UNP’s knotty bond with Executive Presidency

Tortuous progress on SI-CC pathways


Kumar David

A Single Issue (SI), Common Candidate (CC) strategy anchored on a Road Map (RM) is making progress but not without hassle that has to be sorted out step-by-step. We are not yet out of the woods nor is it assured that a SI-CC-RM challenge will materialise though trends are encouraging; I refer to the UNP-Sobitha parley where consensus was reached on many matters, the JVP’s promise to support a common candidate, General Fonseka’s consistency and Chandrika slow awakening. But first I need to bore you with an encore performance recapitulating SI-CC basics because new folks, sans background, are joining the discourse all the time. An outline of the Road Map is also needed because it has not been presented previously in the English press.

The Single Issue and the Common Candidature are inseparable; they are twins indivisibly bound more firmly than any Siamese pair. This will have a bearing when I discuss Ranil and the UNP later. The crucial point for now is that one can have a common opposition candidate, if and only if, it is for a shared, a common, an agreed objective. There is nothing at this time that unites as large a segment of political society as determination to be rid of the Executive Presidential (EP) malaise. The JVP and UNP cannot agree on socialism versus the free-market; the TNA and the JVP, or for that matter the UNP, do not see eye to eye on devolution, and so on. But most people (even segments of pro-Mahinda rural folk are not pro-EP), left, liberal and democratic society, professional associations, the NGOs, and most of the SLFP rank and file, abhor EP. It is against the tenets of the SLFP, and technically anti-EP is not necessarily anti-Mahinda. Who is pro-EP? The Rajapaksa family clan, an SLFP minority, JHU-Wimal and extremists, and a few cranks. There is no pro-EP organisation or mobilisation in the country. Abolishing EP is a common thread that binds the whole opposition and huge sections of society together.

Do all these sectors see the issue as important enough to put aside other differences, for say six months, and cooperate on this project? The curses poured upon the Eighteenth Amendment, anger at wrongful use of executive authority in the faked-up "impeachment" of Chief Justice Bandaranayake, and abhorrence of ubiquitous abuse of executive power, lead one to believe that the answer is yes. Censure of the government on economic, governance and BBS related issues also helps. It is likely that if a few remaining obstacles are overcome, a joint opposition candidate to abolish EP and quit will materialise (there is no need to quit; when the constitution is amended EP will cease to exist). I have explained the SI-CC concept ad nauseum previously; now it is time to turn to the Road Map.

The Road Map

A crucial Road Map (RM) was paved by a many-sided team (liberals, leftists, and persons of diverse faith, political and civil affiliations); call it the Sobitha Team (I am not part of it). RM binds the president-elect to a step by step procedure. Point 1: The manifesto will contain the proposed constitutional text. Point 2: Will explain the draft to the public. Point 3: A mandate to dissolve parliament if it shirks from the mandated constitutional amendment will be sought. Therefore the presidential election will, de facto, be a referendum on the proposed abolish-EP constitutional text and an authorisation of a Road Map implementation procedure.

Two other matters in the Road Map will be affixing dates to milestones and the constituency pattern for the new parliament. The milestones, for example, will say: The constitutional amendment will be tabled X days after electoral victory, it will be promulgated in X+Y days, the old parliament will be dissolved on day X+Y+Z, elections for a new one will be held in say another month. Provisions such as this will be contained in the election manifesto as a Road Map whose remit will run for six months and a mandate secured to implement it. If the draft constitutional text and Road Map are approved at a de facto referendum there is no need for delay. RM is procedural and precludes procrastination and cheating as Chandrika and Mahinda have done; twice each.

Electoral demarcations and constituency arrangements will have to be laid out in the manifesto; how many first past the post, how many PR, how many multi-member constituencies, and such like matters. There is a Dinesh Gunewardena report usable as a starting point. This is the aspect on which there is still work to do before finalising the manifesto. There is time enough since presidential elections are unlikely before the Pope’s visit early next year – Mahinda is reciting his Hail Marys, eager to fool the Catholics, but little does he realise that the Catholic minority, like other minorities, is fed up with the Rajapaksas. The desperate President is also invoking a Hu Jintao visitation; another publicity stunt.

BBS despoils credentials of all monks

The gross misbehaviour of the BBS has given rise to an unexpected hiccup. Up to recently the minorities were receptive to the idea of Sobitha Thero as a candidate. In any case naming a candidate is a future matter and anyone who can win the election and do the promised job is good enough. His/her policies in general are irrelevant for someone who will be gone in six months. Sobitha appeared to be one of the persons who should be considered alongside Chandrika, Ranil and Karu – there are no other credible SI-CC-RM options. But after the BBS monster raised its head I have detected some reserve among Muslims, Catholics and Tamils towards a monk, especially among those unfamiliar with Sobitha’s good record. Most are unaware that he has condemned the BBS and excoriated anti-Muslim extremism.

One hopes that this is a passing phase until Sobitha’s suitability is better understood. However, I must repeat, since I have been called a Sobitha advocate (I don’t know him and have never met him), that I am not pressing his case but only stating that the field be kept open by retaining his name among others. The priority at this stage is not naming a candidate but educating the public about the single issue, about a common opposition candidacy and explaining the road map.

The muddle in the UNP

The TNA, JVP and Fonseka have declared support for a Common Candidate to abolish EP, though there may be some haggling when it comes to a name; but I see little wriggle space. If the elections are on a Single Issue with an explicit Road Map, it is impossible for the TNA and Tamils to say they won’t vote for a member of the Buddhist clergy, or for the JVP and the left to reject a liberal bourgeois candidate, or for a Son of the Prophet to demand that the candidate convert to Islam! When the chips are down, immature sectarianisms will have to evaporate.

The worry is the muddle in the UNP, and unfortunately the SI-CC strategy will fail without deep UNP involvement; that is certain. Karu and the UNP Leadership Council have endorsed abolition of the Executive Presidency; Sajith is a blockhead and irrelevant. The problem is Ranil. Though he was not present at the discussion with Sobitha Thero, Resolution 2 at the UNP Conference demanded abolition of EP. The first of ten principles in the Samagi Balavegaya (a broad people’s forum) statement to which Ranil is a signatory, also calls for abolition. Ranil and the UNP are committed; there is no going back.

Still, some people fear that Ranil hankers to occupy EP rather than abolish it, and worry that he has not made categorical and unambiguous statements demanding abolition and endorsing the SI strategy. But there is no option of retreat for Ranil and his party, so he must put an end to harmful speculation by issuing a clear explicit statement endorsing EP-abolition and the SI-CC strategy. The public must also demand that the UNP commits itself to the Road Map. Only after these steps is it meaningful to discuss names for the common candidacy.

Ranil and the UNP should take note of five points. (a) Mahinda Rajapaksa can be defeated this time because he will be hard pressed to secure 60+% of the Sinhala-Buddhist vote, that is 40+% of the national vote. (The UPFA polled only 58% even in Rajapaksa heartland, the Southern Province, in the recent PC election). But he can be defeated only if the main opposition parties and groups field a joint candidate. (b) The way to get a joint candidate is to focus solely on the abolition of the executive presidency and exclude all diverging social and economic policies, including the UNP’s. (c) The road map must be unambiguously endorsement by all to give the public iron-clad confidence in the procedure. (d) If Ranil wishes to be prime minister in the future parliamentary system, there is no point in craving for a six-month temporary presidency. (e) If the UNP wishes to propose a name from its ranks for this "short-term job", say Karu, it had better toss it into the hat now.

JR and the UNP inserted the malignancy of Executive Presidency into Lanka’s body politic; Ranil was the JR acolyte holding the syringe when JR injected the venom. Much blood and poison has since flowed under Lanka’s lamentable bridges; it is time for the UNP to discard this odious legacy and turn its back on the Executive Presidency in perpetuity.

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