That is our parliamentary crucible; toads, newts, adders and scorpions being stirred in a poisoned chalice and strained through a kurakkan satakaya. The Diyawanna script is written in Medamulana and offered to the nation, along with Atapirikara and jasmine flowers and couched in sonorous, mock-pious statements, delivered from diverse friendly Aramayas, with open approval from a compliant, complicit and adulatory Sangha.
Whilst the most prominent casualty of the unsuccessful no confidence motion was President Sirisena, the outcome has enabled Ranil Wickremesinghe to reunite, perhaps momentarily, a gradually disintegrating UNP and, though he may not acknowledge it publicly, to realistically re-evaluate his own leadership strategy and a possible future direction for himself and the party. He is obtuse but not too dense to learn something, to take away a minor positive, from the near-catastrophe.
Sirisena has emasculated himself politically with his own hand. The conduct of the SLFP parliamentarians in the no-confidence motion affair, reinforced the painful lesson that the local elections should have taught him – but from which he did not obviously learn – that he has little support in the SLFP. The latter no longer exists as a political party but has a flickering, unstable, half-life as a pathetic adjunct to the SLPP which, itself, is not quite a political party but a genie conjured by the Mahinda Rajapaksa magic.
Having done much to both publicly, and privately, undermine the UNP and its leader for many months previously, Sirisena cannot expect any further support from the UNP, except in matters related to the coalition’s governance of the country, if the coalition can last the regular term. And having no dependable political power or support base personally, not even in Polonnaruwa, his home electorate which the SLFP lost, he stands totally isolated.
In the No Confidence Motion, more crucial than the unseating of the prime minister, were the other possible corollary outcomes; the destabilization of the coalition, a possible dissolution of the cabinet and or the parliament, a consequent general election and the resurgence of the Rajapaksa political fortunes under the ” Pohottuwa” symbol, with either Mahinda Rajapaksa, a sibling, or a lackey as the new prime minister. In such a situation, one of the first tasks of that administration would have been the de-construction of the many legal processes now underway against prominent figures in the former Rajapaksa regime.
The above scenario is still a genuine possibility. A general election, hot on the heels of the “Pohottuwa” success at the local elections, would most likely have seen the re-emergence of the Rajapakse cavalcade. A revival of the Mahinda Rajapakse political fortunes was contingent upon riding the wave he had set in motion, before it crashed. Voter momentum and sentiment are strange, unsustainable and transitory phenomena. A few more months down the line and the resurgence MR has engineered will lose its energy, urgency and impetus. That apart, a politician as street-smart as Mahinda Rajapaksa will understand that a general election result, will not necessarily replicate the results of provincial council or local body elections.
The next step would have been revitalizing “Project Gota”, already on the launching pad. All technical impediments to his legitimacyfor the presidential candidacy would have been removed. As things are, apart from Mahinda Rajapaksa – who is barred from a third term – the SLFP-SLPP union does not have a charismatic, nationally acceptable candidate. A Gotabaya candidacy will be endorsed by the strong , Sinhala-Buddhist bloc power base and embraced passionately by the totality of the extremist Sangha – a considerable proportion of the Buddhist theocracy, combining both the overt and the covert.
This segment will also campaign actively on Gotabaya’s behalf and appeal successfully to the existing fissures in the Sinhala-Buddhist mindset, which perceives any minority aspiration, however legitimate and democratic, as an immediate threat to the majority. That will be the main plank of a Gotabaya bid for presidency; the establishment and preservation of an exclusively Sinhala-Buddhist nation state, theocratic and sanctimonious, in which all minorities will be relegated to secondary status.He is assured of both a resounding resonance and active assistance. Hitler had his ” Brown Shirts”; Gotabaya has the equivalent in the saffron cohorts, its lay fellow-travelers and the ” Rana Viru” myrmidons.
Such a bid is likely to be supported by part of the floating vote which may decide that the possible loss of individual freedoms, the loss of liberty to protest without running the risk of inviting a para-military reprisal, the institutionalized marginalization of the minorities, the selective exercise of the law, the imposition of government writ with military force when necessary, are all small prices to pay for more public parks, walking paths in the cities and the suburbs, the regular collection and disposal of domestic and commercial garbage and the timely delivery of other public services. Nor should we forget the summary delivery of terminal punishment, quite often outside the due processes of the law;willing servitude in exchange for a fascist but efficient regime. We have seen it all before and we know what to expect.
In the immediate, post- NCM scenario, despite RW’s tactical victory, the coalition regime has been rendered even more infirm than in the pre-NCM period. The battle lines have been clearly drawn and friend and foe identified, though some friends may have been purchased at exorbitant cost. Basically, the UNP, faced by a common enemy, closed ranks whilst the SLFP/JO, frantically pursuing an objective despite diminishing support, broke ranks. The UNP consolidated whilst its opponents unraveled.
The prorogation of the parliament, a strategic move by the president to buy time, and to perhaps purchase some support, lends itself to some interesting speculation. The Mahinda faction has declared that they will support the JVP initiative for an immediate move to abolish the Presidency, provided that is followed by a dissolution of parliament and consequent general election. A smart move, though, given the reality of numbers, a Mahinda led SLPP faction may not be able to form a stable government without assistance from the minority parties or from the SLFP/UPFA. If the latter segment decides to contest on its own, with current members of parliament campaigning for themselves as much as for the party that they represent, there will be a division of the anti-UNP vote. In the intense public speculation over the unity, or lack of it, within the UNP, the internecine battles within the opponents’ camp escape comment.
It is most likely that Sirisena will do his best to stall any disruption to the existing status-quo, until and unless he is able to reconnect the disjointed SLFP. An un-engineered disintegration without a planned outcome for himself will see Sirisena’s immediate political death.
The recent announcements regarding a 2020 Sirisena presidency candidacy seem to be a case of Sirisena testing the waters before leaping in. In the context of the current state of the relationship between Sirisena and the UNP, such a bid would be without UNP support. In that scenario, with the latter fielding their own candidate – possibly RW, in the absence of any viable alternative – and the JO/SLPP fielding Gotabaya, or a Rajapaksa sibling-clone-lackey, it would lead to a very interesting three-cornered tussle.
What of the JVP ? if their bid to catalyze the abolishment of the presidency is thwarted, do we presume that they would seek to prevent a Rajapaksa nominee in the presidential chair? The JVP has a stable power base which will remain static and unchanged, well in to the foreseeable future, as long as they insist on marketing their brand of now archaic Marxism. They seem unable to comprehend the enormity of the changes wrought on the global communist bloc, commencing with Perestroika, and that the world possibly lost its last, genuine, Communist when Fidel Castro died.
A future presidential contest would be made all the more interesting, if the JVP, discarding its stand on the abolition of the presidency, decides to throw a contender in to the ring.The beneficiary is likely to be the UNP candidate, through a bifurcation of a segment of the potential SLFP/SLPP vote. Given the equally reasonable assumption that the majority of the minority vote is most likely to go to an anti-Rajapaksa candidate, the possible margin between the two major contenders begin to narrow further.
In retrospect, it would seem that the opponents of the UNP did themselves, and their future political prospects, serious harm, by their abortive NCM. If the coalition had been permitted to stumble on ineptly, it would have soon self-immolated through its own inefficiency and the lack of administrative cohesion between the two partners. Add to that the continuing economic woes of the country and the rubbing off of the Mahinda Rajapaksa magnetism on a front of his own making, the result may have been a win for the opposition in a close-run contest, thereafter.
What the NCM has done is to add a new dynamic in to an existing problem. If Sirisena is to contest in 2020, he has to occupy the presidential seat till then. To do so he has to ensure that the coalition either survives till the due date of expiry or, till he decides to dissolve parliament as empowered.Discretion will be taken out of his hands if he insists on marginalizing RW/UNP with the dubious assistance of a tattered SLFP, or by conniving with the JO/SLPP. If he undermines his partner to the extent that the coalition, and the government with it, unravels prematurely, Sirisena will be at the mercy of the SLPP and the Rajapaksas will ensure that there will be none, unless in the unlikely event that he reaches a prior accommodation with the former first family regarding his political future. His best option now seems to be to work within the coalition and seek to achieve reasonable objectives within a limited time-frame, restricted though its scope is through the hardening and polarization of opposing forces.
As for RW, he is now compelled to pay serious attention to the simmering discontent within the UNP, and irrespective of personal political plans, officially announce the identity of the UNP second line, unless he is prepared to see his party die with him. As for his backers, having supported him through the NCM, they have no option but to stay with him right up to the next confrontation. The resurrection of the UNP and RW’s political future, justifiably, have become matters of national preoccupation. Despite their internal opposition to his allegedly undemocratic management of his own party, the UNP parliamentarians’ respective political futures and of democracy as we have come to know it – infirm though it may be-are inextricably linked to RW’s onward journey and the his final destination.