A fortnight ago several senior ministers were told to hold a press conference and con the public that the government was not after the blood of the CJ. In Lanka, in these times, people know this means they are planning to do exactly the opposite of what they say! They told us they would abolish the Executive Presidency, but they enacted the 18th Amendment which aims to impose it in perpetuity; they told us they would not privatise state assets, but they alienated every inch of prime property in Colombo and the best along the seafront to foreign capital; they promised reconciliation, but they won’t let the Tamils have the Northern Provincial Council. For these reasons I think an e-mail that is doing the rounds saying the President has decided to impeach the CJ and install Mohan Peries in her place is very believable.
We will soon see, maybe before the year is out; furthermore, impeachment is not the only way of getting rid of someone in these days of carrots and sticks.
The attack on the Judicial Services Commission Secretary does not make sense unless it’s part of a bigger game plan and that cannot be to take on the whole judiciary and bar. The limited lethal plan that makes sense is that they have decided to go after the CJ only; mounting pressure that elicits an abject capitulation or removal by intimidation or by impeachment. No arrests have been made for the Thilekaratne attack, why? Because I think the attackers have disappeared into the usual encampments into which Lasantha’s killers, the grease yakkas, abductors of journalists and Frontline Socialists, and for a long time Tamil youth suspected of LTTE connections, all vanished. That’s evidence enough of who the black hand behind the attacks is.
Ok if you are sceptical of my hypothesis, just grant for arguments sake that the regime does intend to impeach or otherwise remove the CJ. What is the presumed larger game plan and what consequences follow from this? Let me dwell on this theory.
The big battle ahead
I have said in several pieces since the beginning of this year that serious economic difficulties lie over the horizon. The twin forks of a pincer movement that is strangling the economy are foreign trade deficit and government fiscal deficit (better known among us laymen as the budget deficit). Every indication is that both deficits will deteriorate further in 2013-15, it is difficult to see farther. There is no sign that exports can improve much, it is not possible to curb imports greatly and I cannot see the government increasing revenue except modestly. Fiscal expenditure cannot be cut without provoking resentment and the device of deferring 2012 expenditure to 2013 will snowball. With these twin hands choking its throat the government faces social unrest and mounting debt.
By the end of 2012 the government’s foreign debt will stand at about $27 billion (Rs3.5 trillion) and domestic debt will also be about the same amount, Rs3.5 trillion. It is simply not true that the Central Bank’s foreign reserves are healthy. My estimate is that at the end of year 2012 government (official) reserves will be about $7.5 billion and commercial bank foreign holdings and financial market (portfolio) related holdings about another $1.5 billion. A simple analogy will be a lady working in the Middle East who has $7.5 thousand in her NRFC account, much of it short term loans from friends, and is safe-keeping another $1.5 thousand for other parties; however, she is indebted to big lenders in Dubai to the tune of $27 thousand, and that hole is getting deeper. Add to this that she owes another Rs3.5 million to local money lenders at home.
Honestly I cannot see how the Rajapaksa government can wiggle out of an economic crisis unless it abandons its policy framework, which it won’t do. It seems clear as daylight, and therefore must be frighteningly obvious to policy wonks, that big showdowns with an angry public are on the agenda for 2013-15. The method in the village-bumpkin madness of this regime, I believe, is timely preparation to groom its forces for these eventualities. An independent judiciary, political obstacles to the regimes drive towards a corporatist state, its crazy obsession with militarising schools are, if seen in this light, Kafkaesque; not the insanity of a loony lurching in the streets, but the cunning of a Hannibal Lecter.
A judiciary that displays a modicum of constitutional independence just will not do. Defence Secretary Gotabaya, technically a public servant (sic) though in truth more powerful than brother Mahinda, has called for the immediate repeal of the 13th Amendment (front page Sunday Island, October 14) because devolution is an obstacle to Divinaguma. More properly put, devolution and the agenda of a corporatist state are in headlong conflict. Without concentrating power in the hands of the siblings, without wresting all autonomous political power from the Tamil people and regions, and in the context of this essay without bringing the judiciary to heel, the corporatist state project is doomed. This is why it is doubly important for the citizenry of Lanka at large to resist with all the power at its command the regime’s attacks on the judiciary, its efforts to strangle Tamil autonomy and thwart provincial council elections in the North, and the creeping excesses of sibling grip on power. At the root of all this however lies the Executive Presidency.
Abolish the Executive Presidency
Impending economic crisis will drive the regime into a conflict with the people. To face the challenge this regime knows only one way and that is concentrating power in its own hands. This is apart from the Rajapaksas’ natural proclivity to get drunk on power anyway. These tendencies coalesce smoothly into the Executive Presidency. The Executive Presidency is not only at the root of all the current abuses of power, that is the superficial side, it is not only the tool at hand to secure the corporatist state, that is the statecraft side, it is also the organising principle that is fashioning the repressive apparatuses that the regime needs for its survival in conflict with the people in the next medium term period.
Abolishing the Executive Presidency is the absolute political priority of the moment. Ranil is unwilling to join such a campaign since, either he has some cryptic deal with Rajapaksa, or he suffers from the folly of utmost delusions that he will make it there one day. Many are now catching and climbing on to the bandwagon of a crucial concept that I floated a month ago: A Single Issue Challenge to rally a rainbow coalition and abolish the Executive Presidency! There are numerous ambitious creeps around now hoping to cash in on the opportunity. They will all need to be swept aside and a genuine candidate identified. Let’s leave candidates aside for now and focus on the Single Issue campaign.