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.