By Harim Peiris –
The political opposition in Sri Lanka seems freshly energized if recent events are anything to go by. The UNP has formed some form of a broader opposition coalition through the “Viroda Vipakshaya” and released a draft constitution as a discussion document for public and civil society debate, while the JVP galvanized by the economic issue of the electricity rate hike is seeking to mobilize support. General Fonseka, the united opposition’s presidential candidate in 2010, succeeded in getting his democratic party recognized by the Elections Commission, thereby changing the political opposition landscape at a time when there is considerable speculation in political circles that the proposed 19th amendment to the constitution will not only reduce the powers of the provincial council but also reduce the presidential term from six years to five years and thereby enable presidential elections early next year, with only a loss of one year in the incumbent’s current term.
However, there are several important strategic political policy issues that General Fonseka and the democratic party particularly needs to decide on as it surveys the opposition landscape and explores its options, chooses its policies and decides on its course of action.
So here are some political perspectives for General Fonseka and his Democratic Party.
1. Challenge the UPFA and not the UNP
General Fonseka, as you survey the political landscape, it is tempting to act on the belief that the UNP and its current leadership maybe more a part of the problem rather than part of the solution. There is strong suspicion among political circles that the UNP will only go so far in challenging the regime, but pull back in time to not cause too much damage, a belief reinforced by its lackluster performance during the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake and the lack of a continued challenge on the issue, currently pending before Courts and potentially having an unconstitutional interloper as a purported new Chief Justice. However, the weaknesses of the UNP should not be a problem for the Democratic Party and instead actually poses an opportunity for it, by creating a political space by which you may benefit. If people are unhappy with the government and the UNP, you stand to gain. A direct political assault on the government will be seen as legitimate in the eyes of the electorate, while attacking the opposition will seem opportunistic. Let the UNP sought out its own internal matters.
2. Focus on the President’s governance and not him (or his family) personally
It is important for a political opposition to resonate with the public. President Rajapakse is still popular with his key rural Sinhala constituency, which accounts for a vast bulk of the national electorate. However, due to governance and the political costs of incumbency, there is some popular disquiet regarding the regime. Disquiet does not equate to dissent or disaffection, so try and calibrate the arguments against the regime to fit the public mood and then slowly you can move the opinion forward. For instance, even the regime’s vilification of you, did not really resonate with the public and you were only becoming a rallying point for the opposition, hence your early release.
3. Consider carefully presidential election options, CBK is around
Learn from President Rajapakse’s mistakes, he only started losing friends once he came into high office, from Mangala Samaraweera to yourself, powerful friends parted company due to reasons that Lord Acton, famously explained about power corrupting and the natural consequences of absolute power. Our constitution bestows near absolute power upon our president as even the UNP has come to realize and is now recommending its abolition. The 18th amendment has only added to that power by removing the few democratic constraints on absolute power. So learn from President Rajapakse and don’t lose political friends and allies, especially not while in opposition. Prime Minister Rajapakse was all things to all people and only flexed political muscle once ensconced in power and certainly not while an aspirant to it, in the very nominal post of PM or as leader of the opposition.
There is considerable speculation in political circles of the proposed 19thamendment to our constitution which would remove police and land powers from the provincial councils and also reduce the presidential term by one year to enable early presidential elections next year. This will catch you and the rest of the opposition completely unprepared and also enable the regime to go to the electorate before its stock falls lower. However do consider your options carefully, the temptation to seek a hurried rerun of the 2010 campaign would be strong but may not be the most politically viable. A combined opposition candidate is needed to seriously challenge the regime and since Ranil obviously believes and his astrologers seemingly concur that his tryst with destiny would be later rather than sooner and certainly not in 2014 or 2015, consider the political merits of the only other beneficiary of the 18th amendment, a lady who never lost either of the two presidential elections she contested and bowed out gracefully at the end of two terms. She has recently more publicly expressed angst about the direction the country and the party her parents founded are headed in.
4. Give leadership to a post war reconciliation that is robust on security but generous on rights
Despite you leading the war effort as the head of the Army, the minorities of the North and East, both the Muslims and the Tamils, led by the SLMC and the TNA backed you fully in the presidential election of 2010 and resulted in handsome wins for you in those districts. You have the credibility as a war winning general to be generous on political, democratic and human rights, while being robust on security. There is a legitimate issue as to whether peace time Sri Lanka needs a bigger defense budget than war time Sri Lanka and actually only you can credibly engage in that debate. On the various other issues in the former conflict area of the North, such as high security zones, new cantonments and the displaced, which will come to the forefront as the Northern Provincial Council election approaches, you are well placed to engage credibly on those issues. Seek a dialogue with the pro government minority and left parties, including the EPDP, the TMVP, the CP, the LSSP and the Muslim parties, all of whom have political positions at variance with the JHU and the NFF variant of absolutism, which seemingly drives the Rajapakse regime and can provide some opportunity to create new alliances and find common ground.
Anyway you served Sri Lanka well leading the military during wartime and you could and should play a role in serving her in public life in peace time.
* Harim Peiris‘s writings may be accessed online http://harimpeiris.com
Bruno Umbato / June 17, 2013
It would be more productive if you put your energy and time in resurrecting the dead, Harim …
Dodo / June 17, 2013
If CBK is the joint opposition candidate, Rajapassa will want to repeal the 18th Amendment to the Constitution and re-impose presidential term limits!
Boy or boy that would be justice indeed – to be defeated by CBK as come back kid!
Rajapassa has become so smart that he is tying himself in his own knots and will soon know the meaning of the saying: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR!
Don Stanley / June 17, 2013
In Brazil and Turkey and Indonesia people are protesting public transport and fuel price rises and the misappropriation of public lands to awarded to political cronies of the ruling regimes in the name of “development” – a development model which forces the poor to subsidize the rich.. This is neoliberal crony capitalistic development which is in vogue and the crude and uneducated Rajapassa brothers are following the same model..
Time for the citizens of Lanka to get on the street and tell the Rajapakse looters and the corrupt clown at the central bank Nivard Cabraal to go to hell and STOP MORTGAGING the country, accumulating public DEBT and depreciating the rupee to line their pockets..
Aney Apochchi! / June 20, 2013
Or is it Wambotta?
I suppose the rest of us have to consider that “the oracle hath spake” after you get your pseudonym in print!
Harim Peiris has provided an interesting perspective on the immediate future, though the glossing over of the disaster that was Chandrika’s reign doesn’t exactly add value to what he has to say!
Unfortunately, “spellcheck” doesn’t work when you use the WRONG WORD, Harim. It might be worth your while to have someone proof-read what you write before you send it in for publication.
Overall, though, thanks.
Sriyakantha / June 17, 2013
Indeed! Chandrika as come back kid – older and wiser – would be a great peace-time president for Lanka, and joint opposition candidate to route Rajapassa.
She would save the SLFP and Lanka from the Rajapassa dictatorship too..
CBK was not a good wartime President, but will be a great peace time President because she is intelligent and educated and knows the solution to the minority question and will make the case to the Sinhala racists with the requisite style.
To win the war you needed uneducated brutes who were just like the brutal criminal LTTE leader Prabakaran that they sought to destroy. (Set a thief to catch a thief as the saying goes..) In other words, Rajapassa was a good war president but for a positive peace you need more educated and cultured folk who understand cultural complexity. CBK as come back kid with Rosy Senanayake as Deputy is the way to go for a joint opposition..
Dinuk / June 17, 2013
Quite right Sriya, CBK’s children are educated, and will not be into dynastic money politics unlike the uneducated Rajapassa thug-brats.
We need to kick out the whole Rajapssa family who are living off the country and mortgaging it while running up a massive national DEBT.
CBK’s family have the values and culture to lead Lanka now, unlike the Rajapassa thugs who are money and power mad. The Rajapassa family has NOT got any higher values, ethics or principles to lead the country and unite it.. They only DIVED and RULE in order to loot Lanka
The Rajapassa sons are uneducated morons – into fast cars, sports businesses and money, money, money! CBK can give them a good kick up the ass!
Lanka Muslim, UK / June 17, 2013
The British people even shunned the great Winston Churchill after the end of the war and wanted a peace-time leader; they chose Clement Atlee.
Safa / June 17, 2013
CBK has the capability of uniting the nation including the minorities. She has a support base within the ruling party as well. She has gained worldwide recogniction and acceptance even after her tenure as President. This makes her the best choice to lead the country out of the current atmosphere of hate and injustice.
K.A Sumanasekera / June 17, 2013
What an insult to tell the Elite and the Diaspora that their leader, Rright Wing Ranil, the last hope of the Diaspora’s White IC does Politics according to his “Kendaraya”,
Wonder who the Gura is?.
Is Harim trying to stich up our ex General,well in advance this time,so that CBK has better odds sneaking in with the TNA and the Rich Muslim vote?.
Rooster / June 17, 2013
Rright Wing Ranil?
Can you for say something POSITIVE at least ones for a change?
What an ‘Asubawaadhi’ fellow you are.
This is how you all bankrupt SLFPers (PA) mislead the masses with lies after lies. You all are dead scared of Ranil. You all know that no one can compete with Ranil but sadly the majority of the stupid people
dont understand who Ranil is. Having said that, dont assume the people with be fools forever. What happened to the late Bathalawathie in 77 will repeat. Guaranteed that Rajapaksa’s will be humiliated. Ranil will have the last laugh. Name sake Ports, Sports complex ect would be re-named. You will be hiding somewhere in Beliatte reagon Leela.
Dude / June 17, 2013
Hey are you on Ranil the bankrupt UNP dictator and his hypocrite wifes pay roll?
That shameless bugger has lost more elections that we care to count and is blocking younger, capable and charismatic leadership in the UNP.. Rosy should be the new boss time for a woman to lead UNP..
Ranil has ruined the UNP and Lanka and should be hung for what he has done to enable Rajapassa rule.
No Sri Lankan citizens want him as leader. Ranil had better let Rosy take over as leader of UNP
CBK and Rosy will be the winning dream team for Lanka!
Rooster / June 18, 2013
Dudes like you are the UNP’s major problem.
Rosy is good for you along with that dumb blonde CBK.
How can Ranil win an election when the UNP hypocrites dont vote for him.
Dude you are a kid, you got to go a long way. Sorry Dude, your political knowledge is zero. UNP would never win as long as people with your mind set are there.
Thrividha rathnaye pihitai!!!!!!!
Aney Apochchi! / June 20, 2013
K.A. Tsunamisekera aka Leela aka Potter’s delight:
You really are tiresome with your empty drive-by smears which you try to pass off as what? “Analysis?”
Yehiya / June 17, 2013
Still CBK is the strong candidate for opposition. She never fear to political attacks. She won the south PC under Sotthi upali, Sirisena cooray & LTTE. Mahinda & Anura that time leak all messages to UNP. Only mahinda fear to CBK. CBK internationally recognized politician.
CHANAKYAN / June 17, 2013
Comments in the CT in favour of CBK have snowballed in the last two months from a trickle to an avlanche. Perhaps the way the nation’s destiny works.
To rule by decree or not to decree is the question before MR, is what many surmise. Forestalling it is the leader’s duty.
What I had said on April 18, to Mangala Samaraweera’s article, I have repeated today to Eran Wickramaratne’s. Therein I referred to a five party alliance a ” Pancha Maha Balavegaya”. To it has to be added another Bandaranayake – Shirani.
CBK as the only legatee to the ‘Bandaranaike Legend’ has a unique moral obligation to respond. When in prison Nehru wrote to Indira when she was young, about the example of Jansi Rani for her to live by.
Besides all political prudence, is timing. To catch time by the forelock is a telling English idiom. 6th is too early 8th is too late was Lenin’s explanation for the choice of 7th for the Russian Revolution. This is seizing an opportunity at its flood. Gandhi too was noted for his intuitive timing.
political history is replete with heavy price being made for missed opportunities and wrong timing. Patel said decisions have to be made with no vacillation and with swiftness. “Like knife in butter”, was the expression he used.
tasil samarasinha / June 17, 2013
the trouble with cbk is that she too carries plenty of baggage sure all of you have forgotten THAWAKAL and many others which i do not wish to go into.her administration also was not the cleanest.
on the other hand ranil is the only politician who can boast not to have dirty hands.the man is honest to a fault.
true ranil may look weak but i think the man is made of much sterner stuff given the chance to prove it and if we the people do give him that chance we can do so without any fear of him trying to hang on to the job at any cost.
fonseka on the other hand has no experience in governing a country specially with regard to the economy he would have to rely on the likes of pbj and cabbral and that would be worse than now.
the best thing is for fonseka to join the unp or if possible enter into a pact with them because together they will be a formidable force while he would also be in a position to strengthen ranil’s hand should the need arise.
chum / June 17, 2013
I despise Ranil even more than I despise Rajapassa!
Ranil is simply the pits and has ruined the UNP and Lanka – at least Rajapassa did something and defeated the LTTE!
Ranil has done absolutely NOTHING for Lanka!
His contribution is in the NEGATIVE i.e. less than zero
tasil samarasinha / June 17, 2013
you are entitled to your opinion but could you justify your statements and if getting rid of rogues and bloodsuckers is ruining the party then all i can say to you is good luck chum
Kapila / June 18, 2013
Ranil is a disaster, he cannot even unite his own party let alone the opposition to take on Rajapassa..
Ranil is fit to be a circus clown – he is morally corrupt and intellectually bankrupt petty dictator in the UNP!
Ranil is infighting and creating enemies in the UNP – when what is needed is leadership for a joint opposition to protest the corrupt criminal Rajapassa goveranace and cost of living in Lanka – as in Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia, where are protesting on the streets against the cost of living, energy, public transport and fuel price rises and the misappropriation of public lands by regime cronies in the name of development..
CHANAKYAN / June 17, 2013
Below is another blog of mine to the same April article by M.S. Together with him you may turn what is viscous into crystalline.
When this comment appears as the 14th, it will be the 11th pseudonymous one. What a tragic commentary on the much prated freedom of expression as perceived by writers. They will all get out of their camouflage when CBK assumes power. That itself will be a tribute to her democratic spirit and temperament.
“If the perception be that only a determined mass upheaval can place a regime in power, a leader with charisma needs to be brought forward as the rallying point. In France the Napoleonic Legend moved political fortunes in the nineteenth century. In Sri Lanka there is only one such and that is the Bandaranaike Legend which can exert a sway. The legatee to that mantle who can lay a legitimate claim is Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. The opposition has four credible formations, ineffectual individually but potentially powerful when united and led by the fifth and the foremost ie CBK. Hon. Mangala Samaraweera may have a historic duty by the nation to bring it about”.
nishan / June 18, 2013
Ah, the famous Bandaranaike legacy. Sinhala only, economic ruin and incompetent and slothful administration. Not to mention how CBK chickened out of making Lakshman Kadirgamar Prime Minister. What could possibly go wrong?
Don Quixote / June 18, 2013
AHA, TESTING THE WATERS ARE WE ? !!
Educated and intelligent eh ? What about ineffectual, non punctual and totally out of her depth !
Two twrms of “slip sliding away” gevernance that led to a recession, we want more of that do we ?
Deiyyo saaki !
Aney Apochchi! / June 20, 2013
Did I hear Harim Peiris say (VERY LOUDLY!) Ouch!! (With CBK echoing that sentiment!)
Gonawala Sunil / June 20, 2013
Talking of Ranil, here is something which
his boot lickers and sycophants will no
doubt be embarrassed.
Ranil went to visit the homes of dead/missing
fishermen affected by the storm a couple of
weeks ago. He was prevented by goon squads
reportedly by the illustrious Sajin de Vass
Gunawardena, the man who rose phenomenally from
nobody to somebody.
RW lost no time in telling UNP stalwarts in Balapitiya
and later in Colombo that he would name Vass Gunawardena
in Parliament. He got other party men to hold news
conferences and accuse the monitoring MP for External
Affairs Ministry. Then what happens?
The President Mahinda Rajapaksa gives him a telephone
call. He tells him not to say anything about Sajin. RW
He makes a statement in Parliament about the storm and
blames a few departments. That is all. NOT rpt NOT a word
on Sajin Vass Gunawardena. What does this show?
Don’t believe me. See the events speak for themselves. Ranil
is in cahoots with the Rajapaksa Government. A little criticism
here and there is allowed. But MR draws the line!!!
So, is this the leader you want as the next President? Can any
one of his bootlicking lackeys explain this? How long can RW
continue to fool the people?
Aney Apochchi! / June 20, 2013
If what you say about the Gulf Pimp/Thug who attacked him and Ranil is true, it is MORE THAN SHOCKING! There were always suspicions about Ranil’s relationship with MR, but this really is the icing on that particular cake.