For the Attention of Govt. Leaders, Cabinet, Legislators, the Executive, Legal Fraternity and Civil Society
by Chandra Jayaratne
Did Sri Lanka create yet another world record in unprofessional governance with the recent attempt to pass the Port City Bill? Citizens’ expectations of best practices embedded good governance were shattered again by this fiasco! Can a Bill that purportedly passed muster, possibly at the levels of the Legal Draftsman, Attorney General, Ministry of Justice, Cabinet, and was promoted as a law that will be the turning point in economic recovery and path to “Prosperity and Splendour”, contain within more than one third of its clauses, be determined by the Supreme Court as conflicting with the Constitution, the supreme law of the land?
Despite the much talked about capabilities of those at the apex of government, supported by several legal eagles and experienced politicians in the Cabinet, citizens (going by past experience) will not expect the majority of them to be committed to uphold the Constitution, in approving Bills for enactment, despite the oath of office sworn in by them. Most of them will merely follow the leader, party hierarchy and the advisors of the kitchen cabinet whilst some may have not even studied the Bill in its entirety. Some of them may have had a conflict of interests blinding them in approving such legislation doing violence to their executive and legislative responsibility.
However, high officials of the Ministry of Justice, the Attorney General and the Legal Draftsmen being professionals of recognized capability with purported commitment to best practices of their professions, adherence to standards in procedural manuals and professional codes of conduct and ethics, are expected by civil society to discharge their professional obligations; and are in fact bound by the oath taken by them in line with the constitution and the accountability of the offices they hold.
Citizen are perplexed as to how on earth such a Bill in blatant conflict with the Constitution could have been approved by the Attorney General and be drafted by the Legal Draftsman. This experience ex facio (on the face of it), raises the question of whether the Legal Draftsman was the originator of the Bill.
Readers would rely on the news in the front page of the Daily News (April 17) headlined “AG gives nod to Bill”, saying that the Attorney General has informed the Presidential Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera that the Port City Economic Commission Draft Bill is not inconsistent with the Constitution. The news item quoted the AG saying: “I have to advise you that the provisions of the Bill are not inconsistent with the Constitution. The Bill is not subject to any prohibition or restriction imposed by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and may be enacted by Parliament”.
This raises the million dollar question: Was the Bill tabled in Parliament the same as the Bill on which the AG approved? This ambiguity is further advanced by the submissions and amendments the AG filed in court by the during the hearing and also by the comments made by the President’s Counsel representing the Secretary to the President!
Civil Society urges Leaders in Governance, Cabinet, Legislators, Professionals and the Legal Fraternity to consider the need for an independent and highly professional unit under the Parliamentary legislative structure to be entrusted with the task of legal drafting. Here the specific suggestion is for the transfer of the present functions of the Legal Draftsman to a newly created Parliamentary Counsel
. This suggestion is similar to the presently agreed need of establishing a Parliamentary Budget Office.
Parliament being the sole authority empowered to make laws and approve relevant regulations and be accountable for public finance, a Parliamentary Counsel structure fits well within the ambit of the devolving of power in terms of the constitution. Article 4 of the Constitution reads as “The Sovereignty of the People shall be exercised and enjoyed in the following manner: (a) the legislative power of the People shall be exercised by Parliament, consisting of elected representatives of the People and by the People at a Referendum”.
The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in UK and Australia are described as follows: “The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel is a group of government lawyers who specialize in drafting legislation. We work closely with departments to translate policy into clear, effective and readable law. Our role will often begin when legislation is first being considered and we will remain involved throughout the Parliamentary process and beyond.
“Our work ranges over a wide variety of subjects – everything for which the government legislates, from the hugely politically-significant and topical, to the niche, specialized and technical and may need to deal with legislation affecting any aspect of modern life. We are responsible for drafting all government bills, advising departments on the rules and procedures of Parliament, reviewing orders and regulations which amend Acts of Parliament, assisting government on a range of legal and constitutional issues. Our priorities are, to help the government to prepare and take through Parliament its programme of legislation, to provide leadership and training for drafters throughout government, to work with colleagues within and outside government to promote good law, to build links with universities, the judiciary and others.
“We are committed to promoting good law – law that is necessary, clear, coherent, effective and accessible. In 2013 we conducted a review into the causes of complexity. Following the review, we launched the Good Law initiative with the aim of making legislation more accessible and understandable for UK citizens. We continue to pursue this aim, which is now reflected in our priorities.”(https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/office-of-the-parliamentary-counsel/about)
The Australian Office of the Parliamentary Counsel is responsible for drafting and publishing the laws of the Commonwealth of Australia. They draft Bills for introduction into the Parliament, and a wide range of subordinate legislation and proclamations for government agencies and publish the authorized, uptodate versions of the Commonwealth laws. In addition they provide services, including training in understanding the legislative process and in drafting legislative and other instruments. (https://www.opc.gov.au/)
Offices of the Parliamentary Counsel around the world are bound by Standards of Practice, Codes of Conduct and Ethics and these are available for public reference in the form of published manuals. eg. (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/892409/OPC_drafting_guidance_June_2020-1.pdf) and (https://www.opc.gov.au/sites/default/files/s06rd382.v47.pdf)
It is of paramount importance to note the Part 12 of the Australian Parliamentary Counsel noted below in full:
Part 12—Responsibility for constitutional validity and use of constitutional checklist
SES Bill drafter’s responsibility for constitutional issues
104 By submitting Bills for LAP, an SES Bill drafter gives an assurance that he or she is satisfied that the Bill is constitutionally valid (except to the extent to which any concerns or reservations he or she has about the constitutional validity of the Bill are set out in the LAP memo).
105 The SES Bill drafter’s assurance may be based either on his or her own judgement or on AGS advice. Constitutional checklist
106 A constitutional checklist has been developed for use by Bill drafters.
107 Bill drafters are encouraged to use the constitutional checklist as a tool for ensuring that the consideration they give to the constitutional validity of the legislation they work on is systematic and thorough.
Drafters are encouraged:
(a) to make use of the checklist from an early stage in the drafting project; and
(b) to revisit the checklist from time to time during the course of the drafting project (especially if it is a long-term one); and
(c) to put completed constitutional checklists on the correspondence file for the legislation concerned.
108 SES Bill drafters are expected to make use of the constitutional checklist as a training tool for the APCs working with them and to encourage those APCs to use the checklist as a matter of routine to make sure that their consideration of constitutional issues is systematic and thorough.
109 To assist in the creation of constitutional checklists, the Constitutional Checklist macro can be run from within an open Bill document, Bill insert document or Parliamentary amendment document to automatically generate a constitutional checklist with the details for the front page of the checklist already filled in.
Leaders in Governance, the Cabinet, Legislators, the Executive, the Legal Fraternity ( including the Office of the Attorney General, Legal Draftsman and the Bar Association) and Civil Society are urged to give earnest consideration to this suggestion, advocate it and make this essential change for good governnce without delay.
Biden-Harris administration unveils strategy for global vaccine sharing
Announces allocation plan for first 25 million doses to be shared globally
As we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic at home and work to end the pandemic worldwide, President Biden has promised that the United States will be an arsenal of vaccines for the world. To do that, the Administration will pursue several additional measures beyond our robust funding for COVAX: Donating from the U.S. vaccine supply to the world and encouraging other nations to do the same, working with U.S. manufacturers to increase vaccine production for the rest of the world, and helping more countries expand their own capacity to produce vaccines including through support for global supply chains.
This vaccine strategy is a vital component of our overall global strategy to lead the world in the fight to defeat COVID-19, including emergency public health assistance and aid to stop the spread and building global public health capacity and readiness to beat not just this pandemic, but the next one.
Today, the Administration announced its framework for sharing at least 80 million U.S. vaccine doses globally by the end of June and the plan for the first 25 million doses.
Specifically, the Administration announced that:
The United States will share vaccines in service of ending the pandemic globally. Today, the Administration announced its framework for sharing these 80 million U.S. vaccine doses worldwide. Specifically, the United States will:
Share 75% of these vaccines through COVAX. The United States will share at least three-quarters of its donated doses through COVAX, supplying U.S. doses to countries in need. This will maximize the number of vaccines available equitably for the greatest number of countries and for those most at-risk within countries. For doses shared through COVAX, the United States will prioritize Latin America and the Caribbean, South and Southeast Asia, and Africa, in coordination with the African Union.
Share 25% for immediate needs and to help with surges around the world. The United States has received requests for vaccines from countries all over the world. The U.S. will share up to one-quarter of its donated doses directly with countries in need, those experiencing surges, immediate neighbors, and other countries that have requested immediate U.S. assistance. Specifically, we will:
Set the stage for increased global coverage. The allocation of this first tranche of donated doses reflects the desire of the United States to respond to all regions and lay the ground for increased supply and access throughout the world.
Prepare for surges and prioritize healthcare workers and other vulnerable populations based on public health data and acknowledged best practice. We will share with countries in urgent need, with a priority on vaccinating frontline workers. The United States will not use its vaccines to secure favors from other countries. The U.S. will work with partners who are both ready and in need. And, our donations will prioritize countries with vaccine readiness plans that prioritize individuals at highest risk of severe disease and those working to help care for them, like health care workers.
Help countries in need and our neighbors. The United States will share vaccines in our region and across our borders. We first made doses available to our closest neighbors – Canada and Mexico. Our dose sharing approach prioritizes Latin American and the Caribbean on a per capita basis.
The U.S. announced the proposed allocation plan for the first 25 Million doses. Based on the framework above and pending legal and regulatory approvals, the United States plans to send our first tranche of 25 million doses:
Nearly 19 million will be shared through COVAX, with the following allocations:
Approximately 6 million for South and Central America to the following countries: Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Haiti, and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, as well as the Dominican Republic.
Approximately 7 million for Asia to the following countries: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Maldives, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, and the Pacific Islands.
Approximately 5 million for Africa to be shared with countries that will be selected in coordination with the African Union.
Approximately 6 million will be targeted toward regional priorities and partner recipients, including Mexico, Canada, and the Republic of Korea, West Bank and Gaza, Ukraine, Kosovo, Haiti, Georgia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Yemen, as well as for United Nations frontline workers.
The sharing of millions of U.S. vaccines with other countries signals a major commitment by the U.S. government. Just like in the United States, we will move as expeditiously as possible, while abiding by U.S. and host country regulatory and legal requirements, to facilitate the safe and secure transport of vaccines across international borders. This will take time, but the President has directed the Administration to use all the levers of the U.S. government to protect individuals from this virus as quickly as possible. The specific vaccines and amounts will be determined and shared as the Administration works through the logistical, regulatory and other parameters particular to each region and country.
Reflecting on Ranil
After 20 years of frequent defeats and occasional triumphs, Ranil Wickremesinghe became Prime Minister without winning a single presidential or parliamentary election to merit that post. He had tried a proxy candidate once before, to no avail; Sarath Fonseka wasn’t going to return anytime soon. In Maithripala Sirisena he faced a more reliable ally: someone who could lead the government, literally, to the Opposition. The occasion was historic: half a century after Dudley Senanayake’s UNP connived in the defection of key MPs from the SLFP, including C. P. de Silva and Mahanama Samaraweera, Maithripala Sirisena, the secretary of the SLFP, a man who could have become the next President were it not for the nepotism that ruled the day, broke with the most popular SLFP government and SLFP President Sri Lanka had in years.
This was a tricky election. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s popularity had ebbed, but not completely. His popularity in the south stood strong and held firm. The north and east hardly seemed to matter to him, though he made conciliatory gestures that ended up being rebuffed or rejected. Against such a backdrop, the UNP could not afford an organic candidate, given the disastrous policies it had stuck to during the last stages of the war. It had to contest as part of a common front. The question as to who would lead that front, though, remained unresolved.
Interestingly enough Sirisena was not a first choice. Having notified the UNP of his impending defection, he suggested that Karu Jayasuriya take up the candidacy, leaving him with the task of canvassing the rural vote: a Karu-Ranil alliance underwritten by the SLFP. How did the UNP respond? We know from an article written by a group of UNPers two months before the 2019 election that Wickremesinghe did not take to the idea; he preferred a proxy.
Wickremesinghe’s strategy was simple: win the election, become Prime Minister, and oversee a gradual abolition or retrenchment of the Executive Presidency. In this he had the backing of not just the liberal and left-liberal intelligentsia, but also a section of the (Buddhist) clergy as well as disgruntled sections of the SLFP. The clock ticked in his favour: barely two years after the worst bout of protests against his party leadership, he had returned to the spotlight. The pressures of a presidential election soon relegated to the background the fighting that had defined the party since 2010. It was a pincer move: Sirisena would win the presidency, and he would become the President’s deputy, quieting party dissidents while building up the party profile.
As usual the liberal and left-liberal intelligentsia, famous for its myopic idealisation of the values it holds dear, failed to see the time-bomb ticking away. Very few commentators acknowledged or noticed the fatal contradiction between winning a presidency through a proxy candidate and prevaricating on crucial internal party matters. Dayan Jayatilleka was one of the few: in one of the first pieces he wrote after elaborating on his stance against Sirisena’s candidacy, he bluntly asked why anyone would vote for a candidate who would relinquish his powers to an unelected Prime Minister after becoming President. The essay is one of the few prophetic pieces penned by a political commentator here, and as always, the weight of liberal optimism held against it. Five years later, with deteriorating relations between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe culminating in that famous 52-day government, I’d like to think Dr Dayan had the last laugh.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, celebrated for so long by many liberal commentators as their last great hope, lost his halo after April 2019. It would be unfair to take him to task over this; it is not he, but those who drew that halo over him, who need to have their perceptions of reality examined. I can’t think of a single interview where he confirmed this opinion of him, still less a despatch or press conference where he displayed his liberal convictions. Unlike Mangala Samaraweera, who as a Groundviews piece penned by “Some Colombo Liberals” puts it has “spoken up for/paid lip service to the liberal view”, Wickremesinghe’s predilections have been less concrete. This makes him hard to define, though defining him should be the least of our concerns.
Today he stands as “the last representative of the old elite”, as Asanga Welikala pointed out in a tweet: a distinction he shares with Chandrika Kumaratunga. Like Mahinda Rajapaksa, he’s one of a kind, in a class by himself, a cut above the rest – and the last of his pedigree.
One can regret or celebrate this. I choose to reflect on it. If politics is the art of the possible, as he once cautioned his cousin, Rajiva Wijesinha, it is a transient art, an art that goes beyond the lives of personalities and the ideas they champion. Wickremesinghe’s ideas, of course, remain inscrutable and hard to square, because, as Michael Kelly argued in a rather unflattering piece on Bill Clinton during the latter’s term as US President, the man who holds them seems to exist for the moment. To say his politics falls within the right or centre-right, to say he’s a neoliberal, to criticise the capitulations of the State he inadvertently engineered vis-à-vis his engagements with the LTTE, to call him Chamberlainesque (as Dr Dayan repeatedly, and probably justifiably, does), is perhaps to miss the point. He is all these things; he is also none of these things. He is a liberal who’s also illiberal, a conservative who’s also not conservative.
If I bring up the analogy of Baudelaire’s Devil, who managed to convince the world he didn’t exist, frequently, it’s because it applies to many of our political representatives. It certainly applies to Ranil: for a quarter-century, indeed well more than a quarter-century, he got liberals to believe he was one of them. That Groundviews article is so interesting not because it reads like a confession, an attempt at absolution by some of those liberals who realised how wrong they were about him, but because it is patently, deliciously, utterly insincere: it reads like an attempt at absolving him while ticking the liberals off for believing him to be what they idealised about him. Even that anonymous 2019 anti-Ranil tract abounds in hypocrisy: while criticising him for fostering an illiberal culture in the party, it praises him for fostering a liberal culture in the country. The Colombo Liberals of the Groundviews piece don’t give him that much leeway: after all, as they remind us, Wickremesinghe “set fire to a liberal constitution.”
He also led his party through its most disastrous period. As Dayan Jayatilleka has observed correctly, Sri Lanka’s democracy deficit had two faces: the Government’s and the Opposition’s. The UNP’s decision to abstain from the vote on the 18th Amendment rather than oppose it in 2010, in that sense, showed that its leadership preferred to maintain its status quo to changing the government’s status quo, if changing the latter threatened the continuation of the former. The ramifications of this were very clear: any reform of the government could come only with a proper reform of the Opposition. In other words, as Dr Dayan put it, one could hope to change the Rajapaksa raj only if one tried to change the Ranil raj.
Liberals and left-liberals failed to appreciate this pertinent point. That is how 2015 led to 2019: not because Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Joint Opposition derailed the government, but because those who batted for the UNP neglected to resolve its internal crisis before engaging in regime change. Those who viewed the latter in isolation from the former, who thought that the former was less important, didn’t realise the one had to follow from the other.
Perhaps their failure to comprehend this shows their myopia; that may well explain why those who criticise the SJB over its failures – failures that, to be sure, it has in plenty – did not seem to bother themselves much when Wickremesinghe’s faction tightened its grip in the party, going as far as to beat up those who challenged it. That may also explain why the likes of Victor Ivan can conjecture whether Maithripala Sirisena’s candidacy was a ploy by a faction in the UNP to oust Wickremesinghe, without asking why anyone would have wanted to oust a man who had held the party leadership for so long, and against so many, in the first place.
Perhaps it’s pointless pondering these niceties. Perhaps it’s pointless excoriating the man at the centre of them all. In any case, it doesn’t matter. In the popular imagination, Wickremesinghe remains our most intelligent politician today: “the best President Sri Lanka never had”, perhaps the most liberal of them, though liberals who celebrated him once disavow him now.
One of my favourite Westerns, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, has a reporter telling the hero that he will print the legend “when the legend becomes fact.” Myth tends to survive fact: that is how political personalities survive even their deaths. In Ranil’s case, the myth hasn’t just become the fact; it’s outlasted the fact. The most enigmatic politician we’ve had in recent times is set to return to parliament in June. What sort of man we will see, of course, is debatable. Yet even without his liberal halo, he remains a liberal myth: perhaps the biggest and most enduring political myth we’ve swallowed since J. R. Jayewardene’s Dharmishta Samajaya.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com
Options for the opposition: The JVP
That Mahinda Rajapaksa is one of the more pragmatic political strategists the country has had is a point even his critics acknowledge. This has nothing to do with his nationalism, but rather how he channels, hones in on, and exudes it. I can’t think of a single politician, including his brothers, who can tap into populist sentiments the way he can; that, of course, is less a tribute to his personal charisma than it is an indictment on his opponents.
Once upon a happier time, Mahinda’s populist appeal enabled him and his party to forge alliances (no matter how temporary) across the political divide, and spearhead not one, but three, of the most effective political campaigns from the recent past: the 2010 presidential, the 2018 local government, and the 2019 presidential elections. But one swallow does not a summer make, nor a summer last: in all the 72 years we have been through, we’ve seen just one Mahinda. To quote a friend of mine, there’ll never be another.
How the man came to “appropriate” nationalism is intriguing. If you remember what went for politics in this country before 2005, you’ll realise how parties and personalities celebrated by left-liberals now earned the nationalist and chauvinist labels because of their association with him then. It’s hard to believe the JVP went through such a phase, but it did; not a day went by without the intelligentsia accusing it of chauvinism: the same intelligentsia hailing it today as a viable, progressive opposition against the government.
One can hardly blame them for shifting gears on these outfits. Mahinda Rajapaksa became the first mainstream politician in a decade and a half to “nationalise” nationalism, outbidding his partners in that domain: the JVP first, the JHU second. Having allied with them initially, only to break with them later on, Rajapaksa monopolised the ideology which brought him to power, depriving these former allies of any popular mass appeal.
Politics acutely reflects the ironies of history. If commentators tend to view Anura Kumara Dissanayake, or even Patali Champika Ranawaka, as the ideal oppositional candidate against the present administration, the most liberal of liberals and the most leftist of leftists may have to forget that these two once stood on the same stage as Mahinda, speaking his language, his rhetoric. Simply put, there would have been no Mahinda, or even Gotabaya, as we know them now, without the JVP-JHU conjuncture.
For all intents and purposes, these bigwigs have changed. In 2010 Champika Ranawaka called the UNP a pack of imperialist wolves: live, on TV. When was the last time Ranawaka called his opponents imperialists, let alone imperialist wolves? The JVP still indulges in such rhetoric, but not as frequently as it used to: the temptations of a middle-class and left-liberal crowd, the milieu it targets, woos, and flirts with now, have seemingly made them forget the class struggle, the fight against neoliberalism; this is the same “revolutionary” party, after all, that critiques the Communist Party of China for its “centralised single party administration”, yet sent, in 2017, a congratulatory missive to that party’s 19th National Congress, in which it acknowledged “the progress of the people” and hailed “Comrade Xi Jinping” for taking steps to establish a “moderately prosperous society in an all-round way.”
The contradiction the JVP faces today therefore is between the working class ideology which brought it to power and the middle-class ideology which dominates it at present. This divide owes considerably to its entry into the democratic mainstream after the second insurrection: it had to face the convulsions of parliamentary politics. Once it abandoned Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brand of populist nationalism, it hence had to look for other allies.
The JHU faced a similar dilemma when it joined the yahapalana government in 2015. But it managed to resolve that by committing suicide: the moment Champika Ranawaka formed the “43 Senankaya”, canvassing support from a broad electorate (which still centres on a Sinhala speaking intelligentsia), he let go of the old ideology. The JVP has so far not opted for such a strategy, even after rebranding itself as the NPP: hence its relative decline.
The roots of its crisis go deep. Having abandoned the rural base on which it once stood, the JVP is now targeting a more urban petty bourgeoisie: student activists, government university lecturers, popular Sinhala artists, and a section of the NGO-cracy dependent on donor capital, yet also on a Sinhala audience. This activist petty bourgeoisie tilts between a left-liberal and a centre-right position: it will either stick to the JVP, or defect to the UNP, the latter which, for that crowd, appears more progressive than any Rajapaksa-led outfit. The JVP’s dilemma is that while a great many from this petty bourgeoisie will stick by it through thick and thin, a great many others will choose the second option and abandon it.
To put that in perspective, come election time, the JVP gets the likes, shares, and comments on social media that it wants, going as far as to attract massive crowds at Galle Face Green. Yet all those likes, shares, comments, and crowds dissipate at the polling booth: the middle-class voter, on whom the JVP vis-à-vis its new strategy stakes all its fortunes, gives into his or her petty bourgeois tendencies and votes for centre-right parties. In other words, the JVP courts a UNP-SJB crowd, almost wins their support, and fails to convert them.
My contention here is that insofar as these ruptures prevail between the UNP or SJB and the JVP or NPP, a UNP/SJB vote will not convert into a JVP/NPP vote. The latter will be cast by an idealistic youth electorate, but it’s futile to think that middle-class teenagers and activists, spouting the virtues of a third political force and berating mainstream parties, can decide on who, or what, will hold power. For the most, then – and we must be practical here – the only way out of its conundrum for the JVP is to join a broad anti-regime alliance, inclusive of the SJB (and the UNP), as it did in 2010 and did not in 2015 and 2019.
Of course, in opting for a strategy so patently at odds with its urban and rural working class roots, the JVP will attract accusations of betrayal. Such accusations are justified; the move, if made at all, will betray the opportunistic shifts it has been engaged in since its entry into the democratic mainstream, first with Chandrika Kumaratunga, then with Mahinda Rajapaka, and now with every and any force opposed to Rajapaksa.
Now the JVP’s dilemma is that while it can afford to accommodate these shifts in private, it cannot confess to them in public. To do so would be to grant legitimacy to its immediate rival, the Frontline Socialist Party, and at the same time dabble in a vague and amorphous petty bourgeois ideology which may, or may not, win them support at the cost of its working class and rural base. In other words, while partnering up with the centre-right may be a viable strategy for the JVP, it will not be a winning strategy. In the short term it will gain traction; in the long, it can only end up as a button on a neoliberal outfit.
Anura Kumara Dissanayake has succeeded today in turning the JVP into a confused muddle of a left-liberal outfit, unable to propound a coherent ideology, to say or do anything without borrowing the rhetoric of centre-right and neoliberal parties – disconnected from the working class, a shade Sinophobic – yet attempting, somehow, somehow, to stand apart.
To belabour the point is not to belittle the party: in Harini Amarasuriya, for instance, the JVP appointed the most eloquent National List MP it has seen in years, and Dissanayake, though still exorcising the same Rajapaksist demons he has been expelling since 2007 – a strategy which got them down from six seats in 2015 to three in 2020 – has shifted to more practical tactics, transforming the party into a more proactive outfit than what it was in 2018. No party can, or will, remain in stasis, a point Left outfits elsewhere have conceded as well. To argue the JVP should not shift to a different position thus is to deny it any agency.
Yet this does not contradict my main argument, which is that the JVP is playing to a gallery that won’t convert to its ideology, whatever its ideology may be, and that in doing so it has neglected its core base, shifting from the Arbeiterklasse to the Mittelklasse. “I like them,” a friend of mine virulently opposed to the current regime told me the other day. “But they’re building castles in the air.” The last time I checked, this friend, a typical scion of the middle-class, had shifted from Ranil Wickremesinghe to Sajith Premadasa to Champika Ranawaka. As far as his milieu is concerned, the JVP has become Baudelaire’s devil, having convinced the country, indeed the world, that it does not exist, and that it no longer matters.
The writer can be reached at
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