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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Single-Issue challenge gains momentum; Many are striving but only one will be chosen

Kumar David
About two months ago I mooted the concept of a Single-Issue (SI) challenge and the need for a SI candidate committed to abolishing the Executive Presidency (EP) forthwith upon winning the next presidential elections. The idea has gained momentum, won the attention of a diversity of political formations and stirred some individual ambitions. Every opposition party, even the UNP, has been smoked out into the open and been compelled to pronounce opposition to EP. Even within the UPFA some make no secret of their aversion to the Executive Presidency. Socialist Alliance leader DEW, though a Cabinet Minister, does not conceal that he detests the EP. Senior SLFP Ministers agree that EP is a curse but are silenced by the dangling carrot of a Prime Ministerial appointment when DM takes his trip to the land from which no traveller returns.

Some hopefuls, salivating after the presidency, have shown their hand. If rumour is to be believed that includes Karu, Sajith, the two Saraths and even Chandrika, though some rumours may be untrue. Sarath Fonseka is ineligible to run unless Rajapaksa pardons him in the hope of subduing him again. The other four do not have a chance in hell; Rajapaksa can tame a challenge from any even in a few years’ time, though the economy may then be crumbling. Ranil is a slim possibility if people trust him to keep his word and abolish the EP; but that’s the problem because he was an architect of EP as an original JR-team member; he never called for its abolition in the first thirty years of the JR Constitution. Even now he croaks only half-heartedly against EP and smuggles in terms like Executive Prime Ministership (EPM) which betray a desire to retain as many EP powers as possible in the unlikely event he becomes new style PM.

Since he is a potential loser people should not trust Ranil with the SI challenge. He is a man lost for direction and knows not his front from his back. Where has he ever spoken in support of the Single-Issue concept anyway? If, after the EP is abolished, he has hopes of leading the UNP in a parliamentary election and becoming Prime Minister in a conventional parliamentary setup, sure let him try. Let Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sarath Fonseka or anyone else try too. Once EP is gone it’s a new ball game; no obstacles should stand against anyone striving for a parliamentary majority.

A rain soaked rally at Hyde Park on 18 October to oppose the Executive Presidency drew a crowd of about 5,000. General Fonseka was the de facto mover though it was convened in the name of the Eksath Bikku Peramuna. My name was included in the posters because I told Srilal Lakthilaka that I was committed to forging a Rainbow Coalition to take forward the SI challenge. I was not invited to any preparatory gathering, but still named on the posters as a speaker! If the left too had also been invited, if the idea was to explicitly grow a Single-Issue challenge, and if there was no intention of promoting unrealistic candidates, it would have been a very good thing. The organisers lacked clarity of purpose and organisational maturity; hence they fritted away what could have been a useful opportunity to develop the Single-Issue challenge to abolish the Executive Presidency.

When I first proposed the SI concept I also suggested the name of Ven Maduluwave Sobitha as a candidate who could live up to the three essential conditions that an SI challenger must possess: (a) the person must be seen by the people as a trustworthy and quick in abolishing the EP, (b) he or she must actually be trustworthy, and (c) the challenger must have a realistic chance of defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

What is meant by a trustworthy candidate is someone who will without delay, upon election, abolish the Executive Presidency (the procedural and constitutional details can be worked by any good team of lawyers within two or three weeks). After that, the person must simply get out of the way. In any case he/she has to soon get out of the way because, after abolishing the EP, the job goes up in smoke; there is nothing left for the ex-EP to do.

I have discovered from many in different forums that the only person who enjoys a degree of trust is Sobitha hamuduruwo; actually nobody else is trusted at all. Therefore he does satisfy condition (a). I have never met hamuduruwo and cannot personally vouch for him, but people who know him, and whose judgement I trust, have assured me that Sobitha is a man of his word, hence he fulfils condition (b) as well. In respect of condition (c), as a political animal, my engagements have persuaded me that a Rainbow Coalition (reds, greens and blues, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, petty bourgeoisie, workers and urban elites) can be mobilised around his candidature. I do not say that there is only one man across the length and breadth of Lanka who can measure up to criteria (a), (b) and (c), but among the names mentioned, Sobitha is the only one worth taking seriously. I am unacquainted with him and have no idea whether he has the courage, determination and willpower to accept the responsibility; we will have to wait and see.

I did step back for a month from naming candidates when people advised me not to jump the gun and to focus on explaining the SI concept first. Now we have passed, or largely passed that stage, the concept is broadly understood and momentum is rising. A new complication is that all sorts of shoddy riffraff are pushing their names forward in private discussions (I guess that is why I was excluded from the preparatory gatherings for the 18 October event). This is leading to quite unnecessary conflicts within the potential Rainbow Coalition; for example the UNP, JVP and Frontline Socialists boycotted the 18 October meeting. Hence we have passed the stage where naming a candidate can be deferred; its time, without any further delay, to choose the best person to carry the SI burden on behalf of the nation. Despite the excitement of the last several weeks, no better name than Maduluwave Sobitha has surfaced. To me the choice is conclusive.

In an interview published in the English language press ten days ago Sobitha lashed out: “(It) is time to scrap the Executive Presidency . . . the destructive Executive Presidency . . . the Executive Presidency has created an authoritarian system which is not answerable either to parliament or to the law”, and so on. However, when he was pressed on whether he would accept nomination as a presidential candidate, he was evasive saying he had no wish to enter politics. An SI candidacy does not amount to entering politics; it is the logical culmination of the very process of demanding a just and law abiding society that the thero himself has started; nobody asks or wants the good thero to run a government or enter politics. But it is pretty silly to launch a wave of mobilisation, as the thero has done, and then drop it all at the final stage without seeing it through to its logical culmination.
Understanding Ranil

Ranil is tying himself in knots. He says, correctly, that the UNP is the largest opposition force in the country and therefore does not wish to be a mere invitee on the stage on such an important issue. There is some justice in this statement, but the point is this: If the UNP does not wish to play second fiddle to anyone else, then why does it not organise and lead the Single-Issue campaign itself? If the UNP had been bold and taken the lead, others would have come to consultations convened by the UNP and a larger and more representative campaign could have been mobilised. Why then Mr Ranil are you not doing it?

The UNP can point to a few recent, reluctant, pronouncements about its love-hate attitude towards EP but in its current state of political confusion Ranil is not prepared to boldly come forward and lead a national campaign to rid the country of the hated Executive Presidency. So is it surprising that commentators suggest that Ranil and Mahinda have a deal or an understanding; Ranil and the UNP have a great deal of explaining to do.

The Corporatist State

I have been arguing persistently for several weeks that the type of authoritarianism that is being brewed by the Rajapaksa siblings is neither classic fascism of the Nazi form, nor a military dictatorship like Pinochet or till recently Burma and Egypt. What is brewing is a state form in which the military is a mere hound, albeit a fierce one, but on a tight leash in the hands of the siblings. Good historical parallels to the putative the Rajapaksa Corporatist sate of the future, if the siblings get their way, are Mussolini, Peron and Marcos; a dictatorship with a political base, not a military state or a fascist regime. I need to repeat this because many, who I had thought would think through their political categories and analysis of the state methodically, have neglected to do so.

The Divinaguma Bill, if enacted, would raise to 64% the share of the 2013 state budget in the hands of the siblings (MR/GR Defence and Urban Development, 24%; all MR’s other Ministries, 22%; Basil’s Empire post-Divinaguma, 18%). If Divineguma fails, BasilEmpire remains at 11% of state expenditure allocations. Therefore one crucial aspect of the Rajakapsa Executive Corporatist Project is to size control of a dominant share of government finances

The other two aspects are to subjugate the judiciary to the executive, and to enact a slew of repressive laws. The subjugation of the judiciary is being attempted by a combination of physical intimidation, moves to impeach judges, and constitutional amendments now in preparation. The objective of the much dreaded 19th Amendment is said to be bringing the judiciary firmly to heel, curtailing its independence. The legislature, that is parliament, is already a poodle, a two-thirds lap-dog obediently doing as it is told to by an all powerful Executive President. Corporatism is founded on a monopoly of power.

The first instalment in a new wave of draconian legislation was tabled in parliament; the Criminal Procedure Code (Special Provisions) Amendment Bill. The Bill seeks to double the time a person an be detained in custody before production before a magistrate, it severely curtails a suspect’s right to interrogate an accuser, gives a special status to statements purportedly recorded by the police (that this is code for confessions extracted under torture), and includes other dreadful provisions. This is but the opening salvo, more legislation to entrench an executive dictatorship in constitutional guise while playing upon populism – a Mussolini or Peron like Corporatist charade is unfolding. It can and must be defeated!


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