The positive achievements of the regime change are quite significant, but paradoxically they remain mostly invisible and intangible. Key among them include making the state less and less repressive, removing the use of fear, terror, intimidation and corruption as instruments of governance, turning the regime behaviour moderate and less leader-centric, dismantling the political culture of the personality cult, demilitarisation of politics and public space, the re-opening of the space for critique and dissent, and the removal of the fear among ethnic and religious minorities of organised violence. These indeed are no mean achievements gained within a space of days and weeks of the regime change. All these are negative achievements in the sense that they are outcome of the government refraining from doing certain things. But they constituted a fundamental alteration of the pattern of regime behaviour evolved during the past so many years.
“Former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, spent more than Rs. 785 million within three years to charter SriLankan Airlines aircraft for his visits abroad, documents obtained by the Sunday Times show. The airbuses would often remain idle in various airports until Mr Rajapaksa finished his tours. SriLankan has billed his office a total of Rs 785,079,185 for 90 aircraft movements in 2012, 2013 and 2014. This figure does not reflect other multiple costs such as crew accommodation. These expenses were often met by Sri Lanka’s diplomatic missions abroad.”
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Tuesday criticized a comeback bid by Mahinda Rajapaksa, the rival he beat in elections last January, and his own allies for backing him to become prime minister.
Sri Lanka’s August elections have been timed to stop a comeback by war-time president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who remarkably may see his popularity rise in coming months if criticized for war crimes in a U.N report, said government sources.
Sri Lanka’s former president said Wednesday he would run for parliament in a bid to return to politics after he was ousted in January elections by an opposition coalition that vowed to investigate alleged human-rights abuses, nepotism and corruption.
Six months after his defeat in presidential elections, Sri Lanka’s former president took the stage on Wednesday in the gardens of his home in this southern village to tell a crowd of thousands that he would lead an opposition group in parliamentary elections in August.
Sri Lankan ruling party coalition today refused to make former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a prime ministerial candidate, dashing his efforts to return to front line politics.
Dans un article paru dans The Island du 12 mai 2015, que nous reproduisons ci-dessous, Jayadeva Uyangoda, le meilleur politologue sri lankais, analyse le climat politique du pays à l’issue des quatre premiers mois de la présidence de Maithripala Sirisena.
” Nirmal, Maithri and Mahinda –The three who made the past week
By Jayadeva Uyangoda
Three events dominated Sri Lanka’s most recent political developments and debates. The May Day mob attack on Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri and Dr. Kumudu Kusum Kumara is the first. The intensification of the campaign to bring former President Mahinda Rajapaksa back is the second. The meeting between the present and former presidents is the third.
These three events encapsulate and signify some key dimensions of the dynamics of Sri Lanka’s current political turmoil. This essay seeks to comment on some of them.
I have heard three responses to the mob attack on Nirmal and Kumudu at the May Day rally organized by those who are leading the campaign to bring former President Mahinda Rajapakse back as either the President or Prime Minister. The first is by a minority who blame Nirmal and Kumudu who went to the Dinesh, Vasu and Wimal meeting deliberately to create trouble in a provocative manner. Their argument is that this was a politically motivated, and therefore pre-meditated, attempt to discredit the campaign to bring Mahinda back. According to the logic of this argument, Nirmal actually got what he was seeking – beating and publicity. By getting beaten up, Nirmal is also said to have achieved his political objective, namely discrediting the Dinesh – Vasu -Wimal campaign to bring Mahinda Rajapaksa back to power.
One does not have to be surprised by this response. It blames the victims while rationalizing the actions of the perpetrators.
The second response admits that the attack on Nirmal and Kumudu was bad, but blames the victims because they exposed themselves to hostile mob action by going to the meeting. There are two different constituencies who share this viewpoint. The first represents the so-called Left of the ‘bring Mahinda back’ campaign. The second constituency includes, quite paradoxically, even some of the fervent supporters of Nirmal and Kumudu. This second constituency is totally horrified by the fascist-type reaction to the presence of Nirmal and Kumudua near the Dinesh – Vasu – Wimal meeting, but is unable to make sense of why, for god’s sake, these two went there at all.
Democratic Political Culture
The third response, which I share with both Nirmal and Kumudu, is the following: May Day demonstrations and rallies are part of a long tradition of democratic and Left politics in Sri Lanka. Political activists and academics watching them, irrespective of their own political sympathies, are also integral to that political tradition. Observing party political rallies during election campaigns, irrespective of one’s political affiliations, is also embedded in that democratic legacy. In my own experience, until recently I too have practiced this political habit with no hostile consequences, although I am also a well-known critic of certain political parties.It is my old age that prevented me from indulging in this incorrigible habit this May Day, and perhaps saved me from a good beating!
The attack on Nirmal and Kumudu and its open and veiled rationalizations tell us that there is something really nasty about our contemporary political culture.It is about the presence of a deep and hostile polarization in the structures of our society’s political consciousness that treats adversary as an enemy, critic a traitor, and dissent treason. I have experienced this even within our university system in which the authorities until recently – that is, till the second week of January this year — considered dissent as the cousin of terrorism.
This incident also tells us that the 19th Amendment is not enough for democratization in Sri Lanka. Constitutional and legal reforms can only lay the institutional foundations for change. We need a democratic revolution in the political consciousness of our society leading to a substantive transformation in our political culture, values, practices, and forms of political life. However, a sort of counter-revolution, that has the potential of reversing all the gains for democracy, is also in the making at present. Sri Lanka’s politics in the coming months is certain to be conditioned by the intensification of the struggle between two opposing forces – (a) continuing democratization within a limited framework, and (b) return to authoritarianism on an expansive template.
The ‘Bring Mahinda Back’ campaign (hereafter BMBC) seems to be gathering momentum. Visual media reports of the rally held in Kurunegala last Friday show that the organizers have managed to mobilize a big and enthusiastic crowd, eagerly anticipating the second coming of their deposed leader.
What does the BMBC say about current politics in Sri Lanka? It in fact shows us the interplay of a number of interesting trends that characterize the trajectories of our politics today and tomorrow. Perhaps the most important facet it shows is the widening of the space for democratic politics since the regime change in January. The intensity of the open contestation between the government and the newly emerged opposition formation is something that may not have been allowed, and even tolerated, a few months ago. It enjoys so much coverage in the media, generating immense public political interest and debates. Even the government is put on the defensive, which is not a bad thing, from the point of view of democracy. The UPFA MPs seem to be exercising and enjoying their newly gained freedom of speech to the utmost. For the first time in recent history, perhaps in their life, they are criticizing a government, its President, the Prime Minister, Ministers, and their policies. Meanwhile, what Sri Lanka lacked under the past regime are effective checks and balances on those who wielded state power. Checks and balances on the government, both formal and informal, now galore. ‘Democracy is now having a ball,’ as my late mother- in –law would have said in her Negombo English.
It is also important to note that the BMBC is gathering momentum in a context where the line of demarcation between the government and the opposition has become blurred under rather strange and unique circumstances. President Maithripala Sirisena, who won the election in January with the support of the UNP, the then opposition party, is now heading the UPFA and the SLFP, against which he contested the presidential election. To make the situation somewhat more surreal, both the President and the Leader of the Opposition are from the same party, the SLFP. Thus, the distinction between the government and the opposition has become indistinct.
Against this backdrop, the line of antagonism –-which is not unusual in parliamentary politics — between the ruling party and the opposition is seen by the ordinary SLFP supporters as one between the UNP and the BMBC. In fact, the present success of the BMBC, at least in terms of its attraction to the SLFP voters in the rural districts, can partly be explained by the fact that it offers them an alternative organizational space to reenact the familiar politics of antagonism between the SLFP and the UNP. Even some of the SLFP ministers of President Sirisena’s cabinet, which is headed by a UNP Prime Minister, enjoy the freedom to re-sharpen the old hostility between the SLFP and the UNP with a rather liberal attitude to the principle of collective responsibility of the cabinet.
In a somewhat paradoxical way, and consequent to the peculiar circumstances in which the SLFP finds itself today, BMBC is also a SLFP campaign against the SLFP.It is the logic of this unusual political situation that is likely to ensure the inevitability of the breaking up of the SLFP as a political party. It is quite clear that the SLFP has already split into two antagonistic camps. The Maithri-Mahinda meeting, as the media reports suggest, seems to have only accelerated the pace of the inevitable. It is difficult to see at present how the growing antagonism between the two camps could be resolved amicably. Judging by the media reports of the Maithri-Mahinda meeting, the two sides have engaged in a game of hard bargaining with no intention of reconciliation.
From a broader point of view, the splitting of the SLFP at the present juncture might not actually be a bad thing. It can be good for the SLFP as well as fordemocracy in Sri Lanka, because it will hopefully prevent a bitter and potentially violent factional power struggle within the party. Such a power struggle might even run the risk of spreading itself across the state structure. A split might also enable those in the BMBC to realize that to bring their leader back to power, they need to politically convince a majority of Sri Lankan voters of all ethnic and cultural identities. For that they need a good political programme that can appeal to the democratic political imagination and seasoned political judgment of our citizens. They also need to learn that politically empty demagogic and provocative slogans uttered in shrill speeches can hardly be a substitute for a political programme.
Poverty of Politics
While the BMBC has emerged as the most organized, energetic and influential ‘political’ campaign in the country today, its political agenda is devoid of any substantive politics. It has only one mobilization slogan, ‘bring Mahinda back.’ It is a slogan backed by not even a single constructive political idea aimed at enhancing the quality of political life of the Sri Lankan citizens. It has no promise of democratic political reforms; nor does it go beyond propagating mass hysteria, leadership cult, and the cult of the militarized state. That is why the BMBC is in essence an authoritarian project whichpresents the Leader, not a programme of reform, to the masses as the most visible embodiment of the nation, the state, sovereignty, politics, and, no less, the future of all of us.
It is quite instructive to juxtapose this extreme personalization embedded in the politics of BMBC with the ‘anti-politics of personality,’ which President Sirisena seems to be practicing. He is obviously committed to depersonalizing the office of the head of state and government, in both substance and style. His giving up of all those unlimited presidential powers and his personal style of modesty can be interpreted as marking a new phase of Sri Lankan politics which can be described, by borrowing a term from Claude Lefort, the French political theorist, as one of ‘disincarnation of society.’ It is a condition specific to modern democracy in which no individual, or figure, can or should represent the political unity of society; it is the democratic constitution, not the supreme leader, that embodies social and political unity.
For good or bad, President Sirisena is not an ideological politician.Therefore, he does not seem to know the importance of explaining this particular democratic virtue of his ‘anti-politics of personality’to the masses in ideological terms. His spokespersons and media team, if there is one at all, seem to be at a loss in making political sense of their leader’s refreshing, innovative, and ground breaking mode of politics. This is a decisive disadvantage which President Sirisena can only ill afford to have even for a few more months.
Even a superficially psychoanalytical reading of Sri Lanka’s contemporary politics shows that during the past few years, there has been an extremely novel phenomenon which has emerged with the capacity to re-orient the nature of political competition. It refers to the cultivation of an authoritarian father,big brother, sovereign – superman figure, claiming to embody the nation and its destiny. Aided by the colour television, digital printing, larger than life billboards, and genuinely sycophantic professionals in the artistic, media and university circles, the image of the former President was also presented, particularly during the last election campaign, with not – so – subtle libidinal messages. It is quite interesting that the BMBC campaign has revived this strategy of libidinal propaganda, once again in a not-so-subtle manner, to make a sharp distinction between Mr. Rajapaska on one hand and Messrs Sirisena and Wickremesinghe on the other.
I have heard quite a few times people, who have voted for as well as against Mr. Sirisena, complaining: “What is this? We don’t even feel that there is a President!” To feel the presence of a President, the President has to be an object of desire and worship as well! This is one of the most pernicious aspects of the depoliticization effect, which the politics of personality cult has built in Sri Lanka over several years. This effect is so overwhelming that even those intellectual sections of the BMBC campaign show great pride in the poverty of politics in their project.
It is in this paradigm of depoliticized and authoritarian politics that the violence to which Nirmal and Kumudu were subjected at the May Day rally can be explained away, and rationalized, by the argument that Nirmal was responsible for the electoral defeat of the former President, and it was simply provocative for him to be there at the rally with his colleague, and therefore the duo got a beating of their own volition.
May 10, 2015 ”
“Sri Lanka’s recent political shake-up has meant that continued volatility has been the order of the day. But are things really changing? In short, they are, but maybe not nearly as quickly as many people have suggested. Rajapaksa’s defeat and his peaceful departure are positive developments. Yet the challenges for the new government in general and Sirisena in particular remain formidable. An important parliamentary election that’s expected in June ensures that Sri Lanka’s political situation will remain fluid in the coming months. The lingering potential for a Rajapaksa comeback further complicates the situation. Rajapaksa was ousted because Sri Lankans craved real reform – not cosmetic maneuvering.”
With that election, the man who had paid the LTTE Rs. 500 million to effect a polls boycott, became the supra-patriot in an end-justifies-the-means argument. Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had refused to give into the Tiger’s political demands, became a traitor.
The National Democratic Front (NDF) yesterday said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s attempt to hijack the electoral process by abusing military and government power at yesterday’s Presidential Election had failed badly due to the indefatigable efforts of the Polls Chief and the Inspector General of Police.
Sonali Samarasinghe to Mahinda Rajapaksa:
“The irony of the presidential election being fixed for the sixth anniversary of the day on which my husband and your ‘friend’, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was assassinated, may have escaped you. It has not escaped me.”
New Yorker take on the election: “If a Presidential candidate refers to himself as a devil, chances are he’s in trouble. Last week, campaigning ahead of this Thursday’s election, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent Sri Lankan President, tried hard to endear himself to an audience in the northern city of Jaffna. The crowd consisted almost entirely of Tamils, the island’s largest minority, a community that regards him with suspicion and anger. ‘There is a saying that the devil you know is better than the unknown angel,’ Rajapaksa said. ‘I am the known devil, so please vote for me.’ These two sentences encapsulated the swift and intriguing fall of the once-mighty President.”
“Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa may have expected to easily secure a third term in office.But now he faces a real and unprecedented challenge, after his former health minister, Mithripala Sirisena, decided to run against him in Thursday’s vote. Rajapaksa also stands accused of corruption, nepotism and human rights violations during his country’s long civil war. So, will Sri Lankans still give him a third term in office?” Al Jazeera reports.
Presenter: Sami Zeidan
CA Chandraprema – Political Correspondent for The Island newspaper.
Alan Keenen – Sri Lanka Project Director at the International Crisis Group.
Rajiva Wijesinha – Member of Parliament and former Head of the Peace Secretariat.
After Sri Lanka’s brutal war ended five years ago, President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave the Tamil majority North better roads, rail connections and electricity. However, people of the Northern Province believe he has not given anything by way of the much-awaited post-war reconciliation that will make them vote for him.