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Sumanasiri Liyanage’s Mis-“Reading Election Manifestos”

| by Laksiri Fernando

( December 28, 2014, Sydney, Sri Lanka Guardian)
If there is any positive contribution, at this stage of the forthcoming presidential elections, in what Sumanasiri Liyanage has outlined as “Reading Election Manifestos,” then that is his mentioning of several social movements that emerged in the recent past, raising several socio-economic and political issues and opposing the repressive nature of the Rajapaksa regime.

Even here he has segregated them into two, and conveniently undermined the first as “urban and elitist.” He has added that they work within the “economic-legal structure of neoliberalism.”

As far as I am concerned, a democracy movement, by definition is a multiclass movement. Therefore, his segregation is not only counterproductive but also divisive. However, he has another point in vaguely saying that what was present before 1994 is now absent.

To him that is the “power-sharing element” or “going beyond the 13th Amendment.” In my generic terms, what is lacking is multiculturalism or multi-ethnicity. This is something I have pointed out in my previous articles. To me, any forceful democracy movement in Sri Lanka should be both multiclass and multicultural/multiethnic. What specific elements that such a movement should entail is a matter left for the participants. What is important first is the participation and encouragement of diverse communities in such a movement and not mere lip service.


What is particularly mistaken in his interpretation of the present situation, in my view, is his failure to see a connection between the emergent social movements and the common opposition. Not that he is completely oblivious to such a connection, but he seems to believe that the common opposition has already betrayed the social cause which I don’t subscribe to. His analysis or interpretation is too much of leftish or pseudo-leftist.

It is undoubtedly correct that in a formal democratic framework, when major elections are held, social movements may fall on the back seat. That is evident in certain respects in Sri Lanka today. Formal political parties (i.e. UNP) and formal political leaders (i.e. MS, RW, CBK) naturally come to the forefront. Moreover, one cannot expect a revolution from an election process.

However, what is important is that the voters also come to the forefront at an election. What people or activists who value democracy can expect from an election is a governmental change and a window of opportunity. If that opportunity is created, then the social movements can move on. If that opportunity is not created, the major casualties will be those who lead these movements unless they betray themselves to the regime. Perhaps this happened after 1994. 

In the case of Sri Lanka it is crucially important to defeat the incumbent government and that means the incumbent President. Not that ideal democracy could be created thereafter, but the deterioration of democracy and the authoritarian presidential rule can be halted. Of course it is not democracy that Jairus Banaji or Tariq Ali talking about, but democracy that Sri Lanka knew of. The country needs to move from there, and not to the abyss that the Rajapaksa regime is leading it to.

It is surprising that with all quasi Marxist and other jargon, Sumanasiri fails to condemn the ongoing Rajapaksa repression in the country particularly in the North. His main grumble is with the opposition.

Comparison of Manifestos

He has made a comparison of two Manifestos of MR and MS in that order on the issue of constitutional reforms and noted the following.

“It is interesting to note there is no basic difference between two candidates as far as the constitutional change/ amendment is concerned.”

If he has at least said ‘there is no basic difference between two manifestos,’ then there is some validity. Even that is not the case as I will show below. Most importantly, MR has been in power since 2005, with a promise to abolish the presidential system but not fulfilled. What the Common Opposition Candidate has outlined is basically what he intends to achieve within 100 days as an urgent measure.

I also consider Sumanasiri’s Table as misleading and/or mischievous. A proper comparison should have quoted the texts, not misinterpreted. Let me show what he has ‘summarized’ under the theme ‘Devolution of Power’ of the two candidates.

MR: Present system will be maintained and Lower level direct democracy will be added (as part of constitution?).

MS: Not addressed. 13th Amendment may be changed/scrapped/abolished as it may not need referendum.

His table gives the impression that MR’s proposals are more progressive or devolution-friendly even with ‘direct democracy.’ What a crap!

Under MS, ‘on devolution of power,’ first he says, ‘Not addressed.’ Then gives his own conjecture saying that the “13th Amendment may be changed/scrapped/abolished as it may not need referendum.” This is not a summary but completely an insertion into MS Manifesto.

To him, Mahinda Rajapaksa is the good guy. MS is the bad one. Because “Ironically, Candidate MS has refused to change it [presidential system] after making a promise to that respect even before tasting and enjoying it. In such a situation, can we expect democratic governance after January 8?” He asks!

Manifesto and Diary

Chapter 1 of the Sirisena Manifesto is titled “Constitutional Amendment Guaranteeing Democracy.” Under the bullet point heading “Abolishing the Executive Presidential System with Unlimited Powers,” it says the following among other explanations. 

“Instead of the present autocratic Executive Presidential System I will introduce a Constitutional structure with an executive that is allied to the Parliament through the Cabinet.”

It is Sumanasiri that says “MS has refused to change it” not the Manifesto. Moreover, the well published Diary for the 100 days of MS goes as follows for Wednesday January 21.

“The process will begin of abolishing the authoritarian executive presidential system and replacing it with an executive of a Cabinet of Ministers responsible to Parliament, and of repealing the 18th Amendment to the Constitution with legislation to establish strengthened and independent institutions, including a Judicial Services Commission, a Police Commission, a Public Service Commission, an Elections Commission, a Commission against Bribery and Corruption and a Human Rights Commission. This will be through a 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which will be presented to Parliament and passed as swiftly as possible.”

Do I need any more evidence to say Mr. Liyanage is misinterpreting?

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