Mahinda’s clones are already maturing. Election poster, Hambantota
Mahinda has got a two thirds majority in Parliament and is using it to extend his term. This is not because he was necessarily so powerful, it was more because the opposition was so weak. Mahinda told Ranil that he was going for an Executive Prime Ministership, invited Ranil to Temple Trees, gave him a new car, visited Ranil’s mother in hospital. Then he turned around and stole two Tamil MPs (got them to cross). Ranil was like ‘harumph’ and went back to meet Mahinda again. Then Mahinda patted him on the back and stole eight Muslim MPs, enough for the two thirds. Now he’s tabled a revocation of term limits for President and a President who also goes to Parliament. One could say this is all Ranil’s fault, but it’s also the fault of people like Sajith for not having the courage to wrench the opposition leadership away.
Aside from apportioning blame, however, there is a broader point that Mahinda Rajapaksa clearly intends to hold and consolidate power for not the next six years but at least the next twelve. Which is a bit rough. I think Mahinda is actually doing a pretty good job right now, but he is incurring debts and feudalizing institutions in a way that, while functional in good times, rapidly becomes trouble in the bad. The sad thing is that even if his popularity drops, he has already shown an eagerness to use state resources (including the military) in the course of elections and dislodging him will be mara difficult.
One argument I’ve heard against term limits is that if people want to vote for him, then why not? Which makes some sense, though counteracted by Mahinda’s abuse of power during elections. The best argument I’ve heard for term limits is CBK. Someone once told me that if not for term limits, Chandrika Bandaranaike would have run again. Or JR. Yet those guys did have to leave. And that was good.
On a broader theoretically level, humans need to die, businesses need to crash, the old need to make way for the new. Max Planck once said “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” I think the same is true of political truth.
For instance, to have a real and honest accounting of the war, we need a government not directly involved in it. To have any sort of honest panel, it would need to be in the future by a government not investigating itself. If Mahinda serves indefinitely and then passes on power through his family, that accounting will never come. Now, our current constitution (like most) has a stopgap against this calcification, which Mahinda is trying to remove.
This, however, is only one part of Mahinda’s proposed constitutional change. The broader point is not the specific points but the broader intent. What is Mahinda’s intent in redrafting the constitution? Is it to solve the ethnic problem? Is it to reduce the cruft that JR introduced? Or is it simply to entrench his own power. I fear it is the latter, and that is a wrong reason to redraft a national constitution.
The current constitution, as much as I cite it, is crap. I cite because it’s important to ground oneself in some sort of legal framework, but that constitution is largely written with a man in mind, not a nation. That man is JR, and his Constitution, while serving him well, has been a national FAIL. It is not what it does, but what it couldn’t do, and the fact that it has been ignored and over-ridden most of its existence. While the man was there the thing functioned, but when he was gone it faded like the emperor’s new clothes.
This needs to be fixed, but the solution isn’t to give the new emperor new clothes. That, I fear, is what Mahinda’s constitutional intent is, and that can cause generational problems. The point of a constitution is not to give the emperor new clothes but to give the people armor. It is, in fact, curious that Mahinda is redrafting the Constitution during a period of Emergency Law where peoples constitutional rights are effectively curtailed, or given at the governments whim.
This new Constitution looks more like the product of mens greed than anything else. Ranil’s greed for power gave Mahinda the MPs he needed and Mahinda’s greed for power has given the Constitution its vital form not as a document constituting a nation but as a document empowering one man. Ranil and Mahinda are, in their own abusive way, the mother and father of this new republic and I fear that it will bear a family resemblance to them both.