The Sunday Leader

Uncertainties Ahead Of Another New Year, Too!

By N Sathiya Moorthy

Even as the nation can celebrate that there was/is no uncertainty to political stability at the end of 2017 more than at the commencement of the year, it can feel sad and upset still that whatever remained in the old year is also there to herald the advent of circa 2018.

But celebrations should end there as there is more cause for despair and despondency, going beyond the anticipation and experiences that preceded the immediate years ahead of Elections-2015, which to many, if not most and not certainly all, did announce the arrival of a new hope for Sri Lanka, a new culture in politics and new experiences in political administration! It has not happened in these three past years, and is not expected to even remotely attempt to do so in the remaining two years of this government.

It will be both a travesty and farcical to call this government the ‘yahapalayana’, or ‘reformist’, as they had called themselves before the historic Elections-2015, but at least Prime Minister Ranil W’s major, UNP partner can drink their health for running rival Mahinda Rajapaksa’s promised Project-2017, to ground. The former President could not fulfil his year’s vow of toppling the present dispensation in the outgoing year,  and in doing so, he had also targeted ‘fellow-SLFP’ man in incumbent President Maithiripala Sirisena. They fired two guns, out-blaring his confused and at times even more contradicting single-barrel shots whose only aim was power and power-centres, nothing more promising and/or nothing less promising for target-practice.

‘Target-practice’ was/is the name of the game, and at least this much is going to continue in the New Year, too, if not any of them hitting their ‘chosen’ target. Again, ‘chosen’ is the operative word as none of the three players has a clear-cut ‘chosen’ target, even to aim their guns at. So they keep firing, some hit some target, almost flowing from the volume of fire involved rather than the ferocity of the same. And there is no ferocity of the kind, individual cadre and sympathiser of these three individualist leaders had thought that the leaders possessed!

‘Democratic anarchy’

There has often been criticism that there is too much of democracy in and for Sri Lanka, and that this has been the cause for the nation’s ‘democratic peril’ and constitutional crises, one or the other, one after the other. Translated, it means one thing – the obvious part. Unmentioned, it implies another, the not-so-visible, yet-to-be-construed invisible part. The former, it is argued, leads – and has led – to ‘democratic anarchy’ of some kind, whatever kin. The latter ensures orderliness and progress.

A close study of successful (western) democracies often point to the presence of just two dominant political parties, both with a single strong leader at any given point in time, and others fall in line, acting to an institutional, institutionalised pattern. Any deviation from this and their system too takes time to re-adjust to the change, often in turn effected by the public mood and/or voter-mood.

When the UK thus discovered LibDem, the Tories and the Labour did not know how to handle it, or handle themselves. When in the US, an Independent in Ross Perot hit the headlines with his 20-per cent vote-share, it led to an electoral tail-spin, which took over a decade to recast, until when an ‘outsider’ to the system, in a black-American in Obama got elected President. Incumbent Donald Trump, from the very word ‘Go’, has remained a non-conformist in every sense of the term, and the ‘New America’ is yet to find its feet, or find his feet. It is immaterial if President Trump has found his feet close to a year after in his four-year (first?) term.

Managing the polity

The name of the western democratic game is ‘managing the polity’, starting with the tools and systems of democracy and governance. That is to say, barring the nitty-gritty of delivery mechanism, which also provides some space for the individual’s insatiable quest for identity and identification, the two majors in any of these democracies have a common cause, that is the ‘nation’s good’, and a commonality of views on most issues – politico-economic and geo-strategic, et al.

There is an exception to this global democratic game in neighbouring India, where the vastness and variety enshrined an identification-mark, “Unity in diversity”. India managed this cause very well, and continues to rewrite at least a part of it, but has thus far returned to the middle-path. It may still be too early to imagine or re-imagine, see or foresee India sans the ‘unity’ dictum.

This was/is not the case with Sri Lanka, which at Independence, started off with the American/Indian history of a strong, central polity and leadership, an umbrella organisation in the UNP which forgot that it was still and remained an ‘umbrella organisation in the larger cause of freedom’ where multiple contemporary global ideologies and domestic identities merged.

The emergence of the SLFP only years after Independence was anyway inevitable, given the social structure and political practices of the yore. But attitudes and approaches of a unitary party and its unilateral behaviour hastened the process, and to the change of elected government from the centre-right to the centre-left, as early as 1956, only eight years after Independence. The rest, as they say, is history, but a history where diversity of every kind has cropped up, but without constitutional accommodation of the kind that helped the larger and much more complex India, to record relative and definitely greater success in such departments.

Successful experiment

It was also here that the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 could have given a greater insight to a successful Third World democratic experience, but it did not happen that way. Going beyond what was obvious, which was only about division and diversity, allegations of hegemony and ethnic intolerance, nothing was heard and nothing was learnt.

Today when the nation is only weeks away from yet another Independence Day, a fourth Constitution since Independence is still far away even from the completed conceptual stage, leave alone the implementation stage, which could make it even more complex than can be visualised in an ever-changing national dynamic and social chemistry. If anything, no one is any more talking seriously about a new Constitution, unless he or she wants to divert the nation’s attention (or, at least try to do so) by bringing back constitution-making into mainstream discourse but without equal success as was possible this day last year.

Instead, it is all about immediate issues such as political stability and instability, the possibility of President Maithiripala Sirisena fixing either PM Ranil and his party, or predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa and his JO, or both. Who then said, 19-A has made the ‘Executive President’ less powerful than the JRJ document had originally envisaged and successive Presidents starting from him had made themselves to be, even more?

Given the way Ranil and the UNP, with a lot of unintended help from incumbent Mahinda R, placed Maithiri S and re-positioned the Presidency through 19-A, the latter now seems to be the most powerful of all Presidents under the Second Republican Constitution. The lesson again is simple. It is not the Constitution that matters, but the persons who come to occupy such constitutional positions, and the people who in turn have elected them!

(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email:

2 Comments for “Uncertainties Ahead Of Another New Year, Too!”

  1. Kumaran

    One thing to be certain. You are a disaster.

  2. mr Ranil you did not done anything to country development, political Drama you and mr Rajapaska talking and waste time , public is suffering for one day a meal, mr Ranil please step down from politics constitution not in your hand it is Sinhala buhhist monks, srilankan sin gala not Tamil or Muslim,

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