“Ecrasez l’infame!”—“Crush the loathsome thing!”
Neoliberalism is almost dead in Sri Lanka, and its Government is dying. The choice that is before us is which type/variety of Populism:Right, Left, Centre or Centre-Left?
Even if the JVP’s 20th amendment is supported by the UNP, TNA and misguided/manipulated SLPP pundits, the people will defeat it at a Referendum because (i) they are looking for a chance to reject the Government and the Establishment (ii) the mood is for a strong state, not a weakened one (iii) the ‘NO’ campaign will be led by a neo-nationalist network, as was Brexit (iv) anti-UNP voters (the mainstay of the JO-Pohottuwa) will stay home rather than vote with the UNP-TNA on anything and (v) at a Referendum, the voters do not vote on party lines, therefore party-based arithmetic is superseded by the national mood, and that mood is bitterly antagonistic to the 2015 Establishment. The 20th amendment move will only strengthen the Sinhala Alt-Right backlash and place it at the head of the agenda for regime change,just as ‘Sinhala Only’ did in 1955.
The people have figured out the arithmetic of the minority factor too, and were reminded of it during the live telecast of the vote on the motion of no-confidence, when the leader who appointed Arjuna Mahendran was propped up by his UNP and the‘16 seater’ TNA Fake Opposition (Mr. Sampanthan is merely masquerading as the Opposition Leader) with Mangala Samaraweera promising to expedite a new Constitution and ‘Transitional Justice’. The majority of the citizens know that this time around they will have to vote in such numbers that the combined weight of the structurally pro-UNP/ pro-Right minority vote will be utterly overwhelmed by a pan-Sinhala electoral tsunami.
If you put together the historically lowest point the Sri Lankan rupee has plunged to, the lowest economic growth rate the country has had in sixteen years,the massive slew of new taxes, the projected rise in fuel prices, the discontent at the UNP grassroots and the rebellion in the SLFP parliamentary mainstream, then you recognize that the Government’s defeat is a ‘known known’—something we know that we already know.
The only thing that is ‘interim’ about the ‘interim administration’ that the SLFP’s CBK faction is negotiating, is the interim nature of that faction’s electoral existence, which will end in extinction as did the LSSP-CPSL in 1977. Even in the unlikely event of the UNP changing its leadership, it will be too little too late– and anyway the Navin-Sajith succession struggle is already causing dissonance and fissure.
We know how and when (at the latest) the story of the 2015 Yahapalana Government ends. It is as in the title of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s famous novel, ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’. We know who loses, but who and what winds up the biggest winner? Nobody and no permutation or combination in the Yahapalana Government can be a winner, because the public mood is so bitterly hostile (“crush the loathsome thing!”). Only a candidate who is chosen, endorsed and strongly supported by Mahinda Rajapaksa, and whose campaign is spearheaded by him, stands a chance of winning the Presidency.
So the only real questions in Sri Lankan politics today are: Who will wield state power when this Government is buried in 18 months at the latest?Who will Mahinda choose?
Mahinda Rajapaksa himself is easily the most outstanding, mature and experienced political and national leader we have– a truly historic and appealing figure. As do most voters I would dearly like to see him as the leader of the country once more, and I definitely think he is the safest choice, but there is the Constitutional obstacle of the 19th amendment.
The JVP’s 20th amendment is a trap to get the JO-SLPP on the side of a YES vote at a referendum for the UNP. If the UNP wins any nationwide popular vote it will efface the recent defeat at the local elections and gain the oxygen needed to recover.
The 13th amendment cannot be abolished as it is the result of a bilateral agreement, however asymmetric. I do not wish to see the 13th amendment able to operate outside the overarching framework of the Executive Presidency. I do not believe that on a small island neighbouring a large ethnic (Tamil) kin-state, a parliamentary system can adequately manage the Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils which are closer to Tamil Nadu in every sense than they are to Colombo.
I do not wish to see a Parliament and a Prime Minister as dependent upon the sectarian-regionalist parties as I saw this present PM during the no-confidence motion. That will be the permanent state of our politics if we abolish the executive Presidency. Such a Prime Minister will be reduced to merely the Chief Minister of the Southern two thirds of the island; the Chief Minister of the Sinhalese!How can the 13 amendment be controlled by any Prime Minister who is himself/herself dependent upon minority votes in Parliament? If King Dutugemunu were Prime Minister under the proposed system, he would have to secure the TNA’s support in Parliament to leave Maagama to liberate and reunify his country!
All that said, we still confront a major, complex problem. The problem is that the constituency, discourse, project and ideology of any oppositional Presidential candidate should not generate (I) domestic polarization vis-à-vis the ethno-religious/ethno-regional minorities as well as the progressive Sinhala youth, students and trade unions and (II) bring us into direct confrontation with India, the West and possibly the Islamic world, on moral, political and geostrategic terrain in which even Russia and China cannot successfully support us.The strong, unitary Chinese state has constitutionalized the sub-system of Ethnic Regional Autonomy, the Lankan equivalent of which the Sinhala Alt-Right thinks it can dismantle/dilute while on India’s doorstep!
None of these forebodings will prevent a strong, dynamic anti-Establishment personality from rocketing into Presidential office next year. The people are poised to bid a long goodbye to the pro-western liberalism and its socially decadent elite.They want a strong, determined, patriotic, populist leader who will reverse the national decline—a Putin or Erdogan. Contemporary history will shape the backlash which will naturally turn to and draw from the defining social and national experience of our lifetime: the Great War and the successful management of a classic victory.
Under no conceivable circumstances whatsoever should the JO-SLPP be on the same side of the barricades as the UNP, in Parliament or outside, calling for a YES vote at a referendum on any issue! If it does so, the JO-SLPP will be switching places with candidate Maithripala Sirisena of January 2015 and providing a progressive mask for a UNP-TNA project. It would also be repeating the sad betrayal by the ex-progressive Maithripala Senanayaka at the Dec 1982 Referendum. The JO-SLPP must call for a NO vote at a referendum on any Constitutional reform, go flat out in the campaign and use the massive rejection of the proposal as a method of ousting the UNP-led Government and its SLFP puppets from office.
As for the dangers of an Alt-Right driven Presidential candidacy and its aftermath as regime, the solution is to launch the dynamic, anti-Establishment political candidacy firmly under Mahinda Rajapaksa’s leadership;anchored, locked-in and contained within the parameters of a bloc of the JO-SLPP-SLFP Rebels. Mahinda must be the Prime Minister that Putin was, not what Madam Bandaranaike was in 1994. That is the only way to reshape a fraught historical conjuncture and risky configuration of forces in which the government and Presidency may be boxed in by an extremist Sinhala Alt-Right constituency and project which will drive us beyond the prudent limits of geopolitical and geostrategic Realism.