“Of course he won’t give up power…. What were we thinking? The old man isn’t going anywhere, he’ll die in office”. – Peter Godwin (The Fear: The Last Days of Robert Mugabe)
Another milestone in the Rajapaksa plan to control every aspect of Lankan life has been reached. 4,000 school principals have been ordered to undergo 45 days of military training and receive military titles. “The letters sent out by the Sri Lanka Cadet Corps…state that officials of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service who hold the post of principal and those in Grades I and II of the principal’s service have been asked to attend the interviews on March 4, 5 and 6.” (Daily Mirror – 27.2.2013).
Does the Cadet Corp have a right to send orders to school principals? Obviously not; Sri Lanka has a volunteer army and ordering civilians to undergo military training or accept military titles does not accord with the term ‘voluntary’. But, given the climate of fear permeating the country, no principal is likely to refuse.
Seeking redress from this judiciary will be an exercise in insanity.
Once all school principals have been turned into uniformed sheep, it will be the turn of other SLAAS officers. Once the entire civil service has been militarised, the Rajapaksas will turn their attention towards the private sector.
In a democracy, the military or the defence ministry cannot order school principals. In Rajapaksa Sri Lanka, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa can order anyone. And few will dare disobey a regime which treated its own chief justice with such rank injustice.
Juxtapose this latest measure of militarization with the appointment of Presidential Sibling Basil Rajapaksa as the National Organiser of the SLFP and the composite it stark: the Rajapaksas are out to control everyone and dominate everything. Their appetites are becoming more voracious, their reach longer, their sweep wider and their grip tighter.
The Rampaging Rajapaksas and the Slumbering Opposition
At the BASL election, the pro-Rajapaksa candidate went down to a stunning defeat. Thanks to the 18th Amendment, the Rajapaksas do not have to fear a similar fate at any national election.
The 18th Amendment was the single most anti-democratic piece of legislation implemented by the Rajapaksas. It removed presidential term-limits, enhanced presidential powers and turned the Elections Commissioner and the IGP into Presidential minions. The 17th Amendment had given the Elections Commissioner some teeth and the police a little elbow room to uphold the law. The 18th Amendment disempowered the Elections Commissioner and subjugated the police, thereby rendering stage-managed elections with pre-conceived outcomes not only possible but also partially legal.
The 18th Amendment was introduced soon after the Rajapaksas won two national elections and their popularity was near the zenith. But the Siblings were clearly able to envisage a time when economic hardships would cause their Southern base to erode, making it impossible to win elections by fair means (real hunger will defeat ‘patriotism’). They also realised that the SLFP will begin to assert itself, as Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term wore out. The 18th Amendment enabled the Siblings to crush the SLFP and dig their claws deeper into the Lankan state. Less than three years later, the transformation of the Lankan state into the fiefdom of a single family is almost complete.
Sans the 18th Amendment, the impeachment and the militarization of civil spaces would not have happened; and a post-Rajapaksa future would have been just a few years away.
The UNP’s mass base is still huge; it has the potential to challenge Rajapaksa-power eletorally, assuming the party has a new leader who is more dynamic than Ranil Wickremesinghe and more dependable than Sajith Premadasa. Sadly, the UNP is more likely to consume itself in an endless leadership struggle, with Ranil Wickremesinghe clinging to party leadership and Sajith Premadasa making ineffectual efforts to dislodge him. The Rajapaksas would want to keep the UNP marooned in this politico-electoral wasteland for as long as possible. So long as the UNP remains fractious, it will be incapable of focusing on the main enemy: the Rajapaksa Siblings and their quasi-totalitarian power-project.
Plus the Siblings will be able to play one side of the UNP against the other, whenever necessary.
The JVP has been severely weakened by the Rajapaksa-orchestrated schism (the Siblings are excellent at dividing parties, organisations, and communities; the continuing antics of the BBS being the best case in point). The JVP is also caught in a time-wrap. It seems to believe that sooner or later Mahinda Rajapaksa will reach his JR Jayewardene moment; that India and the West will pressurise the regime to devolve power to the Tamils and the Siblings will succumb. The JVP is waiting for that happy hour, to wrest back the ‘patriotic’ banner from the Rajapaksas and to resume the familiar anti-Indian/Imperialist/devolution struggle. What the party does not realise is that 1987 cannot be replicated because the national, regional and international conditions which made it possible have changed. The war is over, the Tiger is dead and India will not – cannot – use the ‘invasion’ threat again. The world of 1987 had two super powers (though one was ailing) and both backed Indian policy on Sri Lanka unconditionally. China was not even a major regional player then. Not only did the Jayewardene administration lack a powerful international patron; it was also being challenged internally by a reunited and rejuvenated opposition. Just a couple of months before the Accord, the squabbling opposition came together to demand national elections, with arch-enemies Sirima Bandaranayake and Vijaya Kumaratunga sharing a stage.
1987 cannot come again because the objective conditions which enabled it cannot be recreated. The JVP is wasting its time, daydreaming and waiting for imperialist threats when it should be focusing on the anti-Rajapaksa struggle.
The Tamils are cowed. The Muslims are being terrorised with attacks on their very existence. Perhaps the only viable challenger to Rajapaksa-power within the SLFP, Maithripala Sirisena, has negated himself thanks to the moronic conduct of his son. By seeking Rajapaksa help to save his son, Minister Sirisena has placed himself under the Rajapaksa thumb. Internationally, the Siblings are in some trouble; unfortunately, despots cannot be dislodged by global resolutions/sanctions, in the absence of a combative national opposition.
The trade union movement still retains some capacity to resist the Rajapaksas, as the victorious struggle against the private sector pension scam demonstrated. This capacity must be strengthened, and alliances formed with other sectors (fishermen, farmers, students) and across ethno-religious and party lines. Since opposition unity is impossible at the top, the only alterative is to form united fronts at the middle and grassroots levels. This unity can initially be issue-based and then, hopefully, permeate upwards, creating a more general and national coming-together of anti-Rajapaksa elements.
As the economic conditions in the Sinhala-South worsen, and the opposition vacillates, a section of the military can step into the breach. Since generals are co-opted, this intervention can take the form of a Colonels’ or even a Sergeants’ Coup, ushering a new rule which is more anti-democratic, anti-minority, anti-Western and Sinhala populist than even the Rajapaksas.
Rampaging Rajapaksas and a slumbering opposition have turned the Lankan crisis into a hermitic one, with no discernible way out