The Political Economy of the Lankan State and the Limits of Democratic Constitutional Reform
The constitutional reform process has been placed on top of the national agenda, with much fanfare. This is even as the country is rapidly sinking into an inexorable debt-ridden financial crisis and broad sections that had voted for the Sirisena-Ranil dispensation are questioning the honesty, ability and credibility of the new ‘National-Unity government’. So, what is the urgency for constitutional reform? In my analysis, the current constitutional reform process reflects a desperate measure to further prop up the prevailing centralized, hegemonic-supremacist, unitary Capitalist State. This is in spite of the myriad reforms already, and would be, undertaken, including constitutional, legal, political, electoral and administrative reforms. In fact, these reforms would be designed to further centralize and monopolize State power. For example, the so-called Right to Information Act (RTI) has been designed to constitutionally suppress vital information regarding the economy, foreign relations and trade agreements. So, just shut up and fall in line on CEPA/ETCA! Information pertaining to the defence of the State (From whom?), territorial integrity and national security is also banned. Just think how broad and vague these categories are?
None of these duplicitous reforms shall in any fundamental way, affect the basic character of the Lankan State and Social Formation, which remains founded upon a pathetically dependent semi-feudal/ neo-colonial political economy and social order. This kind of political economy is greased and oiled by financial racketeers, who rake in enormous profits through State patronage, legitimacy and authority. Whoever rules, whoever the personality may be, whatever the regime may be, they must rule over a crony-mafia Capitalist State and Economy which is fatally dependent on circuits of international finance capital for its very survival, for raking in lucrative profits and fat commissions. That is why I say that the Mahinda Rajapaksa Regime was no aberration nor mutation, but a logical evolution and concentration of the Lankan State and the political economy upon which it is erected. It has become a State dominated by a corrupt mafia with finance capitalist tentacles carrying the blood lines of imperialism through the state, the bureaucracy and the economy. Although this type of State suits the needs of the neo-liberal agenda of the imperialist powers, it needs some serious and urgent patching up. Caught up in this swirl of volatile and intensifying contradictions and beset by violent fault-lines, the State needs to be overhauled. This is so that we can move away from the kind of personalized, autocratic class dictatorship of the Rajapaksa triumvirate and dynasty into an internationally acceptable standard ( that is to the US, India and the UN). This reform overhaul is required in order to clean and polish the machinery of the State, both its ideological and repressive apparatuses, and fine-tune the rules of the game, so there would be some degree of predictable stability for the State, the System and the survival of its pathetic and parasitic ruling class. Constitutional reform, elections, referendums are all but means to divide, delude, corral and somehow get the masses to give their spirited mandate for this same ruling class to continue in power, taking their due turn, as the sworn guardians of the defunct, neo-colonial State and Political-Economic Order.
Within the power structure of the State, at its pinnacle, are a handful of financial capitalists, including drug-dealers, racketeers, ministers and top bureaucrats who wield decisive power and influence over the State. It is they who oil and grease the machinery of imperialist penetration and plunder, and breed astronomical corruption, to rake in enormous profits, in return. This State-Bureaucratic Capitalist Sector has become more powerful and dominant than the traditional private sector. This semi-feudal/neo-colonial political economy is controlled and managed by each successive regime in power representing the Ruling Class, which is represented by two dominant Capitalist parties- the UNP and the SLFP. They may gang up on each other, fight like scavenging dogs for State power, since that is the ladder to accumulate wealth, status, privilege and power. State power has become the single most concentrated and effective source of capital accumulation and expanded reproduction for these parasitic vultures. Add to that the fact that the island has become a major transit point for the international narcotics trade. This form of political economy has been described as crony-mafia Capitalism, where the economy is run according to the needs and appetites of this dominant handful of corrupt and parasitic finance capitalist who wield state power, whether in or out of the ruling regime. This prevailing economy can only intensify the screaming lopsidedness, dependence and indebtedness where the oppressed masses shall be bled dry to feed the needs and appetites of this dominant ruling class. Nothing will be done to loosen or weaken the continued sell-out and fatal dependence on the IMF, WB, ADB etc. In fact, the lifelines will be opened that much wider for these international finance capitalist – imperialist – vultures of blood and profit to sink their deadly fangs even deeper. Indeed, it may be that our water resources would be owned by a multi-national corporation, like oil, and sold back to us. I don’t believe that I am exaggerating or amplifying the basic character and future direction of the Lankan State and its neo-colonial political economy.
I certainly do not expect any radical dismantling of the basic character or any essential feature of the Lankan State, which remains, and will continue to remain, a highly centralized, hegemonic-supremacist, unitary Capitalist State commanding a comprador ruling class dictatorship over a sinking semi-feudal/ neo-colonial economy. What we have as a ruling class is a class of Comprador-State Bureaucratic agents, living and growing off the spoils of imperialist profit and plunder. This is because the Lankan State and political economy is a creature of Colonial-Imperialist domination and is made to function as a backward, semi-feudal colony that feeds into the needs, compulsions and appetites of these foreign powers and masters- in terms of capital accumulation, raw materials, exploitable labour and markets. Also, in terms of rival strategic interests. The Lankan State is beyond fundamental repair, because its foundations were crafted and laid in order to secure continued and intensifying domination, exploitation and plunder by the colonial-imperialist powers and handed down to its chosen lackeys to control and manage affairs for them. As they continue to do, even while fighting like scavenging dogs for their share of the kill.
Besieged from Outside and Inside
The dire need for constitutional reform arises also because the Lanka State, its political economy and social order is besieged internally and by external forces. It is besieged by its own simmering contradictions which cannot be resolved within the basic (semi) feudal-(neo) colonial structure, legacy and framework, in which it continues to survive in moribund decay. The Lankan State is also besieged from external forces, who are a vital element organically interconnected and a catalytic force that drives the internal contradictions and conflicts, and who must necessarily exacerbate them in order to carve out their own strategic leverage and advantage. It is really like a deadly game of international chess being played with the Land and the People of Lanka, and the different agents of the ruling class applying conflicting and colluding strategies of survival. The Lankan State faces a mounting external threat from international and regional powers, who have high strategic stakes in the country. The US, India and China, and the EU, Japan and Russia are playing their cards in the game of geo-politics in Lanka. These powers are engaged in controlling the lifelines of the country, so they could gain strategic advantage and even supremacy in the most vital Asia-Pacific/ Indian Ocean Region. These powers would wish to have a strong, stable and viable State in command of the fortress, but one they can, individually, severally and together, manipulate and control, to the exclusion of its rivals. This is to better accommodate their respective neo-liberal global imperialist economic and geo-political strategic agendas.
This rivalry and contention for power and influence over the island has its definite effects. It serves to polarize and exacerbate the rivalry and contention for power and dominance within the various fractions of the ruling class. These linkages contribute towards the internationalization of the crisis and plunges the State into a desperate whirlpool of irresolvable, labyrinthine crises. Opening the doors even wider to these scavenging foreign wolves of International Capital, whether envisaged as the ‘Miracle of Asia’ or the ‘Megapolis Miracle’ would, of course, mortgage the life and future of all born and yet to be born generations to these insatiate vultures of international finance capital, and drive the masses of people across the Land towards even more desperate poverty, indebtedness and insecurity. This is, while the country becomes the playing field of contending, marauding international and regional powers. We can think seriously that there is going to be a period of unimaginable turmoil, anarchy, chaos and violence, that could lead to unexpected conclusions. Even system failure, like the repeated power outages. So, you need to get your house in order. You need to screw the hinges and nails, tighten the frame all over again that much better. You need to paint it up with a new colour and with new curtains and furniture to hide the crimes and the blood stains. You need to set new rules of the game where each shall know their role and function. Most of all, the new face of the old order must be dressed and sanitized so it may regain and restore the some semblance of legitimacy of the State. Even if that means appointing alleged war criminals, corrupt mafia agents, suspected criminals and known international racketeers to positions of power and authority. What better way than by getting the people to mandate it, all over again through a national referendum. It is like infusing new blood into dilapidated veins, just to keep the dying patient alive. That is the precise and primary function of the current constitutional reform process.
Propping-up a Battered State in Tatters
The constitutional reform process is urgently needed in order to restore the public legitimacy of a State that had been battered to tatters by the previous regime. The previous regime had turned the state into an extra-legal machine and apparatus for the protection and promotion of a crony-narco-mafia form of an extreme parasitic and corrupt political economy. It was geared towards the expansion, consolidation and perpetuation of the autocratic dominance of the Rajapaksa dynasty and its inner coterie. To achieve this objective, this regime had glorified the war as a war of victorious conquest and occupation by the Sinhala Buddhist Nation and its State, like over a subject people. It was hailed, sold and blessed as a great patriotic war to defend the Motherland, the exclusive historical claim of the Religion, Language and Land of the ‘Sinhalayas’, the eternal glory and honour for which was projected to be enshrined, embodied and crowned in the person of H. E. Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Rajapaksa regime nurtured and unleashed deep chauvinist fear and hatred towards all other nationalities and religious-ethnic communities. It relied upon entrenching, institutionalising and practising a virulent political ideology of Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy. The monumental scale of gross and rampant corruption and abuse of power, along with this naked arrogation of power, wealth, status and privilege, ignited a spark that inflamed broad social consciousness. A mounting apprehension grew among broad sections of the people, particularly among key players and professionals, and among the toiling masses and oppressed nationalities, communities, and groups that there would be a system failure and a breakdown of decent, civilized life. This, indeed, was a desperate manoeuvre at a deadly hour, when the State and the political system was turning into a neo-fascist, despotic, marauding monster, and was undergoing profound strain and dysfunction, and had begun to fatally lose its legitimacy in the eyes of world community, and among broad sections and stakeholders internally. The truth of the matter is that the MR monstrosity emerged from the foundations of the Lankan State, from the foundations of a so-called ‘five-star’ democracy. Nor was the MR phenomenon some terrible aberration from the norm, but a concentration of the basic chauvinist, supremacist, hegemonic character of the semi-feudal/ neo-colonial/ comprador capitalist Lankan State and Political Order. As long as this foundation remains intact, though rotting and tottering, all that can be done to preserve the system is to bring in a new musical band and change the tune, just so long as you can get the ignorant, oppressed masses to sing along, including in Tamil!
On cue, like the game of musical chairs, once again, the system produced an alternative model in the form of the ‘National Unity’ government constituted by the same two main Capitalist parties that have successively bled and led the country and the people into this horrible whirlpool of escalating crises, disintegration and moral decomposition. Just like Chandrika was also manufactured as the blessing from above to save the country and the people from 17 years of the hated UNP rule. The new government is led by H.E. Maitripala Sirisena as Executive President, representing the leadership of the SLFP and Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe representing the leadership of the UNP, as Prime Minster. The same pack of wolves, wrapped in new sheep’s clothing, all covering up their responsibility for this spiralling crisis, their abominable crimes– all the better to eat you with.
A Sinking Quagmire of Contradiction and Contention
The fact is that every successive government in power and its Opposition have acted to intensify the national and class contradictions that have found explosive expression today and taken turns in driving this spiralling process of crises and disintegration. All parties that have ruled, whether in power or in opposition, have to bear responsibility for seeding such cancerous poison into our life and society. Mass massacres, extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances, inhuman torture, sexual atrocities against women and children all occurred under a Constitution that guaranteed fundamental human and democratic rights. The PTA, in one stroke, effectively buried all those rights. The North-East was demerged through constitution law, in spite of having violated the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th Amendment. Any and every concession palmed out and every genuine gain and victory won by the Tamil nation have been all negated and liquidated by the current military conquest, occupation and political subjugation of the Tamil Nation. So, what’s new? Any move towards devolution of power as a token of solving the National Question, even if it is undertaken under international pressure will lead to a powder-keg of opposition and militant resistance by the chauvinist-supremacist camp, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa. And, so also the issue of any form of public accountability for war crimes and other violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws. The Lion has roared from Hyde Park, to cry for his meal and to save his own skin. So, he, and his coterie of criminals are desperate, hungry and ferocious. Sirisena backs off everywhere, on each front. He does not have the guts nor the power to command the SLFP, to which he remains beholden for his political career lest he be cast aside as a forgotten relic. He can only buy or cajole the ministers and members to submission. For this, Sirisena has to compromise on the prosecution of known large –scale criminals, including from the Rajapaksa clan. Ranil is concerned to open up the gates to foreign plunder, establish hegemonic dictatorship and get the sinking economy afloat. That shall also provide the gist for the Mahinda backlash, as more intolerable burdens and vicious repression are unleashed on the masses. There are widening cracks within the National Unity Government over the nature and level of devolution, issues of accountability, and the ways of strengthening the centralised dictatorship of the unitary Capitalist State.
It becomes clear that the constitutional reform process itself shall unleash violent dissent and fierce resistance from opposing forces. This is because the fight is not over democratic constitutional principles and good governance. It is about a struggle for power to stay alive for each fraction of the ruling class. The ruling side in power has to somehow appease the international forces by engaging in symbolic acts of reconciliation, accountability, and solving the national question. The Lankan state is on trial on these issues by the UN, driven by US imperialism and its accomplices. The constitutional reform process is driven by these compulsions, and not by any genuine democratic need nor aspiration of its engineers. So, it has to tread on a thin line. The moment the line seems to break with mass opposition and resistance inspired by virulent chauvinism, the State recoils and reacts back to its original hegemonic-supremacist principles. This neo-fascist agenda dressed us as patriotism is the trump card today in Mahinda’s hand, to which the status quo has historically submitted. It is the same chauvinist-patriotic trump card that had also been applied by every successive Regime and its Opposition.
But, be assured, whichever way the cookie crumbles, the prevailing centralized, hegemonic, supremacist, unitary Capitalist State shall be refurbished and consolidated. So much for the hopes and aspirations of the ‘Yahapalanaya’ (sic) ‘revolution’. So much for the hopes for liberation of the workers, peasants, fisher-people, all those who toil and slave, of the oppressed nationalities, of women, students and youth. The future of the Tamil Nation will be decided as an outcome between local, regional and international rival, contending forces, certainly not as an act of self-determination. The Megapolis-Port City fiasco, just like the ‘Wonder of Asia’, shall pave the way not for all-round development towards national independence, self-reliance, unity, democratic freedom and economic prosperity, but towards even more slavish dependence, fatal indebtedness and a living hell for the vast majority of the exploited and oppressed masses and nationalities, far worse than even under the previous regime. This is as the world imperialist system plunges into its worst global economic crisis, unleashing intensifying economic, political, military and strategic contention among and between the various rival imperialist powers, who must re-divide the world through war in order to expand their empires of corporate profit and plunder and survive, at all costs. These are the winds of change howling throughout the Earth, even as Planet Earth itself is being fatally threatened by an ecological emergency cause by Global Warming, due to the logic of competing empires of corporate profit and plunder.
Mood of the Masses: Simmering Volatility
There is a growing mood of deep resentment, distrust and even revulsion, particularly among those who have been victimised and rendered fatally vulnerable and marginalized and who have no hope or dying hopes for a better future, towards all state institutions and officials and bureaucrats, and against politicians in general and a deep yearning for some form of real change in their lives. This feeling and mood can accumulate and gather force, and erupt into open rebellion against the prevailing political order and the status-quo. The status quo would resort to even more barbaric repression and terror. The whole pack of cards could then collapse, leaving a power vacuum in the island – and the region. A most disastrous scenario for the rulers and their respective masters.
The Need of the Times
Placing faith in the system and playing the game, in whatever form or manner, to keep it afloat from sinking, whether it be through constitutional, political, electoral, administrative and institutional reform, is to participate, knowingly or unwittingly, in the patching up of a defunct and criminal system on its way towards self-destruction. It is to participate in laying a trap and in spreading a poisonous illusion of liberation. The argument and justification shall be that we must choose the ‘lesser evil’. It is not realized that we do not have live under any evil force, lesser or greater. It is the age and the time to sweep away all demons and dragons off the face of the Earth so the people of the world shall reap the infinite harvest of the 21st Century and enjoy the fruits of freedom in their prodigious creativity, joyous abandon and abundant prosperity. So, once again, the people of Lanka, oppressor and oppressed, master and slave, enforcer and victim shall all embrace and join hands in a demonstration of unity in bringing forth a new way of life, a new way to freedom and liberation, to be mandated by their own conscious, sovereign will, as enshrined and guaranteed by a new or amended constitution. Of course, the system will act to draw and mobilize the masses into the fight. Its chief enforcers, its various political leaders and players will chose sides, make strident criticisms and objections, appear to be the vanguard of national independence, democracy and freedom. Once again, the people will be taken for a long ride and their hopes dashed to the ground and ground to dust, while the powers that be shall consolidate their rule and dictatorship over society.
The way out of this horrible mess and never-ending nightmare of horror and terror is to build an independent political movement, cutting through all enforced and divided barricades, to unite all the dispossessed, degraded, exploited, oppressed and violated masses and women of Lanka, with the common aim of breaking the fatal stranglehold of imperialism finally and decisively, and take steps to build a whole new State and Political-Economic-Social Order. One that shall truly empower the people of Lanka to decide, design, plan and build their society, their world and their future, bound together in voluntary union, living solidarity and active cooperation. Such a political movement shall require bold and daring visionary leadership with a scientific approach and method, who shall dedicate their life and energy towards bringing forth a new generation to build a new world on new foundations, and usher in a new era of universal enlightenment and freedom. This shall be upon the ashes and ruins of the system and the era of imperialism and universal barbarism, in unity with the rising tide of anti-imperialist resistance, rebellion and revolution of the oppressed nations and people of the world. That path of struggle for genuine human emancipation must be the path of struggle for all nations, countries and people of the world Then shall the true new dawn of human civilization and a new stage of human social evolution begin. We must try to our best and contribute all that we can to build such an internationalist contingent of forces that can together act upon the stage of history to turn its trajectory away from universal destruction to the creation of a whole new world and a new era of freedom.
Do we dare to dream and make them come true? John Lennon of the Beatles, once sang an immemorial song titled ‘Imagine’. In that he speaks to a new world where there is no religion, nor heaven and hell; Imagine all the people living life in dreams’ he implores; A world where there are no violent divisions, no social relations of domination, exploitation and oppression – although not in those words or concepts. He also said that ‘You may say that I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one. Someday you shall join us and the world would be as One’. In the beginning, all great accomplishments in history have been first conceived and acted upon by a minority of forces in command of the truth and the situation, and are willing to light the flame of scientific reason and conscious revolution, for the sake of all humanity.