By S. Sivathasan –
Victory with Some Ease
The Ancien Regime (Rajapaksa Government) had become insufferable. An aggrieved populace incensed at mis-governance thirsted for change. In just nine years, antagonism was so strong that they threw it out with a vengeance. A well-knit opposition collective offered a credible alternative. Parties established for long, together with leaders having credentials thrust themselves forward. For once a well formed programme sought people’s endorsement. It had a timeline of a mere 100 days. The time is now for delivery and expeditiously at that.
To the New Regime, winning the battles and eventually the war seems the compulsion. When the space available for victory on all fronts is hardly 80 more days, is there a sequential option. No, they have to be fought and won apace. In a context of troubling choice, how can expectations be met? Among pledges held out, some will be critically watched. Yet others anxiously awaited. Voter response will determine return to life after the interim term.
Life Threatening Dangers
1. Maithripala’s majority over Rajapakse was a flimsy 3.7%. In 7 Presidential elections, only 1 was lower at 1.86%. Others ranged from 5.48% to 26.37%. To stand on firm ground for parliamentary elections, 3.7% % has to be trebled. For this an year’s work has to be done in 3 months. Else parliamentary elections have to be held after 1 year.
2. The 25 point plan in 100 days is a big bite with much to chew. It envisages cleansing of governance, creation of fresh institutions, Appointment of independent commissions, reduction in taxes, raising of salaries and rationalizing of parliamentary representation. These are among the more salient.
3. Introducing the Right to Information Bill in February, passing it as an Act in one month and displaying the benefits in the next. Failure will dissipate confidence.
4. Appointment of Special Commissions by February 5, to investigate corruption. Nation’s estimation is that a month from January 10, was enough for prima facie proof against billionaire fraudsters, to be in place. To have announced a flight cordon on election night and yet to have allowed suspects to give the slip and slither away is an act of omission.
5. Most important is the abolition of the Executive Presidential System. Replacement is with a Cabinet of Ministers responsible to Parliament. Process was to begin on 21st January. Progress report gives no indication of commencing action.
NOTE: In an interview in December 2014, Karu Jayasuriya stated that Think Tanks comprising intellectuals in several disciplines had worked on the transformational programme. In the light of such a pronouncement, the mighty voter led up the garden path, has a mightier way of casting his vote even adversely.
The 5 formulations above are life threatening. The declaration cited at 4, “Special Commissions to Investigate Massive Corruption” was very portentous. Corruption in financial dealings had depleted the Treasury, drained the country of foreign exchange and impoverished the people. Probity in administration ceased to be. Widespread nepotism destroyed the will to work. Ascendancy of the military in governance, particularly in Foreign Service, had made nonsense of external relations. This single step earned the ire of the people in no small measure.
In politics and more at elections, it is symbols of hate surrounding the opponent that brings in maximum dividends to the proponent. So it happened to the Ancien Regime that reeked of corruption. The New Regime proclaimed a change of image and also of substance. Now much is in jeopardy, when the past regime is not demolished root and branch. People’s hate is existing but the symbols are glowing. A mood of revulsion against misdeeds of the previous government, has in no way been created.
Rohana Wijeweera’s death in 1989 October, was followed by a week-long incessant exposure of his opulent living. It was contrasted with JVP’s professions. This was Premadasa’s strategy of demolition to swing popular sentiment towards him. The New Regime is failing to exploit the avenue of exposure. Thereby it is not garnering the venomous fallout that rightfully belongs to it. Those who make half revolutions are doomed. Rajapaksa never made it so to Sarath Fonseka in 2010. Neither did Jayewardene do it to Sirima and Felix after 1977 election.
Life Giving Measures
1. A well-reasoned group of 100 items is listed. Most of the populist measures are incorporated therein. Voters expect them to receive priority treatment from government, though timelines are not specified.
2. The 25 point plan and the 100 item programme meticulously implemented, will be life giving.
3. The National Executive Council is innovative and excellent. Decisions taken and progress recorded should be publicized every fortnight.
“A Comrade Correcting His Mistake”
Russia’s decision to remove the missiles from Cuba in October 1962 evoked a lot of encomia from world leaders. Prominent among them was Bertrand Russel. China played it down with the words “nothing great” about it. It was merely a case of a comrade correcting a mistake.
The new regime today needs to get on to the threshold of its 100 day avowal. In the spirit of a pragmatic correction of a bona fide miscalculation it has now to be disavowed. Such an act will have acceptance among the people and would resuscitate confidence. Else the Government has to commence 100 percent on the 25 point plan and the 100 item program. Even 75 Percent success will be a spectacular record in a formidable task.
Sri Lankan National Government and Polish Liberum Veto
For Sri Lanka, National Government is innovative with an idealistic streak. So was the Liberum Veto for Poland from 1632 to 1795. The latter experienced disaster.
Sri Lanka – What is sought appears to be wider participation of all political hues. Further desired seems to be endorsement of policies and laws by the largest spectrum of the polity. Will it work? To a realist NO.
Poland – The Liberum veto was an idealistic innovation. It evolved in 1632-1648. The principle embodied in the LV was unanimity in law making. Even a single dissentient voice can veto a bill. Idealism at its theoretical best, one would say. How did it work?
In 23 years between 1772- 1795, Poland was partitioned thrice by Austria, Prussia and Russia. In 1795 she disappeared from the map of Europe. She ceased to be a geographic entity for 123 years. Only in 1918 she was reestablished.
For disappearance what was the reason? Among others, the Liberum Veto was critical. It had paralysed administration, gridlocked economic movement and made for stagnation. Weakness resulting therefrom made Poland a prey to strong neighbours who swallowed her.
With a good knowledge of Poland’s recent history and her fate, should Sri Lanka place faith in unanimous decision making? That is through a National Government.
Critical Reappraisal and God Speed
Absolute caution appears required on two proposals.
1. Dissolution of Parliament on 23rd April 2015, when one whole year more is available for:
- Full demolition of the adversary.
- Comprehensive success in the 100 Day Programme, when it is spread across 15 months.
The writer’s supposition for the tight schedule of the New Regime may be over optimism about the scale of victory. A 12% margin was a reasonable estimate. A tectonic shift so to say. An array of changes to flow therefrom. But this was not to be since election was neither fair nor free. Another factor might have been the speed of the machinery at delivery. So the document drawn much earlier, needs a fundamental change.
2. The idea of a National Government was more idealistic than pragmatic. A government formation with governing coalition of 2/3 + and opposition 1/3 – is far different from a composition of just 15. Parliament has a good stock of ‘pole vaulters’. It is unwise to neglect this reality.
Appreciable circumspection seems the need of the hour.