23 September, 2019

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Conflicts Persist And The Economy Languishes: Why 2014 Will Be A Gloomy Year

By Kumar David

Prof Kumar David

Prof Kumar David

If your want me to fib you could ask me to affirm that, at last, in 2014 the world and Lanka will turn the corner and happier days will return. If I did, come December, you will sue me for misleading you into an unfortunate financial or matrimonial embarkation. No sir, you had better look after your pocketbook and your urges; I want no part of it.

One ominous expectation and dismal prophecy is that Mahinda Rajapakse, if he calls presidential or parliamentary elections in 2014, is likely to win. The only contrary possibility is if a strong common opposition nominee surfaces on the “single-issue” ticket. There were two people who could have pulled this off, Reverend Sobitha and Chandrika. The former has declined; the latter has studiously avoided the spotlight and lost lustre and credibility . . . but . . .? If we get stuck with Rajapakse for a third term, it is bad news. The multitude of abuses for which this government, more than any other, is notorious, will not diminish. Add-in anxiety that the regime is complicit in anti-Muslim hate-crimes by association with its extremist flange, and the decoction turns lethal. Specific concerns aside, regular changes of government are indispensable for accountability. Indeed this is why term limits are built into all civilised polities – China’s Communist Party included.

There is risk that this country will go the Mugabe-Gaddafi-Suharto way. It took an uprising to oust the latter two, but 90-year old rogue Mugabe is likely to die in office before he is driven out. In these and similar cases, there were uprisings and repression was the tool by which dictators hung on to power. In Lanka, there is widespread flouting of election law and rigging, but it is also true that the regime has a strong base. The perpetual reward for war victory is permanency of tenure and carte-blanch to indulge in misconduct.

The opposition in Thailand is barmy! It wants premier and parliament removed and the country run by a self-appointed council, sans elections, for many years. The reason is candidly admitted: “We can’t win!” Lanka needs to see the back of Rajapakse, but it must be achieved by legitimate and constitutional means. (If the regime itself subverts democracy beyond redemption, then that’s a different ball-game and justifies a robust response). Till then, there’s hard work to do.

Leadership: A different perspective

In retrospect, the contribution of the Rajapake siblings and Sarath Fonseka to victory is exaggerated. I was among those who up to mid-2007 thought military defeat of the LTTE was improbable and that stalemate would drag on; I changed my prognosis only when the government abrogated the ceasefire agreement in January 2008. It should have been clear earlier that an army of 5000 to 10,000, with limited weaponry, was no match for a well organised force, by then swollen to 150, 000, with state of the art weaponry and uncontested control of air and sea. What this government also had was greater determination than previous ones. Then the LTTE dug its grave deeper by forfeiting the support of the international community (IC) and Delhi. Once it lost Delhi and the IC, and after it made the huge blunder of morphing from guerrilla fighters into a regular army, defeat was assured; the LTTE committed hara-kiri.

The point is not a one paragraph summary of the fortunes of war; some good studies are now available. My point is that the cards were stacked on the Rajapakse-Fonseka side and this collective was no Napoleonic military genius; its logistical and military role is overstated. These three were themselves beset by trepidation. Reckless artillery fire into civilian zones was due to exaggerated fear of dozens of Tiger cadres shielding there. This apprehension, not a grizzly thirst for Tamil blood – except Prabaharan’s – is the likely reason for shelling and bombing civilian “no-fire” zones. If civilian life had been valued, victory, though certain, would have been slower but by late 2008 it was foregone and needed no military mastermind to deliver.

Therefore, to comprehend the lure of the Rajapakses in its totality, a second aspect must be factored in. The war that was won was a race war, and the essence of race wars is that they flow from intolerance. Victory in such wars is sweet and brings with it a heady mood of vengeance and pungent well being. Since palpably, mankind’s consciousness is still in primitive adolescence, there are moral grounds, not just scientific ones, for choosing to be a Marxist.

This theory, though spot-on, is not going to influence the Sinhala electorate or the 2014 outcome, except in the “single-issue” scenario. For readers who may not have met the term, “single-issue” option, it is when a candidate seeks to abolish the executive presidency, enact a parliamentary constitution, then step down and call fresh elections. The smart option for Rajapakse is presidential elections first, and then a parliamentary poll; the winner’s party will romp through the latter. To do this in 2014 or early 2015 he will have to short-circuit his current term by about a year – he is also carrying some leftover baggage from his truncated first term. The Constitution was a mess on term-specifications even prior to the loathsome Eighteenth Amendment enacted by the SLFP, SLMC, Dead Left, UNP traitors, and other bits of slime and gunk.

The prospect of putting up with the Rajapakses and this lot for a total of 18 years is daunting, but there are other distressing matters also. The first can be collected under the rubric ‘bad governance’ (abuse of political power, subjugation of the judiciary, breakdown of law and order, kickbacks, intimidation of opponents, and consorting with drug pedlars). There is no reason to expect, and no evidence to show, that a further term for president or governing alliance will change this. Second, conflict with the Northern Provincial Council will exacerbate as Colombo flouts law and Constitution to obstruct the NPC and grind it down. The third is that relations with the IC will deteriorate further.

Neither Rajapakse nor Prabaharan are great leaders; this can be asserted confidently in Mandela month. A great leader, among other qualities, has the moral authority to say “No” to his base when needed. Mandela did it on three memorable occasions; when he threw the ANC into panic but went ahead and commenced talks with de Klerk in the late 1980s, when he restrained black rage and checked a nation on the edge of civil war after the assassination of Chris Hani in 1993, and third, his presidential preference for reconciliation over justifiable vengeance. Gandhi too defied his disciples when he needed to; he had the moral authority. Lenin defied the party majority in April 1917 in the so-called April Thesis, and powerful party factions in accepting the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty in 1918, and in 1921 when he launched the New Economic Policy.

It is not news that Rajapakse funks his Sinhala-Buddhist extremist following and will not dare confront that which he has no moral authority to manage or control. However, what is not so well known is that Prabaharan too was apprehensive of his cadres. He would say to visitors that if he dared settle for less than Eelam, his Praetorian Guard and military commanders would finish him off. He was enslaved by the spilt blood of martyrs. The vision of great leaders can never be enslaved.

The economy

The economic picture is not as gloomy as the political landscape, but there is nothing much to cheer about. According to the ADB and visiting economics experts the Lankan economy is in a state of suspended animation, it is not collapsing but not doing well either. The future looks like more of the past. GDP at nominal exchange rates is $65 billion ($175 billion at PPP) and per capita it is $3200 at nominal rates. This is not bad and has us knocking on the middle-income club door. Growth in 2014 will be about 6.5%, and with population growth down to 1%, upward income mobility is likely.

Unfortunately, this picture is misleading because of structural flaws. I will mention a few statistics that are often quoted. Sovereign debt is stuck in the region of 80% and refuses to drop. The 2014 current account will probably look like this: Imports $24 billion, Exports $12 billion. And don’t believe last month’s budget, the shape of public finances at the end of 2014 will look rather like this: Revenue $9 billion, Expenditure $14 billion – that is a sizable budget deficit. The biggest foreign currency earner, remittances from women sent into domestic servitude in the Middle East is $6 billion or over 50% of the trade account (import-export) shortfall. Shame Sri Lanka!

A fundamental structural defect stands atop these numbers. It is that, speaking in strategic terms, there is no coherent economic policy direction. Neither does the government go the whole hog with the capitalist free market and throw the economy wide open to foreign and local investors, dismantle customs controls, and remove poverty alleviation programmes and worker-wage protection from the statute book, nor does it go the other way. The other way, in the post-Stalinist world where rigid central planning is discredited, is a managed and directed (dirigisme) development policy. South Korea in its boom years and China since Deng are examples of the dirigisme approach. Rajapakse-economics follows neither approach systematically; it lives hand to mouth, fed by infrastructure loans and grants, largely from China.

It is this lacuna in economic strategy that is titillating the government into flirting with the prospect of turning Colombo into a casino infested brothel, and into over reliance on tourism. Tourism should be encouraged, but to rely on it as a cornerstone of economic growth is foolish, given its volatility. For a while, a succubus promising the fiancialisation of Lanka into the Wonder of Asia visited our leaders each night, but this liquidity too has now evaporated.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    3

    In Lanka, there is widespread flouting of election law and rigging,

    utter nonsense .

    Best chance for the country to succeed is with Rajapakshe . I would have preferred gotabaya . but mahinda is good enough.

    • 1
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      Abhaya says: “I would have preferred gotabaya . but mahinda is good enough”.

      David said: “The war that was won was a race war, and the essence of race wars is that they flow from intolerance. Victory in such wars is sweet and brings with it a heady mood of vengeance and pungent well being”.

      Ha, haa: Did Abhaya telepathetically leak a copy of his response to David before the latter wrote his piece?

      • 0
        1

        no pumpkin

        For tamils who admire LKY from Singapore there is no similar person in Sri Lankan politics like Gotabahaya . The man sets out his goals and achieves them , and brooks no nonsense .

        look at what he did with the war and what he is doing in Colombo . Colombo was a disgusting sooty slum dwellers paradise full of beggars when he started with and it has been converted to one of the most beautiful cities in Asia . what is not to like about such single minded dedication . The man is no politician like his brothers so there is no chance he will ever be elected to office but we have waited a long time to see some one like him is the public sphere .

  • 0
    0

    In retrospect, the contribution of the Rajapake siblings and Sarath Fonseka to victory is exaggerated. I was among those who up to mid-2007 thought military defeat of the LTTE was improbable and that stalemate would drag on; I changed my prognosis only when the government abrogated the ceasefire agreement in January 2008. It should have been clear earlier that an army of 5000 to 10,000, with limited weaponry, was no match for a well organised force, by then swollen to 150, 000, with state of the art weaponry and uncontested control of air and sea. What this government also had was greater determination than previous ones. Then the LTTE dug its grave deeper by forfeiting the support of the international community (IC) and Delhi. Once it lost Delhi and the IC, and after it made the huge blunder of morphing from guerrilla fighters into a regular army, defeat was assured; the LTTE committed hara-kiri.

    David is high on some drug . he himself believed the the stalemate will drag on . but on hindsight which is always 20/20 he realizes there is no credit due to the architects of the victory . must be some mathematical theorem he invented ?

  • 1
    1

    I was among those who up to mid-2007 thought military defeat of the LTTE was improbable and that stalemate would drag on; I changed my prognosis only when the government abrogated the ceasefire agreement in January 2008.
    That is why,the ‘educated’ people among the Tamils like Prof.KD,Prof.Eliezer et al glorified Prapakaran, propagated terrorism and even built bunker in Neerveli.Has any one of these ‘educated’ people condemned the killings committed by the Tigers?No.Instead these people justified the killngs for their own survival.Now they have become the champions of HR.What people like KD thought was,Tigers were invincible.TNA also thought the same way and worked hand in glove for their own benefit. When Chandrika brought her package in August2000,did Sammanthan support it?Was Sammanthan able to get anything better that Chandrika’s package.Prof.KD,don’t you think that this is betrayal to the tamils.Have you ever criticized Sammanthan’s betrayal?How can someone believe that Sammanthan and his company are working in the interest of the Tamils? Prof.,you believe Sampanthans and Wigneswarans only its because they are educated.In their political history,have they achieved anything for the tamils?Sammanthan got nice bullet proof car from Chandrika.Tamil MP’s got tax free vehicles from MR for themselves.

    conflict with the Northern Provincial Council will exacerbate as Colombo flouts law and Constitution to obstruct the NPC and grind it down

    Yes,that’s true.Conflict with the NPC will exacerbate as long as W keeps on adding the demands to appease the extremists in the TNA.First W said that they didnt accept the governor and wanted him removed.Then,to remove chief secretay,DIG,army…etc.etc.Having said that,I am not saying that MR is willing to give anything to the tamils.Tamils cant expect anything from MR.They will even lose what they are enjoying now.

    • 1
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      KUAMR DAVID is [Edited out] who got educated from Sri Lankan money, lived a life among Sinhala people and now preach against Sri Lanka.

      TRUE TRAITORS.

      If Sri Lanka is a strong these people should be deported to Sri Lanka and be prosecuted and put inside a cage.

  • 1
    1

    Great article Prof.Kumar.But we cannot help the impending downfall of our country as long as there Sinhala-Buddhist faction in our country want to restore economy and democracy.

  • 2
    2

    Absolutely brilliant professor. We are proud of you.

    • 0
      1

      TRibalists saying HAIL HITLER to another TRIBALIST.

  • 2
    1

    Whatever professori and hecklers say here, Sri Lanka has a stable government headed by a popularly elected President after 30 long years of war and instability. Leave out economic charts, figures and whatnot, the public at large knows this and feels their life has improved tremendously since the end of the war.

    Sinhala Buddhists are not modaya as racist Tamils often like to say here. They have seen enough examples and more not just in Sri Lanka but in many a countries the world over. It is one thing to rid of an effective government but it’s another thing altogether to have a steady and stable government in its place.

    Except for separatists, pseudo liberals, Rajapakse haters and rascals others would not buy this dictator card fixed on MR. People are sick and tired of silly ploys by the UNP. UNP does not know what card to play when. Majority of southern voters do not trust the UNP and its leadership for it mocked and opposed the war against the separatists. JVP is all but a spent force. In short the entire opposition is in disarray except for the TNA. Unless Rajapakses play absolutely stupid or mad there is no way the opposition can win any election.

    Tamils from the North on the other hand have a different mind-set to Sinhala Buddhists of the South. It is obvious that Tamils have elected the TNA to office on an unprecedented unity believing their jingoistic agenda and a march to Eelam. Rajapakes are masters at the game TNA plays. They’ll win southern electorates with an equally large majority as a response to stop separatism.

    Ven Sobitha or ChandrikaK will not get as many votes as Fonseka. The moment TNA, the diaspora, NGOs and the INGOs back them, people would know the game plan is by the neocons. So, it’s absurd to think Ven Sobitha or ChandrikaK or any other can cool the mind-set of the southern voter to bring about a ‘regime’ change. I am sure both Ven Sobitha and ChandrikaK are mature enough to know it. Maybe that’s why they’re reluctant to face a contest.

  • 1
    1

    Kumar David, wake up!

    Not everyone is unaware of your closet-tiger antecedents and hidden agendas.

    Just like your previous critiques, the thread of the closet Tiger continues to be subtly woven through this pseudo-analysis as well.

    Sinhala chauvinism has been endemic in the body politic of Sri Lanka since independence(Tamil nationalists notwithstanding), and it isn’t going away any time soon. There is nothing new that you are spewing.

    Minorities should learn to live with that indelible fact, and hold the Sinhala hand in friendship and reconciliation without nipping at it like a naughty puppy at every turn.

    Kumar David, you are not helping the cause of the minorities with your silly commentaries.

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