Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Maithri articulates a national government

Posted by harimpeiris on December 15, 2014

Maithri articulates a national government

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Sunday Leader of 14th December 2014)

 

The surprising launch of the common opposition presidential campaign of Maithripala Sirisena, is fast evolving into a movement that has the air and excitement of something fresh and new being birthed. Maithri is a man with a message and that message is not only resonating with voters, but also creating a hope and expectancy that beyond the inevitable changes of a potential new administration, that “Maithri palanaye” would not only be new but different, vastly different from the present order.

The resonance of the message is being amplified by the wide rainbow coalition that is coalescing around Maithri, ranging from a sizable faction of the SLFP to the JHU, besides all the opposition parties from the UNP to the Democratic Party. Even the parties not formally in his coalition, such as the JVP are doing his campaign an enormous amount of good and providing invaluable support by stinging criticism of the incumbent Administration and calling upon their supporters to vote against a third term for President Rajapakse. Even the TNA, representing the Tamil community is probably doing a very wise thing, staying off Maithri’s stage and not providing the UPFA with an easy basis to scare monger about minorities. With the UPFA polling just 18% in the North, at the last provincial council election, there is little doubt which way minorities will vote, if their leaders ask them to. The Rajapakse’s may well be ruing the emasculation of the Northern Provincial Council through the Governor’s powers. A strong minority turnout and vote in the North and East would in fact be the ultimate protest vote against Rajapakse rule.

Meanwhile the headcount of breakaways from the Rajapakse led UPFA continues to mount as deputy ministers, P Digambaram and V. S. Radhakrishnan of the CWC resigned from the government and pledged their support to Maithripala Sirisena. In response, the Rajapakse camp has only been able to get two MP’s the UNP’s Tissa Attanayake and the DNA’s Jayantha Ketegoda. Also following Digambaram was three provincial councilors and over a dozen Pradeshiya Sabah members  of his National Workers Union (NWU).  With the departure of Radhakrishnan, the CWC of Thondaman, finds itself isolated in its lackadaisical support for the Rajapakse campaign would be even more hamstrung in the presidential contest than it was even in Uva, where it fared badly.

A Vision for a National Government

 

Maithripala Sirisena has outlined a bold vision for a national government. A common sense, dialogue driven, consensus seeking form of government, to re establish national institutions and an executive answerable to parliament. This is quite in contrast to the message of the incumbent, which is basically to trust him personally and the benevolence of his rule. Maithri puts forward a much more tried and tested thesis, one much more dependent on a collective rather than on an individual, of a society governed by institutions under the rule of law. This would flow from a general election which must of necessity follow the presidential elections and would see a parliament quite different from the current. But by seeking a Grand National government, Maithri holds out the possibility of including his native Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in his government and his own track record as General Secretary, together with former President Kumaratunga, makes the specter of a national government, a reality. In the event of a defeat of President Rajapakse, his ability to hold on to the SLFP leadership is in considerable doubt. SLFPers would face the rather simple choice of being in opposition with a defeated Rajapakse or being in Government with an elected Maithripala, endorsed by former party leader, President Kumaratunga. Given the sentiments in the SLFP, political loyalty to Mahinda Rajapakse, out of power is likely to be very weak.

Does Corruption, Nepotism and Good Governance matter to the rural voter?

 

The Rajapakse led UPFA believes and argues, that issues of corruption, nepotism and good governance which Maithri is articulating does not matter to voters, especially the rural Sinhala voter who still makes up the bulk of the Sri Lankan electorate. The Rajapakse Administration believes instead that it is economic wellbeing and large doses of ethno Sinhala nationalism, which is the winning formula with the rural Sinhala base. That ethnic Sinhala nationalism is potent is a rather obvious, but the context matters and paradoxically the end of the war and the defeat of the Tigers, makes Sinhala nationalism less potent. Ethnic nationalism thrives on an external adversary and threat. The Administration’s attempts to scare monger about Muslim Jihadist and Diaspora led LTTE resurgence has few takers even in the Sinhala community. Even the JHU, which can scarcely be seen as pro Tiger, would argue that the Rajapakse Administration’s alleged  corruption, weakening of judicial independence and a casino led development strategy is a far more real and present national danger.

The Sri Lankan electorate is a sophisticated one. With a high literacy rate, a long history of universal adult franchise and a politicized society, our people are well versed in the political issues of the day. Yes, governance issues matter and corruption matters even more than governance. The real problem for the Rajapakse Administration is that its core constituency of the rural Sinhala voter does not feel economic well being. Despite the rosy picture painted by our Central Bank, consumer surveys demonstrate a lack of confidence in the economy and hence blame the Rajapakse governance for the same. The large scale Chinese loan funded infrastructure projects have not generated local jobs, boosted rural incomes or resulted in an increasing middle class. The rich have got very much richer, income inequality has increased and the middle class, lower middles class, the working class both urban and rural are suffering decline in real incomes and with it hope for a better economic future. The apparent wealth around them only fuels resentment and the Rajapakse led UPFA, paid the price in Uva with a massive drop in support and is seeing its support slip further away as the campaign unfolds.

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