26 October, 2020

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The Revolt Against The PM And The Presidential Endgame

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

It was not quite the revolt in the temple of old but sacred temple tenants were out on Flower Road last Wednesday, storming the Prime Minister’s Office and mixing it up with cops and guards who were standing in the way.  The monks wanted the PM’s head not over the heroin pickle that the PM has got into but for going on the counter-attack and publicly calling a member of the Maha Sangha “Cheewaradariya”.

The Prime Minister, known for his outspokenness, should also have known that with his office implicated in arranging customs passage for heroin from Pakistan, he was in no position to call anybody anything, least of all a member of the Maha Sangha.  The Flower Road fracas ended with the monks settling in for a letter of apology issued by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), after getting the original version reworded to their satisfaction.  If a letter of apology was all that was needed to atone for the aspersions cast on the venerable echelons of Lankan society, it could have been easily obtained through simple communication rather than a public orgy of street protest.  After all and without any fuss the heroine importer was able to get a letter from the PMO – to facilitate customs clearance for the contraband.

Colombo is not unaccustomed to political protests, but the old trade union agitations in the hurly-burly industrial and mercantile areas of the City have now given way to expressions of other grievances, real as well as fancied, in areas that were not accessible to earlier protestors.  Historically, Flower Road was known for its quiet vista of exclusive affluence.  Relocating the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) from the Senate Building to the old mansion of Sir Earnest de Silva on Flower Road was then Prime Minister Premadasa’s exercise in spatial mobility.  But why the PMO should remain there even after the nation’s parliament was moved lock, stock and barrel from Colombo to Kotte is anybody’s guess.

That same Wednesday, unlike the monks and their mayhem, there were genuine grievers out on the streets not far from Flower Road.  They were the deprived depositors of Central Investments and Finance Ltd (CIFL) still looking to recover whatever they could from their life savings that were swindled by the financial wizards whom they had trusted.  On Thursday, the Federation of National Organizations (here is a federation that opposes devolution!) blocked off much of Galle Road from Kollupitiya to Fort as they marched to protest against the visit of Stephen J. Rapp, the US Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues. The FNO’s grievance, unlike that of the CIFL depositors, is more fancied than real.  Why cannot the monks and the FNO protestors join ranks with people having real grievances, such as those whose savings were swindled by the CIFL, add to their voices and show solidarity with their mission to get their money back?

Political protests – their form, location and content – are indicative of the interplay of political forces and the vicissitudes of political fortunes.  ‘The rural masses vote governments into power and the working classes throw them out’ was Dr. Colvin R de Silva’s description of the regular pendulum swings in government changes that characterized Sri Lankan politics until the Jayewardene/Rajapaksa machinations stymied the political dynamic in the electoral process and between elections.  While governments changed as a result of the electoral defeats of incumbent governments, the somewhat overlooked factor in those defeats was the internal dissensions and splits in governments before they called elections and suffered defeats.

The Endgame

In almost every instance, especially in 1956, 1965 and 1977, as well as in an indirect way in 1994, a divided incumbent government was set up for defeat at the polls by an alignment of opposition parties taking advantage of a hostile electorate.  Political ambitions and opportunisms played their part in the internal dissensions and splits in governments, on the one hand, and opposition alliances, on the other.  At the same time, these splits and alliances were also dialectically linked to the political expressions of people’s real life problems.  Seen in such light the Prime Minister’s heroin scandal and the protests over it by monks and minions are a parody of politics; they are not the model of politics that Colvin conceptualized.  To add a foot note from history, Colvin R de Silva not only conceptualized politics, but also demonstrated in practice the masterly organization of protests.  That was then, what do we have now?

While commentators have expressed due concern over the involvement of the PMO in the heroin scandal and its implications for ministerial responsibility and the probity of government itself, the central political actors are cynically manipulating the scandal for political positioning rather than dealing with it honestly and transparently.  As I noted two weeks ago, no senior government leader has come out in defence of the Prime Minister.  The silence of the President is deafening.  The President owes it to the country and the reputation of his government’s probity, if such standards are still relevant in Sri Lanka, to either defend his Prime Minister or ask for his resignation.  He will do neither.

On the other hand, the UNP, aka official opposition, has gone against the common practice of gaining political mileage by calling for the PM’s resignation.  Instead, the official opposition seems to be defending the PM.  The attacks are coming from minor players such as the JHU and the JVP.  According to Mangala Samaraweera, ex-SLFP Minister and now UNP front liner, the attacks on the PM are part of a campaign against senior SLFP leaders in the UPFA, and are being orchestrated by the likes of the JHU and the BBS with blessings from within the Rajapaksa regime. This might explain the cynical silence of President Rajapaksa.  But does it suggest a cunning strategy on the part of the UNP?

The UNP is in the political doldrums and whatever it does or doesn’t about Prime Minister Jayaratne is not going to make any difference to the UNP or anybody else.  It is the ultimate victim of JR Jayewardene’s grand constitutional design to create a ‘perfect dictatorship’ of the UNP and provide Sri Lanka the political stability for economic growth without opposition protests and trade union strikes.  JRJ lived long enough to see the UNP getting torn down the middle by his fighting successors, and to see as well the daughter of his nemesis resurrect her family party from the ashes and recapture power after 17 years.  17 years are not a long time for party-dictatorships – the perfect dictatorship of the Institutional Revolutionary Party ruled Mexico for 71 years.  But JRJ did not live long enough to see the SLFP under a different family rule adapt his constitutional contraption to create a dictatorship of a different kind.

Even though his grand design never really took off under him, and it foundered under his successors from both sides of the political divide, President Jayewardene played out his endgame well.  He enabled his own succession, retired from the presidency and lived more than a presidential term (he did not any constitutional amendment for that) as private citizen.  President Rajapaksa is still younger in age to what President Jayewardene was when he became President.  Through the 18th Amendment, Rajapaksa was almost planning an endless endgame, so to speak.  But the controversy over Prime Minister Jayaratne’s heroine scandal is unexpectedly stirring up succession comments and discussions.  Although President Rajapakse is not publicly defending the Prime Minister, he would rather have Mr. Jayaratne remain as PM if only to avoid appointing as new PM an aspirant for the presidency and a potential challenger in the not too distant future. Suddenly, the presidential endgame is not being seen as endless, 18A notwithstanding.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    1

    “Sinhala Ravaya” and BBS comes out and misbehave when something important happens or a dignitary arrives.

    I think you are over thinking here. They are not govt or a Sinhala machination.

  • 2
    0

    If Drug Mudalali Jeyaratna goes home, Basil will be the PM.

    As long as Ranil remains the opposition leader not many people would care. Ranil should not allow anyone to take this valuable position from him.

    • 0
      0

      Yes Mr.30 percent out of which 10 percent to Fat Fuk

  • 2
    0

    Yes the silence of the President is quite deafening.

  • 7
    0

    This is an interesting phenomenon that has been mastered by the regime. It allows for limited public disorder and dissent. It is essentially a safety valve that allows people to vent their fury and nothing more. The rulers maintains a distance and are unfazed by the resulting chaos, after all it is only the public that is severely inconvenienced.

    The rulers continue to rule, if worst comes to worst, nothing like a bit of tear gas and water cannon or even the Rathupaswala treatment. Let the Yakkos have their day and watch the fun. Order out of Chaos.

  • 4
    0

    This article is published in Island as well, if you read this article you will notice it is orchestrated to defend Rajapakse and UPFA.

    Rajapakses have laptop friendly news reporters everywhere even PM involved in massive drug deal is watered down by these laptop journalists. Rajan even blame Maha Sangha, JR and UNP for this. -:)

    what a shame !!!

  • 4
    0

    Rajan, you seem to forget about the entrenched Rajapaksa Dynasty which has taken a stranglehold on Sri Lanka politically, economically and socially.

    The PM’s heroin fiasco will soon fade away as a result of back-room deals with the so-called protesters. His successor will most probably be one from the Rajapaksa clan, or at best a toothless pansy.

    Don’t delude yourself about a looming endgame. The young buck Namal needs much more to finish his training for dad’s job. Till such time, contingencies apart, MR will remain in the saddle.

  • 1
    0

    Main target of the Priests, is to get more publicity and not to genuinely help the needy.Hence they chose to ignore the needy

  • 6
    1

    The Buddha has said that whatever Karma one has committed will follow him like the ‘cart that follows the bull’. What is happening to PM is also the same. He, maybe against his conscience, presented the motion in Parliament to sack the former CJ based on what the legal experts tell today as a travesty of justice. PM did not have backbone to say no or stand for his conscience.
    Now he pays. No one can escape from this universal truth.

  • 4
    0

    1. Isn’t telling protesters how to protest the ultimate
    condescension?

    2. Why this endless fixation with the endgame? Do you want the game
    to be fixed?

  • 0
    0

    hora 18A men can delude themselves 18A is legit.

  • 0
    0

    All wishful thinking ! OK the opportunities are these to change the regime but there is no catalyst.

    Those opportunities have been around for years now.

    We await a HERO !

  • 0
    0

    Rajan Philips article is more the detached commentary of a distant observer rather than that of a participant or witness in Sri Lanka’s state of chaos. There are no views expressed stongly, or biting sarcasm. In that sense it is a finely written historical record only. There is no moral lesson in it. No heads will turn. The Rajapaksa regime will march on noticing nothing awkward in it’s wake, and continue to push the country hurtling down the moral precipice and ruination.

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