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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2964

What is the cost of a regime change by a multiple headed coalition? Should Sri Lankans cut the nose to spite the face?

By Raj Gonsalkorale

On the 8th of January 2015, Sri Lankans will have their opportunity to decide whether to give President Rajapaksa a third term in office or elect the common candidate Maithripala Sirisena nominated by a multiple headed coalition of disparate individuals, to the highest office in Sri Lanka. They could over react to a problem in hand or they could vote for growth and progress.

While President Rajapaksa’s thrust is consolidation on gains made after defeating LTTE terrorism and war, and further development and growth, and reconciliation, it appears that the focus of the common opposition is just a regime change, and at any cost.

Voters will have to decide whether to vote for stability and growth or for a regime change at any cost where the future direction in economic, social, foreign affairs and defense policies are uncertain and unplanned. They should consider the cost of a regime change before voting for the common candidate. They will also have to decide whether they should hand over power to an opposition candidate who has no political base and who has to do the bidding of power brokers within the common opposition, simply because they want the incumbent out of office irrespective of what happens after that.

A respected political commentator who has no truck with the incumbent described the situation as follows “The electorate is being asked to hand over power to a bunch of opportunists, men and women without any credibility or strength of character and who speak with multiple tongues, no one knows who will do what should they succeed in effecting a regime change.

A disgruntled politician who would have been with President Rajapaksa even today singing his praises, had he been made prime minister (authors note – please see U tube clip using link shown below), a UNP leader who prostituted his party to others and who has held on to the leadership of the party by such dictatorial means that even the one he alleges as being dictatorial, President Rajapaksa , could learn a lesson or two as to how to be dictatorial, a former President who has emerged from the woodwork after nearly 11 years of the current Presidency to denounce the incumbent’s stewardship out of revenge, and a Sinhala Buddhist party, the JHU, which provided no holds barred support to the President until the Bodu Bala Sena came along to encroach on to their constituency.

Then there are other wheeler dealers like Mangala Samaraweera, the dark side operator who revels in moving in dark alleys, a former general turned politicians who took to politics while still wearing his Army Chief of Staff uniform, a treacherous act that would have attracted the death penalty in some countries, and other opportunists who have an axe to grind with Mahinda Rajapaksa have cobbled together a common front with the sole intention of toppling Mahinda Rajapaksa. They have no idea what they will do if they win as there is no real leader amongst them to lead the nation.

When the alternative is dubious, what is needed is not a regime change, but the regime changing appropriately in response to changing circumstances.”

This interesting observation merits further consideration.

Firstly, the stated aim of the common opposition is that they need to change the current regime in order to abolish the executive presidency, end corruption and waste, end the concentration of power and wealth amongst a few, restore law and order, assure the independence of the judiciary, the Police, and the public service by reintroducing the 17th amendment and the independent commissions responsible for these services.
All noble intentions.

In deciding whether the common candidate and the common opposition is able to achieve these objectives, there are several issues that the electorate should consider and they should not allow personal hatred and/or emotional disagreement or distaste of the regime to determine their voting intentions. Instead, rational thinking, objectivity rather than subjectivity, the cost of a regime change, the future direction of the country and importantly, the credibility and character of the drivers of the regime change and whether they would have trust and confidence in them to deliver the desired changes once the regime has changed, must necessarily be uppermost in the minds of the voters.

If one considers what is stated at the end of the above paragraph, that is, the issue of credibility and character of the leaders who are pushing for regime change at any cost, what the political commentator mentioned above has stated has some validity.

The common candidate’s lack of credibility or any strength of character is an issue if one considers his endorsement of President Rajapaksa till the morning of his announcement that he is going to be the common candidate. The fact that he endorsed President Rajapaksa as the SLFP nominee for the Presidency and vowed to support him just the day before stabbing the President in the back, and only a few months ago, referred to Mahinda Rajapaksa as his King and the undisputed leader of the country, “asahaya nayakaya”, one should find it very difficult, by any measure or any reason, to give him any credibility or strength of character.

If indeed President Rajapaksa has erred as he is accused of, it is the likes of Maithripala Sirisena who must bear responsibility for it on account of their facile servility and servitude. To entrust the Presidency of the country to such an individual would tarnish the rich heritage of the country. Sri Lankans surely deserve better.

The question that must be uppermost in the minds of the voters is where Maithripala Sirisena would be today had he been appointed the Prime Minister by President Rajapaksa when he, Mr Sirisena, had staked a claim for this position a while back. Would he as the Prime Minister, challenged the President?

Further, as he alleges now, Mr Sirisena found the President to be wanting in governance, corrupt and high on nepotism, it begs belief why and how he remained as the Secretary of the SLFP and a senior minister in the government for so long unless he too was wanting in governance, was corrupt and was high on nepotism considering the fact that his many siblings benefitted in the last few years because of his position and influence within the government.

Or else he simply did not have the guts and the strength of character to say what he had to say many years back to President Rajapaksa and demonstrate his true opinion about his President and party leader without enjoying all the perks and benefits that went with being a senior party person and a cabinet minister. Some opine that it is a disgrace to even imagine Maithripala Sirisena as the President of Sri Lanka.

Then there is Ranil Wickremasinghe, the prime mover, along with former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, in forming the common opposition. If ever there was a dictatorial leader of the UNP, Mr Wickremasinghe should perhaps eclipse his mentor and uncle J R Jayewardene. No doubt he learnt well from his uncle.

It is no secret that Mr Wickremasinghe has held on to the leadership of the UNP by circumventing all norms of democratic practices. His leadership style has been referred to as dictatorial by many members of the UNP, many of who have resigned from the party in disgust and protest.

It is such a practicing dictator who is now saying President Rajapaksa is a dictator and who is asking the voters to entrust him to make the country’s governance more democratic! It is incredulous for such a person who has been the antithesis of democratic governance within his party to advocate democracy in the country. Like charity, surely democracy must begin at home within the party he is a leader of if he is to be taken seriously.

The other prime mover of the common opposition is former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, referred to as the Queen of Deceit in a book by the Editor of the Ravaya newspaper, Victor Ivan .

A news report in the Lankapuvath edition of 15th December states as follows.

“Mr. Victor Ivan published a very controversial book named “The Queen of Deceit” a year after Chandrika Kumaratunga’s last term expired. In this book he has highlighted incidents of fraud and how official power had been used abused during her time as President. Mr. Victor Ivan had heavily criticized Chandrika Kumaratunga’s regime and conduct but she took no legal action though she could have which leads us to believe the detail given in the book to be true. In “The Queen of Deceit”, pages 45 to 68 are dedicated to the topic “Who orchestrated the Town Hall bomb blast?” and a document which incriminates the Former President as the culprit behind it. Mr. Victor Ivan clearly hints that the bomb blast was a ploy to win the sympathy of the people. Chandrika Kumaratunga had even by that time done no notable work for the country and was in doubt of the result in the 1999 Presidential Election. “The 99’ election was not one in favor of the Former President. Though in 94’ all the Tamil people save those in LTTE controlled areas voted for Chandrika Kumaratunga, but by 99’ her political image had been tarnished and she was facing allegations of corruption and manslaughter and many of those Tamil votes she feared would be in favor of Ranil Wickremasinghe” - (The Queen of Deceit: Page 63).”

The book authored by Victor Ivan is not kind to Chandrika Kumaratunga. However, as it’s many accusations of corruption and deceit has gone unchallenged by Ms Kumaratunga, legally or otherwise, her credibility as a leader who could address the shortcomings of the current regime is in serious doubt and voters should consider what Ms Kumaratunga’s real intentions are in trying to achieve power through a regime change.

Besides these players in the common opposition, the JHU plays a significant part although the JHU is now fissured with the resignation of Deputy Secretary Mr Gammanpila and several other senior members of the party. Like Mr Sirisena, the JHU also enjoyed all the benefits of power and privileges for so many years before deciding to abandon the leader who made it possible for them to have those privileges. It is also interesting to ponder whether the JHU would have done this had there been no Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and no threat to their Sinhala Buddhist constituency which they now share with the BBS.

There are other players like Mr Sarath Fonseka, who some say was treacherous in involving himself in politics while in Army uniform and who was like Mr Wickremasinghe’s Court Jester at the last Presidential election. Mr Fonseka losing the unwinnable election ensured Mr Wickremasinghe’s survival as the Opposition leader. Many are of the opinion that Mr Wickremasinghe is not challenging President Rajapaksa and instead supporting Mr Sirisena in another unwinnable election, for his survival as the UNP leader and the leader of the Opposition.

So much for the credibility of the strange bed fellows who have cobbled together a coalition to effect a regime change. Their individual intentions, post a regime change, are not known and this uncertainty has already impacted on business confidence, the share market, and in the international arena amongst countries that are friendly towards Sri Lanka.

Strangely, Mr Wickremasinghe rather than Mr Sirisena has already stated that one of the key development projects, the Port City project, will be scrapped, should the common candidate wins the election. The business world is apprehensive as Mr Wickremasinghe’s arrogant pronouncement undermines the common candidate who in fact should be one who should be making such statements.

This one statement gives more than inkling about what is to come should Mr Sirisena wins the election. Will he play second fiddle to the UNP leader? Or will he do Ms Kumaratunga’s bidding? How will he, Mr Wickremasinghe and Ms Kumaratunga deal with the JHU and their Sinhala Buddhist constituency? Will he be content in being sidelined and used as a Cat’s paw by all these players? Is the resulting uncertainty and confusion the harbinger that the voters are hoping to vote for?

The cost of a regime change without a clear, achievable vision and objective, and a leadership able to function with one voice, in one direction, could be immense and the damage irretrievable. There are signs that the marriage of the movers to oust President Rajapaksa is only a marriage of convenience and not conviction considering why these leaders have got together to do what they have set out to do.

It is very likely that there will be a long period of instability and uncertainty as regards the country’s economic policy, foreign policy, especially in regard the very sensitive approach to relations with India, with China and with Japan, and the interrelationships arising from these, and the country’s defense policy.

The cost of this uncertainty arising from a no holds barred regime change objective of the common opposition, with the only thing in common being just that, a regime change, would be high and it will set the country back by many years.

Effecting appropriate changes to changing circumstances should therefore be the key objective of President Rajapaksa if he is to prevent the single objective mission of the common opposition.

In order to do this, he could offer some specific courses of action to the electorate. He could present a specific time table to revise the powers and responsibilities of the executive presidency rather than abolishing it. He could appoint a non-Parliamentary committee of constitutional experts to deliberate on this and produce a few options for consideration by the Parliament and thereafter by the voters at a referendum. Such an offer would be far more relevant and appropriate rather than the vague, unachievable promises being made by the common candidate.

This committee of experts could also be tasked to examine the 18th amendment and submit proposals how the independence of the various commissions including the judiciary services commission be strengthened should they be perceived as being lacking in independence.

In regard to corruption and waste, those responsible have to be brought to book and like in India and Australia, just to name a couple of countries where it has been done, President Rajapaksa could consider setting up what are termed Independent Commissions Against Corruption (ICAC) with specific powers to deal with corrupt activities involving public figures.

Considering that many questions have been raised about waste in public enterprises, serious consideration has to be given for handing over such enterprises to the private sector as the State simply cannot continue to incur the huge losses in some public enterprises are incurring. President Rajapaksa must take bold and decisive steps to make sure there is better accountability of public funds as the country cannot afford the irresponsibility of allowing public enterprises to incur losses unabated and unchecked.

In many respects it could be said that President Rajapaksa has the choices and the advantage of incumbency to ensure his regime changes some of its practices and attitudes not because the opposition is making a noise and saying the regime has to be changed in order to effect such changes.

President Rajapaksa is duty bound to address some of these issues as they are needed by the country and as he is the one in the Pilots seat. If he does not take any action, the electorate might believe what the Opposition is saying about him and his regime. As the saying goes, they might cut the nose to spite the face. On the other hand, if he becomes the principle change agent, recognizing that some governance changes are needed, that law and order has to improve, and independent judicial mechanisms are set in place to probe corruption and punish offenders, and gives an undertaking to reduce and eliminate waste and introduce institutional strengthening initiatives commencing on the 9th of January, the voters of the country are bound to repose their confidence in him and give him another term in office.

- Asian Tribune -

What is the cost of a regime change by a multiple headed coalition? Should Sri Lankans cut the nose to spite the face?
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