By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
The post-January 8 euphoria of the winners is inevitable and predictable. The effusive triumphalism is a natural expression of embracing the electoral victory of Maithripala Sirisena. Winners, of course, are entitled to their glorious moment of triumph, however ephemeral it may be. Not even “Paki” Saravanamuttu can object to the triumphalism of the victorious forces making and sharing kiributh in the streets.
Mahinda Rajapaksa too has played his role by gracefully withdrawing from “Temple Trees”. Now he will have enough time to contemplate what went wrong under his stewardship and, more importantly, in the campaign. He has also left his Presidential office with achievements that reflects a degree of glory far greater than any other defeated or retiring incumbent.
Right now there is a great relief in the anti-Rajapaksa circles that a change has come. And this is not confined to the chattering class in Colombo. Ripples of it are felt even in Western, Indian and Chinese capitals. However, what this change means is yet to unfold. The initial test will be whether the Coalition of swans, elephants and Tigers can get along as one team to achieve the goals outlined in the Manifesto for change.
One factor that stands out clearly is that Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated by a collective of the forces in the opposition, most of whom can be classified as failures in politics. The first impressive success they scored is in acting collectively to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa. Only the might of the collective forces, from north to south (particularly the north), could have challenged him so decisively. Anything short of that would have been a failure. So much so that there is no opposition now. The entire opposition is in the government.
This poses two problems: 1. how to manage the contradictory forces within the “My3-pala-naya” and 2. who will fill the vacuum in the opposition?
Though it is cold comfort, Mahinda Rajapaksa can, at least, console himself by saying that he will no longer be responsible for post-January 8 consequences. That responsibility now lies with Maithripala Sirisena who should know that political events do not move according to plans and timetables written down on paper. Besides, the Sirisena Coalition has promised solemnly in its Manifesto, to transform the nation into “the ideal country” within six years. It is such a tall order that no one expects it to be implemented even within one’s life time, let alone six years.
Victory places on the triumphant the ineluctable moral and political duty of accepting responsibility to implement the promises given to the people. There’s no point in writing manifestos if they are meant to be a wish list posted to Santa Claus in the Never-Never land. From day one the Sirisena Coalition will have to shoulder the total responsibility for their decisions. But the most likely eventuality will be to blame Mahinda Rajapaksa for any failure to achieve the goals outlined in their Manifesto – the binding electoral contract they had with the people promising to solve the problems that Mahinda Rajapaksa couldn’t.
In other words, the problems arising from victory will, indeed, be greater than problems arising from defeat. The problems facing the new government will gather momentum after the euphoria evaporates before long. The complexities of implementing the Manifesto, leading to an “ideal country” — if that is ever possible — will weigh down heavily on the new President and his Coalition of incompatible forces that had joined temporarily to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa.
As they settle down in the coming days to the business of governing they will realize that picking up politics from where Mahinda Rajapaksa had left off and constructing a new nation is more complex than the electoral stunts of defeating an opponent. To begin with, the very nature of the heterogeneous forces, competing with each other, are bound to generate unmanageable tensions and divisions within the Sirisena regime.
Besides, Sirisena’s electoral trains – particularly Yal Devi that went to Jaffna — arrived on January 8th carrying too many passengers loaded with too much baggage. This is somewhat ominous for the future. The bigger the promises in the baggage the lesser the chances of implementing them. President Obama is a living example of where the rhetoric of promises far exceeded his capacity to deliver them. Now he has come to the end of his term leaving America and the world it has policed in a far less secure place than his opponent, Bush.
Initially, Sirisena found that the great number of the oppositionists on his side a blessing during the election. But he will soon realize that the same motley crowd will be a burden: the greater the number of passengers on board the lesser the chances of satisfying each and every one of them. The invariable result of trying to satisfy all and sundry at the same time is to end up in satisfying nobody.
Take the case of the Tamil votes in the north. Just as much as the 2005 abstention of the Tamil vote helped Mahinda Rajapaksa to defeat Ranil Wickremesinghe the massive Tamil vote for Sirisena helped to defeat Rajapakse in 2015. The swing of Tamil votes helped, to a large extent, in determining the political outcome in both presidential elections.
That is only the visible part of the electoral defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Tamil vote should not be interpreted purely as an internal intervention to restore democracy, justice and law and order, as claimed by R. Sampanthan, the TNA leader. The international dimensions of the Tamil votes are more significant than the internal component, though both are inextricably intertwined. The international involvements constitute the hidden part of the story that is yet to be told. Dayan Jayatilleka has exposed in his latest contribution (see Colombo Telegraph — 9/1/2015) how Charles Gnanakone, old school mate of Ranil Wickremesinghe, had manipulated the opposition to destabilize the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. According Dayan’s revelations mega bucks have been thrown in to buy MPs over at the correct time. A part of the plot was also to bring in Chandrika Bandaranaike to do the dirty work. And the plot against Mahinda Rajapakse was hatched years in advance for defeating the Tamil Pol Pot, Velupillai Prabhakaran. This reveals a part of the external dimensions of the Tamil plot to dethrone Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Judging by the reaction of the Tamils on both sides of the Palk Straits this election is seen by the Tamils as a victory avenging the defeat of Velupillai Prabhakaran. Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated the Tamil Tiger terrorism at Nandikadal with bullets. The Tamils got even with him through the ballots fired by the Sinhalese. This also fit into Dayan’s narrative of using Chandrika Kumaratunga as their bait to lure Sirisena and undermine Mahinda Rajapaksa. Tamil ecstasy came out loud and clear from the reactions of the Tamil Nadu haters of the Sinhalese. Vaiko, the general Secretary of the MDMK, was ecstatic that his bête noir, Mahinda Rajapakse was defeated. He said that it made his day. The leading Indian/Tamil mouthpiece, The Hindu, (9/1/2015) went to town highlighting the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa. One commentator who reveled in the defeat was Kumaravadivel Guruparam of Jaffna University (The Hindu,– 1/10/2015). He like R. Sampanthan, TNA leader, was saying that Sirisena has to pay his share for the support given by the Tamils for his victory.
All this makes it obvious that there is more to the story of how Maithripala Sirisena won than in the mere statistics released by the Elections Commissioner. The hidden hands of local and external hands will, no doubt, be revealed in dribs and drabs later. For the moment we will have to be satisfied that it has been a smooth and democratic transfer of power from one SLFP clan to another. There is, of course, no doubt that the latest shift of power from one regime to another non-violently confirms the maturity of the Sri Lankan democracy.
The vote that went against Mahinda Rajapaksa was more against his family than against his own failures, though he has to finally take responsibility for the failure to reap the harvests of the good will of his achievements. He relied on the charisma of his triumphant image to take him through the rough and tumble of times which, of course, was undermined by his own kith and kin and “indispensable friends” like Sachin Vaas Goonewardena.
Like most other leaders Mahinda Rajapaksa was a prisoner of his close family and friends. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s regime too lost the election mainly on the cry of the state being used as a home from home for friends and family. She faced the identical charge of “pawul balaya”. The same fate awaits Maithripala Senanayake but with a twist. The reaction against him will arise from his newly found family of political friends than from his own sins. He will have to carry their sins of omission and commission which are bound to occur after the euphoric bubble bursts, sooner or later.
Right now the winners will bask in the fizzy glory of electoral victory. Reality will dawn later – probably after the first 100 days when all the competing rivals will come out with their fangs bared to claim their share of power, perks, and privileges. The clawing will even turn bloody.
The ultimate test of Sirisena will be based on results, particularly in making his Manifesto a reality. Any pre-judgment driven by euphoria will be like handing over the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama purely on his rhetoric. As all politicians know translating manifestos into political realities is not an easy task that can be done in 100 days or even six years. Politics of governing demands, from time to time, not only deviations from promises but also taking unexpected harsh measures that contradict and undermine the promises. In this respect, it is those who invoke the higher moralities who are most likely come a cropper.
History is overcrowded with those who have failed to honour their promises than those who have fulfilled them. Right now Sirisena is inundated with the usual euphoria that comes with victory. He must be overwhelmed with the good wishes from abroad and at home. But as a Buddhist who quotes the dhamma frequently he should know that these are transient phases. Eventually he will be judged not on promises but on delivering them as promised. If he does an Obama then he should accept total responsibility for making promises he never could have achieved.