By Dayan Jayatilleka –
John Kerry was right, but only half right, when he commended Samaraweera for noting that true sovereignty can only be protected by asserting our multiethnic, multi-religious, multi lingual character. Both Kerry and Samaraweera forgot the flip side, namely that the estimable values of multi-ethnicity, multilingualism, multi-religiosity and pluralist multiculturalism can be successfully defended by those who have the national legitimacy of successfully defending national sovereignty.
The problem isn’t John Kerry. The problem is the Ranil-Mangala-CBK troika: the Three Stooges of the West. Kerry made a substantive, subtly intelligent speech at the Kadirgamar Institute. His remarks at the Ministry of External Affairs were helpful in that he signaled that Sri Lanka would hold parliamentary elections “in the summer”. This confirms the mention in The Economist (London) that elections will be in August this year.
Matters are a little different when we come to Mangala Samaraweera and his ex-boss, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
Welcoming Kerry, Mangala promised a domestic investigatory mechanism with international technical assistance including from the UN. What does this mean other than Western investigatory teams digging up bones all over our North and East, while operating under the cover of a domestic mechanism? The Opposition should move a no-confidence motion on the Government at the first sign of such dangerous subterfuge.
Mangala also revealed an explicit aim of a “fully-fledged parliamentary democracy”. He could have just said ‘democracy’, or ‘pluralist democracy’ or ‘liberal democracy’ but he didn’t. Instead he specified the parliamentary form. What this means is that as earlier indicated by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Eran Wickremaratne and Jayampathy Wickramaratne, a UNP Government will be committed to the abolition of the executive presidency and the restoration of the Westminster model.
In turn this clearly means that despite all the time and effort spent on 19A, the UNP does not want to give the resultant reformed Presidency a try for ten or even five years, and intends to embark on a time consuming distraction of a new constitution, scrapping the balanced , classically Gaullist presidential parliamentary synthesis that has just emerged.
The question is “Why”? I believe there are three possible answers or a mix of any or all of them. At the most banal level, the abolition of the executive presidency instead of a long try-out for the newly reformed one, is because the UNP elite, of which CBK is now an honorary member, wishes to block a Sajith Premadasa presidency in 2020. I recall a DUNF top-ranker telling me during the impeachment campaign that “R. Premadasa was OK, but Ranasinghe Premadasa is not”. When I asked him what he meant, he said Prime Minister Premadasa was OK but President Premadasa was not.
President Premadasa’s view was just the opposite. He told me at the time of the impeachment motion: “Dayan, I am able to do all this rapid development work for the people, while uplifting the poorest of the poor, because of Mr. Jayewardene’s Executive Presidency. Do you think my Cabinet colleagues would have allowed me to do any of these programs if I were a PM? I remember how these jealous fellows cut my funds in 1980…”
The second generation UNP elite, firmly restored under Ranil Wickremesinghe, is not going to let Premadasa Jr. pick up in 2020 where Premadasa Sr. left off in 1993.
That however, is the least important of the three possible considerations. The second is that an entirely new Constitution is needed to accommodate the real change that the regime change of January 8th was about. The issue of the abolition of the executive presidency is either a fig leaf or of secondary importance to this real objective. That objective was spelled out as ‘the only durable solution to peace on the island’ by former president Kumaratunga in her SJV Chalvanayakam memorial Oration. She explicitly articulated the term “a federal constitution”. She went on to advocate the “dismantling’ of the Sinhala majoritarian governmental structures and laws which had given the majority a monopoly of political, social and economic resources and exclude the minorities. The veteran Indian journalist and Sri Lanka watcher PK Balachandran summed up her speech in the caption of his report in the New Indian Express: “End Sinhala Monopoly says Kumaratunga”.
Thus the UNP’s need for a “parliamentary democracy” rather than a rebalanced (post-19A) Executive Presidency is really the need for a new constitution, and that need in turn, is to fulfill the objective of a federal constitution, reducing the political power and control of the majority over the island state. Thus a return to a “fully-fledged parliamentary democracy” is a cover story for the introduction of federalism.
There is a third reason or explanation. Taken together, what would a Westminster model combined with a federal system amount to? The classic Westminster model is unitary, and has subsequently evolved to grant a great measure of devolved power—it is not federal. The US Presidential system is federal while the French is unitary. It is a few ex-British colonies that have systems which are both parliamentary and federal: Canada, India, Pakistan, and Malaysia.
In Ceylon/Sri Lanka the national political leadership rejected not only federalism but also devolution, while the system was parliamentary. It was only with a secure executive presidential system that the mature national leaders felt it was safe to devolve power to the provinces, though never to shift to federalism. A combination of a fully-fledged parliamentary system and federalism, as envisaged by the UNP-CBK combine would go way beyond the parameters that successive national leaders established since Independence. It would seriously weaken the Sri Lankan state.
A Government of a “fully-fledged parliamentary democracy” would be controllable by the TNA. Furthermore, a federal constitution would loosen the ties that the island’s North and East have with the rest of the island and its capital while permitting greater ties with its 70 million strong ethnic kin in Tamil Nadu, and through them with the large neighbor looming permanently on the horizon.
Perhaps that is the third objective: a Sri Lankan state that is sufficiently weakened– “dismantled”–so as to mollify Tamil opinion here, in Tamil Nadu, and in the million strong Diaspora? It would also be a state that is sufficiently non-resistant to the political, strategic and economic influence of the patrons of the UNP-CBK dispensation, the West and India. Such a weak state would be a citadel that has lowered its drawbridge, dismantled its battlements and ushered in the Trojan horse of external influence.
In the name of justice, equality and autonomy for the minorities, the majority on the island, the Sinhalese, who are the real minority when you consider the massive geopolitical realities just a few kilometers of ocean away, not to mention in the world as a whole, will find themselves politically displaced, distanced from their real friends in the world, and left naked to their existential enemies. Our last chance to prevent this peacefully will be the parliamentary election scheduled for later “this summer”. It will be a long, hot summer. If our electoral choice is wrong, if we don’t generate a tsunami of Sinhala votes which will sweep away the local puppets and defend our natural status on this our island home, it will be our last summer as an independent nation, followed by an endless winter as a dependency of the Empire and the regional superpower.