By Dayan Jayatilleka –
It was Marx who made the characteristically acerbic remark that “the incredible flatness of present-day bourgeois society is best measured by the height of its greatest intellects”. He was referring to Jeremy Bentham. The fact that the key ideologue and propagandist of the Yahapalana government is Mangala Samaraweera speaks to the pathetic character of that government. More pointedly, how Samaraweera could have been the Foreign Minister and now the Finance Minister of an administration which contains within its ranks a former topnotch administrator and a genuine intellectual with a PhD from Paris, Dr. Sarath Amunugama, is perhaps the best evidence of why this government is in such trouble politically, economically and electorally.
If the answer (actually excuse) is that Mangala Samaraweera is the ideologue of the UNP rather than the Yahapalana regime as a whole, then Sajith Premadasa or Wijayadasa Rajapaksa would have been far more successful choices.
Hopefully this grotesquely anomalous situation will come to an end with a Presidentially-driven Cabinet reshuffle after the sociopolitical tectonic plates shift following the seismic shock of February 10th.
The choice or emergence of Mangala as ideologue reflects what the UNP has turned into: a large NGO or worse, an INGO. This is why it is in the electoral mess it is now in. What is most damaging is that its alien profile and policies are dragging down the SLFP with it, thanks to the influence of Mangala’s patroness, Chandrika, who believes in a strategic alliance between the SLFP and UNP, whatever the cost to either or both parties or the government as a whole.
The essential difference between President Sirisena, former President CBK and former president Rajapaksa, is that President Sirisena believes in a tactical but not strategic alliance with the UNP, though he might shift to a strategic alliance if the UNP leader and Prime Minister were Sajith Premadasa; Chandrika believes in a strategic alliance with the UNP and that too with Ranil or Mangala at the head of that party; Mahinda Rajapaksa will entertain only a tactical alliance with the UNP and that too under his and the JO-SLPP-SLFP’s dominance.
Chandrika’s strategic alliance with the UNP would be on a common ideological basis of neoliberal globalism, while Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tactical alliance with the UNP would be on the basis of Populism: ‘liberal nationalist’ in the case of Maithri and ‘patriotic-Statist’ in the case of Mahinda.
Social Democracy is the certainly most desirable ideological program, but it is not on the agenda in Sri Lanka today and has not been for a long time. Sadly, explicit Social Democracy has never taken root as a mass party-political phenomenon in this country (though one may well classify the LSSP as social democratic). It certainly will not present itself as an option before the presidential election of 2019 and the parliamentary election of 2020, still less the Provincial Council election of late 2018. Even more obviously there is no social Democratic option at the Local government election of Feb 10th.
Furthermore there is no social democratic trend in the global South today, nor in Eurasia. Even historically, explicit Social Democratic parties have taken root outside the global South, precisely in the countries of the developed world, be they in Europe or Australia/New Zealand.
Finally, given the global zeitgeist the dominant trend is clearly not towards Social Democracy, except in the UK and with greater success, in New Zealand. These hardly constitute a global trend.
The really existing choices in all three theatres as it were–globally, in the global South and Eurasia, and Sri Lanka itself—are on the one hand, neoliberal globalization/neoliberal democracy, and on the other, the ‘National-Popular’, manifesting itself concretely as various permutations and combinations of Populism, Statism and nationalism.
So the choice is either neoliberal globalism or some fusion of populism, statism and nationalism, or any two of the three.
Even for a social democrat like myself, those are the only realistic choices, living as do in Sri Lanka, in the Third World and in this point in time which is a time of transition from a post-Cold war unipolar hegemony to multi-polarity, marked by the contestation between a West in crisis and decline and a Eurasia (China + Russia) on the rise.
In most parts of the global South and Eurasia, a social democratic project must at this stage find accommodation within, and run through, a broader, more organic Populist, Statist or nationalist project.
For a social democratic or progressive, the choice cannot be neoliberal globalism. The task then is to shape the National popular project and outcome, helping reinforce the most progressive of kind of populism, statism or nationalism, or combination thereof.
Of course this choice cannot be based on pure idealism. One cannot simply choose the most leftwing of options even within populism, if it is not the one that has the best chance of defeating the main enemy, which is neoliberal globalization.
In Sri Lanka this means a choice between the UNP of Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mangala Samaraweera (a Premadasa UNP was not and would not be similarly classifiable as the vehicle of neoliberal globalism) on the one hand, and the Rajapaksa-led “Pohottuwa” (JO+SLPP) on the other, with the official SLFP as an intermediate and vacillating petty-bourgeois force which has to be won over or neutralized.
The progressive or social democratic project in Sri Lanka today would be to unite the JO-SLPP, the SLFP, the nationalist populists of the UNP and possibly the JVP, under the leadership of the JO-SLPP (Pohottuwa) or rather, its political line. If as is likely the reunification of the SLPP-SLFP cannot be as a single party, it must be as a front or bloc. While we cannot tell which combination of personalities will lead, all that can be said for sure is that Mahinda must centrally be part of the equation, or it will not stand.
Let alone the victory of a progressive project, the very stability of this existing government, post Feb 10th until end-2019/2020 will crucially depend upon the realistic accommodation of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the political equation and architectural order.