Colombo Telegraph

The Mangala Manifesto & The Ranil Roadmap 

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Mangala Samaraweera is clearly the ideologue of the Yahapalana administration. This does not mean that he speaks for the entirety of the government. He certainly does not speak for the majority of the SLFP Minority tendency that is in the government. Nor does he speak for the majority of the UNP MPs. However he does speak for the dominant faction of the government. To paraphrase Marx, the ideology of the dominant faction of the government is the dominant ideology of the government.

Samaraweera delivered the keynote speech at the inauguration of the “Sri Lanka Investment & Business Conclave 2017: Growth through Partnerships”, organized by the CCC. (‘Mangala Maps Way Forward’, Daily FT)

Mangala’s policy design for Sri Lanka, includes an ideology going beyond the subject matter of his specific portfolio(s) and presents a perspective which would have been warranted only if he were the President. If the changes he outlines are implemented, Sri Lanka will shrink and become a playground of external political, military and economic forces.

The Mangala model would have been legitimate, if undesirable, had the UNP won a mandate on its own. Instead, President Sirisena did in January 2015, precisely because the ideas, ideology and project of Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga, of which Mangala is the spokesperson, could not obtain a popular mandate under the candidacy and leadership of either one of them. At the parliamentary election too, in August 2015, the UNP ran on the platform of a bipartisan consensus. Thus the problem of legitimacy arises from the fact that the UNP’s leadership, or more specifically the Ranil-CBK axis, is seeking to push through drastic policies for which they do not enjoy bipartisan consensus within the government or the endorsement of the President.

While he has been removed from the Foreign Ministry for the second time (the first being by President Sirisena’s predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa), Mangala thinks that what has been appointed to do is to extend that which he did as Foreign Minister.

As the Daily FT reported, he made his speech “keeping a foot in his previous portfolio as Foreign Minister…”

This is the way Mangala Samaraweera understands or recounts his main achievement during his tenure as Foreign Minister: “To support these efforts, together with my Cabinet colleagues I have worked, during the last two years or so as the Foreign Affairs Minister, to create the best possible enabling environment for Sri Lanka to attract more business, trade and investment.”

But going by an outstandingly liberal international figure, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a poster boy of cosmopolitans the world over, Mr. Samaraweera is either dangerously delusional or a liar. The only alternative interpretation is that Prime Minister Trudeau lied, but if the reader will pardon me, much as disagree with some aspects of some policies of Mr. Trudeau, I would trust Justin Trudeau rather than Mangala Samaraweera any day of the week!

This message issued from Ottawa on May 18th, to mark the 8th anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s war, this is what Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau had to say, about what Mangala did as Foreign Minister:

“I reiterate my call to the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that a process of accountability is established that will have the trust and confidence of the victims of this war. To this end, Sri Lanka should fulfill its international commitments by ensuring the involvement of Commonwealth and international investigators, prosecutors and judges. (My emphasis-DJ)

So it is very plain to anyone with the most basic literacy in the English language, that what Mangala Samaraweera did as Foreign Minister, on the instructions of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe or with his blessings, and completely contrary to President Sirisena (and the official SLFP’s) clear, publicly stated and oft-repeated position on international judges, is precisely to enter into “international commitments…ensuring the involvement of Commonwealth and international investigators, prosecutors and judges…”!

Now he says that his work as Finance Minister will be on a continuum with his work as Foreign Minister and that both these are part of the same grand vision for Sri Lanka!

Mangala’s speech repeats his lamentation about Sri Lanka’s performance over the last 69 years. Samaraweera indicates that Sri Lanka’s development since independence has been a failure and that he as Finance Minister will force through the new paradigm of Ranil Wickremesinghe that will change all that by—wait for it—next year, the 70th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s independence:

“Samaraweera recalled the potential Sri Lanka had at Independence but expressed hope that the country still has the chance to turn things around and use its 70th Independence to chart a new beginning. The economic policy plan presented by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last October was referred to as a blueprint the government would follow.”  

He thinks his task as Finance Minister is to drive the Ranil-CBK project through in a policy coup d’état.

In the equivalent of a comprehensive policy speech, Mr. Samaraweera spelt out at the CCC, a total vision for Sri Lanka, from economic policy to foreign affairs, reconciliation and Constitutional change. On each of these sectors, the views that were articulated were either questionable, half-truths, or dangerous assumptions. Taken together they add up to a dystopian vision of and for Sri Lanka.

Samaraweera pronounced that “…Sri Lanka’s aspirations to become a regional hub for financial services for international trade” adding, in a slightly contradictory fashion, that “the growth model Sri Lanka evolves would need to be private sector driven with exports and FDI as key pillars.” 

Who decided that Sri Lanka would give priority to converting itself into “a regional hub for financial services”? That may be the Singaporean niche but our country has always had greater factor endowments and has always aspired to a better rounded development in the sectors of agriculture and industry, rather than mere finances. In that sense our model should be far more Malaysia and South Korea than Singapore. And who decided that our growth model would be “private sector driven”, rather than “state-driven” or “state-private” driven as in the spectacularly successful East Asian model?

Samaraweera’s pronouncement   that “the growth model Sri Lanka evolves would need to be private sector driven with exports and FDI as key pillars” poses another obvious question: Has the SLFP part of the government agreed to this growth model that would be “private sector driven”, rather than “state-driven” or “state-private” driven, as in the spectacularly successful East Asian model? If they did, that would be contrary to the ideology of the SLFP which is currently being headed by President Sirisena. Has a change in the SLFP’s fundamental principles taken place under his leadership or have they decided that such a compromise is necessary to sustain the unity government?

The Finance Minister proclaimed that “Without reconciliation and a stable foundation economic progress would once again evade our nation. In fact this is why a new Constitution in important, a Constitution that would celebrate the diversity of Sri Lanka as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual country.”

He elaborated in his remarks to the Mass Media Ministry which he has just assumed control of: “The Government has already started the process of giving executive powers to Parliament, said Samaraweera…” (Daily FT, June 3rd 2017)

This reiteration of the UNP’s position on a new Constitution comes precisely when the SLFP subcommittee on Constitutional reform has not yet endorsed the option of a new Constitution, and that party’s chief representative on the Steering Committee for drafting Constitutional change, Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva made amply clear that the SLFP was opposed to any change that would require a referendum, and that the government had not obtained a mandate for such a full spectrum change over. He did so contradicting both Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and “Opposition Leader” Mr. Sampanthan. Thus the Finance Minister was representing only one wing of the Government in his address, rather than the “consolidated position” (as Mahinda Samarasinghe was fond of saying) of the Government. 

What’s really going on here is that Ranil and CBK think that the PM has the power to lead the country. CBK also thinks that she is Sonia Gandhi and that President Sirisena is Manmohan Singh. The question that is of concern to the citizens of this country is whether she is right.  What they are now trying to do is to bring in a new constitution that would give concrete form, not to the reality on the ground, but to the political and sociocultural world they currently live in. 

In their world the TNA is more important than the SLFP and reconciliation with the minority inhabiting the Northern periphery is more important than reconciliation with and within the majority in the southern heartland and “non-recurrence” of the Southern turmoil that beset us in two successive decades. 

The Samaraweera strategy is an unintended suicide bomb. A healthy business climate rests not on reckless policy reform but on sociopolitical stability, continuity and harmony. The attempt at a new Constitution will not only damage and destabilize a fragile coalition, it will divert and divide the state apparatus itself (bureaucracy, judiciary, military). Above all it will necessitate a polarizing and convulsive Referendum—all of which will gravely harm the business climate which the Finance Minister is duty-bound to protect and foster.

There is of course Ranil’s Plan B—namely to bring the abolition of the executive Presidency before Parliament as a separate amendment which does not require a referendum, and secure the votes of Basil-GL’s “Pohottuwa”. It will be a double-cross, a trap: (A) Gotabaya will be eliminated from the running in 2019 by abolishing the executive presidency, while Mahinda, whose loyalist MPs will be used for the abolition, will be knocked out of ‘the Premier stakes’ in 2020 by briefly removing his civic rights by means of a war crimes or financial accountability trial. (B) The ‘Pohottuwa’ faction will be tapped by Ranil to secure the abolition of the Executive Presidency, while the ‘official’ SLFP will be leveraged by CBK to get the enhanced devolution package through Parliament. 

The proposed abolition rejects/ignores the axiom of a former Finance Minister, JR Jayewardene, based on experience of the island’s politics since the 1930s, that sustained high growth is impossible in our society within a Westminster model and requires an Executive outside/above Parliament. Even an Executive Prime Minister would not suffice.

As the powers of the Provincial Councils expand, and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s MoU with India including ECTA opens the floodgates for the five Southern Indian states to enter our economy unimpeded, the abolition of the Executive Presidency and dissolution of the Presidency-economy nexus will devastate any prospects for stability and sustained growth and wreck any chance of an island-wide national development policy, a single island-wide division of labor and a single market.

The geopolitical reality is that the parliamentary model in this small island (where the minority parties will wield a de facto veto) cannot control autonomous provinces with a huge ethnic ‘kin-state’ across 18 miles of water and a behemoth of a subcontinent as neighbor. What India successfully does to keep itself united with the PM/parliamentary system and quasi-federalism, a little island dwarfed by its neighbor cannot do to keep itself together as a single sovereign state.

Mangala Samaraweera’s hubris is sourced in what he knows is Ranil’s grand design: sell or pawn Trincomalee and Hambantota; federalize the North and East and secure Tamil Diaspora funds; liberalize the financial controls and launder Tamil Diaspora money; use the combined proceeds to stay afloat politically and buy votes including those of MPs to abolish the Executive Presidency with a parliamentary two-thirds (and ‘Pohottuwa’ backing) and grab the power that he couldn’t win electorally; cede the North and East to the India-USA-Japan cartel and secure their backing (including military interventionism) to entrench satellite status and puppet (i.e. one’s) rule.

Reading his policy outline one is struck by the black irony that Mangala wishes to celebrate 70 years of Sri Lanka’s Independence by rendering Sri Lanka unprecedentedly dependent in every conceivable economic realm!

The smooch that Mangala has planted on the face of the Sri Lankan policy agenda, is a Judas kiss.

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