21 October 2014

Options for the Opposition

Dayan Jayatilleka in an article published in the Colombo Telegraph (How a weak opposition could still play it smart) offers that the Opposition is actually helping President Mahinda Rajapaksa secure a third term. 

He claims that the Opposition has picked the wrong slogan, that of ‘constitutional change’ when ‘it has little prospect of acting as a rallying cry among millions of rural voters’.  But even if the Opposition got the slogan right, it has got the candidate wrong, Dayan argues.  As things stand of course, the stand out figure among the pretenders is Ranil Wickremesinghe who, according to Dayan and many others is the weakest of all candidates against the President.  Furthermore, Dayan argues that the President will win against any candidate that the Opposition puts forward, so in and of itself Wickremesinghe contesting is not an issue.  

In this scenario, Dayan advises the Opposition to use the Presidential Election as a springboard to target ‘the weak link in the chain of regime hegemony, which is lodged in its real base: the parliament and the two thirds majority’.  Ideally, the ruling party would be defeated and this would stop ‘an oligarchic-securocratic or oligarchic-militaristic Iron Curtain (descending) upon post-election Sri Lanka, behind which a garrison state will grow and a dark age will settle’.  That’s Dayan with his usual doom’s day conclusion-flourish.

In an earlier piece titled ‘The Uva effect and the Presidency,’ written just two weeks ago, Dayan made a case for the UNP putting forward someone other than Wickremesinghe. He tossed out two names, Sajith Premadasa and Karu Jayasuriya, and argued the former’s case.  He didn’t claim that Sajith could win, but that he would help secure moral points in a loss that narrows the gap between regime and Opposition.  He seems to have shelved Project Sajith (for the moment), but can’t be blamed for arguing that any momentum gained even in a losing cause at the Presidential Election could help the Opposition in the Parliamentary Election that is most likely to be held immediately afterwards.

There are lots of ‘ifs’ in Dayan’s analysis of post-election scenarios.  There are lots of ‘wants’ too.  He would ideally have ‘the main Opposition goes into the parliamentary election under a new, populist-patriotic leadership which can achieve two things at the same time: (a) re-profile the Opposition so it looks newer and younger than the UPFA and (b) neutralize the regime’s monopoly of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism.’


That re-profiling, according to Dayan, would see the Opposition using the Presidential Election to raise consciousness and employing ‘Sajith Premadasa, Sujeeva Senasinghe, Harsha de Silva, Eran Wickremaratne, Rosie Senanayake, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Sunil Handunetti, Vijitha Herath, Wasantha Samarasinghe, Lal Kantha and Tilvin Silva in a pincer move’.  Ranil Wickremesinghe and Karu Jayasuriya are left out of the picture.  Ravi Karunanayake and much of the UNP’s ‘Leadership Council’ are out too.  So re-profiling would essentially be a Sajith-led affair. 

Now ‘newer and younger’ doesn’t guarantee anything.  J.R. Jayewardene was not young in 1977, for example.  As for ‘pincer moves,’ it’s not names that count but the numbers behind the names.  It is not that each JVP leader mentioned here comes with all the JVP supporters. Together they bring all -- separately they don’t bring additional numbers. Harsha, Eran and Sujeeva are intelligent and eloquent but they are all voice-cut politicians.  Sajith has great appeal but not only is he not his father’s son in this respect he is divisive, arrogant, fixated with his political future and is a puppet of two prominent media moguls. 

In a post-Presidential situation, whatever momentum gained loses to election-fatigue, demoralization, additional electoral swing towards the winner and the scrambling of coalition. Going by history, the UNP would be distracted by yet another Unseat-Ranil effort which, given that the man is far more shrew than people make him out to be and is backed by a For-Ranil party constitution, would give nothing but take much from ‘re-profiling’.  It would be optimistic to stake it all on an unlikely reversal. 
    
The solution (a tough one of course) would be to look for an alternative candidate who doesn’t look like Sarath Fonseka (a sure ‘loser’ that saves face).  Alternatively the Opposition should dig in for the long(er) haul associated with regime-change.  Such a choice would not see anyone getting too excited about the Presidential or Parliamentary Elections.  To the extent that these elections can be used, it would be about enlarging the Opposition by winning over all disgruntled elements in the ruling coalition.  Only a right candidate with a right program that addresses all the antipathies that the majority of Sinhala Buddhist voters have regarding the UNP’s political positions could do this.  

This doesn’t seem to be happening.  Dayan is right in this sense: taken as a collective (and with a few individual exceptions) Sri Lankan politics today has the dumbest opposition this country has ever seen.


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