“I had been requested by Mr. Bandaranaike to meet him every Wednesday with Mervyn de Silva.”
– Elmo Gooneratne, Reminiscences, CT,September 8, 2017.
When the British uncovered Soviet spies in the Establishment, they often looked the other way because imprisonment would send shock waves throughout the system and disturb social stability and consensus.
The British knew how to manage these things. The Lankans do not. Lalith Weeratunga was the last serving member of a distinguished tribe of gentlemanly civil servants, the survivors of which are Godfrey Gunatilleke, Neville Jayaweera, Tissa Devendra, Bradman Weerakoon and Susil Siriwardhana.
He has been imprisoned and heavily fined for a victimless crime. His careless compliance or impropriety pales into insignificance in comparison with the cold villainy of Mr. Clean Out, the Boss of the bond scam bosses.
The very image of the respectable, affable, hardworking Lalith Weeratunga in handcuffs would have sent psychological shockwaves through the State system and polarised society. It triggered the realisation in me that there are two types of players in this town: those who had better book their one-way tickets to the US or UK just before the national elections of 2019/2020 and those who need not do so.
Meanwhile, the Yahapalana Government assures us that the project of Constitutional change, a project that in any self–respecting country is the most sovereign of processes, is motivated and driven by purely national considerations and compulsions.
This claim is made nonsense of by the official testimony of US Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells, who identified the wellsprings of the reform agenda and confirmed that our Constitutional reform process, among other things, will be under the “oversight” of the UN.
“These resolutions committed the Sri Lankan Government to transitional justice and prevention of the recurrence of the violence… Specific steps include Constitutional reform devolving more administrative power from the Central Government to Sri Lanka’s regions… and a credible mechanism to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes. The United Nations will continue its oversight of the implementation of these steps through March 2019,” Ms. Wells said.’ (dailymirror.lk/article)
How did we wind up a UN protectorate as it were, having won Asia’s longest war? And what on earth is the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) doing in a Government that has made these commitments, despite the opposition or dissent signalled by President Sirisena (if we are to believe his speech on the party’s 66th anniversary— which I do). What is to become, electorally, of the SLFP, or that section of the SLFP which remains in the Government which is proceeding along the rails prescribed by the US and is driven by the “Ruthless Rootless” UNP?
The SLFP was conceived of and born as a moderate alternative to and a democratic substitute for, the rightwing, pro-Western, comprador capitalist UNP. It is built for that purpose. That is its raison d’etre. According to the New Testament, Jesus poses the existential questions: “What use is salt if it loses its savour? What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” The essential principle involved in these questions is true in any and every realm of endeavour including the political. What befalls a political party if it loses its role and function and its way? What does it profit a politician if he gains all his Cabinet perks but loses his vote base?
The Government is trying to dodge an election of any sort, like a tethered man trying to dodge a bullet.
The JO-SLPP bloc may say to the Government what IRA’s said to Maggie Thatcher after the Brighton bomb blast: “you have to be lucky every time, but we have to get lucky only once.” The Government can dodge elections only so long. It can run but it can’t hide. Sooner rather than later, an election will catch up with it. The UNP will lose, probably badly, but it will survive.
There is less at stake. The ‘official’ SLFP however will risk all. If it is beaten into third place as is likely, what will it do? Stay with the Government and go into extinction at the national elections of 2019-2020, hoping to resurrect itself after?
If Chandrika and her serfs hope that the JO-SLPP will be decapitated by legal action, they have failed to calculate the effect of UNP-driven punitive action on the SLFP vote-base, which will react against the SLFP collaborators with fury.
The Government has also failed to understand that even if Mahinda is out of the way, there is Gota, and if Gota is out of the way, there is Chamal, and if Chamal is out of the way, there is Dinesh, and if Dinesh is out of the way there is Dullas.
Who does the UNP have to run for President in 2019 when the dynamic will be one of “throwing the rascals out”? Ranil, Fonny, or Champika? Who stands uncompromised and nationally popular?
What the Chandrika faction fails to understand is that just as the UNP ran on DS Senanayaka’s achievement of obtaining Independence (Hence the “Father of the Nation”), Mahinda Rajapaksa is the biggest brand name that the SLFP has available to display—the man who swiftly won Asia’s longest war beating a dreadful, historically emotive enemy, reunified the state, resurrected the economy and transformed the face of the country.
Insofar as the 2009 victory was a Second Independence, MR is the equivalent of D.S. Senanayake. Unlike DS he is also alive and active, and is the most loved pubic personality in the country.
In the SLFP canon he is second only to SWRD Bandaranaike, the founding father– and for the current generations of voters perhaps a more significant figure because they never knew SWRD. 2009 was the second 1956.
Running on the SLFP ticket without and against Mahinda Rajapaksa and hoping to retain the loyalty of SLFP voters would be as outrageously silly as Liu Shao Chi or Deng Hsiao Ping trying to wrest the Communist Party away from a live Mao Ze Dong and hoping to retain the loyalty of the party’s peasant base!
The SLFP faction in Government has few choices. The LSSP exited the UF coalition in 1975 and even that proved too late—it was wiped out in 1977. Ditto the CPSL which quit in 1976. If the SLFP leaves the Yahapalana coalition after an electoral defeat at the upcoming Local Government or Provincial council elections, why should or would the JO accept it except as the tuft of a tail? And why should the UNP retain its services?
The only momentum to catch is the anti-UNP pendulum swing. The only wave to surf is the anti-Government wave. The SLFP has to pivot right now, get on the exit ramp and head for the exits. It has sins to wash off, credibility to restore, and catching up to do as an anti-UNP party.
The SLFP deserves a rousing cheer for its stand on Constitutional change: no abolition of the executive Presidency, no transfer of the Governor’s powers to the Chief Minister, no amalgamation of provinces, and no abolition of the Concurrent list.
In Game of Thrones, the game has changed radically, as we all know. With the White Walker zombies at the gates, the only dividing line that counts, as Jon Snow says, is between the living and the dead; those who are breathing and those who are not.
With the Western White Walkers’ spear-carriers, the Green Walkers, on a state-liquidating rampage, the only dividing line that counts in Sri Lankan politics today is between those who have a politico-electoral future beyond 2020 and those who don’t. Until it quits this Government, the official SLFP will remain stranded in the camp of the electoral Walking Dead.