Election 2015: Our selection

Given what we know of the Opposition&#8217s declared approach and policy at this stage, I am unconvinced that we should vote Mahinda Rajapaksa out. Adjust is required even imperative. But what type of modify, where, when and to whom? There is a case for peaceful democratic regime change, but what has the current Rajapaksa regime to do with the decades older Executive Presidential technique, which is a kind of state?

The present decision in Sri Lanka &#8211 and the answer to those vital questions &#8211 is excruciatingly straightforward. On 10 December, International Human Rights Day, Sirisena addressed a civil society coalition and assured it (and the nationwide tv audience) that he &#8220was searching for to occupy the chair of the presidency not for the goal of remaining in it but precisely for the objective of abolishing its power and going home.&#8221&nbsp
Now this was throughout the exact same television newscasts that showed the correct nature of the place and the persons he was pledging to transfer the power of the Presidential chair to, namely the parliamentarians who just before our quite eyes, and at that quite time, have been engaging in a game of musical chairs! So, if we are to trust Sirisena&#8217s pledge, we can anticipate the disempowerment of the Presidential chair (and its occupant, to wit, Sirisena), which is anchored in the democratic consent of the majority of our citizenry (50.1% of the vote), and the empowerment of an institution susceptible to musical chairs.
Who is to say that in a post-Mahinda period, a hung parliament barely topped by a self-enfeebled presidency with residual executive powers will not be susceptible to decisive manipulation by a concerted infusion of money from the secessionist network of the Tamil Diaspora? Who is to say that such a maneuver by the Diaspora Tamil Eelamists will be unable to engineer a government of its decision which will pledge the withdrawal of troops from the North?
In the new configuration as created by the Opposition&#8217s strategists, domestic and external, the residual presidency of Sirisena will not and structurally cannot be the decisively preeminent power center. It will be the PM and the Cabinet. The dominant political poles of attraction are far more than likely to be Ranil Wickremesinghe and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.&nbsp
One doesn&#8217t have to be Hobbesian (though it assists) to concur that the principal duty of the state towards its citizenry is not very good governance so considerably as the more fundamental existential one particular of the protection of life and limb from a violent, determined, ruthlessly marauding enemy. Chandrika and (a lot more so) Ranil miserably failed that most essential test whilst Mahinda Rajapaksa passed it with flying colors.
He protected this nation and its men and women, liberating us from Prabhakaran&#8217s reign of terror. Therefore as a student of politics, I can’t advocate an outcome that sends Mahinda Rajapaksa packing although restoring Ranil and Chandrika to prominent positions of energy and influence &#8211 equal to, if not surpassing that of Sirisena. Right after all, Mangala Samaraweera did solemnly declare that it is Wickremesinghe who will be &#8220the 1st amongst equals.&#8221
Wartime indecision
It is correct that Gen. Sarath Fonseka was perhaps the primary driver of the victory insofar as the ground war was innovatively made and determinedly driven by him. It is no less correct that this administration treated him disgracefully.
Even so, an outstanding troika, Generals Fonseka, Janaka Perera and Gamini Hettiaarachchi have been in Chandrika&#8217s army for her two Presidential terms and she failed to win the war &#8211 simply because she didn&#8217t think it could be won that Prabhakaran could be militarily defeated. Or, due to utter ideological and philosophical confusion, she didn&#8217t consider it as desirable.
Mahinda Rajapaksa won the war for us due to the fact he had political will and clarity &#8211 and he had a brother, Gotabaya, who could handle the war effort with zealous dedication and expertise. With each other, Mahinda and Gotabaya have been capable to mitigate the bitter inter-service (Fonseka-Karannagoda) and intra-service rivalries.
In the loop in the early 1990s, I watched helplessly as the Waidyaratne-Kobbekaduwa split paralysed the war work during President Premadasa&#8217s term, while he refused my entreaties to step in and regularly spearhead the National Security Council, asserting that that &#8220we ought to leave it to the experts &#8211 the Tamils should be in a position to see that the Presidency was not straight involved in the war.&#8221
What was the critical moment of the war? It was a replay of that moment in 1987, when the Sri Lankan armed forces were about to prevail over Prabhakaran in Operation Liberation but President Jayewardene received a deterring warning from Higher Commissioner J.N. Dixit. In 2009, President Rajapaksa had two fairly similar moments about which I heard, not only from him, but far far more credibly and at 1st hand, from the Norwegian Ambassador Torre Hattrem and the French Foreign Minister of that time, Bernard Kouchner.
It is Mahinda Rajapaksa who sought India&#8217s backing and overruled the US evacuation attempt which had been facilitated by the Norwegians. A lot more crucially, it is he who curtly told an arrogant, blustering David Miliband that &#8220Sri Lanka is no longer a British colony&#8221 when pressure was put on him for a &#8216humanitarian pause&#8217 in the fighting and a resumption of negotiations, a few weeks prior to our soldiers accomplished final victory. (Kouchner&#8217s story, connected to me and my wife at a lunch in Paris, came as no surprise given that I was element of the discussion in early 2007 when President Rajapaksa told US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher &#8220I am sorry Mr. Boucher, but what can I do if my terrorists are not Islamic?&#8221).
Champika Ranawaka, who claims credit for the drive to finish the war, was not even a peripheral figure in those decisive discussions with the worldwide powers. Gen. Sarath Fonseka was not present in the area. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was in the loop but not on center stage. The selection not to blink and to take the war to a finish what ever the consequences was a political and existential one, and it was produced by President Rajapaksa.
In the final analysis, it wasn&#8217t Gota&#8217s war it was Mahinda&#8217s, and he have to not be made to spend a price tag at our extremely hands for his resolve in our defense and his defiance of the West. The Tamil Diaspora desires revenge for the defeat of their Tigers and the death of Prabhakaran. The West wants to make an instance of Mahinda for far higher stakes: he opted for China and Russia over the West. The two compulsions converge (most overtly in Geneva).
Take into account this very carefully: are we ready to threat the possibility that Rajapaksa could be a 21st century Rajasinha (the last king of Kandy), carted off by the West to be made an instance of i.e. legally lynched, for his defiance in our defense? Do we want that on our collective conscience? Is that how we want future generations to view us? I rather doubt that history will absolve us.
The Joint Opposition&#8217s present plan combines the prospects of radical politico-constitutional change and no much less radical financial change, provided that Ranil Wickremesinghe is an ideologically conservative, neoliberal privatiser and freezer of public expenditure (as confirmed for the duration of his mercifully brief tenure as PM).
Punishing a verified leader
If the contrasting fates of Gorbachev/Yeltsin&#8217s Russia and Deng Hsiao Peng&#8217s China demonstrate anything, it is that political and economic reform have to not proceed simultaneously, if 1 is not to risk meltdown. The scenario of a self-diminished Sirisena Presidency, a shift of energy to a volatile Parliament, an economically neoliberal Wickremesinghe Prime Ministership, a &#8216CBK as Sonia Gandhi&#8217 aspect, an assertive Northern Provincial Council, cosmopolitan civil society-human rights NGO-Western pressures on &#8220cooperation and compliance&#8221 with the UN probe on international law and accountability concerns, and radical privatisation, fill me with foreboding since the centrifugal elements outnumber and outweigh the centripetal ones.
Are we prepared for a Western dominated, semi-colonial Sri Lanka of the sort we lived in for the duration of the Ranil&#8211Chandrika-Solheim years that disgraceful decade of diminished and retrenched national sovereignty? Are we prepared for the inevitable blowback, polarisation and radicalisation?
In its narrow judgment in favor of the 13th Amendment in 1987, Sri Lanka&#8217s Supreme Court ruled that this structural reform, which made for provincial autonomy, remained inside the framework of the unitary state due to the fact of the executive presidency and its powers more than the council as vested in the Governor. Without the magnet or &#8216maypole&#8217 as it were, of the elected executive presidency, the centripetal prospective of the provincial councils would be greater than their centrifugal prospective. This is yet an additional, doubtlessly unwitting, danger posed by the joint Opposition&#8217s stated project.
A presidential election is not about constitutional modify. It is about choosing a leader for the nation, the state &#8211 or more fundamentally, the collective, the neighborhood, the tribe (if you favor an anthropological existentialism).
I am reluctant to dispense with the services of the leader who passed the crucial test of &#8216domestic R2P&#8217 &#8211 the &#8216Responsibility to Safeguard&#8217 his men and women and country from the armed enemy. I hesitate to ditch a sturdy leader and confirmed success in the most crucial matter, and replace him with an unproven if courageous, decent man who will cede a lot of his energy to two established failures.
(Dayan Jayatilleka was Sri Lanka&#8217s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva from 2007-09, and until not too long ago, Ambassador to France. He is the author of &#8216Long War, Cold Peace: Conflict and Crisis in Sri Lanka,&#8217 Vijitha Yapa Publishers, 2013.)

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