8 May, 2021

Blog

The New Opposition & The Old Neoliberalism 

By Dayan Jayatilleka 

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

New wine cannot be put into old wineskins. And vice versa. 

A new Opposition with a new leader cannot be burdened with an old ideology, not least an ideology which has failed to secure the election of the leader the country for 30 years. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. 

The old ideology antedates the assumption of the leadership of the UNP by Ranil Wickremesinghe, but was mightily reinforced by his conversion to it.

The ideology commenced with the impeachment motion against President Premadasa and the subsequent formation of the DUNF. At the core of that ideology was the abolition of the executive presidency.

As the regime hardens and digs in, the Opposition and the democratic intelligentsia must get its collective head straight and learn to focus. 

It must abandon the time-wasting abstraction of Presidentialism vs parliamentarism; a diversion which helps the regime. Abolition of the presidency is off the table: it requires a two-thirds majority at a parliamentary election which isn’t due for five years and would either follow the next presidential election, or if it precedes that election, is likely to ensure a regime victory with the latter’s new, heavily-loaded institutional dice. 

Politics is not a school debate, a classroom lecture or a court case. It is an arena in which you need to persuade a large number of people. As Lenin said, serious politics begins where tens of millions of people are. 

People live through experiences which form their consciousness. The Sri Lankan people’s consciousness has been formed by thirty years of armed conflict and a renewed spurt of terrorism. The lived experience of the vast majority of the people of the island who happen to be Sinhalese has seared into them the experience of having being retrieved from existential threats by rulers holding one designation: President.

The Sinhala majority feels the state was saved twice (three times, counting CBK’s ouster of Ranil in 2003) from terrorism and prime ministerial/parliamentary minoritarian sellout, precisely by Presidents it could and did vote for, namely CBK (1999), Mahinda (2005) and Gotabaya Rajapaksa (2019). Given that lived historical and existential experience, the Sinhala majority would shoot down at a referendum, any proposal to abolish the directly elected executive presidency. 

Let’s unpack that, shall we? 

The people were saved from the JVP terror of the late 1980s by an elected President, Ranasinghe Premadasa. 

They were liberated from a foreign military presence also by President Premadasa. 

They were saved from a giveaway of a de-facto separate state to the Tamil Tigers in the form of an Interim Self-Governing Administration, by President Chandrika’s ouster of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. 

They were saved from the marauding LTTE and Prabhakaran by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

They feel safer from Islamist jihadist terrorism because of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. 

They felt most insecure, saw the state most weakened, under Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.

This being the case, why would anyone with a functioning brain, think that the Sinhala people would ever give a two-thirds majority to a party which they suspected would abolish the Presidency, and follow that up by voting in favor of abolition of the Presidency and empowering the Prime Minister and parliament instead, at a national referendum?   

The name of the game is defeating Gotabaya Rajapaksa electorally, at the first possible opportunity, preventing him from getting a second term. 

Which is easier, more feasible, more realistic? Bridging the gap between 42% and 52% (Nov 2019) at a presidential election (2024)? Or bridging the deficit between 52 seats and 150 in parliament (2020), i.e. securing a two-thirds majority in the House, at an election? 

The second motif of the neoliberal intelligentsia is the opposition to the unitary form of state. This dangerously nonsensical. Sri Lanka is not the only country that is allergic to the term federal and continues to feel secure as a unitary state. 

The soldiers who fought and finally defeated Prabhakaran and his Tigers, did not fight for only a united country but also for the unitary state. What kind of mentality could assume that a majority of people would actually vote for the abolition of the unitary state? The depth and width of public emotion over the definition ‘unitary’ is such that such a proposition, were it to appear close to squeaking, would trigger a military coup or majoritarian (counter)revolution.   

Any deletion of the term “unitary” should be explicitly rejected by the New Opposition.

The democratic forces must also learn the correct lessons of the game-changing American election. The Biden-Harris win is a triumph of liberal-democracy but is not a triumph over ‘populism’. Biden ran as a liberal, moderate centrist with a populist appeal.  

‘Populism’ is so named because it stems from the invocation of ‘the people’, rather than ‘classes’ as in Marxism, ‘race, religion, private enterprise’ as in neoconservative Rightism, and ‘markets, globalization, globalized elites’ as in neoliberal Rightism. The hallmark of populism is not that of a ‘strongman’ or ‘ultranationalism’. Mexico’s President Lopez Obrador is a populist but eschews the strongman style. SWRD Bandaranaike and Vijaya Kumaratunga were populists but not strongmen. Bolivia’s new president Luis Arce is left-populist but not ultranationalist. 

The defining marker of Populism is discourse constructed around ‘the people vs. the (social and economic) elite’. ‘Amtrak Joe’ Biden’s key motifs were his social empathy, blue-collar appeal and folksy contrast between ‘Scranton’ (his hometown) and ‘Park Avenue’ (Trump’s milieu). 

A liberal-centrist, Biden ran on a program characterized by Obama as the most progressive since Roosevelt’s New Deal. Trump denounced Biden as fronting for ‘the radical left’, ‘socialism’, and ‘communists’, a corny charge that resonated only in Florida, but attests to the populist-accented progressivism of the Biden-Harris platform. 

Populism is like cholesterol: there are good and bad varieties. Populism with ultranationalism is bad, populism mixed with social democracy and moderate nationalism/inclusive patriotism is good. In his acceptance speech Biden disclosed that “I sought this office to restore the soul of America. To rebuild the backbone of the nation — the middle class”. Contrast this with the quarter-century electoral curse of Ranilism’s nihilistic deletion of ‘the nation’ and ‘the national’. 

Lankan neoliberals, UNP or ex-UNP, hopelessly outdated as usual, must read Biden’s incoming National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s article co-authored with Jennifer Harris in Foreign Policy (Feb 2020), billed ‘Neoliberalism is Finished’ and arguing that “America needs a new economic philosophy”.

The Opposition must have a populist platform of the ‘good cholesterol’ variety, a progressive ‘Premadasaist’ platform, to organically displace and replace the ideological hegemony of ultranationalist-militarist absolutism over the national and public imagination.       

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Latest comments

  • 11
    3

    In Sri Lanka we have racism spread by the Rajapakses and their stooges, the thuggery of the Buddhist Monks, the anti minority mentality of Yuthukama and Vyath Maga and the hatred spread by fringe parties which do not have a voter base (Weeerawansa, Vasudeva, Gammanpilla). Only solution is for all opposition parties and the minority parties to form and work as one group under one leader and under one umbrella and banner. Until and unless this is done there will be no solution to bring back law and order and peaceful coexistence of communities.

    • 7
      0

      Truth to be told TNA, SLMC, ACMC also follow racism. That is the problem. In January 2015 all of them came together to defeat Mahinda but since August 2015 they got divided again paving the way to bring back Rajafucksas.

      There cannot be any ethnic demands. The moment ethnic demands are made no alliance is possible. Everyone must find a common cause and stick to it – remove this violent, lawless and racist regime and keep them out of power.

    • 6
      0

      The gist of Dr.DJ’s argument is:
      “The Opposition must have a populist platform of the ‘good cholesterol’ variety, a progressive ‘Premadasaist’ platform,”
      As far as I can remember, Preme senior seemed not as racist as JR, but did manage to murder thousands of his own people while being the typical superstitious Sinhala Buddhist believer in hooniyang. Perhaps Dr.DJ was out of town when people lit fireworks in his memory. He couldn’t have been all that popular, could he, even with the LTTE to whom he supplied a year’s worth of weapons?Some of those were used at the massacre of 600 policemen.
      “Politics is not a school debate, a classroom lecture or a court case. It is an arena in which you need to persuade a large number of people.”
      Yes, and school-debate style arguments will not turn a despot into Mother Teresa. There are still those who can remember.

      • 5
        0

        OC
        Be kind. If there is anything that DJ is very sentimental about (besides himself and his father) it is Premadasa.
        *
        I had a chat with my cardiologist friend recently, and he said that cholesterol is not altogether bad and high cholesterol levels do not automatically imply risk of a heart problem.
        I did some searching and found this:
        “New research shows that very high levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or ‘good’) cholesterol may be associated with an increased risk of heart attack and death.”
        [https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180825081724.htm]
        The story is supported by several reputed sources.
        Too much of a good thing?
        *
        Someone qualified in political medicine should warn DJ about an overdose of political HDL.

        • 0
          0

          SJ,
          “Be kind”
          I was in a good mood.

          • 1
            0

            old codger

            “I was in a good mood.”

            Even after reading Dayan’s 64 Positions all at the same time?
            Gosh.

      • 2
        1

        For that reason Sajith can never win a presidential election. Fact. UNP-SJB must gear to field someone else for 2024. But until then the name must not be revealed. Rajapaksas kill any credible opposition.

      • 3
        0

        old codger

        “Yes, and school-debate style arguments will not turn a despot into Mother Teresa. There are still those who can remember.”

        Please read Daily mirror editorial of the 4th of December 2020

        http://www.dailymirror.lk/opinion/Our-true-heroes-must-be-celebrated-EDITORIAL/172-201135

        Please tell us whats wrong with it?

        • 1
          0

          Native,
          It seems the DM editor has just escaped from a Daham Pasala.
          “thanks to Gods we worship the damage to lives and property (from the cyclone) wasn’t serious.”
          Perhaps more worshipping will save us from Covid too? When we have Editors like this, is it surprising we have Ministers like Pavithra?

          • 2
            0

            old codger

            Perhaps the leader writer of Daily Mirror believes he/she is the only one who keeps record of the racist history of this island. And perhaps commission and omission of history on the part of the leader writer might save this island and salvage from every adversity.

    • 3
      5

      Buddhist1,
      As long as racist separatist Malabar Vellala elite politicians who thrive on anti-Sinhala racism are there peaceful coexistence of communities will be a nightmare.

      • 2
        2

        EE,

        “elite” ?

        I beg you pardon!

        • 1
          1

          GATAM,
          I should have included ‘Muslim Fundamentalists’ and ‘Wahhabi Muslim Extremists’.

    • 0
      0

      My Dear B1,
      .
      So called buddhist monks stay as if they are fed with clay as of today.
      :
      In the same time, I see, that BBS Key dog is showing up in muslim corners as if the dogs would demarcate the areas by urinating where they think is right.
      :
      BBS dogs will rise up sooner than later, all is planned by Rajaakshe racists. All these occure with their direct approval.

      See the pictures on the screens prove that PEOPLE are treated like cats and dogs in Mahara. Sometimes, even if their family memembers would have been prisoners, those poor parents are innocient. Anyways, these innocient parents and the relatives are made to kneel down before the UNETHICAL, IMMORAL jail guards/police men….. the pictures are no different to that of Venisulan prison scenes.

  • 3
    3

    Mr Buddhist 1
    Thanks. Your proposal will solidify Sinhala Buddhist unity – for good or bad.
    Alternative is be nice to them, be polite to them, discuss with them – hate mongoring won’t take you anywhere.
    They are the majority.
    For seventy years we have herd this clarion call to unite against the the majority.
    .
    Try to understand what I am trying to say.
    Take your own stance for instance.
    Your pseudonym you begin with is intended to ridicule us, isn’t it?
    Saying you are bad to our face won’t make us good.

    Soma

    • 6
      3

      soman

      Do you think the Strong Man Gota, Single Handed Generals Kamal and Shavendra can prevent Cyclone Burevi entering this country and wreaking havoc on this island? They won the all powerful LTTE. Cyclone Burevi is nothing. They should be able to divert its destination and return it back whence it started.

      The Single handed General Kamal assured Tri-Forces, Police on alert and ready.
      Do you think he is going to use his Tri-Forces and Police role back the cyclone.

      Soman I am confused.

      • 3
        1

        As always.

        Soma

        • 1
          1

          soman

          “As always.”

          You haven’t read my comment properly.
          Re read it again.
          Nowhere in my comment I said Gota, Kamal, and Shavendra eat babies for breakfast.

          • 1
            1

            Utterly distatesful.
            You have crossed the line Mr Native Veddah
            I don’t think even Tigers did what you have mentioned.
            Your fantasies are strange. Arising out uncontrollable hatred you halucinate over all kinds of goulish things.

            Soma

            • 1
              1

              soman

              “Utterly distatesful. You have crossed the line Mr Native Veddah”

              Why?
              Are you saying I should have said Gota, Kamal, and Shavendra ate babies for breakfast?

  • 9
    2

    on my twitter account there was this message
    I am a Sri Lankan citizen. Sinhalease & Catholic.
    My mum is Buddhist, my late dad was a catholic.
    I participate in Buddhist rituals/festivals re my mum’s family.
    Her question is
    Am I considered a majority in Sri Lanka.

    in another twitter post
    I am a Sinhala Buddhist I was told I belong to the majority. We were taught them and us. (not sure by whom) I decided to join my Tamil friends to go to Jaffna by car. First time I felt what it is to be a minority in this country. (she doesnt say what happened) I decided to become an activist for the minorities

    They both say they receive so much racial hatred and abuse in the social media.

    Has Sri Lanka descendent to such low level?

    There seems to be clandestine activities promoting racial hatred by the authorities while showing all their teeth in public appearance.

    I have relatives in Colombo working for international organisations.
    They say the racial hatred is becoming unbearable day by day
    even in international companies!!!

    look at the women prostrating at the feet of a policeman re prison riots
    ….. and Namal Rajapakse tweets unfortunate turn of events

    seriously Where is Sri Lanka heading to?

    • 3
      3

      Rajash,
      For the guys who showed a photo of a Hindu devotee hanging from hooks and said this is the way Sri Lankan Army torture Tamils cooking up lies to tarnish the image of Sinhalayo is very simple.
      In Hindu religion there is no equivalent to ‘Musawaada weramanee sikkapadam samadiyami’.

      • 3
        1

        EE
        Your response to R is rather like the response ‘malle pol’ to the question ‘koheda yanne?’

      • 1
        1

        Eagle,
        In Hindu religion there is no equivalent to ‘Musawaada weramanee sikkapadam”
        Nor is there any equivalent to the pills that good Buddhists give unarmed Buddhist prisoners before shooting them.

      • 0
        0

        EE,
        .
        Please wait, no doubt Karma would hang you by hooks in the days to come, considering all the mess you have created by deliberate efforts on CT and other forums.
        :
        Your so called SINHALAYO are the problem of this country, but we the SINHALAYO that respect all as srilankens would never consider it right what you have been doing to the minorities in this country.
        :
        EE, your problems are more or less pathological, please contact your nearest physicians, .. tomorrow will be too late.

    • 4
      0

      Rajash
      Why don’t you form some kind of organization with Tamil writers on CT and educate the Tamils living in Sinhala majority areas about the nasty nature of Sinhala Buddhists? Particularly the children who are exposed to the discrimination and risks they would eventually face and their bleak future among the Sinhalese.
      The day you can convince a SINGLE TAMIL FAMILY to sellout their properties and resettle in Jaffna will be the day I will feel ashamed as a Sinhalese and if you become successful in establishing a trend I will join TNA and fight for the implementation of Vadukkodai resolution.
      .
      Fact of the matter is nothing terrifies a Tamil than the thought of living in a Tamil only enclave.
      .
      Incidentally, Sampanthan has decided to pass his remaining days in Colombo.

      Soma

      • 0
        0

        Soma Sarath Fonseka said in the parliament he wish the cyclone in the NE came bit early during Maveerar celebration week.

        That says it all

        • 2
          0

          Rajash

          The Racist Sarath Fonseka is a primitive moron, another fascist tendency who said just days before the 2010 elections that if he won the presidential elections he would drag the entire clan to Gall-face Green.
          You know why.

    • 2
      0

      My Dear Rajash,
      .
      This is the culture RAJAPAKSHES wanted to promote by dragging the power and making the public perception as ” RAJAPAKSHES are the saviors of this land”.
      :
      Today, their self proclaimations and self adulations seem to be making them WALLAWWA people. Had real walawwa people (Bandaranayakakas and Sennanayakas) ever behaved the way Rajapakshes ballige puthas have been fallen into.
      :
      I have no doubt, lOOKING back to 80ties and prior to that, RAJAAKSHEs were not knnown as WALAWWA people….for some reasons, SRILANKEN media made the public perception in favour of RAJAPAKSHES. Bandaranayakas never reacted the manner, Rajaakshes treat yet today their own people. Rajakashes were known as servant boys to Bandaranayaks in late srilanka. Being unable to bear the repsect given to them, Mahinda Rajakashes the powerful rascal in that stupid family became violent and started abusive politics to attack those families. Today Mahinda Rajakashes named the airport in Mattala as Mahida Rajaakshe airport and Hamabantota harbour after their brutal names. What borught these nothing, but PEOPLE are made eternal debtors through RAJAPKSHES mismanagement. Why not KARMA YET today punish MAHINDA ? … even if the speculations are their that the bugger will have to shed the last breath sooner than later…. wait and see, news will be more or less like that came from Napoli.. Gadafi family.

  • 0
    2

    Ponny bestial Modaya has said yesterday that it is good Puravi hit North East, but should have hit on Maveerer Naal. It was his record in Jaffna as Brigadier made King hire him to do the Tamil Genocide. Now he looking for the Puravi do it gain on Maveerer Naal.
    Rear Admirable has told Old King did not ban TNA right after the war. So now they should be banned.

    • 1
      0

      Mallaiyuran,

      Why the hell Tamil voters cast their votes en masse in 2010 to the man who committed Tamil Genocide ? There should be something wrong in the brains of Tamils.

      “It was his record in Jaffna as Brigadier made King hire him to do the Tamil Genocide.”

      • 0
        1

        Eagle,
        What the hell are you doing without watching the parliament proceeding. Didn’t Selvam Adikalanathan replied for you question in the parliament, yesterday? It is shame for Ponny to ask for votes from Tamils. A cheap man, just wanted to become EP only to take up on Royals. It sound like all the stolen drug from Mahara is inside the stomachs of Ponny and Rear Admirable. Have you seen the size of their bellies, They both wants Tamils & TNA’s blood to get that digested.

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