara argued for in 2011). Better still, the UNP dissidents and the SLFP rebels could form a new moderate centrist formation in the Opposition.

Meanwhile, in the penultimate year before decisive national elections, the government has just hiked the price of staples: milk powder and cooking gas. I have never seen a government quite so suicidal. Does it suffer from collective lunacy, perhaps?

Chandrika and the West’s formula of an UNP-SLFP government has fallen apart. The UNP’s vote base has shrunk as has the SLFP’s. The SLFP fig-leaf that remains in government hardly has any votes attached to it. Neither the UNP nor the SLFP can have May Day parades nor can they join in order to muster a larger crowd on the occasion, which can even remotely rival Mahinda Rajapaksa’s mobilization in Galle. 

If anything surer than anything else it is that the Yahapalana regime change of January 2015 and its agenda, are bound to be overthrown and its agenda reversed later next year. What is not known is just how violent the overthrow or, more correctly, its aftermath– will be, and how deeply and durably Yahapalanaya and its neoliberal globalist agenda will be buried.

The government has not only hit the living standards of the masses, it has alienated itself from nationalist and even basic national sentiments. Those who recall the election of 1956 and 1970—the so-called Silent Revolutions—will remember the role of the Buddhist clergy in the election campaigns. Can anyone doubt that the Sangha will mobilize itself and plunge into the campaign next year?       

The most interesting immediate question in Sri Lankan politics is: how much impact will the SLFP rebels have, how effective will they be and how many others will join their ranks? But the most important question in Sri Lankan politics is this: who will Mahinda Rajapaksa’s choice of Presidential candidate be– Gotabhaya or Chamal Rajapaksa? One of these two will be elected President next year. The only puzzle is which one it will be. 

What the last nail in the government’s coffin will prove to be, has already been spotlighted by the most authoritative columnist on Tamil politics. The TNA, whose leader is in usurpation of the seat of the Leader of the Opposition, is due to launch a campaign of non-violent agitation calling for the implementation of the Government’s alleged promise of a new Constitution. He says that MA Sumanthiran and Jayampathy Wickremaratne have a draft which can be fast-tracked in two weeks, if the Government gives the green-light. If not, the ITAK will endorse at its convention in June, the slogan of a non-violent campaign of agitation. He discloses that such a campaign had been planned and thousands of Gandhi caps stitched for use in late 2014, but was halted by the victory of the Yahapalana regime change project. So the caps will be dusted off for use from mid-year 2018.    

Now, one doubts that the TNA seriously wants a new Constitution. If it does, why would it not reach out to the man who controls the largest bloc of Opposition MPs and more crucially, the largest bloc of Sinhala votes in the country– Mahinda Rajapaksa? Why would the TNA prop up a wobbly Prime Minister on a controversial issue, instead of remaining above the fray? And why would it do all this a mere 18 months away from national elections?  Perhaps the explanation is that Northern Tamil politics has no tradition of thinking realistically. 

No matter. At a time when the government is on the decline and the Sinhala Alt Right on the rise, nothing is calculated to bury the Yahapalanites electorally—if not by a more dramatic kind of political intervention for which South Asia, Asia and the global South used to be notorious, with Sri Lanka and India being notable exceptions—than agitation for a new, non-unitary Constitution, in the North. Nothing could be more conducive to generate a hardline majoritarian nationalist backlash which any Opposition candidate will feel tempted to surf.

Of course it may well be the case that the planned Northern agitation is intended by foreign intelligence agencies to set the stage for a Kosovo-Kurdistan type separatist outcome once the inevitable happens and the Rajapaksas return to power.

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Latest comments

  • 5
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    Mr Editor, can we please have a simple title to this piece by this man so that our jaws could be spared?

    • 3
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      Dayan lost all his memories about the period between 2005 and 2015.

      • 3
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        Blood thirsty public racist DJ would be searching for a better post.

        No doubt, over 3 yyears without any post to be boasted of,.. he and his partner would have been passing a boring period.
        This man as an Ambassador to France last time, had done nothing but shamlessly added that many things to have mastered during his tenure.
        Lankens in general talk a lot even if the drop what they have been uttering are done dujring their terms.

    • 4
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      Gramberg

      I beg you to bear with this name dropping public racist.
      When one runs out of gray matter one has to rely on gimmicks.
      Please read the content and let us know what we will miss if we ignore his typing.

      • 1
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        NATIVE, you mist be MAD!

        With a title like that, do you expect me to go any further and dive into the contents?

  • 5
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    As no time before, we have democracy seen in the country today.
    Even ones close to President secreatariat are caught by corurptoin.
    If Ballige putha ruled the nation, even if a murder was the case, he would never allow it to reveal.
    We perfectlly know the ballige putha how he cover the murder of Bharatha laskhmana.

    This man MR is filled with over 64 mayam which normally a woman should have.

    He even cried a lot at the time, Lasanthas murder was done.. but he knew that his brother was the killer.
    That is how (edited out) rajapakshe beahved. not even his own family is aware of the real face of their father and husband.
    Criminal family ruined the country.

    Thanks to Mr Sirisenas at least under you we have basics of democrarzy restored.

    Djayathilaka the condom support of former Pres woudl do anything and everything to be part of them.
    He just does so to be in good books only. He is no mean s a hearted person.. His theories and analyses are just jokes.

  • 0
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    I also say both the SLFP, UNP are at it’s lowest. Sri lankan politics very unstable. None of the major political parties can not win on their own. JVP also looks lost politically and they get used to the kind of politics that Two major parties engaged in. LSSP has different views dependign on the whichpoliticians are you talking to. Because of the benefits of a party leader may be, there are so many three wheeler political parties. Becuse of the political unstability Trade Unions, religious groups are involving politcs. Foreign countries most USA, EU and India also are involved inthe Sri lanka political system. Politicians have beomce simply shamelss thieves. There are playing very low class game. I feel the samething withmany political analysts DJ, KUMAR DAVID etc., who are playing another dirty game to support those parties. some others – Laksiri Fernanado, Yuangoda apparently have moved away from pathetic party politics while some others have stepped in or are stepping in; vishvamithra. ANyway, I think a democratic party constituion in selelcting a leader would remove most of these obstacles. It looks they are emptying banks and every toehr places in order to fattenthey themselves and do politics. Maithriapal sirisena doe snot look like a saint. MR and Ranil are not requied. MR knows he is doing politics for his dynasty building project which is not finished. Ranil’s objecitv eI awant to be the president which he would eventhe worst way. Some talk about everfy available method in the book which givers them the power. Simply think about if one has to negotiate with every three wheeler party everytime, now TNA is asking to double their no of seats to keep their status as a prominent Tamil political party, muslims producing parties every five years or so, some one producing Progressive JVP to countr act JVP -all look disgusting.

  • 0
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    Sajith, NAvin and Akila viraj KAriavasam are all big shots in a place where that old boys club is operating. It is because we are the oldest people, favoured people or people from Royal college etc., etc., eventhe professors, educate dpeople are just MPs. Once these big shots become ministers they fill their department just by looking a list and if you have my approval or my supporter. It is not point of dsicussing, anything has to start with a democratic party constituion which allows the capable to come above the others. IF not Protestants are fighting for their share. SO, UK,Euope, USA etc., all have some say for Indian OCean politics and Trade.

    • 4
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      Jim softy Dimwit

      “Sajith, NAvin and Akila viraj KAriavasam are all big shots in a place where that old boys club is operating.”

      What are you talking about.
      Are you talking about these individuals and their respective contribution to the ordinary people or are you obsessed with their family?
      Arsonists, racists, mass murderers, crooks, robber barons cannot be considered big shots. Are you going nuts?

      • 0
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        Dumb Native Vedda: I heard YOu are a failed journalist and wanted to work even in the middle east as a journalist and there the accomodations were too expensive. Now work for protestants operatig from the bible belt in Srilanka.
        what family. KAriawasam is from the Protestant group Two other s are dumb and only the fmily name. We know how one became a robber barron by looting the Tea industrieis till. HE has a in law with the similar background. Otherone has a resume that is his Dad’s one and he does not have one.

        • 2
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          Jim softy the dimwit

          You are too tired go back to sleep.

    • 0
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      Dear JS
      I like your observation on the need for “Democratic Party Constitution” would be a great step forward.

      How are we generating the next generation of politicians throughout the country irrespective of the party politics ? is the respective parties invest in technocrats like in Singapore? This is QA/QC issue we are suffering across the board.

      I also observe your comment on parties reinventing themselfs for them to be relevant……..thinking if we can ban race/religious/language based parties then perhaps we can change the mindset of the people too??….this may even lead to more “One SriLanka” concept parties with fresh faces for the next generation of voters talking subject maters more exciting than this race/religion/language/Lanka is “mine not yours” kind of kiddy stuff?

  • 3
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    Here is a Title I found on the web earlier:
    Multipolar Myths and Unipolar Fantasies
    February 2015
    By Goedele De Keersmaeker
    http://aei.pitt.edu/63600/1/SPB60-.pdf

    Here is another title I found on the web:
    Unipolar Strategy In A Multipolar World
    MARCH 4, 2018
    PAUL PILLAR
    https://lobelog.com/unipolar-
    strategy-in-a-multipolar-world/

    • 0
      0

      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

    • 2
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      Thank you Native Vedda.

      He does not read the books because he cannot understand.
      This how DJ impresses his circle and Lord Naseby.

      • 1
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        K.Pillai

        Please don’t thank me, thank Dayan.
        Without him we won’t be having so much fun.

  • 0
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    Dayan Jayathilake: Polioticians are busy manovering for political advantages for the next election. Countries are busy in sucking life blood out of Sri lanka. IT looks everything is in side the country. But these dirty hyenas are interested only political manoeverings evenwhen they meet foreinger politicians. anyway, I hear that foreign countries are busy collecting data, information and endemic everything for the need of developing more commercial products, military advantages and economic advantages etc., I have heard Japan had been collecting data in sri lanka. they also have the only patent for a medicinal tree for Diabetis ant that tree is endemic to Sri lanka. the same thing is carried out by the USA. the recetn Navy ship visit, what I heard the Tamil Lawyer heading the BASL is doing what Mangala Samaraweera is doing with MCC money fall into that category. In the middle of this even europena countries do this. Our University academics are, I read these thigns, carrying sri lankan everything for study purpsoes to overseas universities. For them that is commercial advantages. I heard this university academics involvment in data and information collecting is comon in the world and they involve in something called DE-BRIEFING (they explain what is happening in the different parts of the world and what they can achieve with those information). is seomthing very common and agents from different countries pretty often attend those. Even Face book, Twitter, Instagram and so many more are like this.

  • 5
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    Pathetic Dayan is trying best to convince his pay master Mahinda. He is trying get the support of TNA to his master Mahinda. I think he has given up Gotapaya after Mahinda choose his other brother for presidency. Yes Mahinda has a support of majority Sinhala but that majority is not sufficient for Mahinda to become Prime Minister or his brother to become President. Tamils know very well about Mahinda and his crimes against Tamils. Tamils cannot forgive a man who massacred over 50000 Tamils and how cheated the whole world..

  • 1
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    DJ is daydreaming again~ “………we are witnessing is the crumbling of the UNP. It has already been beaten into second place by the Pohottuwa………….”.
    Of course DJ fully supports use of the cowardly language/religion-divide.
    .
    DJ stupid question ~ “Why would the TNA prop up a wobbly Prime Minister on a controversial issue……..”.
    You have been told repeatedly that, had the TNA abstained from voting at the NCM, the result would have been the same!
    .
    DJ chinthanaya ~ “………Perhaps the explanation is that Northern Tamil politics has no tradition of thinking realistically……”.
    Should they have taken all the pogroms as just very small aberrations and kept quiet?
    Tell us DJ, why the hell were you in Tamil liberation movement EPRLF and even held a ministerial appointment?

  • 0
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    “Nothing could be more conducive to generate a hardline majoritarian nationalist backlash which any Opposition candidate will feel tempted to surf.”

    The need of the man on the street is not a new constitution. What about the other 100 promises this government made, and the huge development they promised ten times the development with recovered allegedly stolen funds.

    There was never a chance of a new government with the same old people. If the previous government was corrupt, lets say for arguments sake, then having the ministers from the previous government means that the new government has the same corrupt people, unless they changed overnight.

    Sarath Fonseka said the other day he advised Ranil to run alone. He should have stepped forward as the UNP candidate in 2015 like a man and let the cards fall wherever they fall. Remember that the UPFA candidate was MR, and the common candidate was from a new party. Ranil ran the risk of running a two-faced government and paid the price.

    An UNP breakaway coalition with the TNA onboard is a good bet, but no one has the courage to do it.

  • 2
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    this guy is good at imagining headlines but he vomits the same old rubbish under different headlines

    • 2
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      Rajash

      “this guy is good at imagining headlines but he vomits the same old rubbish under different headlines”

      Be warned your brain is slowing down.
      He does not imagine headlines, he plagiarize them and twist them abit, and present them to the lazy Sri Lankans as if he had coined the phrase.

      Above I have given you two examples I found earlier in WWW domain.
      Basically name dropping.

  • 1
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    Dayan like to hear a fabricated story about late Mervyn Silva. Haven’t heard any fiction from you about him lately.

  • 1
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    dayan
    what would happen if the rajapaksa family members are finally convicted and are in jail as they should be-gota,basil namal and yoshita
    who will be their presidential candidate?
    you will have a good chance as any so get ready

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