Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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The Rainbow Coalition of Fundamental Change

Posted by harimpeiris on December 8, 2014

 

The Rainbow Coalition of Fundamental Change

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Sunday Leader of 7th Dec 2014)

 

The contours of a political vision is being clearly articulated when one examines the message of common presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena, a rare breed of a gentleman politician, a farmer’s son from rural Rajarata, who rose to the second most senior position of the ruling SLFP, as its longest serving General Secretary.

Firstly, the campaign is about the need for change. Change from the corruption and poor governance especially of the Rajapakse second term. To the obvious question as to why now and not earlier, the simple answer is that in Sri Lanka’s system, the time to challenge a government is at a democratic election. An earlier challenge will just get you sacked, just ask Mangala Samaraweera.  Until then you work within the system, engage the powers that be and try and bring change from the inside. This is clearly what the UPFA dissidents did during the Rajapakse second term. It was to no avail and they have made their break with the past.

The core issue of the campaign is good governance and an end to corruption. The common opposition campaign is focused on government corruption as the root cause for the economic pain felt by many sections of society, many of them still publicly protesting even as the election campaign unfolds, from farmers, to fishermen, from post war minority communities, to university students and academics.

Abolition of the Executive Presidency  

 

There is a pledge of constitutional reform, of abolition of the executive presidency, made by the challenger. The rationale being, that as political philosophers have noted through the ages, concentrated and unchecked political power breeds abuses. As our most recent national experience has demonstrated only too clearly. The question then is then who governs, if the president does not solely do so? The answer is an executive which is drawn from and answerable to Parliament, in which rather obviously a future President Maithripala will play a leading role, as head of state, though not as an elected dictator. There will be a national government of a rainbow coalition, an attractive proposition.

The other real answer is that Sri Lanka must be a mature democracy that is administered by strong institutions, under the rule of law. Today, every institution in the country, from the police, to the judiciary, to the telephone companies are abused by the executive presidency. Police officers are transferred on the eve of the presidential election, a Chief Justice is impeached, ex parte in the dead of night, the TV transmission of the opposition press conference is blocked out and we still question why this executive presidency should not be drastically reformed.

Further the Rajapakse executive presidency is like no other, accounting for over half the national budget, bringing crucial institutions like the Attorney General’s Department and the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission under itself. A drastic re democratization of Sri Lanka is required.

A directionless Rajapakse campaign lacking any vision

 

The Mahinda Rajapakse re-election campaign is floundering from its start, paradoxically very inauspiciously for a campaign widely believed to have been held two years ahead of schedule based on astrological recommendations. If Sri Lanka actually had a more vibrant democracy that held its leaders accountable to the public, the Rajapakse Administration’s faux pas would have been fatal.

The Rajapakse campaign began with a thinly veiled public blackmail attempt of the dissident ministers, including the common opposition candidate, claiming the existence of “files” on the dissidents. Such a claim obviously begs the question, why now? And also if prima farci case exists, there can be no cover up, the facts must be made public. Clearly a rather empty claim has to be the logical conclusion.

Secondly we have the absolutely outrageous contention of a government minister on behalf of the campaign stating that because they had already robbed so much and could not possibly rob much more, they should be reelected, rather than a fresh set of people, who may start robbing afresh. Such theatre that passes off for as a rationale for reelecting the Rajapakse’s for a third term is more farce than comedy.

The Rajapakse campaign has also been busy trying to both engineer some crossovers from the opposition to the government and also to prevent further crossovers from government to the opposition. Though the process is ongoing and with fabulous amounts of money on offer, as none other than former Minister Navin Dissanayake claimed, on both counts the Rajapakse Administration has to date failed as Minister Navin Dissanayake, MP Hunais Farook and several UPFA provincial councilors crossed over from the government to the opposition.

More importantly though, the Rajapakse third term lacks both a vision and a message. There is no rhyme, reason or rationale given for seeking a third term and early one at that. There is no message coming out of a shell shocked campaign. A set of infrastructure development plans drawn up at the Finance Ministry, does not constitute a political vision. The Rajapakse Administration was so sure that it’s opponent would be Ranil Wickramasinghe, that posters printed in India, slamming Ranil was shipped and secured at the Sri Lanka Ports Authority security yard, when the UNP MP’s when to inspect it and of course in our land like no other, it was the MP’s who were charged with criminal trespass.

Losing the majority in three provincial councils  

 

The Rajapakse Administration has effectively lost its majority in three provincial councils, namely the Uva, Eastern and North Central Provincial Councils. The Rajapakse Administration facing defeat in the Councils has adjourned all three councils till after the presidential election, In Uva on the farcical basis that it is too cold for members to attend sitting.  There the UNP’s Harin Fernando is busy collecting affidavits to prove he has the support of a majority of the Council to force the Government to bow to the wishes of the majority. In the East, the Government did not bother with even a farcical explanation for the sudden adjournment, when its budget was about to be defeated. In the North Central Province with both Maithri and Duminda Dissanayake’s supporters having switched support, the Government whose Chairman nominee anyway earlier lost to the late Bertie Premlal’s nominee, it is clearly in a minority.

The Rajapakse Administration’s only message is to try and make this election about Rajapakse verses the West, but in reality it has become, Rajapakse verses the rest. President Rajapakse allies have now joined or become his opponents. From his General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena to his Reconciliation Advisor Rajiva Wijesinghe, from his young bucks Wasantha Senanayake and Duminda Dissanayake to his seasoned hands Rajitha Senanayake, from the urban Arjuna Ranatunga to the rural MKDS Goonewardena, Mahinda Rajapakse’s political friends and allies are deserting him. A truly rainbow coalition is backing the common presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena to bring about the “Maithri palanaye” and a fundamental change.

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