By Kumar David –
Making sense of UPFA contradictions
The range and variety of contradictions that have opened up in the last two months is startling; they began to coming into the open in August 2012 when the economy started its nosedive, but there has been a marked acceleration in dissensions and stage managed dissent since March 2013. Some are shows; “Mali you play bad cop, I will play good cop, and together we will hoodwink the naive International Community and the rabble-rousers at home”. However, some of the conflicts now surfacing are rooted in real disagreements and cannot be explained away in this facile way. It behoves us then to do two things; one, separate the chaff from the grain – which are bogus and which are manifestations of real dissent – and two, ask what changes in the political landscape bring rifts into the open at this time.
Centre page commentators in last (26) Sunday’s English papers went to town listing the “Quagmire of Crisis”: To elect or not to elect the NPC, to amend or ditch 13A, the electricity fracas, the rap on the knuckles from India, the 2014 mystery and the Chandrika/Ranil question mark. Let me list a few – the second, (b), on my list was discreetly avoided by all our still timid political commentators.
(a) There is a multi-way conflict within the government about whether to hold or annul the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections. This is not a put on show; this conflict is for real.
(b) Defence Secretary Gothabhaya Rajapakse made a public pronouncement dissenting from a Cabinet decision. What government can function like this?
(c) The constitutional amendment moved by the JHU is in defiance of government policy and amounts to a split in government.
(d) The two main parties of the Dead Left (CP and LSSP) are openly campaigning against the new electricity tariffs and participating in demonstrations and strikes.
(e) On May Day and at a Symposium on 22 May, the CP and LSSP raised slogans for abolition of the Executive Presidency and declared it the root of all the rot. The DLF was all shilly-shally.
(f) India’s External Affairs Minister Khurshid rapped GL Peries on the knuckles after which the Cabinet decided to proceed with NPC elections and shelve plans to amend 13A.
(g) There is no smoke without fire; so how much credence is to be attributed to Ranil’s claim that Rajapakse is bent on holding presidential elections in 2014? If so will Ranil have commonsense to perceive that, for reasons of rural cultural prejudice, Chandrika is a better vote puller, and she can split the SLFP. If the UNP backs such a challenge, she is a winner.
I cannot tackle all this; in any case I am not a reporter with access to nuggets of information and scoops. My panache, if any, is political analysis and evaluation; so here goes.
The NPC polls and 13A
Last week I dealt with the Tamil side, calling on the TNA to publish its manifesto, advocating a strong programmatic and working alliance of the five constituent parties, reminding the ITAK of the need to allocate a fair number of slots on the candidate list to the other four parties, and speculating whether Maavai Senathirajah or Suresh Premamchandran will be the Chief Ministerial nominee.
Today I turn to the other side; the Singhalese and government side of the NPC polls and 13A. Let me state my standpoint first: the NPC polls must be conducted on schedule in September, it must be a free and fair (“Fat hopes” I can hear you laugh), and there must be no diminution of the powers given to the PCs in 13A. This is a wish list but notwithstanding the JHU, Gotha and Weerawansa it is the more likely outcome. I have studied Leo Fernando’s excellent ‘Reasons for and against devolution via 13A’ (Sunday Times 26 May) and grant that the devolution issue requires more attention; but not now. Right now an NPC poll, as per 13A, has to be held and a provincial administration established. Down the road, when racial tensions have eased, the issue of devolved powers can be revisited. My preference is for a two-unit asymmetrical, or a three or four unit model.
I concede the government is sorely tempted to play dirty and cancel the elections. If so, it will do it via the courts – maybe one reason it put its man as CJ. One of the coalition partners will move court for an injunction to stay elections and if it works, Cameron, Singh etc will be hoist by their own spherical appurtenances. “Aaiyoo, we have to abide by the rule of law, no, as you tell us”. Commonwealth Mutton Heads are no match for Rajapakse cunning. Yes, its possible things will go this way, but not likely as the risks are great. Angering Delhi close to an Indian election and risking a CHOGM crisis is playing one’s cards too close to the chest. Rajapakse will give up the ghost rather than forego the mantle of head of the Commonwealth for a two year stint.
However, my assessment is that the JHU-Weerawansa-BSS outfit is not bluffing; it is dead serious and wants NPC elections annulled and 13A repealed. If Rajapakse does not back down, this lot may even split from the government. Far reaching damage control measures will be adopted by the siblings to avert this. Whichever way the chips fall, the regime will be markedly weakened.
A wild card is President’s brother and Defence Secretary Gothabaya (GR). The Island of 25 May carried the front page headline “Gota opposes NPC polls” the day after Minister AP Yapa announced, on behalf of the Cabinet, that elections will go ahead as scheduled and 13A will not be amended. The headline is like a Treasury Secretary announcing after a Budget Speech that ‘the budget is a load of cock-and-bull’!Gotha, apparently, despises the Cabinet, so do I; but I am a free citizen entitled to state my views when and where I please. He is a high profile public officer bound and obliged to abide by government decisions. If he does not wish to, he must quit; if he does not quit, he must be fired. There is no other way constitutional propriety can be sustained.
He has a right, indeed a duty to advice his minister as he thinks fit, but to go public with a statement which sets alarm bells ringing that the armed forces will not conduct themselves impartially during the election campaign is unacceptable. The report says, GR, “(Y)esterday warned the government of dire consequences in case the TNA won the first NPC election” and quoted him saying “Police powers in the hands of those still pursuing a separatist agenda can pose a severe threat to national security”. I do not see how free elections are possible if the administrative head of the military, which holds the north in a lethal grip, is free to make such public utterances about the principal Tamil contestant party.
Notwithstanding constitutional propriety, for which the regime cares not a fig, most observers say Gotha will not be fired and Mahinda will turn, not a Nelsonian, but a prearranged blind-eye. That is, this, unlike the JHU-Weerawansa-BBS challenge, is not for real; it’s make-believe. The elder sibling will dance a jig to hoodwink the international community; the younger will gyrate to keep the Sinhala-Buddhist bandwagon in tumescence. Will the trick work? Yes I think it will work on both sides. Neither the Commonwealth heads nor the SB extremists are renowned for intelligence. Delhi is the habitat of the most accomplished suckers. The siblings will take all sides for a ride.
The Dead Left has wiggled a toe
A newspaper reported that morgues in Bangkok are installing vibrating devices so that corpses are given a thorough shake before dispatch to the crematorium, just in case they are still alive. The designers no doubt got the idea after a visit to Lanka where they observed the effect of the electricity price hike on the Dead Left. The CP and LSSP were also loud in their ‘Abolish the Executive Presidency’ sloganeering on May Day 2013 (I don’t know why not all these years), and snorted fire against EP, IMF and price hikes at a New Town Hall forum on 22 May. Vasu’s DLF, unsurprisingly, is comatose and still RIP in Mahinda’s lap.
My friends on the left, a goodly proportion CC members of the said parties, say “Cool down, it’s all bluff, the leaders know Mahinda won’t kick them out at this point in time, and they will backtrack if it comes to that”. True, but I also see the political climate changing in country and government, instability brewing, and this is why Dead Left leaders are making a little noise. This is in line with my thesis that a slow but perceptible shift is in progress. A question in this context is whether Thonda, SLMC, Dead Left and even sections of the SLFP will baulk at voting for another constitutional amendment, this time to let Mahinda rerun in 2014 and to emasculate 13A. Though the SLMC was purchased for 18A and though Thonda has, in theory, sold himself in perpetuity, to pull it off yet again may be difficult. It’s not that the regime can’t raise the cash, or that these harlots are costly; it’s that the political climate (including the Indian factor and rising Tamil anger) make the game more difficult. Let us wait and see; nothing is impossible with our parliamentarians.
The decay in the SLFP
Critics are wont to overlook the wood for the trees. True the Dead Left has degenerated, the SLMC venal and the JHU racist, but the biggest trunk of the tree on which the regime harvests its poisoned fruit is the SLFP. If the regime is rotten, corrupt and autocratic, pray is it not Mahinda Samarasighe, Nimal Siripala, Maithripala Sirisena and other influential SLFP power brokers who bear responsibility for providing an institutional structure? The regime is accused of a litany of balu-vedda; who but SLFP stalwarts provided the primary political support system? They bear more responsibility than Dead Left, SLMC and JHU for the balu-vedda.
Therefore, though Chandrika may be able to split the SLFP, and with UNP support defeat Mahinda, it will be only transitional relief. Sure, getting rid of this regime will be a great relief, and we should welcome a breathing space, but we should have no illusions that a Chandrika government is a lot better. The real task is to get rid of the Executive Presidency altogether. Can Chandrika, who lied barefacedly, twice, be trusted? Ok, ok, I agree no option should be foreclosed too early; but for now, my preference still is Sobitha hamuduruwo as a Single Issue candidate.