Crisis of Sri Lanka: Champika and Anura

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There was a time I was inclined to perceive the JVP and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) as two political parties contesting for the ownership of the Sinhala-Buddhist right and in the process have contributed to the regression of the ideological base of the Sinhala-Buddhist psyche; given a liberative and aggressive character to the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism and prevented the introduction of genuine reforms that would have been more beneficial to the nation whilst at the same being different to conventional political parties, and were rooted in oppressed and impoverished segments of the Sinhala society with a militant approach, yet two backward political streams. 

There was a time when these two movements used to struggle vehemently against each other to be the arch-bearers of the Lion flag. While a part of the flag was in the hands of Anura Kumara, the rest of it was held by Champika Ranawaka. At the end, Mahinda Rajapaksa became the sole owner of it. In this process Mahinda grabbed a portion of it while the rest of it was offered voluntarily on a platter by the other two movements, JVP and the JHU. The JVP and the JHU played a crucial role in bringing Mahinda Rajapaksa to power. Had it not been for these two parties, probably, Mahinda would have lost the 2005 presidential election despite the fact that Prabhakaran had forced the Tamil voters in the north and east to boycott the presidential election.

Battle for the Lion flag

After Mahinda had become President and consolidated his political power, the JVP hurriedly withdrew itself from the alliance which it had maintained with the Rajapaksa regime. In contrast, the JHU of Champika withdrew from the government only after 10 years. Many things had happened thereafter and at the end, Mahinda was defeated

Patali Champika Ranawaka
 
Anura Kumara Dissanayake

in 2015; the lion flag held by Mahinda was transferred to Gotabaya in 2019 when he assumed the presidential power. Now he is also likely to lose the grip of it. 

Under the circumstances, Anura Kumara seems to have developed a desire to take possession of the Lion flag which appears to be dropping from the hands of Gotabaya and changing his attire to suit his new goal and the achievement of it. Along with that he and his movement may soon be compelled to give up the pluralistic virtues that they had adopted so far, sincerely or as a pretence. 

The most amazing thing is that Champika, on the other hand, has made up his mind to follow the same path he chose in 2015 with a slight difference. It is still not possible to say whether the gear shift he has made and the position he has maintained since then are genuine or not. However, the lack of confidence of minority groups in them can be seen as a common feature inherent in both these leaders who are vying for the future leadership of the country. Champika chose the same venue, the Monarch Imperial Auditorium at Sri Jayewardenepura which Anura Kumara had selected to launch his show. Anura Kumara used a Hevisi band to give a colourful look to the event of the Jathika Jana Bala Vegaya; Champika used the convention of the 43 Brigade for this purpose. In addition to his lecture, Anura had published a pamphlet titled “Arbudaya Jayaganimata Kadinam Praveshayak” (A Quick Approach to Overcome the Crisis). Champika too, apart from his lecture, had published a pamphlet titled “Goda Emu Goda Nagamu” (Let’s Get Over, Let’s Build) analysing the crisis and suggesting a way to overcome it.

Of the two events, the orchestration of Anura deserves more points in terms of its superficial look. Of the two speeches delivered by the two leaders, the speech of Champika is more meaningful, and full of essence, and carries a big weight. Anura’s approach was to show that only he and his party could rescue Sri Lanka from its current abyss; and he appealed to the people to hand over the country to them asserting that he and his party are ready to take over the country. On the other hand, Champika has stressed on the need for having a broader national consensus and a joint program to overcome the crisis. Of the two approaches, it can be said that the approach of Champika is much broader than that of Anura Kumara. 

The problem of defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa during his regime can be considered as a menial issue compared to the magnitude of the crisis facing the country today. Yet he stood for the need of having a common front and a common candidate in 2010 directly and again indirectly for a common candidate in 2015 to overcome the problem of defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa. The JVP, which depended on a National United Front to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa, is now contemplating on resolving the crisis facing the country which is hundred and thousand times more than the problem of defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa, as a single party without a common national consensus!

The end of an era

Before talking about the solutions proposed by Champika, I think it is opportune that I clarify the purpose of my criticism of political leaders and their movements at this crucial juncture in which the country is plunged in a major crisis. I am not a competitor of any of them and nor a partner in a project of power politics. My criticism is not intended to destroy, but to sharpen the political arena. The crisis we are facing today cannot be considered as a crisis that can be overcome by functional strength only. It calls for the development of the capacity for imagination. It can be done by studying the facts, analysing them, and finally subjecting them to dialogue and debate. My endeavour is to create a suitable ideological background for that.

For better or for worse, one era is coming to an end and a new era is dawning. The dogmatic political leaders and political movements that are not prepared to change themselves in this process are doomed for condemnation and ruin. In my opinion, by the time this crisis ends, for better or for worse, only a handful of old political leaders will be able to hold on to it. This doctrine will affect political movements as well. Then the majority of the political arena will consist of new leaders and new movements. Their success or failure will also depend on the factors such as their ability to make bold decisions, their honesty and maturity. The Crusades were the last religious wars in Europe. 

Similarly, the Presidential election 2019 and Parliamentary elections 2020 would be the last elections fought on the basis of ethnicity and religion. From now on, no party or political movement based solely on the major ethnicity or religion will be able to win elections; similarly, from now on, only the leaders and parties that treat people of all races and religions as equal human beings with equal rights, regardless of their ethnicity or religion, will be able to become the leaders and parties recognised by the people of Sri Lanka. In this respect, both Anura and Champika have not fulfilled this requirement. They are yet to achieve this qualification. 

Now we can talk about the good and the bad of the program of Champika. The proposals put forward by him to resolve the balance of payments crisis are correct. Any sensible and conscientious government should act the way Champika has proposed; various governments in Sri Lanka have resolved balance of payments crises that occurred previously in a similar manner as proposed by him. But it is about the interpretation and suggestions made by him in respect of the socio-political crisis facing the country that I most disagree with him. 

Champika does not seem to consider or like to admit that the “the issue of race, caste and religion “which has led to the serious breakdown of the social system and the resultant conflicts associated with it, is the main issue which has determined the crisis in Sri Lanka and is still continuing to do so. If the pamphlet titled “Goda Emu Goda Nagamu” (Let’s Get Over, Let’s Build) is presumed to have been compiled by Champika or one that contains his ideas, his contention is that “the war is over ……… and not only the emotions, pains and hatreds associated with the war, even some theories and dialogues do not have any relevance to the present era of peace.”

 Disregarding the minorities

Let us forget the Tamil issue in the north for a moment. Does Champika think that the Muslims, for the benefit of the country should tolerate and forgot the persecution inflicted in them, which was initiated following the defeat of Prabakaran with the intention of generating hatred and repugnance against Muslims in the psyche of Sinhala community, and persistence of it in various forms up to now without any effort being made to end it? 

The Tamil youth were engaged in a persistent struggle for 18 consecutive years in a legitimate and peaceful framework to regain the human dignity which they were denied consequent to the deprivation of reasonable language rights. Eventually, they took up arms and went to war only after the horrific and brutal massacre launched against them in July 1983. Although there were several armed groups operating in the north prior to the incident of “Black July”, they were hardly recognised by the Tamil people. 

Even if the fact that the protracted separatist LTTE insurgency has been defeated more or less brutally, is forgotten, shouldn’t a similar policy followed in the case of the JVP insurrection after it was defeated, have been adopted in the case of Tamil insurgents as well, when they were defeated? Also, Champika seems to think that the problem of race, caste and religion in Sri Lanka, as an issue that will resolve spontaneously and by itself over time without the need for having structural reforms.

About the political system

The way Champika thinks about the political system is also backward. The adoption of a new constitution has been described as a very difficult task to accomplish. His preference appears to be in a forward journey based on the protection of the presidential system while making amendments to the existing constitution. Apparently, he believes that it would be sufficient to repeal the 20th Amendment and instead to launch a program to bring the 19th Amendment to the fore in an upgraded form. Has the judiciary been made independent by the 19th Amendment? If so, why is it that certain Courts have not followed a policy of assessing the facts in accordance with the law in regard to the cases filed against Gotabaya? 

In the case of the controversial issue in regard to his alleged American citizenship, why didn’t the judiciary probe into it considering it a matter of great national importance involving a candidate running for the presidency? If the 19th amendment had empowered the Election Commission to act independently, Gotabaya’s issue on his alleged American citizenship would have been turned into an opportunity to probe into it, at the time of handing over the nominations. We know that it did not happen.

Despite the wide public attraction it enjoyed, the system of independent Commissions established under the 17th and 19th Amendments was not built on a solid foundation. It was a system capable of sustaining only as long as the president wanted it. Such a weak system might have been built purposely not only by the incumbent presidents, but also by the blessings of the other leaders, who were dreaming of becoming the future presidents who also wished it to be a system based on a weak foundation. Those who held positions under this system knew that they were in a weak position in the face of the mighty power of the President. That may be the reason why they have chosen a policy of changing colours whenever necessary. 

The members of these commissions were used to act loyally to the incumbent President and to some extent independently in ordinary times. And in times of transition, they followed a policy of siding with the next president likely to be elected instead of the incumbent president for their own survival. These two amendments to the Constitution, knowingly or unknowingly, sought to prevent the President from acting arbitrarily in appointing high-ranking officials, and regulate the functioning of them while the president was still remaining above the Law. 

How ridiculous is it that the theorists of these two amendments have not been able to realise that the actions of a president who remains above the rule of law could be regulated only by revoking the powers vested in him to stand above the rule of law? Champika seems to be dreaming of the presidency in a way that will help protect the ugly system that allows the president to be above the law. Nowhere has he stated that the status of the president being above the law should be abolished. It cannot be due to forgetfulness or an oversight. Anura Kumara of course states that the presidential system will be abolished. Apparently, he wants to abolish irony after running for the presidency and winning it!

I don’t intend lengthening this article any longer. Yet, before concluding it, I wish to remark that both leaders, Champika and Anura have not commented sufficiently on the need for an independent judiciary and the reforms need to be introduced to rid the parliament of its present state of extreme corruption it has fallen into under the presidential system.

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