Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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An attempted Rajapakse return and a new constitution

Posted by harimpeiris on December 30, 2016

An attempted Rajapakse return and a new constitution

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Daily News of 28th Dec 2016)

 

The soft launch of a new political party nominal headed by former Minister G.L. Peiris, but substantively the Rajapakse political vehicle, styled the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) has created a new buzz in political circles about the Rajapakse comeback project. A project that really began, in the small hours of the morning of 9th January last year, when it became apparent that the people had rejected Mahinda Rajapakse for an unprecedented third term. The first proposed comeback, an alleged coup by deploying the Gajaba regiment, to nullify the election results, has had a formal complaint to the CID by Minister Mangala Samaraweera and the strange mid night meetings at Temple Trees by the judicial usurper Mohan Peiris and the then Attorney General, military commanders etc. had all the makings of midnight plotting of anti-constitutional measures as alleged by Minister Samaraweera in his formal complaint.

 

However, the possible return of the Rajapakse face several fundamental political obstacles, that the Rajapakse political project has failed to address. The first obstacles in a Rajapakse return is that the fundamental political dynamics that formed the foundation of Rajapakse defeat, still holds true. What the Rajapaksa’s faced in 2015, is what they face today, which is that with regards the political elites or key leaders, it is pretty much Rajapakse verses the rest. Rajapakse allies being the miniscule non SLFP parties of the UPFA, the same coalition which lost in 2015. In fact, since the defeat of 2015, Rajapakse has further lost control of the SLFP party machinery, a necessary vehicle for political mobilization, hence the SLPP.

 

Further neither Rajapakse nor his allies can begin to accept the failures of their governance and hence offer a real alternative vision to the National Unity Government, for the future. Most political projects after defeat, do look inward somewhat and seek a political course correction, not so the Rajapakses’. They and their allies continue to insist, if by implication that it was the voters who made a mistake in 2015 and the voter will change their mind, very quickly. Further the Rajapakse message seems to be geared to and not extending beyond a section of the Sinhala Buddhist majority in the country, a political base and message two narrow to bring the project back to power. If the Rajapakse political comeback project is to succeed, two key changes need to take place, there must be an honest assessment of the failures of their governance, in all areas including economic, foreign, public sector management and social reconciliation policies and consequently seek to design a policy message and political outreach that is more pluralistic, tolerant and democratic.

 

Now, the factor that excites the die-hard minority of Rajapakse supporters in the political establishment is the constitutional making process that is currently ongoing through the Parliament as a constitutional assembly. The Rajapakse political calculation is that the potential divisiveness of constitutional reform and its consequential political and social change would permit the divisive identity politics and its attendant fear and hate mongering, which is Rajapaksa’s greatest political asset but also his greatest political liability.

 

With the presentation to Parliament of the interim reports of the six sub committees of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly and its scheduled debate in the House on 9thand 10th of January 2016, the opponents of the constitutional reform are slowly waking up to the fact, that there is a consensus building up in Parliament regarding the contours of a new basic law for Sri Lanka, a new social compact between the governed and the government. Almost four decades since the 1978 constitution was adopted for Sri Lanka, the empirical evidence we have is that our current constitutional arrangement and its overbearing executive presidency, reduced democratic space and centralized political power, consequently leading to poor public governance, weakened democratic institutions, led to armed conflicts in both the South and the North and reduced individual freedoms and human rights. The vast majority of the near forty-year period since 1978 to the present, Sri Lanka has been governed under emergency rule, which says it all about our failures as a polity.

 

The end of the war in 2009, removed armed conflict from the political equation and hence opens up a historic window of opportunity to address the democracy deficiency we have in Sri Lanka and effect state reform through a new constitution which ensures that the Sri Lankan State becomes more tolerant and pluralistic accommodating the full diversity of her society. There are opponents of such reform among the more extremist elements in both the North and the Southern polity. In the North, the opposition to the current approach of consultations, compromise and consensus, seems to be led by the Tamil Peoples Forum (TPF), led by a collection of defeated politicians, whose common feature seems to be their inability to be elected to Parliament by the Tamil people but having the patronage of Northern Chief Minister Justice CV Wigneswaren, whose endorsement of them nonetheless at the last general election failed to sway the voter, the Tamil Congress led political alliance of nay-sayers, collecting a paltry five thousand votes in the Jaffna District, even less than the SLFP’s modest support of seventeen thousand.

 

In the South, the opponents of state reform and a return to the past, has a more formidable champion in Mahinda Rajapakse, but the reality is that the more extreme politics ruled in Sri Lanka, until the recent past and are now relegated to the peripheries. The Tamil political leadership moved from Prabakaran and Pottu Amman to Sambanthan and Sumanthiran in 2009 and political leadership in the Southern polity moved from Mahinda and Gotabaya to Sirisena and Wickramasinghe. The political center has never been as dominant in Sri Lankan politics, in the recent past, as it is at present. Political change will always have its detractors, but the detractors having lost the last elections are on the periphery, providing a possible path and a foreseeable future for a new Sri Lanka.

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