03 December 2014

MOU : the biggest hoax in electoral politics

H. L. D. Mahindapala
In the history of coalitions formed in the post-independent era the latest one signed at Vihara Maha Devi Park yesterday is unique not for any distinguishing characteristics that give promise  of better things to come but for the heap of bland platitudes that have been recycled time and time again at all previous elections without delivering the  promises. As for  the launch, the whole scene lacked the  aura that was supposed to radiate from a reformist  movement that was going to be beacon to the nation.

Besides, the generalities promised in the MOU may sound glorious in the ears of those who have come  together to grab power. But how relevant are they to the 11 million voters who have seen the same old tired faces repeating  their same old promises which they can’t deliver with the best will in the world.

Take, for instance, promise  No. 4: “The oppressive burden of the cost of living of the people will be reduced…..” Which politician  has not promised this when he/she was in the opposition and  which politician has fulfilled it when he/she moved over to the  government  benches? The cost of living is like the poor. Neither of them will ever go away. So if Sirisena-CBK-Wickremesinghe trio can bring down the cost of living it would be possible to treat them with some respect, discarding  their current image as incurable con artists.

That apart, the lackluster launch of the MOU, which every “leader” – so many! -- hailed as a “historic  event”, was a damp squib. It  failed  to take  off to make any sort of lasting impression. Everyone was trying to  show  off that he/she is the leader who can make  and  break governments.  The gloss that would have been there for a new candidate from the opposition too was erased by the presence of the two ghouls from the graveyards of the past -- Ranil Wickremesinghe and Chandrika Bandaranaike – who flanked Maithripala Siripala on either side. Both positioned themselves next to Sirisena to make it clear to the public that they are the king-pins  behind  the throne. Sirisena, sitting in the  middle, looked more like a prisoner of these manipulators who are fretting impatiently to get  their hands on the levers of power.

At the end  of the day it was very clear that they had nothing substantial to offer the  people. The whole scene was a pathetic drama enacted by the inmates of Angoda who  had come to believe that they are Napoleon Boru-parts plotting  to take on the whole world. All in all, the launch lacked the  aura that was supposed to radiate from a reformist  movement that was going to throw a bright light across the new path to  the future.

The hands  of every leader were flailing somewhat like windmills gone  haywire, each trying to make an impression on the crowd that  he/she is more important than the other. From time to time Wickremesinghe and CBK , from either side, were trying  to grab the attention of Sirisena. Both looked like two “dwarfs whispering obscenities in the emperor’s ears” (Churchill).

Both were vying with each other to be center of attraction. They underplayed their inveterate rivalry which they couldn’t hide fully with their shadow boxing. This foreshadows the shape of things to come. The actors outside the stage – JHU and JVP – too were playing their own scheming politics which questions the  viability and the stability of the hath hawla.
For instance, JVP, bent on eliminating CBK from  the center stage, has indicated that they have no objections to Wickremesinghe becoming the prime minister as long as he  is elected by the popular will of the  people. But Sirisena wants to appoint him as prime minister on his arbitrary preference, and not on the popular  will  of  the  people. So how would the public rate the political morality and the judgment of the JVP when Sirisena appoints a prime minister who has lost 29 elections in a row? On what  grounds can the JVP endorse a prime minster handpicked by Sirisena and not by the popular will of the people?

In the un/written codes of parliamentary democracy, it is the people who elect a prime minister by voting for the  largest number of candidates who will invariably form the government. Parliamentary precedents and traditions endorse the leader who commands a majority in parliament  as  the prime minister. The head  of state merely endorses the  will of  the people and the parliamentarians. Contrary to established tradition,  Sirisena has decided to  appoint Wickremesinghe who has yet to win a majority in parliament. Sirisena will then have to face a parliament that may not back Wickremesinghe as the  prime minister.

Unless there is a  mass exodus from the SLFP after January 8, 2015 Wickremesinghe may not have a majority to get his appointment confirmed by parliament in the proposed interim parliament of 100 days. What is more, there is no  guarantee that he can  win a majority  even in the proposed next general election. Like most other promises in the MOU the possibility of Wickremesinghe becoming a prime minister could be another pipe dream.

The list of promises  in the MOU was no better. It  did not come anywhere near the expectations/aspirations of the people. What  the signatories to the MOU failed  to understand  was that their political agenda to grab power is not the priority of the voters. To them changing regimes is  like changing pillows for a headache. They have lived through so many false promises that only the naïve greenhorns would  believe that yesterday’s MOU has  the capacity to deliver their promises. In fact, in all probability the proposed “My-three-pala-naya” of CBK, Ranil and Sirisena, can come apart sooner or later – perhaps  more sooner than later --  and  pave the  way for chaos and instability. Neither Sirisena as President nor Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister will be able  to hold together incompatible partners  like the JHU, on one hand, and the TNA on the other.

Before dealing with some  of  the other issues  it is  necessary to focus on the  central theme that  has  brought the  cows, the goats, the  sheep and the pigs together in the latest Orwellian  Animal Farm. All the rhetoric and  the promises of the joint opposition boils down to a single theme : change the presidential system  into the parliamentary system and hand over “executive power” of the president to Ranil Wickremesinghe, handpicked by the common candidate Maithripala Sirisena, then all the problems of the nation – Hey presto! Abracadabra! --will be solved within 100 days.

First, this is a slick formula easily said than done. Whoever dreamed up this formula must get  his/her head examined. Only a military coup backed by the Security Forces can ram this insane formula down the throats of the people within 100 days. It is fraught with such complex legal, political and administrative snags that it might, in the end, prove to be unworkable, leaving the status quo untouched. The unpredictable consequences that will ensue in trying to rush an unprecedented  constitutional change within 100 can  only result  in unmanageable chaos, particularly in an environment where political passions would be at intense and dangerous levels. It will be worse than the promises that  preceded the “Arab Spring” : seemed rosy and promising at the beginning but unravelled in unforeseen brutality and unmanageable political consequences.

Right now Chandrika Bandaranaike, Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisena (in that order of importance) are acting in an indecent hurry to get their hands on the levers of power, claiming that power in their hands will be better than power in the hands of the Rajapakses. But what is the known record of achievement when they had power? 

Before we consider the records of CBK and Wickremesinghe – the anti-national  twins  who sold the nation to Prabhakaran – let’s consider the achievements of Sirisena who is marketing himself as an “al-lay (channel), wel-lay (paddy field), pal-lay (hut)” man of the soil. The story told by his brother his brother, Dudley, to the media  is different. Dudley is on record saying that he has accumulated a fortune  of three billion rupees mainly by selling, as  the middle man, the paddy grown and harvested by the Polonnaruwa farmers. Sirisena in his  media interview was shedding tears for the poor workers and farmers. That sounds good for marketing his image as a poor man’s poor man. But what  is the quantum of benefits that the poor  farmers had derived  from the billions amassed by Sirisena’s brother? Shouldn’t charity begin at Sirisena’s home?

Particularly as a man who had studied  his Marxism in the Peking-wing Sirisena should know that his brother could accumulate multi-billions only by exploiting the poor farmers. Sirisena, if he has read his Marx correctly, would know that all excessive property is  legalized robbery. Especially, if it  adds up to billions. And according to Proudhon and Marx his brother, Dudley, could amass billions only by “stealing” from the poor farmers  of Polonnaruwa. So how  can he  condone/explain his brother Dudley sitting on a Himalayan pile of  billions while the poor peasants of Polonnaruwa are still scraping  the dry earth to collect a grain a rice for a one-meal-a-day existence? 

Besides, Sirisena, like the JVP, has carved out a  career by blaming the iniquities in the capitalist system. He has blamed the capitalist policies  of the UNP throughout his political career (37 years) until he went on the UNP platform the other day. JVP too has come out with half-in-half-out politics of  giving tacit approval to capitalist Wickremesinghe as prime minister. Does  this mean that Comrade Dissanayake has postponed his social revolution for another day when Wickremesinghe limps home for good from Siri Kotha? His half-in-half-out politics, which gives him space to have it both ways, obviously make him comfortable about the JVP going to bed with billionaires while excoriating the social injustices of evil capitalism.  How can he ensure social justice for the  poor farmers when he  is happy to give a nudge-and-a-wink for Sirisena to carry on with capitalist UNPers and SLFP billionaires? Is this the  kind  of  social revolution that the JVP plans to promote for  the welfare of the farmers?

How does Comrade Dissanayake propose to bring equity to the  poor farmers when he turns a blind eye to their exploiters? Will he raise his  voice in the name of social justice, or continue to spin yarns about his never-never land  of creating a just society where some, with billions in their bank accounts, are more equal than the others? Sharing the same TV panel with Sirisena the JVP guru, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, waxed eloquent about  the social changes and economic reforms that he would introduce to lift the  people into JVP’s paradise. But he did not mention one word about how he would reform the system which, according to his guru Marx, elevates “robber barons” into billionaires, exploiting the poor farmers of Polonnaruwa.

Also if with the assistance of JVP,  Sirisena’s brother accumulates some  more billions whom  will the JVP blame for the suffering of the farmers and workers? Will he continue to blame the Rajapakses or will he go along with Sirisena shedding crocodile tears for  the  poor farmers? With his tongue-twisting verbal gymnastics Comrade  Dissanayake has convinced himself to believe in  his own propaganda of creating a society with distributive justice where everyone will live happily ever afterwards. He has yet to learn that his utopian fantasies collapsed many decades ago with the Berlin Wall. So reluctantly, slyly, without facing  the socio-political realities, he settles down to accept CBK-Ranil-Sirisena combination where  billionaires thrive with the blessings of Marxists like him.

One TV interviewer told him quite bluntly that  the coalitions that the JVP signed in the past had not  brought the promised social changes nor served the interests of the poor as promised by the JVP. Dissanayake was asked how he would make their support to Sirisena work for the poor. There was no reply. May be it is because the anchorman took the discussion in another direction just at  that time. 

It  should also be noted, since it comes from the admission of Sirisena, that he had benefited from the deals he put through – part of which would have been for  his  billionaire brother Dudley -- with  the  backing  of Gamini Dissanayake and also through Gamini Atukorale. So the image  he tries to  portray of being a poor humble man who  came through “al-lay, pal-lay and well-lay” established by D. S. Senanayake does not sit well with billions stacked up in his brother’s bank account.

The main silver lining seen so far in his political career of 37 years is his discovery of the greatness of pioneers like D. S. Senanayake who opened up paths for the rise of billionaires like his brother, Dudley. For all practical purposes Sirisena has finally ended up in the bosom of the right-wing UNP. He  has followed  in the  footsteps of the founding  fathers of  Marxism – from Phillip Gunawardena to Dr. Tissa Vitharana – and gone home  to spend their last days either  in the bosom of capitalists in the UNP or the billionaires in the SLFP, which Dr. Colvin R. de Silva once categorized as “the last remnants of feudalism”. Sirisens, however, has placed himself now in  the comfortable zone of industrial and city-bred capitalists and farming multi-billionaires.

So when Sirisena moves  upwards  from  “al-lay, wel-lay and  pal-lay” into the affluent zones  of billionaires in his own backyard should we be surprised that he has followed his natural  acquisitive instincts and moved incrementally from (1)  Shanmugathasan’s Peking-wing to (2) SLFP and (3) finally to  the UNP? After all, Sirisena seems to have discovered his natural habitat.  Sirisena has at last found his final resting place. No wonder Wickremesinghe leaps from his seat, each time Sirisena appears  on the stage.

The way both acted on the Vihara Maha Devi stage it was quite apparent  that the jadiya has, at last, found  its moodiya