The surprise announcement that Maithripala Sirisena will be the common Presidential candidate who will face the current incumbent at the forthcoming elections and his promise to abolish the Executive Presidency within one hundred days has raised hopes that an alternative is finally in the air.
Although there are a lot of ‘ifs’ on the way, including the need for a 2/3 majority in the legislature for constitutional change, of concern is Sirisena’s announcement of UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe as Prime Minister before holding General Elections. By adopting a “Sirisena-Ranil” ticket approach, the architects of the Common Candidate – the UNP and sections of the SLFP – are effectively giving the voter a single election choice for the office of President and Prime Minister, trapping the people into a Ranil premiership in a most unprecedented and undemocratic manner. People will be made to believe they are voting Sirisena, but will instead be voting Ranil. And, where Sirisena will be is anybody’s guess!
"By adopting a “Sirisena-Ranil” ticket approach, the architects of the Common Candidate – the UNP and sections of the SLFP – are effectively giving the voter a single election choice for the office of President and Prime Minister, trapping the people into a Ranil premiership in a most unprecedented and undemocratic manner"
What is ominous about this cynical way of doing or thinking is that it by-passes the people in at least two ways! Firstly, the person who may become the Head of Government with executive powers a hundred days from the presidential elections will have been selected by a handful of leaders from the ruling class represented collectively within the two main political parties, the SLFP and the UNP.
Secondly, and, more importantly, the so-called alternative is only so-called, because there is no indication that apart from a new face and a new electoral system, there will be a fundamental change in policies and programmes – domestic and foreign – that will finally and genuinely address the concerns of the Sri Lankan masses, and by that I mean Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Christian and all other Sri Lankan minority communities living in this island nation. Structures and institutions must serve the people, not vice versa. It is like building an airport, port or highway without knowing for whom and for what purpose. In the case of the common candidate, the people are being effectively asked to take a stand on a person and a structure without being told what objective that person and that structure would serve. The opposition has put the cart before the horse and nobody knows where cart or horse is heading! What will this promised ‘change’ signify to ordinary people if it only means more of the same or continuity? And, what about the cartel that has hijacked the State, whose emergence can be traced back to more than quarter century of war that created conditions for trafficking of all sorts, and during which period the one or the other Party wielded power?
Driving the Rajapaksas out of power is fine, but how will this change the daily lives of the working masses if the alternative proposed does not break with an unjust and exploitative system that generates inequalities, division, conflict and poverty through a programme of privatisation and liberalisation? Breaking with that system implies a radical reorientation of the economy from one that serves the privileged few to one that serves the working majority; from one that serves the needs of external markets – to one that serves the needs of the domestic economy upon which the majority of the people depend for their livelihood; from one that serves private profit to one that serves public well-being, protection of the country’s natural resources and its ecological heritage.
No country lives or can live in a vacuum. A “peoples first” domestic policy will inevitably require a foreign policy based on principles that rejects the present practice of making private deals behind the backs and at the expense of the people.
If change is to be meaningful to ordinary people, they must stop being mere objects or cannon fodder of a history made elsewhere, by others, and for others; they must become the architects of their own history, of their own destiny!