25 June, 2022


Sumanasiri Liyanage’s Mis-“Reading Election Manifestos”

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

If there is any positive contribution, at this stage of the forthcoming presidential elections, in what Sumanasiri Liyanage has outlined as “Reading Election Manifestos,” then that is his mentioning of several social movements that emerged in the recent past, raising several socio-economic and political issues and opposing the repressive nature of the Rajapaksa regime.

Even here he has segregated them into two, and conveniently undermined the first as “urban and elitist.” He has added that they work within the “economic-legal structure of neoliberalism.”

As far as I am concerned, a democracy movement, by definition is a multiclass movement. Therefore, his segregation is not only counterproductive but also divisive. However, he has another point in vaguely saying that what was present before 1994 is now absent.

To him that is the “power-sharing element” or “going beyond the 13th Amendment.” In my generic terms, what is lacking is multiculturalism or multi-ethnicity. This is something I have pointed out in my previous articles. To me, any forceful democracy movement in Sri Lanka should be both multiclass and multicultural/multiethnic. What specific elements that such a movement should entail is a matter left for the participants. What is important first is the participation and encouragement of diverse communities in such a movement and not mere lip service.


What is particularly mistaken in his interpretation of the present situation, in my view, is his failure to see a connection between the emergent social movements and the common opposition. Not that he is completely oblivious to such a connection, but he seems to believe that the common opposition has already betrayed the social cause which I don’t subscribe to. His analysis or interpretation is too much of leftish or pseudo-leftist.

It is undoubtedly correct that in a formal democratic framework, when major elections are held, social movements may fall on the back seat. That is evident in certain respects in Sri Lanka today. Formal political parties (i.e. UNP) and formal political leaders (i.e. MS, RW, CBK) naturally come to the forefront. Moreover, one cannot expect a revolution from an election process.

However, what is important is that the voters also come to the forefront at an election. What people or activists who value democracy can expect from an election is a governmental change and a window of opportunity. If that opportunity is created, then the social movements can move on. If that opportunity is not created, the major casualties will be those who lead these movements unless they betray themselves to the regime. Perhaps this happened after 1994.

In the case of Sri Lanka it is crucially important to defeat the incumbent government and that means the incumbent President. Not that ideal democracy could be created thereafter, but the deterioration of democracy and the authoritarian presidential rule can be halted. Of course it is not democracy that Jairus Banaji or Tariq Ali talking about, but democracy that Sri Lanka knew of. The country needs to move from there, and not to the abyss that the Rajapaksa regime is leading it to.

It is surprising that with all quasi Marxist and other jargon, Sumanasiri fails to condemn the ongoing Rajapaksa repression in the country particularly in the North. His main grumble is with the opposition.

Comparison of Manifestos

He has made a comparison of two Manifestos of MR and MS in that order on the issue of constitutional reforms and noted the following.

“It is interesting to note there is no basic difference between two candidates as far as the constitutional change/ amendment is concerned.”

If he has at least said ‘there is no basic difference between two manifestos,’ then there is some validity. Even that is not the case as I will show below. Most importantly, MR has been in power since 2005, with a promise to abolish the presidential system but not fulfilled. What the Common Opposition Candidate has outlined is basically what he intends to achieve within 100 days as an urgent measure.

I also consider Sumanasiri’s Table as misleading and/or mischievous. A proper comparison should have quoted the texts, not misinterpreted. Let me show what he has ‘summarized’ under the theme ‘Devolution of Power’ of the two candidates.

MR: Present system will be maintained and Lower level direct democracy will be added (as part of constitution?).

MS: Not addressed. 13th Amendment may be changed/scrapped/abolished as it may not need referendum.

His table gives the impression that MR’s proposals are more progressive or devolution-friendly even with ‘direct democracy.’ What a crap!

Under MS, ‘on devolution of power,’ first he says, ‘Not addressed.’ Then gives his own conjecture saying that the “13th Amendment may be changed/scrapped/abolished as it may not need referendum.” This is not a summary but completely an insertion into MS Manifesto.

To him, Mahinda Rajapaksa is the good guy. MS is the bad one. Because “Ironically, Candidate MS has refused to change it [presidential system] after making a promise to that respect even before tasting and enjoying it. In such a situation, can we expect democratic governance after January 8?” He asks!

Manifesto and Diary

Chapter 1 of the Sirisena Manifesto is titled “Constitutional Amendment Guaranteeing Democracy.” Under the bullet point heading “Abolishing the Executive Presidential System with Unlimited Powers,” it says the following among other explanations.

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.”

It is Sumanasiri that says “MS has refused to change it” not the Manifesto. Moreover, the well published Diary for the 100 days of MS goes as follows for Wednesday January 21.

“The process will begin of abolishing the authoritarian executive presidential system and replacing it with an executive of a Cabinet of Ministers responsible to Parliament, and of repealing the 18th Amendment to the Constitution with legislation to establish strengthened and independent institutions, including a Judicial Services Commission, a Police Commission, a Public Service Commission, an Elections Commission, a Commission against Bribery and Corruption and a Human Rights Commission. This will be through a 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which will be presented to Parliament and passed as swiftly as possible.”

Do I need any more evidence to say Mr. Liyanage is misinterpreting?

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Latest comments

  • 2

    I do not intend to take sides between Sumanasiri and Laksiri. I would only like to ask both gentlemen, in as few words as possible (so as no keep it clear and to the point,) to clarify their response of the following hypothesis.

    “Sirisena will retain the Executive Presidential System with as yet unspecified modifications (the terminology in the Manifesto glosses over specifics; obviously the devil will be in the drafting). Rajapakse will keep it much as it is.”

    Broadly speaking, do they agree that these two sentences are reasonable?

    I am not asking their opinion on which they think is better. That is a separate matter and not the point of my question.

    • 6

      The promise of MS abolishing the executive presidency depends on what happens after he gets elected. What I mean here is that the other members of the opposition and the masses need to keep the pressure on MS until he honors his pledge. Change is unlikely, especially if the masses decide to end their political engagement after the day of voting and leave the MS and his coalition alone. Society has to be proactive to keep the politicians accountable.

      Obama would have done much better had the broad based social movement that brought into power has been active after the elections. Americans stopped their political activism after the elections day. Obama went to DC and was surrounded by multi-billion lobbying industry. Then we know what happens.

      • 1

        As it is becoming clear, almost many in UPFA parliment today are against EP but not having a big choice seem to be lagged init.
        Those like Rajitha openly utters today how many of them inside are helpless with the regime of 3 Rajapakshes. They had even promised to leave the coalition but seem to have no guts today to leave them. Anyway, they each may have their own worries that are not understandable to many.
        However, in a change, they have to express their thought whether pro or contra to the prevailing system. Sobitha thero is also in the view that almost every party would not agree with keeping EP for next term can lead to have it passed once the opposition leader is elected. No doubt, with the support of all parties they can build and introduce a better system. Besides, today UNPers seem to be more intelligent. So are Jvpers that have made every effort to go beyond the defeat of Raja will surely join adding their thoughts to form a better system which will utter a new era for all walks of lankens. If we can make our mind that way to a change, we will definitely make it. I have no doubt this time, everyhitn will work out for a ggreater change.

    • 2

      Dr. Laksiri Fernando

      “Even here he has segregated them into two, and conveniently undermined the first as “urban and elitist.” He has added that they work within the “economic-legal structure of neoliberalism.”

      “As far as I am concerned, a democracy movement, by definition is a multiclass movement. Therefore, his segregation is not only counterproductive but also divisive. However, he has another point in vaguely saying that what was present before 1994 is now absent.”

      Can’t see the forest for the trees.

      We are in the Forest of MaRa dictatorship and getting lost in the Executive Presidency Tress. The GOAL is to get out of the MaRa Forest.

      This Election is about Removing Medamulana MaRa, his Family and cronies and their criminal dictatorship and establishing Democracy and law and order.

      Listen to Anura Dissanayaka Speaks


      Dr. Laksiri Fernando, your time is well spent and will ve every effective if youy try to write a 47 page, 37 page, 27 page, 1 page or even a 7 page Common Sense Phamplet Sri Lanka 2014, get i in Sinhala, Tamil and English and get it into the hands of the rural and urban masses, Thomas Paine Style, 1776, and include a Chapter on Rights of Man.


      Here is a preamble for the Common Sense Phamplet Sri Lanka 2014, to help Mahinda Rajapaksa Retire.. and Would yoy write the Common Sense Phamplet in English and Translate to Sinhala and Tamil as the people need to be educated and informed..

      The cause of Sri Lanka, the Land of Native Veddah is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances hath, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all Lovers of Mankind are affected, and in the Event of which, their Affections are interested. The laying a Country desolate with Fire and Sword and Guns, declaring War against the natural rights of all Mankind, and extirpating the Defenders thereof from the Face of the Earth, is the Concern of every Man to whom Nature hath given the Power of feeling; of which Class, regardless of Party Censure, is the author.

      As a long and violent abuse of power, is generally the Means of calling the right of it in question (and in Matters too which might never have been thought of, had not the Sufferers been aggravated into the inquiry) and as the Medamulana Mahinda Rajapaksa hath undertaken in his own right, to support the Parliament in what he calls theirs, and as the good people of this country are grievously oppressed by the combination, they have an undoubted privilege to inquire into the pretensions of both, and equally to reject the usurpation of either.

    • 1

      An excellent analysis as usual by Dr.Fernanado.

      For a reading of a article that masquerades as apolitical but is motivated by personal concerns and personal well being read the article by Dayan Jayatilleke that appears just below this. article.Surely, Dr.Fernando must at least in private be rueing the fact that he has had the singular misfortune of mentoring a chameleon like Dayan in University.

  • 0

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  • 3

    Yes, Mr. Liyanage has definitely misinterpreted.

    Sengodan. M

    • 1

      The misrepresentation is a version of another Dayan Jayatilake clone.

  • 2

    It is an accepted fact from every corner that existing constitution is not sufficient to meet the challenges that this island faces such as rule of law, accountability, justice, corruption, mis use of power , peace among communities and religious groups etc. I hope the people of this island will emphasize these necessities in this coming election. I am sure Mithiri will understand these necessities and become a judge rather than a lawyer. When I say judge I wish him to give up all his identities such as Race, Religion, Party etc and his mind should free from any pre conception ideas. What he needs to do is to form a group of local and international experts who are not binded to any politics or interest in our politics but on problem solving. This group should come of with the possible options and answers to resolve possible threats and barriers. These proposals should be then discussed with relevant political, relegious and other groups for their acceptance and the new constitution should be drafted and approved by all.

  • 1

    Well written Laksiri Fernando. To be frank Sumanasiri Liyanaage has not merely misinterpreted, he is playing political games like Dayan Jayatilleke. At this critical juncture in our history he had better state where he stands politically between the two major contenders (which at least Dayan does), or whether he is supporting one of the smaller parties or none. A long time academic and commentator of his stature must be open on this matter.

  • 0

    Dr Laksiri Fernando

    You are correct. He is misinterpreting.

    He hides his true colors. You have explained that in your article very clearly. I quote:

    “It is surprising that with all quasi Marxist and other jargon, Sumanasiri fails to condemn the ongoing Rajapaksa repression in the country particularly in the North. His main grumble is with the opposition”.

    “To him, Mahinda Rajapaksa is the good guy.”

    “His analysis or interpretation is… pseudo-leftist.” (I remove the part of the sentence which is not relevant)

    Navaratna Bandara

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