by Laksiri Fernando -
When terrorism was ferocious and playing havoc, Mahinda Chinthana 2005 was soft on the LTTE. Everyone knows what the reason was. In addressing the problem, Mahinda said in his so-called Chinthana, “The fundamental platform that I would base my initiative would be an undivided country, a national consensus and an honourable peace” on page 31. I am quoting from the President’s official website and the emphasis is not mine but of the original document. He even didn’t say a unitary state, but an undivided country.
It is true that all parties and all candidates should be careful about announcing handouts to the people and should present realistically feasible economic concessions.
But now when LTTE terrorism is decisively defeated in the country, he has changed the tune. Why? There are two reasons. (1) To grab power for a dubious third term breaking all the existing norms of a democratic presidential system. (2) As proved by the past experience, his primary animosity is not with the LTTE or terrorism, but with the Tamil community.
2005 and 2015
No one is saying there is no threat of terrorism in the future. The security forces are, however, quite capable of handling such a situation, if they are free from undue political interferences. Compared to the period of 2005, any terrorist threat at present is insignificant. His present umbrage, therefore, is against the Tamil community or all minority communities. Terrorism are of many forms and can emerge from many quarters. Even at this moment, innocent voters are terrorised by government goons. That is exactly what the LTTE did in December 2005 in the North in order to bring Mahinda into power. Their fall out came later.
Rajapaksa was even talking about demilitarization on both sides in his 2005 Manifesto. There was nothing wrong when he said, “I also intend to meet their leader and other representatives for such discussion.” He was referring to a consultative process. He was also not wrong in waging military action against the LTTE, after Marvil Aru, and defeating them except the reported condoning of human rights violations that amounts to crimes.
What is particularly wrong at present is the policy of ‘terrorist bogey’ which undoubtedly hearts and excludes the Tamil community from the political process. The exclusion policy has been the case even before the emergence of terrorism in Sri Lanka prompted by various Sinhala chauvinist governments but one could have expected a change of policy after learning the lessons on both sides and/or defeating the LTTE in 2009. Before going into details, let me quote Mahinda Chinthana 2015 to show the contrast and the opportunist policy.
“Some are attempting to show that terrorism belongs only to the past and there is no relevance to present or no threat for the future. I know that Tiger organization is roaming in Europe and Western countries day and night keeping their cruel separatist objectives in mind waiting for their prey. Only difference is that they don’t carry arms openly.” (p. 12).
The above is my translation and apparently there is no at least an English version of the Manifesto until now irrespective of all the resources at their disposal. All resources apparently are used for thuggery and intimidation of voters. Contrast what he says now with what he said in 2005. The paragraph I have quoted is the introduction to the First Section of the Manifesto titled “Global Example of National Security.”
A Blatant Lie
There is a blatant lie when he proceeds further. That is when he says “I have built a country where all Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays and Burghers could live in peace.” One only has to recollect what happened in Aluthgama/Beruwala and what is happening day to day in the Northern Province under the overwhelming military presence. He is also saying that he will not discriminate against anyone based on ethnicity or religion, obviously to mean the opposite. It is a mindboggling question why he is saying these things about ethnic and minority communities in the section where he talks about ‘national security’?
The meaning of what he says about the ‘global example’ is revealed in the bullet point five in the same section. It says, “I will built a country that can supply a political example for those fraternal countries who are virtually dying or just breathing oppressed under the yoke of the iron boot of modern imperialism.” He is actually talking about a future and has not spelled out clearly what kind of a country that he would be building in his third term if allowed by the voters on the 8th of January. Even he has not spelled out what are the fraternal countries that would take his political example! The rhetoric however is similar to what Muammar Gaddafi or Saddam Hussain used to utter in the past. Or, it is possible that he is thinking of North Korea as an example for him to emulate.
The whole Chinthana is contradictory when he comes to the sub-section on ‘Foreign Policy.’ There, he pays lip service to the ‘non-aligned policy.’ To prove his concocted non-align policy, he declares that “I will pursue a policy of friendship not only with those countries who supported us when we rose against terrorism but also with countries who are attempting to punish us considering that defeating terrorism was wrong.” This is undoubtedly a strange policy of anti-imperialism!
It is possible that different people composed different sections of the manifesto although finally written by one or two persons. It is simply a hotchpotch. There is no cohesive thread going from the beginning to the end except promises given that were common to Chinthana 2005 and 2010. There has been a terrible mess up in respect of the whole Manifesto. The launching of the document was first fixed for the 22nd Monday and then postponed to 26th Friday. However, having realized the commencement of postal voting on the 23rd, it was suddenly launched on the same day at BMICH. The participants were not ordinary people but politicians and mainly government officials with some other invited guests in formal attire.
As it was reported in the Daily News on the same morning “According to Presidential spokesman Mohan Samaranayake, the launching ceremony of this manifesto Mahinda Chinthana Thunkal Dekma will take place at the BMICH under the patronage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.” However, when it was launched, it was not ‘Thunkal Dekma’ (past, present and future vision) but ‘Lowa Dinana Mage’(path to global triumph). No one knows how this local vision suddenly became a global vision.
Difference between the Two
There are some who have expressed the view that there cannot be much difference between Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena. That may be the case in some respects. One reason for this frustration is the fact that MS was a Minister and the General Secretary of the SLFP until very recently. What is neglected in this interpretation, however, is the change of political dynamics when MS was selected as the common candidate, although not completely developed satisfactorily. Political change is not only a goal (or an ideal) but also a process or a struggle.
If there were some positive aspects of the past two terms of MR, as outlined in the Mahinda Manifesto, such as the principled defeat of the LTTE and overall economic development, then those are for the credit of Maithripala Sirisena as well. However, his breakaway is primarily geared by the negative aspects of the Rajapaksa rule, although belatedly, criticized by the opposition and the people’s movements throughout. Some of these are (1) family oligarchy (2) personal dictatorship (3) blatant corruption (4) breakdown of the rule of law (5) trampling of the judiciary and other independent institutions and (6) rampant political thuggery. Most dangerous of all undoubtedly is to give a third term for the same person who has been presiding over the above evils.
There is a sharp contrast between the underlying focuses of the two manifestos of Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena. One way to see the difference is to compare and contrast the first two chapters of the two manifestos. MR’s is on ‘national security’ and MS’s is on ‘political reforms’ including the abolition of the draconian powers of the presidency in the first instance. Of course both have, not ‘shopping lists’ as RMB Senanayake has mistakenly named, but ‘Santa Claus’ gift promises.
It is true that all parties and all candidates should be careful about announcing handouts to the people and should present realistically feasible economic concessions. In Australia, where I live now, even opposition party’s election promises are financially assessed by the Treasury professionals. This has been a tradition built only recently to my knowledge. However, even in Australia, these assessments are often not revealed until the last moment of the election. This means that political parties often give promises that cannot financially be met or leads to drastic economic repercussions.
However, at this stage of politics in Sri Lanka the two manifestos should be assessed primarily on a political basis and not on pseudo economics. Those who do the assessments on the latter path would eventually betray the country for the evolving dictatorship.