“There is great disorder under the heavens. The situation is excellent.”
Lenin famously identified three conditions for a revolution. The rulers should feel unable to rule in the old way. The masses should feel unable to live in the old way. There must be a split among the rulers. The Sri Lankan situation shows signs that these three conditions are in, or are coming into existence.
The President’s speech is but a symptom that the rulers feel that they cannot go on in the old way. It doesn’t take a military intelligence report for the President to perceive this. All it must have taken was a look at the recent results from the Multi-Purpose Cooperative Societies (MPCS) elections from diverse provinces. The UNP is losing ground -- lots of it and quite fast -- to MR and the JO. The official SLFP has neither brought in votes to the coalition nor retained (still less expanded) its own vote base. President Sirisena knows that the vote and the daily eruption of protests are symptoms of the anti-Govt/anti-UNP sentiment surging throughout the Sinhala majority areas. (As the Philippines shows, US military visits cannot deter political nationalism.) He is scrambling to contain the grassroots situation which has reached or passed the tipping point, or at its most optimistic, scrambling to preempt it.
The President is also beginning to realize that the real ruptural ‘Event’, the real ‘revolution’ involving real struggle, real pain, real suffering, real sacrifice, real villains, real heroism and real heroes, was the war, not the January 8 election; that in the national consciousness, an election result cannot equate, still less be larger than or stand against, the legitimacy, historical rootedness and emotional resonance of a great victory in a long war. It can only stand with it, its historical legacy and agency (the military). If it is a choice, it is the election and not the war, the regime and not the war-winning military, which will prove small and ephemeral. President Sirisena knows that Maj. Gen Kamal Gooneratne’s book was a social phenomenon, while the books on the Jan. 8 “events” have hardly left a trace.
Ideological neo-liberals atop and around the UNP’s governing elite seem to regard the state machine as its enemy and target. The state is the combination of the bureaucracy, the military and the judiciary. For a government to take on the state machinery and survive, that state apparatus has to have been disintegrated either by internal war or external invasion. Not even popular uprising does the trick, as Egypt found out after Tahrir I and II when the military took over. In Sri Lanka the state machinary has not only NOT been weakened by defeat in war, it won two wars, in the North and South.
The UNP leadership and its civil society proxies have been conducting a McCarthyite witch-hunt against officialdom and the military.The UNP governing elite and its NGO auxiliaries don’t seem to understand that the democratic Sri Lankan state is hugely broad based, connected by a million threads with society. Opinion polls over the years have confirmed that the Sri Lankan military is by far the most respected and trusted institution in society, well ahead of political parties and even the judiciary.
The UNP ‘reformists’ are attempting to purge the state; engage in state cleansing so to speak. It is as if the UNP views the Sri Lankan state through the same lenses that the Tamil parties do. The UNP leadership has proved in 2001-2004 and this time around, that it is not loyal to the state; it is suspicious of the state. The State secretes an ideology—that of “statism”. The UNP leadership is opposed to this ideology.
What President Sirisena speech does is to remind the UNP in Government that there is such a thing as the state and that it is not to be trifled with. The UNP Govt is temporary, the state is permanent. The elephant cannot disembowel Leviathan. As the wielder of executive power, the minister of defence and the commander-in-chief, President Sirisena has signaled that he represents the State as much or more than he did the Government.
Going by recent pronouncements of the PM and his Parliamentary Secretary,the chief architect of the coming Constitution, Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne (one shudders to think of what Colvin or JR would have said—though one can well imagine it), the executive presidency will be abolished, executive power transferred to the Prime Minister, land and police powers given to the provincial council, the definition ‘unitary’ dropped and ‘federal’ avoided, the powers of the Governor vis-a vis the Provincial councils reduced.
An early Minister of Finance of Ceylon, JR Jayewardene concluded that in a small island with a highly competitive political system, sustainable economic growth required the stability that could only be provided by a presidential system and decidedly not the Westminster model. Despite this, the PM is moving forward with the abolition. The PM’s camp seems to assume that the President and the SLFP wing that is loyal to him will not perceive a threat (involvinga possible Ranil-MR pincer move), and that intra-government contradictions will not sharpen.
The UNP leadership seems obtuse enough to conclude even after the experiences of referenda in Britain and Colombia that a new Constitution can dispense with the unitary definition and pass muster at a referendum in a country in which 77% of Sinhalese (who comprise 74% of the populace) find the entrenched, explicit unitary definition to be existentially essential. The only blunder that could be worse is to bypass a referendum or try to win by force and fraud –adventurism that would trigger a tsunami of blood.
Meanwhile the PM has exhibited his Vibheeshana syndrome. Vibheeshana was of course the treacherous, pro-Ramacollaborator brother of the great Lankan king Ravana (recently deemed a terrorist by Mr. Modi) of Asian mythology. The PM promised to sign ETCA before this year is out. Perusing a draft, I was aghast to find that the subheadings covered every conceivable aspect of this island’s economic life, from agriculture, fisheries, plantations to education and educational infrastructure, energy and the mapping of ground water resources.
ETCA would give India access to penetrate and enrich itself as the controlling power in every cell of Sri Lanka’s economic existence. Given the vast asymmetry of the two economies, ETCA can only convert this island comprehensively into an economic colony of India. Not since British colonialism would we be so totally in the thrall of another—and it would be worse because Britain was oceans away and in case did not contain a hostile Tamil Nadu! The PM has said that ETCA would give privileged access to Tamil Nadu and South Indian investment and that Sri Lanka would be locked into a common economic grid with South India.
In a scenario in which the surreal is becoming real, the Foreign Minister hopes to introduce international laws with retrospective effect into the new Constitution, establish a Special Prosecutor’s office bypassing the AG’s Dept., set up Special Courts and begin to prosecute personnel of a war-winning, three hundred thousand strong, and very popular military-- with no real backlash from the public, the state apparatus or President Sirisena! It is the height of absurdity to imagine that if it came down to a choice between the governing UNP elite and the war-winning military, the public would not support and defend the latter against the former.
No individual may be above the law but the dynamics of history and the realities of political/politico-military powerultimately override and determine. When it comes to the crunch, the President may choose the military over the UNP and the PM, for either social or electoral survival. A survivalist UNP faction may join him.