18th July 1999
Put yourself in Chandrika Kumaratunga's shoes. The end of the first term of office is nearing and despite a not so impressive record of governing the country, you are still the favourite in the presidential race. The question is, what would you do next?
President Kumaratunga must surely be weighing her options now. She must be fancying her chances because of a curious mix of factors some of which are not necessarily her strengths but only her opponents' weaknesses.
Yet, despite starting with the advantage of being incumbent President, there are some constitutional obstacles for Chandrika Kumaratunga to surmount that cannot be taken lightly.
The first would be the date of the polls. General elections are not due until August next year and Presidential polls must be held three months thereafter. But in the opinion of many the tide is slowly but surely turning and to wait until those deadlines could be a fatal mistake.
The consensus in government ranks is that polls- both parliamentary and presidential- must be called before the constitutional time frame. The recent provincial council election results are cited in favour of this argument and that appears to be sensible strategy.
It is a fact that though the ruling People's Alliance is able to command a forty per cent slice of the vote, its popularity is not on the rise in the face of a multitude of social, political and economic issues- a factor which any incumbent government has to contend with.
Hence the fear that with the passage of another dozen months or so, this anti-government trend will gather momentum and cross the delicate dividing line between victory and defeat for the People's Alliance or Chandrika Kumaratunga.
Then, if there is consensus for early elections, the next decision is which election should be held first- presidential or parliamentary. Here, there is a strong case for the President to opt for a presidential poll first.
At a presidential election, the electorate- and the Sri Lankan electorate is an intelligent one- decides on their next leader for the next six years.
As such, the personality factor -call it charisma if you want to- does carry weight and Chandrika Kumaratunga is at a distinct advantage there.
Then, petty rivalries- say, for example the battles between Ministers Ashraff and Fowzie or Mangala Samaraweera and Mahinda Rajapakshe- are less likely to hinder the performance of the People's Alliance at a presidential election rather than at a parliamentary poll where all such peccadilloes count.
So, we feel that President Chandrika Kumaratunga will opt for a presidential election first, the hope being that a victory there will gather momentum and snowball into a clear cut majority in the next parliamentary elections.
But, here there is a snag. J. R. Jayewardene in his infinite wisdom had decided in his constitution that it was not proper for the person with the largest number of votes to be declared a winner at the presidential poll unless he or she obtained over 50% of the vote at first count.
Chandrika Kumaratunga, even with all her charisma may not be able to reach that magical mark. The incumbent president, along with her main rival- the most likely person in that role being Ranil Wickremesinghe- will obtain less than 50 per cent of the vote at first count and a second count will be necessitated for the first time in this country.
It is then that the second preferences( or, if necessary, the third preferences) of those who have voted for candidates other than Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe will be counted.
In such a scenario, the winner, whoever it may be will be a 'minority' president, not having obtained over 50 per cent of the vote. Then, the strategy of calling a presidential election first may not pay dividends as such ambiguous results are unlikely to create a momentum for the general election to follow.
Then, it appears that every vote would count- be it for the JVP, the MEP, for Wickremabahu Karunaratne or even Kumar Ponnambalam- if voters opt for a second preference from among the candidates of the two major parties.
If the President wins re-election, there would be no delay in calling for general elections and an attempt would most certainly be made to steer clear of the 'hangers-on' parties. This thinking is amply demonstrated in the recent distribution of portfolios to an assorted coterie of parliamentarians- but with not a single coalition partner among them.
The other possibility that the government must take into account is a win for the UNP candidate. There has been speculation in government ranks that the UNP might spring a surprise in the form of Karu Jayasuriya as a presidential candidate but judging from the UNP response, it is little more than speculation.
The irony is that if presidential polls are held first, the winning president will be presiding over a hung parliament where the support of minority parties will play a decisive role.
Carrots will then be dangled as rewards for defection- in the form of portfolios and perks- and no doubt there will be those who will accept them!
Considering all this President Kumaratunga also has the option of calling for general elections first. The results of such a ploy cannot easily be predicted as the provincial polls revealed an element of dissatisfaction with both the PA and the UNP.
With the proportional representation system to boot, and the political currents of the north and east being an unknown quantity, the likely outcome is again a hung parliament and it will then be the ensuing presidential election that will decide the fate of the country. Such a poll will be a political free-for-all as the stakes will be very, very high for many, many people.
Now, considering all these options, put yourself in Chandrika Kumaratunga's shoes again and consider what you would do. Since opting for a presidential election first appears to be the best ploy at hand, that begs the question, what can be done to ensure victory?
The strategies that are being considered are obviously diverse. On the one hand there is a lobby which favours the tactic adopted by Margaret Thatcher in Britain some years ago to achieve re-election: "win a war and win an election".
When Argentine declared ownership of the Falkland Islands, Thatcher promptly declared war. Britain won the war and Thatcher won the election!
Kumaratunga might be tempted to try the same tactic vis-à-vis the North and East but that at best is a gamble. Even so, whatever the UNP says to the contrary the PA did regain control of Jaffna, which the UNP had allowed to be under LTTE control for over a decade which even in international law could have amounted to a de-facto separate state.
But the war strategy is one with pitfalls. We have already seen how General Anuruddha Ratwatte's obsession to capture a land route to Jaffna led to heavy casualties and very little success. When the PA eventually abandoned 'Operation Jaya Sikurui', General Ratwatte was not a happy man; nor were the families of the war victims.
But if President Kumaratunga is to rely on military options at her disposal, to woo the votes she must show better judgment than she has displayed so far in these matters.
For, did we not see her appoint a Joint Operations Bureau (JOB), then clip Ratwatte's wings putting General Rohan Daluwatte in charge only to clip the latter's wings and re-install Ratwatte as the man in charge a week later?
It was one hell of a mix-up at the highest levels of the defence establishment and has led to chaos. The road to Jaffna remains closed and food supplies have to reach Jaffna.
But recent reports, so far not being contradicted by the Presidential Secretariat show that food intended for the armed forces in Jaffna have been feeding the inmates of Temple Trees when the Kollupitiya market is only a stone's throw away!
If waging war is a difficult and unpredictable task, there are other methods to win elections. A favourite strategy in recent times has been tinkering with the constitution.
All government's since 1970 have perfected this to a fine art and both Sirima Bandaranaike( extension of life of Parliament by two arbitrary years) and J. R. Jayewardene ( Referendum in 1982 ) are culpable. Surely the likes of Gamini Lakshman Peiris must be burning the midnight oil these days trying to find a constitutional loophole that would ensure another term of office for Chandrika Kumaratunga.
Whatever the method, the days of Chandrika Kumaratunga are numbered, literally and Her Excellency would like to add six more years to that number. The coming months will yield a surplus of political manoeuvring and gamesmanship. Coming events, they say, cast their shadows. Perhaps the unruly scenes in Colombo on Thursday were the first indications of the political climate in the months to come.
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga may be the daughter of two Prime Ministers. She has a pleasant disposition and a charming manner. But in vying for her second innings at the helm none of that will count for much. Instead, a country weary with war and wary of all politicians will evaluate her credibility as a leader who can deliver the promised land.
Their verdict is so uncertain that to venture a prediction would be stupid.
The business world is now getting involved in the on-going ethnic conflict. They are trying to get the SLFP and the UNP together for negotiations with the Tigers. Meanwhile, many Sinhala entrepreneurs are flocking to the Sinhala Veera Vidahana.
Tamil businessmen are covertly organising themselves. while the Muslims have already got their business and religious activities in control.
In the economic field, the government has assigned the main role to the private sector and they control a significant proportion of it.
In this context what we have to ask is what are the factors on which people base their behavior? Richard Keynes put it down to economic reasons. Freud attributed it to the sexual drive. Other philosophers as Nietzsche said man is driven by a desire for power.
According to Francis Fukuyama man's behavior is governed 80 percent by economics, the balance by sex, race, religion and the desire for power. Samuel Huntington, however tells conflict will not revolve so much around economics but around a clash of civilizations, such as conflicts between Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Confucians.
The central focus of such a clash would be Washington and Beijing. Huntington believes that in the future there will be national conflicts connected with civilizations. Kosovo is an example of clashes between Muslims, Greek Orthodox Christians and Catholics.
Due to globalisation capital is spread out to every corner of the world and man himself fashions the function of capital just as he shapes market forces. Market forces cannot he decided outside human society. Therefore what follows, is not a global village, but a linkage of thousands of associated civilizations, with their own cultural identities.
What, then is likely to happen is not the expected big conflict between capitalism and Marxism, but the rise of identities within the march of market forces. The distinctive feature of future man would not be groups of people living in one geographical area speaking the same language, but nationally linked groups with cultural ties, speaking different tongues, but with a distinct economic mindset. Their national enterprises will not be confined to one area geographically, but will be globally connected like an octopus.
Israel was the first country to think on these lines. Jews of 86 countries are bound to each other by one religion and one identity. Kurds and Tamil movements follow the same pattern. Any person with a similar background is a non- active guerrilla cub, a businessman, a consumer or a politician.
The biggest drawback for the Tamils and the Kurds is that they do not have a state of their own. The Kurds are trying to set up one in Turkey, Iran or Iraq and the Tamils, in Sri Lanka, or India.
The Sinhalese should understand this fact and protect their state. They should create awareness abroad and internationalise the national Sinhala movement. The Sinhalese should build an economic power base and link up with similar cultural groups here and abroad. They will become the soldiers, the businessmen, the consumers, the media persons, and politicians any movement needs.
While the Tamils and Muslims had organised their own capital base the Sinhalese had not done so. This was partly due to the Marxist leadership among the Sinhalese during the 50's. The Pancha Maha Bala Vegaya of 1956, did not comprise soldiers, media persons and entrepreneurs. Now this traditional thinking has changed.
Fresh and innovative thinking emerged with the growth of the Sinhala Veera Vidahana. This is a leap forward. but the SVV should not only think in terms of buying up paddy from Sinhala farmers and offering scholarships. It's time for the Sinhalese to link up with supportive cultural groups here and abroad, build up their economic base and become producers as well as consumers.
Both capital and market forces are not stationary-they are in flux and it's time for the Sinhalese to respond to this phenomenon. Since the government has abandoned the National Sinhala Movement, and the Sinhalese have no economic clout, the time is ripe to remedy this situation.
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