Imagine if appointment of a Head of the FBI was scuttled because the Mafia objected! Sarath Fonseka was denied appointment as Law & Order Minister, the President said, because DIGs and senior policemen, who SF alleges are drug-runners and villains, objected. The real reason however is that President Sirisena, now imploring Basil and Mahinda for I don’t know what, will not appoint a Minister who will drag scoundrels of the previous regime before prosecutors and magistrates.
I don’t know him, and don’t know much about the new L&O Minister Madduma Bandara; efforts to find out from political contacts and friends drew little information. What I was able to elicit was that he is a decent bloke who conducts himself well, but he is weak willed. That’s not reassuring. It would be a pity if he turns out to be a third dead body beside an ineffectual PM and distressed President. Post 10 Feb., Sirisena’s panic was like the heart-attack Robinson Crusoe suffered when he saw that footprint on the sand.
The populace, whichever side it voted for on 10 February, wants robust action. The demand is “bring rogues and murders to trial, then convict or acquit”. That is the universal cry from all sides of the political spectrum. Damn GMOA, BASL, GL Peries and the pathetic chorus of liberals who snivel, this way and that with the waxing and the waning of the moon. Legislation setting up the six special courts must be enacted; thereafter action must be quick and decisive. But do Pres and PM have appetite for action? In biology textbooks they call sloppy creatures invertebrates. Or in biblical terms: “A house divided against itself will not stand” (Mathew: 12:25).
The sleep-walking UNP
The purpose of this article is not to dishearten those alarmed by a possible Return of the Rajapaksas (some movie that would make) but rather to kick butts and wake people up. Not one greedy, sinecure-hugging, perks-loving, bribe-taking (or not taking) Cabinet, State or Deputy Minister has quit and got down to grassroots work. I do not conceal my dislike of JR but the bloke took his politics seriously, stopped mucking around, and devoted energy to rebuilding the party at grassroots and middle levels when it fell on hard times, as did Ranasinghe Premadasa when his turn arrived. The now-UNP has no one of that calibre willing pull up his sarong, quit the bribe-taking rat-race and get down to mobilisation after the 10 February debacle.
Though the UNP and its leadership is a washout what adds salt to the wound is the game Sirisena is playing. After his entreaty for one more year in office was thrown out by the courts, and throughout the local government election campaign, his conduct, to say the least, has been screwball. He did all he could to undermine his partner in coalition, Ranil and the UNP. He made no secret of the numerous avenues he explored to remove Ranil from PM-ship. His game plan was open, explicit and palpably driven by instructions from the Rajapaksa brotherhood.
Well what’s cooking now? It’s the same but by other means. I have no inside information and no ‘reliable sources’ – journalists who use this terminology end up purveyors of pure b-s. What I do have is political judgement; I hope sound, using information in the public domain. On this basis I submit that Sirisena is working to ensure that the UNP is defeated in 2020. Since he is a dead man walking and since his rump-SLFP is a ghost, he has become a subcontractor. That’s what the evidence adds to? He is dancing with Mahinda and is junior partner in this waltz of death! Poor sod, not all his pirouettes will save him from the stake; Rajapaksas don’t forgive duplicitous hopper-eaters!
If Ranil had had the gumption to stepdown as PM (not UNP leader) on 11 Feb, apologise to the nation, and throw his energy into mobilising and rebuilding for 2020, the UNP would not be mired as it is now. Now it is frozen, petrified, clueless and toothless. Middle-level chaps with grassroots ability – Sajith, Mangala, Ramanayake, Harin – are wedded to posts and perks; Ravi is compromised; Rajitha is dismissed as a loudmouth who contradicts himself daily; Eran, Malik and Harsha are as remote from the masses as an Eskimo is from the Sahara. It would need a tectonic shift to wake up this UNP and delay, if possible, its sleep-walk into the abyss.
The star-gazing JVP
The JVP will never grow up. Hordes of people, this columnist included, have been plugging the simple, self-evident and obvious truth that it will never, ever, get anywhere except as a part of a broad left, democratic and progressive alliance. The LSSP, CP and Philip once had a chance in the mid-1960s and blew it. In today’s global phase the Communist parties of India, Nepal, South Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia, as well as the European Left (Britain’s Labour is an exception), and Lanka’s JVP are not going to participate in government in a democracy except in an alliance. JVP nitwits – whether leadership, cadre or both is a little unclear – simply don’t get it! The JVP is timeworn, it is 60 years old, and still thinks the world has not moved on since Lenin, Mao and Guevara. Its intellectual fixity and strategic immobility render it comatose.
So, is it time to write-off the JVP as a has-been? But what are the options? The breakaways peratugami (Frontline) and kurutugami (as I call the break-away from the break-away) live in cloud cuckoo land. Like the post-Trot and post-Mao sects, their full membership can be conveniently packed into one medium sized minivan.
The Rajapaksas are obsessed with power but have proved unfit to wield it. If this bandwagon is beyond the pale because it is a threat to democracy and human rights; if the UNP is a toothless (tusk-less?) pachyderm; if the TNA cheated, again, by Sinhalese people and politicians is down for the count, what then? We are probably heading for a hung parliament and separation of president from parliament in 2020-21 and in the ensuing period.
It’s too narrow to extrapolate from the 10 February frolic, but it is the most recent empirical evidence to hand. A few straightforward corrections can be inserted; for example, it is unlikely that a quarter of the UNP vote base will abstain again (they have kicked Ranil in the butt hard enough) and the Sirisena-SLFP will wither away, possibly into Mahinda’s embrace. Otherwise, linear projection from 10 February is easy as there is little sign yahapalana will get its act together. At least such projection could be an informative starting point for thought.
For arguments sake, take Gota as the Rajapaksa-side presidential nominee; assume that the FPP-cum-PR system is retained; assume most UNP boycotters (13% nationally) return to the polling booth; assume a part of the Sirisena-SLFP 10% rump switches to Gota. Then the equation I have canvassed for a long time still remains true. A non-minority-supported Gota cannot pull more than about 42% in an Executive Presidential (EP) election of the current style. A new constitution or an amendment to abolish EP seems a daydream. Very likely we are stuck with EP and it seems Gota is stuck with his 42% ceiling. This is a very possible scenario.
Parliament is more interesting. In an all-FPP scenario the Rajapaksa group will win a majority of seats in Sinhalese areas – that is outside the North, East, Upcountry and cities. In a mixed 60-40 FPP-PR case, a majority is unlikely, but a pro-Rajapaksa national plurality is possible. This is a linear projection from 10 Feb with the corrections mentioned in the previous para. There will be a tussle for government, but a non-Gota President will try to form a non-Rajapaksa administration if he/she can get away with it at all. Whichever way the chips fall, for folks like you and me the need of the hour is obvious, a strong independent third-force in polity and parliament.
And this is where the wheel is spoked though there is little time left. The JVP does not even understand the language. Other elements of a potential third-force such as the Jan 8 Movement, radical NGOs linked to the UNP, the ULF, CP-DEW wing, Bahu, Muslims under siege and fearful Tamils, are not grouped in a credible ‘Big Tent’ – contrast Italy’s Five Star Movement. The objective, of course, is not governmental power but a credible force to contain power abuse. A defensive electoral strategy complemented by aggressive political action is best. A UNP-led alliance or the Rajapaksa bandwagon may lead one or the other branches (executive and legislative) of government in the 2020s. But no matter, the mobilisation of an independent, democratic and radical movement is essential if this country is to survive as a civilised nation.
The barebones of what the third-force’s programme should be are obvious:
* Aggressive prosecution and imprisonment of corrupt political personalities to satisfy urgent public demands. (That means saying “Damn Sirisena!”)
* Cost of living concessions, notwithstanding impediments to economic development, and more debt, till public awareness of the trade-off between prudence and growth matures. Greater equity to promote social stability. (This means restraint on Ranil-Mangala-Malik objectives).
* A programme to educate the Sinhalese on minority rights and a ruthless response to communal violence now orchestrated by clergy and incited by the chauvinism of the Rajapaksas. (That calls for political courage, which UNP, SLFP, Rajapaksa coattail intellectuals and JVP, all lack).
I am disappointed that those who should lead are disoriented. Commentary is all descriptive, and fault finding. The creative task of strategizing and alliance building is subdued – frankly, non-existent. Maybe I am impatient; maybe the sleepy left is still groggy; maybe shell-shocked liberals need time to come to their senses.