Rajapaksas all the way!
Posted on October 15th, 2018

By N. Sathiya Moorthy The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi.

There used to be times in the history of a Nation and a people that historians describe a given condition of theirs as being in the ‘crossroads.’ It is often related to cultural and civilisation-related aspects on the one hand, and economic policy and reforms on the other. Occasionally, situations appear where a Nation changes from the ‘old’ to the ‘new’ from a past to the present, on the way to a brighter future, on the political and/or politico-constitutional fronts.

There is a lot of churning, debates and discourses, including dissent bordering on dissidence, during such periods.

The seventies was that time for the Nation, when Sri Lanka went through a series of constitutional changes, leading up to political and electoral reforms, as the authors of the day wanted the Nation to believe. At least, they in their short-sightedness thought they formed a reforms package in its own way. For this, they were hailed as leaders with ‘far-sightedness’ even in their own times. The followers did not wait for the future to dictate the verdict, as they were keener on having the ears of the leaders.

The credit should go to Junius Richard Jayewardene, or is it the blame, for introducing wholesale reforms on all fronts. JR gave the Nation the present Executive Presidency and Constitution. Forget the present, even in his own time, critics said it was person-centric, not institution or principles-centric. So, did he introduce the present-day market-centric economic reforms, which again came with its baggage?

JR was as divisive a politician as any other leader that this country had produced before him, and after him. But, he did it with elan and elegance, making the victim to believe that he was taking a vitamin tablet, not a painkiller, least of all, a killer drug. Yet, so complete was the ‘social reform’ that he introduced into the Nation’s politics, but unintended, that he did not even know that under his own feet there was a new plant growing (Ranasinghe Premadasa), whom the upper crust would not and could not have.

Planning or plotting

To date, no one can say for sure that the multiple reforms introduced by the JR era were the right prescription for the Nation, then as it is now. The fact, however, is that like JR himself, his successors cutting across party lines and the so-called socio-political ideology and electoral identity have continued with the same.

The ‘Executive Presidency’ is a prime example. Including incumbent Maithripala Sirisena, whom the voters elected only to dismantle the Executive Presidency and along with that all that was bad with and to Sri Lanka, seems to be planning/plotting for a second term, which he avowedly did not want in the short run-up to his election.  The elections are more than a year away, but for more than a year now, everyone is focussed, on the presidential poll and not the day-to-day affairs of the Government and of governance.

For now, former minister and veteran parliamentarian belonging to the ‘G-16’ ‘rebel’ MPs of the Sirisena-led SLFP, has declared that he did not facilitate any meeting between the latter and his combat-ready predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, over dinner in his house. That does not mean that the two leaders did not meet, or otherwise are in touch with each other, through interlocutors of different grades, nor does it prove that they are in touch, either.

All-round flux

There is an all-round flux on matters related to politics, economy, and political administration as a whole. No one knows which direction the Nation is going, and no one knows where he is placed in this mumbo jumbo. This starts with President Sirisena and his UNP Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and their competing rival in Mahinda Rajapaksa and his SLPP-JO.

Thus, we have President Sirisena telling the world in so many words that Sri Lanka would not honour the UNHRC commitments on accountability issues and war-crimes probe. It is, too, serious as affront on the world body and its multiple members with their own set geo-strategic agenda.

Premier Wickremesinghe and his party were mostly quiet over the Sirisena bombshell for days together, before he himself attested the same as much in equally distant Oxford, UK. They are sure that the SLPP-JO has little option in the matter, Mahinda Rajapaksa as President having resisted the UNHRC-centric global prescription in the matter, all through the post-war period, when he was in power.

This does not mean that the UNHRC resolution was right and Sri Lanka is wrong. Where Sri Lanka has erred since is in the incumbent government leaders readily yielding to ‘international pressure’ to co-sponsor a resolution that they possibly did not even intend honouring. The international community (West) would be wondering now as to whom between Mahinda Rajapaksa and his successors was more sincere and honourable about giving a word, and also keeping it. Not that it matters any more.

All the way up

Hopefully, the Government duo have worked out the worst-case scenario in the matter before taking the plunge all over again, but in the reverse in three years. Either the West keeps quiet and looks the other way to avoid global embarrassment, or look at the alternative possibility of Sri Lanka going back to Mahinda’s way of fighting it out to the end, and all the way up to the UN Security Council.

If they let that happen, then the West would see Sri Lanka falling even more heavily on China and Russia, who are as much veto members of the Security Council as three of them are. Anyway, the duo’s Sri Lanka has proved that they too need China more on the economic front than the West, and that they too continue to woo China as much as Mahinda before them, but placing the blame all the time on the latter, hoodwinking the West all over again!

Like JR, and unlike Mahinda, they have acted with elan and elegance, in the game. Going back to the way he surprised the Nation with his candidacy, Sirisena has it in him. Ranil, as is known and/or believed, belongs to the UNP, where it is all institutionalised into a fine art, which their political rivals otherwise have lacked all along. Does it mean Sirisena all along belonged there, and not where he had got caught for forty years, by sheer circumstances than belief?

Political accountability

Sirisena, in his UNGA address, said his Government had done much on the reconciliation front than the predecessor. He was a part of that predecessor’s team, politically and electorally. Maybe, at some point in time and to his own Nation, he should come out with the truth on what went wrong on this score during the Mahinda days. A national political discourse, if nothing else, will at least help fix the political accountability on this score.

Sad but true, the present Government cannot but escape political responsibility for the delays on Constitution-making, which they themselves had piloted, and the Tamil-exclusive TNA had co-sponsored, in a way. It has not made any serious headway, nor is anyone talking about it anymore, not until after the twin polls of 2020, for the presidency and Parliament, not to miss out on the long-due Provincial Council Elections, too.

Pricing formula

The economy is in a mess, but no one is concerned. No one is concerned, about anything, it would seem. On the crucially-alive issue of rising petrol prices and dollar rates, the Government seems to have given up hope, to bring them back to manageable levels, or at least try and stabilise at a higher level than before the current spurt.

Instead, Premier Ranil and his Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera are exposing their own cluelessness to the petrol pricing formula and the like. The Foreign Minister says he too has not understood how the formula works, but the Premier declares that it’s not linked to the price rise, or some such thing.

Where does it lead the Nation? Of course, the presidential and parliamentary polls on time, but not necessarily the provincial council elections, for which the Nation has to blame Mahinda for holding them at will, rather than when alone they became due. Whatever that be, most of the past three-plus years have been spent on the Rajapaksa discourse than any other issue, serious or not-so-serious. Barring for a time the ‘Central Bank Scam,’ everyday news has been dominated by one Rajapaksa or more, on one issue or more. Worse still, the Government has not only been unable to sideline the Rajapaksas as they had vowed, not only from the Nation’s politics, not even from newspaper headlines.

About the author:

The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi.

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