By S. Sivathasan –
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s lament is that the Tamil voter voted him out and dislodged his regime. Not wrong the nation affirms. With fetters in full and yet in part, this voter has helped seat and unseat governments. When bound hand and foot and delivered at the disposal of M.R. in 2005, victory was his. The slim 180,000 majority then, bespoke his lack of lustre in the Sinhala eye, though the Tamil vote was shut out.
The Tamil vote in January though partially unbound and yet not fully free, made for a 444,000 majority and spelt him disaster. It changed the ruling hand in January 2015. The Tamil vote together with the Muslim one cooked his goose is his contention. How to undo it may be his obsession. But can he? No it appears. Why?
Benefits from January
In January, the body blow to the incumbent President came from the nation’s polity. In the August encounter, the majority ethnic segment itself is poised to deliver a mortal blow. When all ethnicities act in tandem, the minority vote will become less important for victory, but of utmost significance for a two-thirds. Such a resounding victory is crucial for an unswerving effort at reform. The nation is yet waiting for the 19th Amendment in its pristine form after repealing the current one. The 20th too is similarly awaited. The voters’ resolve is for stable governance, not for seven months but for decades and more.
The diligent have seen people’s gains in the last seven months. A fresh air of liberty now pervades the country. With an independent judiciary, tyrannical enforcement of tyrannical laws is consigned to the past. Separation of powers a bedrock of democracy had all but disappeared. The educated classes fought hard to get it back, not to loose with a few words from a UPFA pulpit. Recourse to justice not available earlier is now accessed and cherished. Freedom of thought, expression and assembly lost for long are regained. The media that fought bravely will continue to be in the forefront of the struggle. The white van spectre, arbitrary arrest, death at the rulers’ wish and disappearance at will are among the inglorious past. These features becoming permanent in the Rajapakse era stand demolished. Can anybody cite even three reasons for the previous order coming back?
Has not the Sri Lankan polity demonstrated its political intelligence time and again for sixty years? In 1956 a repulsive government, cut off from the people and their aspirations was sent packing with a clutch of only eight seats. When the popular government of 1960 failed to perform and lost its lustre, was it not replaced unceremoniously in 1965. Srimavo and the leaders of the glamourous Left were wiped out in the 1977 landslide. The reason was sheer unrealism in policy and ineptitude at delivery. Chandrika’s majority of 1.9 million in 1994 reflected the people’s anger repressed for 12 years. People’s repulsion growing from 2010 brought down Rajapaksa’s majority of 1.842 million to a defeat by 444,000 in 2015. A grand slide of 2.28 million came about in a mere five years. Why should the voter think of reversing the gear in seven months? It is in the nature of political dynamics for the trend to continue in volume and speed. With further acceleration on automatic gear, high speed and a widening gulf will be seen.
The bloodless revolution of January 2015 was a glorious one. It deflected the nation from getting enmeshed in a cruel dictatorship. What seemed sure fascism at dusk on 8th became a secure democracy at dawn on 9th. Blessed isle many may think. Malevolent destiny I would suggest. Everything comes easily to this land. Independence came all too easily. So was the striking change of 1956. Flow of aid was smooth and persistent. What is not hard won is neither appreciated nor safeguarded. Hence the ease with which the return of tyranny is talked about by some, though never can it happen.
Why never? Benign destiny may seem to turn malevolent when people talk with levity. But the particular balance of forces; ethnic and religious are clearly against Mahinda. Political convictions are well solidified against fascist rule. Battle lines drawn earlier are getting strongly demarcated.
The 100 Day Success
The 100 day programme displaying a record of achievement has made an impressive improvement to people’s lives. On the economic front changes are most marked. Enhanced prices for agricultural production benefits a wide agricultural community. Substantially reduced cost of imported food commodities, reduced cost of cooking gas, lower energy costs and affordable travel costs brought about by cheaper fuel, benefit the totality of the nation’s polity. They have made a qualitative change to their life’s experience in a truly material sense.
State employees are 1.2 million. Since January the magnitude of their income is greatly increased. Enhanced pensions and more spectacularly the removal of anomalies benefit over 300,000 retired officials. Many out of this segment of 1.5 million voters are of consequence to influence society. Many are wont to think that pipelines cut off from corrupt hands are now benefiting them. Added to all these is the youth segment which is most substantial in the demographic profile. It can be taken for granted that they were and are impatient with the Rajapakse regime. Even if they are not with the JVP, they are nowhere near UPFA or Mahinda.
To the politically conscious voting majority, the benefits derive from the new governance capability of Maithripala, Ranil and the UNF. To at least a fifth of those who did not vote at the last election, the successes are motivation enough to vote and that too for the governing side. It may be noted that turnout in 2015 at 81.52% was highest in 5 Presidential elections. Reading that stiff competition motivates higher turnout, 80% is reachable in 2015 parliamentary compared to 76% in 1994 to 2004. With very many permutations, seat numbers may be reckoned. Jaffna district at 66% had the lowest turnout among 22 electoral districts. Fetters all round with military Governor presiding over irregularities explain this performance. Enhanced turnout will change the configuration in the North. Likewise changes are foreseeable countrywide for a multitude of reasons with local variations.
Bloodless Revolution of 1688
We first learnt of the bloodless and glorious revolution of 1688 in England. It brought in the Bill of Rights which established the primacy of Parliament over the monarch. After the Bill, the latter had a ceremonial position while Parliament was vested with much power. It is good to know of the antecedents for the king to be relegated as a constitutional monarch.
It was preceded by the English Civil War (1642 -1651) and the bloody execution of King Charles I in 1649. Charles I treated Parliament as trifle and such conduct brought him in collision with Parliament. Little difference with MR’s cavalier treatment of Sri Lanka’s Parliament. People’s resentment brought Oliver Cromwell into the scene. He took the military into Parliament, arrested the king and with due process tried him for high treason as “tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy”. A good 200,000 had perished in the civil war.
Though a span of some 360 years lie between happenings in England and Sri Lanka, parallels are drawable. In January, the President on the verge of becoming a monarch was deposed by the ballot. The powers of his office were whittled down by the Nineteenth Amendment. Executive Presidency will stand fully abolished after the Twentieth Amendment. A veritable 1688, making the office of President ceremonial is in the offing. When a neat sequence of events is arranged for Parliament and people to come into their own, who will want it derailed?
Two – Thirds
The people in the mass are moving fast. The iceberg has begun to surface and the contours become more visible. As of now one prospect grows clearer. It is not for victory that the Tamil vote is crucial. It is vitally needed for a two thirds when the major cross over occurs.
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