Posted on March 30th, 2016

By Dr. Dayan Yayatilleka Courtesy The Daily Mirror

There were things that Mahinda Rajapaksa did right, there were things he did wrong and there were things he didn’t do which he should have. Therefore, the electorate decided that it needed a post-Rajapaksa Sri Lanka, building upon the best of Rajapaksa.

However, one cannot move to a situation that is better than the Rajapaksa decade, under the leadership and direction of those whose track records were worse than or much less successful than his.

What we have today are anti-Rajapaksa politics in Government and state — the attempted negation of MR rather than an improvement on him based on consolidating and carrying forward what is best in
his legacy.

My own view is that we currently have a leadership in which only one element or personality is post-Mahinda Rajapaksa, while the others are pre-Rajapaksa.

Of the present ruling troika — President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, and ex-President Chandrika Kumaratunga — two are leading symbols of failed pre-Rajapaksa policies and therefore cannot represent post-Rajapaksa politics. President Sirisena is the sole exception.

However, President Sirisena is in the same situation that President Rajapaksa found himself in. As President both personalities were and are able to grasp what’s going wrong and what might be done to correct it, while both viewed/view themselves as unable to do so because they were/are hamstrung by their chosen or inherited Establishments, allies and circumstances. Neither felt/feels able to change those situations and power constellations in the right direction at the right time.

One paid the political price and fell from power and the other may do so too. Neither outcome will prove positive for this country.

President Sirisena may or may not have figured that Ranil, Mangala and Chandrika are dragging him down, using him as a human shield and a diversion. He could be turned into a convenient punching bag as the crisis deepened.

He needs the UNP, but this UNP is leading the country into a serious economic crisis and the application of free market fundamentalism which will make the place unstable and possibly ungovernable. What President Sirisena needs is a differently configured UNP; a UNP on a different trajectory which brings the party’s customary competences, its modernizing, managerial and entrepreneurial skills, to the table.

President Sirisena also needs the SLFP, the party he leads. Instead of dragging the UNP to the centre, he allowed the SLFP to be dragged to the Right, UNP-wards, away from its traditional patriotic base.

Even if President Sirisena had kept the UNP on a tight leash, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s historic contribution (like Mao’s or Fidel’s) is ineradicable and there is no SLFP without adequate space for MR and the Rajapaksa legacy.

MR commands the loyalty of the bulk of the SLFP troops on the ground. President Sirisena has to recognize that reality. He has to factor in a growing or irreducible MR, who may be unable to win an election at the moment, but can surely take most of the SLFP away from President Sirisena.

If President Sirisena can’t realistically have the SLFP to himself, he still needs the party on his side and by his side to balance the UNP. For this to be possible he has to share power in the SLFP by turning the party into a confederation” of his and MR’s camps.

The President has to decide whom he is going to share the SLFP with: MR or Lankan Lady Gaga. There is no three-way split that is possible: CBK has seen to that. If the President decides to maintain the status quo, i.e. to share the SLFP with CBK rather than with MR, he will find by May 1, that there is hardly any SLFP left for him to share with CBK and that sharing with CBK means he is really sharing the SLFP with Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Between MS and MR it is not necessarily a zero-sum game, but it is decidedly a zero-sum game between MR and CBK. Why should MS be caught in that crossfire?

CBK brings absolutely nothing to the table except most favoured daughter” status in India, the West, the Tamil Diaspora, and Colombo’s NGO set. Her post-facto paranoia, pathological anti-Mahindaism and ineffable garrulity blacken one of the proudest periods of SLFP history as a governing party. CBK’s is a para-UNP, anti-nationalist discourse alien to the SLFP. Profoundly unhelpful within the nationalist SLFP vote base and sabotages the party electorally.

The reality is that neither President Sirisena nor ex-President Rajapaksa can politically eliminate one another. President Sirisena can be dislodged from power but that would take the abolition of the executive presidency. Due to the aggressiveness of Ranil Wickremesinghe and his policies, the joint opposition will be disinclined to support the transfer of executive power from Maithripala Sirisena to Ranil Wickremesinghe, UNP Chief Ministers and CV Wigneswaran.

Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot be eliminated from the country’s politics because he cannot be eliminated from the hearts and the historical narrative of the Sinhala people. He cannot be marginalized either in the SLFP or in national politics. He is the de facto Leader of the Opposition, with Dinesh Gunawardene as the parliamentary leader of the joint opposition.

MR cannot be eliminated from his legitimate place in the SLFP unless he and his supporters are kicked out and if so he will take much of the SLFP with him. Ms. Bandaranaike lost the Presidential elections of 1988 and Mr. Premadasa won, largely because of the votes polled by SLMP leader Ossie Abeygoonesekara. Surely a candidate/slate fielded by Mahinda Rajapaksa at any election would score far more than Ossie Abeygoonesekara’s SLMP did!

An MR breakaway project won’t be a ‘third force’ unlike the SLMP, DUNF or JVP. It will be the main alternative to the UNP.  Indeed, insofar as the SLFP remains in coalition with Ranil’s UNP, an MR breakaway formation will be the only opposition, the sole alternative, to the UNP Government — just as the joint opposition is today.

President Sirisena is being tricked into believing that the main threat to him comes from within the SLFP and that this danger is the erosion of his popularity and control within the party. This is a conjuror’s trick that obscures what his really happening and what constitutes the main threat to him; not so much the slippage of power within the SLFP but the erosion or lack of power and influence within the Government and State and over policy.

President Sirisena is not losing his power and influence to Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is losing it to Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mangala Samaraweera and Chandrika Kumaratunga and therefore he is losing out within the party to Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is losing space at the apex of the state and his party is not even the official Opposition. Consequently he is losing space within the party and on the ground. While his legitimacy as President of the country is unquestionable, President Sirisena’s legitimacy within his party– as SLFP leader– is called into question by the alliance with the UNP and the profile and policy direction of that UNP.

All of this is utterly ironic because President Sirisena still has a significant card left to play. He still enjoys the executive powers bestowed by President JR Jayewardene. President Maithripala Sirisena retains a capacity to change the game by constructing a broad centre-left space of the UNP moderates, his own liberal-reformist and MR’s populist tendencies of a federated” or confederated” SLFP (including the joint opposition). He can then regain the support of China (and Russia) and balance far better between China, India and the US.

If he fails to exercise that option he will lose space and power to the UNP-TNA-CBK bloc within the state and government and to MR and the JO outside them, including within the party he officially leads.

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