By Kumar David –
Recent reports leaking from more than one source indicate that Ranil is bent on contesting the Executive Presidency. That is to say, he will NOT present himself as a Single Issue (SI) candidate for the express purpose of abolishing the Executive Presidency (EP) through constitutional amendment, enacting a parliamentary alternative, stepping down (obviously since EP would have evaporated) and holding fresh parliamentary elections immediately afterwards. Instead, if this information is correct, Ranil does not wish to abolish the Executive Presidency at all, rather he desires to occupy it for six years. If he has his way, the Executive Presidency that many including this writer believe lies at the root of the disintegration of democracy in Lanka, will continue. Ranil does not want to abolish EP, deep in his heart he probably never did, rather he desires to bask in it. Instead of Mahinda wielding and abusing autocratic powers another person will usurp the same horrific powers and the slide to dictatorship will persist. If the reports are true this must be denounced, rejected and exposed for what it is, an attempt to wreck the Single Issue Common Candidate (SI-CC) strategy, which is the only way EP can be abolished.
If Ranil were to go ahead with this reckless scheme, it will be a cakewalk for Mahinda Rajapakse. Nobody except the UNP hardcore will vote for Ranil for a 6-year full executive term. The JVP and the TNA will not support an Executive Presidential bid; others will denounce it as sabotage of the opposition plank. Frankly, in this event, I will conclude that he has been put up to it by the Rajapakses as a way of letting Mahinda Rajapskse secure another term. His plight will be pathetic in a straight Mahinda-Ranil fight if everybody else goes in other directions. Sans the blaze of a common opposition platform neither Ranil nor anyone else can mobilise the fire needed to defeat Mahinda.
Common Candidacy is feasible if and only if it is for the sole purpose of abolishing EP and then quickly holding new parliamentary elections. Will the JVP support Ranil for a substantive presidency to implement the policies that the UNP stands for? Certainly not, the social and economic programmes and ideology of the UNP and JVP are poles apart.
Will the UNP or the Tamils back Anura Kumara for a six year term? It is absurd even to ask; the UNP cannot accept the socialist and Marxist orientation of the JVP, nor should Tamils trust the JVP given its anti-Tamil track record? What about the TNA, does it want an Executive Presidency led by the UNP or JVP? No, the TNA now stands for the abolition of EP. True, Hakeem and the SLMC will raise their hands for anything, even the Eighteenth Amendment or unconstitutional impeachment, to line their pockets. Dead Left leaders are the same on these counts; though they do not line their pockets they are opportunist political eunuchs. Recently, the Dead Left leaders did make some muffled groans about getting rid of EP; but don’t hold your breadth, soon they will find good reason for slithering back into Mahinda’s toe-jam.
A Common Candidate (CC) of the opposition, with or without the SLMC and Dead Left, is possible if and only if it is for a unique objective that all can support; that is abolishing the Executive Presidency. Therefore, everybody will support even a broomstick for a limited period for this express, explicit and unique purpose. In these circumstances the views of the candidate on other substantive matters are irrelevant. If it is for a unique short-term objective, who cares about socialism, capitalism, inclination on 13A, devolution etc? These are matters for the next, post-EP, parliament.
Let there not be a shadow of doubt that common candidacy is possible, if and only if it is temporary, and for this unique purpose, and with no other hidden motives. The CC strategy and the SI concept are inseparable. Ranil is a fool if he hankers after a common candidacy for a full-term presidency. If the information in these leaks is false, then it up to him to deny it, loud and clear.
What if Ranil offers himself as an SI-CC candidate? That is, what if he says “OK I will contest in the first instance to abolish EP, change the constitution and then step-down. Subsequently I will lead the UNP in the parliamentary elections with the intention of becoming prime minister”? In principle, if this is sincere, it is acceptable and he should be considered alongside other potential SI-CC nominees – currently, Sobitha and Chandrika are the credible front runners. But Ranil has mentioned no such intention; nowhere has he identified himself with the SI concept, nor unambiguously declared that he wishes abolish EP. The obvious conclusion is that he hankers after it. If not, let him explain himself.
What if SI-CC does not materialise?
I was the first to propose and systematically developed SI-CC in a series of newspaper and web essays from about two years ago; hence I have an interest in continuing the discourse. (Of course I have no special rights; the process must go where it will). Public interest has widened and the Rajapakses have panicked that an avalanche is gathering against them. New names are added to the list, some hilarious like Sajith; others because kite-flyers wish to appear politically correct – those who proposed Anura Kumara and Justice Wigneswaran for example. There are only three candidates who as SI-CC challengers can defeat Mahinda; Sobitha and Chandrika for sure and perhaps Ranil, but he is the weakest. Sobitha has no ambitions beyond the Single Issue and Chandrika, were she to agree to be an SI candidate, can be bound hand and foot to honour the pledge this time despite her false promises, twice, previously.
Ranil, unlike the other two, has enduring political ambitions into the future. If he desires to abolish EP he should NOT stand in their way, instead he should help sponsor a common candidate to carry through the change. Only after that does it make sense for him to bid to be prime minister. It is his refusal to take this approach that strengthens my suspicion that he is after a full six-year Executive term or is gaming on behalf of Mahinda. Were he to launch yarns in the next period about doing away with EP but continuing, uninterrupted, as Executive Prime Minister, don’t believe a word of it; it is a sham.
If nevertheless, and much to my chagrin, no credible SI-CC challenger were to materialise, it is necessary to ponder alternatives. Who are likely to challenge Mahinda for the Executive Presidency? The two obvious non-SI-CC contenders are Ranil and a JVP candidate, probably Anura Kumara. There will be minor players in the pack; a pack without jokers is no fun! There is also the possibility that Sobitha, or someone else, may advance without UNP support as a weak common candidate on an abolish-EP ticket. (General Fonseka is ineligible, and Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake and Justice Wigneswaran won’t be interested). In this scenario, I still say, support the weakened common candidate, whoever it be. And in the absence of even a weak SI-CC option, I say vote against Mahinda and Ranil. While I am confident an SI-CC candidate with UNP, TNA and JVP support can defeat Mahinda, in the absence of this grouping the incumbent may win a third term. There are many months to go; things will change when international war-crimes investigations commence, or India toughens its stance, or monks and military run amok and push Lanka into deepening instability. Hence it’s too early to make irrevocable choices.
In the scenario where a strong SI-CC challenge cannot be mounted, that is to say a scenario where Mahinda Rajapakse is re-elected, the opposition’s attention must shift to the parliamentary elections that will follow. In the presidential poll the objective must be to weaken Mahinda Rajapakse; even push him to a run-off poll as will happen if he secures less than 50% in the first round – I need to find out the legal position if no one secures 50% in the first round. Irrespective of the outcome in the runoff, if Mahinda polls les than 50% in the first round, it will have monumental implications. He will be a weak president and an energised public can better limit abuses of power, financial venality, bad governance and the orgy of family banditry.
Less than 50% in presidential round-one will also have resounding implications for the ensuing parliamentary elections and provide a launching pad to defeat the UPFA. It would be damned fine thing for Sri Lankan democracy if power is split and president and parliamentary majority are from different alliances. Given that rogues proliferate on both sides, the best choice in the public interest is to break up these two monopoly-consortia of miscreants, mercenaries and scoundrels.