By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Here’s the scenario for one year from now: one, possibly two more members of the ruling family will almost certainly be in Cabinet while a bloodless Night of the Long Knives would have seen off the SLFP barons suspected of allegiance to the deposed queen. I ain’t got no dog in this fight, but I would like the political situation to have far greater balance and wouldn’t like the System to be even more top-heavy than it is. Simply put, I wouldn’t like Sri Lanka to function ridiculously like a medieval kingdom in the 21st century. Now if you think appearing as a kingdom or transitioning from a republic to a kingdom is a good thing provided roads get built and real estate gets gentrified, then you won’t have a problem. If however, you think it’s a bad thing, as the Opposition and dissident civil society seem to, then you really should stop playing silly buggers, as the Opposition seems to be doing currently.
The regime’s performance at the parliamentary election will depend, above all else, on its performance at the preceding presidential election– which is why the margin of victory/defeat is crucial and why the opposition is being strategically suicidal. Nobody outside of Colombo and Kandy, and not many in those two towns, give a damn about the executive presidency and its abolition. What they do care about is that they are finding it difficult to make ends meet. They care that the peace dividend hasn’t reached them in the sense of material improvement in their lives. This discontent can be (graphically) linked by an intelligent opposition, to the phenomena of family rule and the chokepoints of resource allocation, as the UNP did in 1977.
In focusing on the abolition of the executive presidency, the Opposition is moving in entirely the wrong direction: away from palpable mass concerns to those whims of a faction of the urban political class; from the socio-economic– the physical quality of life– to the purely political; from the concrete to the abstract.
Elections aren’t won by candidates who promise to abolish institutions. They are won by a positive appeal. They are won by candidates who credibly promise a better tomorrow and level a credible critique about the present. Hence the success of the Clinton (actually James Carville) campaign strategy: “It’s the Economy, Stupid”. Hence the triumph of Obama’s rallying cry, “Yes, We Can”. Hence the victory of Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1988.
Certainly the Presidency is overly powerful, but the way to handle that is to reform it by reintroducing the 17th amendment. What kind of brain could think that the mass of people would want Mahinda Rajapaksa to be replaced by a set of bribable, bickering parliamentarians? The voters are going to ask themselves whether they prefer Mahinda or a collective of Cabinet Ministers and MPs. “What a bunch!” they’ll think to themselves.
There’s also the question of the national experience of having Ranil Wickremesinghe as PM and the UNP constituting the cabinet. Does the opposition think that in the minds of the people, that was some kind of Camelot? Is that why the UPFA was voted back in after Chandrika dissolved the parliament and went for election in just two years?
What if we didn’t have an Executive presidency when Ranil signed the CFA and arrested the operatives of the Directorate of Military Intelligence in their Athurugiriya safe house? We would still have had Prabhakaran running the North and killing people in the South whenever he wanted to. It is only the existence of a powerful executive presidency which constitutionally held the portfolio of defense, which saved this country. Ironically it is JR’s Constitution, in the hands of his old foe Sirimavo’s daughter that saved us from his nephew’s Chamberlain-like policies of appeasement. So, do we really want to abolish it rather than reform it?
Does the Opposition really think that the mass of voters are going to opt for a political system in which power in parliament and therefore in the whole country, may one day be determined by the TNA, instead of by a leader elected directly by the country as a whole?
I rather think not. Therefore I was glad to read that ex-CJ Sarath Nanda Silva is working of a reform package that re-balances the system while retaining the executive presidency. At least the man, unlike the monk, knows what he is talking about. So far, the legal ‘intellectuals’ working on the abolitionist package are those who either gave Chandrika the wrong advice about her adventurist ‘union of regions’ packages of 1995-1997 or constituted the chorus for them. By contrast, Sarath Nanda Silva is far more grounded and does not have a profile of a minoritarian sell-out. Furthermore, unlike the immediately preceding CJ, the born again liberal and darling of Colombo’s liberals, and a political non-starter, Sarath Nanda Silva can be a heavy hitter on a platform in support of a decent candidate. If he, General Fonseka, and CBK were to actively support a Karu Jayasuriya-Sajith Premadasa ticket, that electoral option would be decidedly viable.
What I was not glad to read was that reform package contains the abolition of the system of proportional representation. JR Jayewardene’s reforms were the most modernist variant of capitalism that Sri Lanka has seen: the open economy, the directly elected executive presidency, proportional representation and semi-autonomous provincial councils. These must be improved upon; re-balanced, not abolished. It is proportional representation that gives the JVP, the Tamils and the Muslims fair political space. I for one would like to keep the JVP comfortably within the parliamentary system. Shouldn’t everyone?
What the Opposition needs aren’t absurd proposals for beheading or dismembering the Constitution. All that’s a sad waste of the Opposition’s time and energy, months away from utterly decisive, even historic, national elections. What the Opposition needs is a viable program for socioeconomic betterment; for a better tomorrow— and above all, a candidate which has the mass credibility to pitch it. What it really needs right now—all it really needs right now—is a kinder, gentler Narendra Modi. Then it can organize.
Billa / August 3, 2014
Oh yeah, the opposition is at the cross roads and the government is at the end of the road ! There is no governance in Lanka to talk about DJ sir. What these guys doing is destruction of every damn thing in the nation. Can’t you see that ?
Please stop giving your 2 cents worth of complicated advice to these murderous, unethical beasts, calling themselves Buddhists and patriots and creating mayhem, religious and political prostitution. No one cares about what you write and you know that. So please don’t waste your precious time, even if you are doing it just for a living. Find a decent area to write about and you can still make money for a living with all your writing talents. No matter what, you cannot become a Mervin de Silva or even close because basically you are a well dressed and educated racist, never mind whether you are a Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim or anything… Racist is a racist in any language and it’s very bad Mr. DJ and that’ where the problem lies. A racist cannot contribute anything to a multi cultural society and no one wants your contribution of twisted lies and deception.
Thiru / August 3, 2014
Well said, there is no governance, only there is racist driven anarchy!
Thiru / August 3, 2014
To say a little more:
The country is in the dungeon, opposition is at The Crossroads, rulers are playing racist havoc, and the Sri Lankan state is muddling through its 66 years of existence.
We can’t look at everything in isolation, but the big picture is important, and what keeps turning the state machinery and the rulers is important too.
Buddhist clergy, revered by the Sinhalese society, and the Mahanayakes immersed in the Mahavmsa ideology and its Sinhalese Buddhist supremacy is the common thread that runs through the state and its rulers since independence. One can discuss isolated things but this thread is always in place just like the Brahmins’ poonool representing Brahmin supremacy. That explains why Subramaniam Swamy is always opposed to lowly Tamils.
In my opinion, Sri Lanka will muddle through without peace or prosperity for many decades to come until this concept of Sinhala Buddhist supremacy is renounced by the Sinhalese.
It’s wise for Sinhalese to remind themselves as to what happened to Aryan supremacy in Nazi Germany.
Modern Confucius, Lee Kuan Yew has foretold this time and again, and it is as good as Confucius’s original teachings.
aratai / August 3, 2014
One year from now, more lands will be given to Chinese.
More money to ‘the family’.
Sengodan. M / August 3, 2014
The fate of the country Dayan, is that it has to first descend to a feudal kingdom before it explodes with a fury to modernism! Nobody can stop it whether one likes it or hates it!
The opposition is not going to dance to your tune!
K.A Sumanasekera / August 3, 2014
It! is more like the Abyss than the Crossroads .
Now uncle Dayan is talking turkey. Isn’t he ?
Why did he hold this back for that long until the Rainbow reached the Crossroads if he doesn’t like the Rajapaksa and his familial rule?..
Shouldn’t he have done this soon after Nanthikadal or at least after the first round when Prize Fighter Ranil, sat in the coaches box, and sent in a street fighter in to the ring to take on the Champion.
Isn’t he planning the same this time , with the street fighter replaced by a woman or a Buddhist Monk ( yet to be decided ) hoping the Champion will feel reluctant throw heavy blows.
And it is just a another gimmick of Ranil to buy another 5 years, hoping his faculties will stay in shape and the Champion’s will fade or he will get run over by the Pillai Coach with the obese Western mates sitting there.
The brave Military Intelligence Officers getting massacred in their sleep in Athurugiriya under Ranil’s watch and his supervision alone is enough to keep Ranil away, from this now peaceful and terror free country.
Iraq, Libya , Syria and now Gaza strip remind our inhabitants what can be in store for them with the UNP , the ex Prez , JVP, DNA, and the TNA in the same coach now waving the Rainbow Flag.
BTW, Uncle Dayan surely must have been reading my comments,
S,Sivathasan / August 3, 2014
The opposition is NOT at the crossroads. It is stuck in the back lane, in 7 vehicles. With little motive power and less eye appeal it is not picking more commuters. It is not making much headway because vehicle size is unconvincing. Two more to the fleet and immediately thereafter, replacing 9 with a single large one will attract commuters.
What is most important is first an attractive driver perceived as winnable. The selectee will have casual engagement for 6 months. Coterminously the permanent driver chosen by the 8 other vehicles will be seated beside on the wings.
This is the surest way to speed up and get on to the Highroad. The single issue Executive Presidency is only for driver selection. It becomes deadweight if this symbolic Baggage remains loaded any longer. Once the river is crossed why carry the boat?
Dr.DJ’s advice at paras 2,3 & 4 have to be read in this context and needed action appropriately crafted.
Safa / August 3, 2014
Dont underestimate Ven Sobhitha. He has a great deal of respect amongst all sections of society including a majority of the sangha.
Also EP can easily be linked to the COL and all the problems faced by the ordinary citizen. EP is inextricably linked to MR who has taken full control and full responsibility for all problems facing us today.
Paul / August 3, 2014
Sanest article I have read for a long time. Malnourished masses with no clean water, electricity or job prospects don’t give a damn for the EP and associated political theories. These matters are the intellectual delights of the well fed and the Sri Lankan diaspora. First give us bread….
Native Vedda / August 3, 2014
“First give us bread…. “
Plead with the executive president, he might consider feeding you at his palace on Galle Road.
“These matters are the intellectual delights of the well fed and the Sri Lankan diaspora.”
Who are these intellectuals? Please name them as I am curious to see how a Sri Lankan one looks like.
K.A Sumanasekera / August 5, 2014
I thought the Diaspora has elected one by their universal franchise.
And he is now housed in New Jersey, with the previous offerings to the LTTE now pouring in to his coffers.
He wouldn’t be short of a feed, with all those Euros, Kroners, Cameron Pounds and Harper Dollars.
You don’t need to count even the US Dollars, which he earns as a New York lawyer.
One cant live on peanuts and get the services of the utmost elite like the ex high rollers and intellectuals , whom he has under him as his loyal Senators of the International Eelaam.
And then you have not one, but nearly a bakers dozen in the ex Motherland whom they call themselves the Rainbow Runners for the Common Candidacy.
Imagine the intellectual prowess they posses even each one of his/ her own.
Our ordinary punters plus even their friend Dr Dayan wouldn’t call this lot, the Party of the Intelligentsia for nothing…
Leelagemalli / August 3, 2014
This man seems to have NO sleep these days since we are all becoming clear that Opposition is getting stronger minute to minute. Almost everyone that never thought UNP would raise their head are surprised for the unexpected change. I never supported UNP, but this time, many like me would support them to get rid of brutal Rajapskehes and let people allow to appoint an educated leaders to run this nation with highest literacy rate in entire south asian region.
Park / August 3, 2014
Opposition is in trouble because of people like Sajith Premadasa, Wimal Weerawansa, all the UNP MPs who stole money when they were in power and crossed over to UPFA, Rauff Hakim, Champika Ranawaka, Thondaman, ARMA Cader, and other Muslim politicians who are with UPFA who have been bought over by Rajapakse.
Talking about governance – What governance are we talking about? Any power that rules has governance but the question we have to ask is – is it “good governance”? Unfortunately with the support of the above mentioned politicians we do not have “good governance” under the present regime.
Navin Ladduwehetty / August 4, 2014
I seldom agree with the views of Dayan Jayatilleke though
I read the to learn different opinions. I will not deny
to him the compliment that he argues his case very well
though some come out silly and ridiculous.
I agree the United National Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe
cannot win a presidential poll. People vote for a candidate. They
seldom vote a candidate because they hate the other.
There are number of reasons why Ranil can never make it. It is no
secret that RW has been colluding with MR so much. That is why he
is the leader of the UNP. Don’t forget the UNP convention that made
him the leader.Mervyn Silva sent thugs with UNP identity cards and
MR assigned STF guards to protect the venue.
Ranil is very weak. He does not take the Rajapaksas head on. He
always outsources them to others, mostly his homosexual favourites.
He has not made up with Sajith Premadasa. There are people in the UNP
who want to promote Karu Jayasuriya too.
Ranil is under obligation to MR.He is under pressure from his partner
Malik Samarawickreme to contest.Malik can collect the spoils. Malik has
met MR many times in the recent weeks. In return for the persuasion contract, he will receive land and bank loans.
Ranil is doing his best to get USA and India to give him money. But
they know what happend at the last election and who pocketed them.
But RW thinks he has already won the presidential elections. Look at
his mundane speeches. One can only laugh. People like Mangala Samaraweera are wasting their time because he has no other place to go and no other UNP leader will take a liking to him.
Raman / August 7, 2014
Dayan never understands the human side of the politics. He nevr thinks about dienfranchisement of Hill country Tamils,The massacre of Tamils in the north during International Tamil literary conference, the humiliation and devastation of Tamils in the anti-Tamil riots in 58,77 and83, the loss of Tamil jobs under Sinhalese Only rule, the loss of university admissions by Standardization and many abbrogated pacts with Federal Part It were these factors that created Prabakaran.Now like Machiavalli he is advising Rajapakse how to continue the dictatorship for ever.