By Malinda Seneviratne –
Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe came up with a strange, important and revealing statement in the run up to the Southern and Western Provincial Council Elections. He said that if he is elected to power (in a presidential election, obviously, and complemented by a victory in a general election), there will be no threat to Sri Lanka from the international community. He was referring to the machinations in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Commission which had the government in what could be called its Annual March Dither. The statement raises some interesting questions.
What is it that Ranil can do that Mahinda cannot? What is it about Ranil that would make the international community, so-called, get off Sri Lanka’s back? If the UNHRC Resolution refers to things that may have happened more than five years ago, how can a Wickremesinghe Regime sometime in the future get it all off the agenda? After all, just because someone else is in power, it doesn’t chance what is said to have happened, does it? In this context what are we to make of Ranil’s assertion, his confidence and his confidences?
What Ranil is basically saying is that the movers and shakers of the UNHRC Resolution, namely the USA and UK backed by Canada, France and other member states of the European Union, is not really interested in truth, justice, accountability, resolution of grievances via preferred arrangements (such as power-devolution) or buttressing democratic institutions. Instead, all that is desired is regime-change. All the rhetoric and talking-points in Geneva, then, amounts to just foil for the real objective.
Now this should not surprise anyone. The USA, after all, has backed and defended with military might if necessary all kinds of tyrants, including monarchs, military juntas, dictators and even totalitarian regimes. It does business with the rogues and rogue-states even as it decries autocrats and autocracies. It’s all about which dictator and dictatorship are whose friends. The current initiative against Sri Lanka has nothing to do with truth, justice, reconciliation and such and not only because these things never mattered to Washington outside of rhetoric-need.
While Ranil’s statement betrays what can only be called an unholy friendship with Sri Lanka’s enemies, it points to a more serious issue pertaining to what political scientists call ‘the social contract’. The Minister of External Affairs, G.L. Peiris has argued on several occasions that the pressure exerted unfairly and selectively on Sri Lanka by Washington through Geneva can easily be dealt with by the simple matter of agreeing to the terms of surrender. Those terms, as currently articulated, are squarely against the general sentiments of the population save the Tamil National Alliance, which is a communalist party representing only a fraction of the Tamil community and beholden to the best friends of terrorists.
Regime change would not amount to a radical departure from these sentiments. No one in the UNP, for example, would say that the Government was wrong in crushing the LTTE or that there was anything in method warranting investigation of any kind. Objection to the regime there is and might even be growing but none of that has anything to do with operations against the LTTE or the current position of the regime vis-à-vis the issue of devolution. A referendum on whether the 13th Amendment should be enhanced with greater degree of devolution or another on the relevancy of the 13th Amendment and Provincial Councils after more than a quarter of a century worth experience is likely to result in rejection on both counts. No enhancement and indeed a call for abrogation, in other words.
The social contract among other things is about sovereignty, territorial integrity, and not giving on a platter the land-theft sought by terrorists through 30 years of terrorism. It is also about good governance, the primacy of the law, independence of the judiciary, and a need to depoliticize institutions. The latter set, although stressed in the Resolution, have to be treated as means to the end called ‘regime change’ for if these were troublesome there should have been similar resolutions on each and every member state of the United Nations. There weren’t and there will not be either.
What Ranil Wickremesinghe is not elaborating in his casual ‘put me in charge and I will get you and all of us out of jail’ statement is the relevance of the Resolution to the vexed issue of the larger social contract. Ranil is no fool. He is probably the best read Member of Parliament. His understanding of political philosophy and even the politics of the possible is probably second to none among his contemporaries.
He, more than anyone else, would be able to explain why this Government or any government for that matter has to reject the Resolution and refuse to submit to arbitration by what is essentially a Kangaroo Court. He would understand that submission amounts to buttressing a bad precedent and more than that subverts the very foundations of a political society that values democracy based on true representation. This government has not lost the legitimacy of authority vested in it by the people and whatever erosion there is has nothing to do with the articles scripted into Washington machinations in Geneva and elsewhere. This Government was not mandated to concede ground to Eelamists. The people did not confer on this government the authority to open the door to intervention by outsider forces clearly operating against their overall interests.
For all this, it must be acknowledged that mandates are twisted and re-interpreted by politicians all the time. For example, President A may be ousted by Presidential Candidate B because President A was seen to be corrupt, tyrannical and incompetent, but President B, after assuming office, can say that he/she was mandated to ‘resolve minority grievances through excessive devolution of power to the provinces’. We have to live with that reality. The reverse can also be true. President A can brush aside corruption, tyranny and incompetence, and claim that his one and only task is to ensure that not one inch is conceded when it comes to sovereignty, territorial integrity etc.
Ranil Wickremesinghe knows all this; all the more reason why he ought to elaborate on what would otherwise be a careless statement that amounts to confessing that he is in cahoots with the USA and UK for purely personal/party political reasons.
The key question that is relevant to the people of this country at this point is whether or not they are willing to have the larger social contract be re-written by those who cannot in any way claim to be representing them, namely the USA and UK. It is a question that all political entities, parties included, need to ponder over, regardless of love or hatred for the regime.
A clear and comprehensive response from Ranil Wickremesinghe at this point would not hamper his electoral fortunes. Indeed, the UNP as a whole could only benefit from stating its position in this regard. Failure to do so would force conclusions of the following kind: the UNP does not care about the social contract and would gladly support its subversion and consequent submission to Washington in return for securing power. It holds for the Democratic Party as well as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna too.
To recap, in Ranil’s case, he needs to answer some other relevant questions. If he can, as he claims, get the USA off Sri Lanka’s back if he were in power, does it amount to an acknowledgment that the current debate on Sri Lanka has nothing to do with truth, justice, accountability and reconciliation? Secondly, is he saying that the USA is only talking about war-related issues because it believes that these issues can help affect regime-change? Also, is he saying that vexed issues such as what really happened during the last stages of the war (and of course before that, including the period when the IPKF was ‘handling’ terrorism and terrorists) can just disappear into a column called ‘Non-Issues’ if this regime is overthrown? He is not a simpleton and therefore it is incumbent on him to response.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com