By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“Believe that a further shore is reachable from here.” – Seamus Heaney (The Cure at Troy)
The Kaduwela District Judge issued an enjoining order, forbidding the telecasting of ‘Janapathi Janahamuwa’, a long interview with Candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Elections Commissioner agreed to a set of proposals by election monitors, aimed at ensuring transparency in ballot-counting.
Hopefully these are omens of more democratic times to come.
It is hard to believe that the Rajapaksas would allow themselves to be defeated electorally. It is even harder to conceive of the Rajapaksas bowing out, in case of defeat.
But then the unthinkable has happened many times this election season, starting with the nomination of Maithripala Sirisena as the Common Candidate.
The SLFP-rebellion has reignited the democratic spirit within society. It also seemed to be having a knock-on effect on the state. For the first time since the impeachment, a flicker of resistance to Rajapaksa domination is discernible. Top Finance Ministry officials objected to the Treasury Secretary about the political use of state property; the OIC of Wanduramba, GL Keerthisinghe, resigned in protest against political interference in police work; provincial judiciaries ordered the arrest of several marauding UPFA politicos; the police actually complied.
Significantly, the UPFA did not rush to the upper judiciary to get the Kaduwela district court’s enjoining order cancelled. Was it because de jure Chief Justice informed his masters that the upper judiciary is beginning to find its collective-backbone?
Even the ITN obeyed the court order – another significant departure from the recent practice of hardline-state institutions (like the UDA) ignoring inconvenient court orders.
The Rajapaksas are bound to have a Plan B and a Plan C to hang on to power, in case of defeat. But the state – including the armed forces – are unlikely comply.
Post-18th Amendment, the Rajapaksa project had two seminal vulnerabilities – the succession was not ensured since the prime minister was a non-Rajapaksa; and the SLFP, deep down, was not quite a Rajapaksa-party.
The election was partly an attempt to close the first loophole. It inadvertently turned the second loophole into a sinkhole. Faced with a lifetime of political servitude, the SLFP began to crack. Given the semi-feudalist mindset of the party, the rebellion happened the only way it could – through the agency of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
It is this singular confluence of SLFP-rebellion and presidential election which has created a chance to eject Rajapaksas from power, peacefully and democratically.
That chance is a very real one.
It is also the final one.
‘You will see what happens’[ii]
On the last day of campaigning, the Daily Mirror provided the government and the opposition an equal opportunity to have their final say on its middle pages. There was an interview with Ranil Wickremesinghe on the op-ed page. And there was an interview with Rohitha Rajapaksa on the editorial page!
Unlike his earlier newspaper interviews, the youngest presidential offspring tired to affect a sober and serious mien. In making that effort, he inadvertently revealed his faith in autocracy: “I am of the view that if a country is to be developed, the leader should remain unchanged for a long time.”[iii]
His father and uncles would be in total agreement.
The Rajapaksas never meant this election to be a real contest. And if by some remote chance the Rajapaksas win again, they will move with all too imaginable ruthlessness to crush the opposition and destroy every flicker of democratic life in state and society, so that ‘the leader can remain unchanged’ until the grim reaper calls.
Three recent utterances indicate that future.
Minister Dulles Alahapperuma told the final UPFA media conference, “In case President Mahinda Rajapaksa wins Thursday’s election, legal action will be taken against foreign agencies and individuals who allegedly funded the common opposition election campaign and induced government ministers to cross over to the opposition…”[iv]
Bodu Bala Sena, which is campaigning hard for Candidate Rajapaksa, told the media that in the event of victory it will ask for the setting up of commissions to probe “Non-government organisations, political parties and politicians have been part of financing deals that have taken place”[v].
Finally UNP’s Malik Samarawickrama informed the media about a telephone conversation he had with Candidate Rajapaksa: “I had a call on the mobile phone from Lohan Ratwatte, the UPFA MP for the Kandy district. He passed the phone to HE the President. Mr. Rajapaksa accused me of doing all the damage to him in collaboration with Mangala Samaraweera. He said after the presidential election, when he wins, he would be a different President Rajapaksa. You will then see what happens.”[vi]
Given what happened to the war-winning army commander after he lost in 2010, it is all too easy to imagine what the Rajapaksas will do, if they win in 2015.
In the absence of proper opinion polls, accurate scientific predictions about the electoral outcome are not possible[vii]. The most that can be done is to combine statistical and political trends to create the likeliest scenario/s.
The UPFA polled 57.88% in the 2010 January presidential election. This increased to 60.33% in the 2010 April parliamentary election. Since then, the UPFA vote has been on a downward trend. At the local government elections its national average was 56.45%. At the provincial council elections this fell to 54%.
This statistical downward-trend confirms with politics. 2010 was the apogee of Rajapaksa popularity. (The UPFA did even better at the parliamentary election because the opposition was at its weakest). Since then the UPFA’s popularity has been waning, due mostly to economic issues.
The SLFP inner-party rebellion would have lost the Rajapaksas a slice of the blue-vote. Most of Northern and Eastern vote will go to the Opposition. If the opposition can equal Ranil Wickremesinghe’s 2005 performance in the other seven provinces, Maithripala Sirisena will win on January 9th. Politico-statistically, that is the more possible outcome.
The regime’s final rally in Kesbewa ended two hours before midnight. That was a clear sign of a campaign which had lost momentum.
The Rajapaksas, sensing the possibility of defeat, are trying to bridge the gap with naked, unadulterated racism.
The opposition campaign was far from being an epitome of reason and intelligence. But it did invite people to think through their own condition, rather than appealing to raw emotions. And it was not racist.
The Rajapaksa campaign, on the other hand, was dependent primarily on anti-reason; trying to incite ethno-religious fear, distrust and hatred was its main aim. As the final days approached, race-baiting became its sole recourse. A relentless effort was made to win, by addling Sinhala minds with minority hatred and phobia.
The Siblings and their minions do not care that they are poisoning minds and seeding future ethno-religious conflagrations. They do not care that they are making it difficult to the point of impossibility for Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims to coexist, at least with mutual forbearance.
If this is their idea of patriotism, it is far more honourable to be a traitor.
In 1988, the Republicans won the US Presidential election by inciting white-fear about blacks (though the infamous Will Horton ads[viii]).
Are the Sinhalese of 2015 as unintelligent as American-whites of 1988?
I think not.
[i] The title is a line from Auden’s poem, Spain
[ii] President Rajapaksa to Malik Samarawickrama – quoted in The Sunday Times – 4.1.2015
[vi] The Sunday Times – Political Column – 4.1.2015
[vii] Take, for instance, the much talked about survey by the Mass Communication Department of the University of Kelaniya. As Senior Lecturer Manoj Jinadasa revealed (http://www.rupavahini.lk/main-news/sinhala-news/5070-2014-12-31.html) the respondents were not asked who they are likely to vote for; they were asked who they think is likely to win the election. The two questions – ‘Who are you likely to vote for?’ and ‘Who do you think is likely to win?’ – have different meanings. Many diehard opposition supporters fear that the government will win the election by foul means. But for some reason, the Kelaniya survey portrayed the answer to the second question as the answer to the first question. Their conclusion therefore is seriously flawed.