by Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka
What does Sri Lanka need? Some say regime change, others say stability and continuity. Those who say regime change regard the slogan of stability and continuity as one for totalitarianism and/or dictatorship
I say we need Modernisation, Pluralist Democracy, Moderation, and Multi ethnic National Integration/Nation Building. My take is that Sri Lanka
(1) remains in essence a representative multiparty democracy
(2) in an uneven and still open-ended convalescent transition after 30 years of war and
(3) in need of modernising transformation through reform, together with
(4) more pluralist integration, which (5) will be both pre-requisite and resultant of catching up with the ongoing Asian economic miracle. Those who reject out of hand the call for stability and continuity err in seeing the main danger as that of (dynastic) dictatorship. The vision and model is of a pluralist-democratic Asian Modernity.
The real danger I see in an unqualified slogan of stability (‘stability above all’, ‘stability at any cost’) is that of stagnation. Stagnation comes from the shift from a two party system to a one-party dominant system through the failure of a competitive second party to evolve or the collapse of the main opposition. ‘One- party dominant’ systems must not be confused with one party or one person dictatorships. Post-war Italy and post-war Japan under the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Democrats respectively are classic examples, as was India until 1977 and Mexico under the PRI. If Sri Lanka has shifted or is shifting to a one party dominant system or is in danger of doing so, the collapse of the opposition is the result of — as Fidel pronounced about the collapse of Soviet socialism — “not homicide, but suicide”, meaning it is largely self-inflicted.
The counter to stagnation is not frontal assault; a political charge of the Light Brigade. Both instability and stagnation can be avoided and a process of modernising reforms initiated by political permutations and combinations which impact on the balance of social and ideological forces.
Politics, like life, is a matter of choices. Choices can only be made among alternatives, existing or new. Of the alternatives available, I support and defend Mahinda because the country is safest under his leadership.
Serbia watered down its own draft resolution to the UNGA and agreed to one which sealed the acceptance of the secession of Kosovo. A recent article by Diana Johnstone who has authored a Monthly Review book on Kosovo, was entitled ‘Serbia Surrenders Kosovo’. That was the endgame of a peace settlement. Meanwhile Southern Sudan votes in a referendum on independence in a few months, under a peace agreement signed five years back.
The UN Secretary General is being lobbied that he should be on board efforts to manage the transition from the morning after, and help ensure that Sudan accepts a widely accepted verdict of secession. Had the Ranil Wickremesinghe-Chandrika condominium of 2005 managed to prevail over the Mahinda Rajapaksa candidacy, this would have been Sri Lanka’s fate, via the CFA-ISGA-PTOMS route.
Not only did Mahinda defeat the Tigers, he didn’t blink in the face of foreign pressure and external efforts to save them. He also managed relations with India in such a manner as to avoid the repetition of 1987.
There are only two possible – and indeed desirable — vehicles and agencies for democratic reform in Sri Lanka, and these are the two main democratic parties, the SLFP (or SLFP-led UPFA) and the UNP. Either, both or any combination of components from these parties, should be the prospective targets for efforts at social democratisation. It is obvious though, that a leader who broke with tradition and affiliated his party with the International Democratic Union (IDU) led by the Western world’s Right, cannot be the candidate for this conversion.
Today, President Rajapaksa is the best representative of National Democracy and the UNP reformists identified with young Premadasa, the best bet for (pluralist) Social Democracy. While the best case scenario would be a broad ideological and value consensus, with both SLFP and UNP becoming ‘modernising national and social democratic’ formations, Sri Lanka could be almost as well served by two other scenarios:
(i) one of the two major parties ‘upholding the twin banners’ of national and social democracy
(ii) or one of them being the party of ‘national democracy’ while the other becomes the party of ‘social democracy’ — but compete or collude to occupy neither Right nor Left but precisely a modern, moderate centre.
What then of tendencies real or perceived, towards the monopolisation of political power? When a trend towards monopoly is observed or feared in any sector, several responses are possible. Some may protest and denounce, others may boycott, still others may de-link from the market and opt for communal forms of small scale production.
Then there are those who understand that the only real or the most effective counter to monopoly is competition, and the input most worth making is to suggest measures that make existing or potential competitors more competitive. This corrects market distortions, improves the performance and product of erstwhile monopolies which could sit on their laurels, lowers commodity prices and guarantees consumer sovereignty.
As in economics, so also in politics, and this is the constructive intellectual and ideological effort I have been making. It could appear as a recommendation to passivity or worse, a defence of monopoly, only to be-fogged minds. In a dangerous external environment, I cannot but refuse to endorse and shall indeed criticise domestic project and discourse which damage the country’s independence and sovereignty, stability and security.
Efforts at preventing excess and promoting change must also be demonstrably protective of sovereignty and untarnished by association with those who seek to encroach upon it and undermine it. They must surely remain within the parameters of the constructive and the responsible.