By Austin Fernando –
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived, and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic” ~ John F Kennedy
In a lighter vein, I amuse that President Kennedy’s above quot
e would have been partly motivated by a premonition he had of what would happen in Sri Lanka in 2022! What else could one surmise when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa vows “to finish the remaining two years in his term despite months-long street protests calling for his ouster.” True, no President with all attached pomp and glory would depart the comfort zone only due to street protests.
Yet, President Rajapaksa declaring he would not recontest is realistic. It is not only due to street protests but the heard and unheard protests, curses, and complaints in all nooks and corners of Sri Lanka. No one will bargain with such echoing around and contest, to win. If someone says he would contest, it will turn out to be a myth, as President Kennedy said – a lie, deliberate, contrived, and dishonest too. Sure, no one even from the Pohottuwa expects him to contest, because they may face similar consequences as what United National Party contestants experienced in August 2019!
Whether he and the Pohottuwa Government has the mandate and popularity he and his supporters claim could be easily verified on the day he contests or if he wishes to get an early endorsement at the long-delayed Provincial Council Elections. The President’s prior intimation of not seeking reelection shows his conviction of the real popularity, though he does not want to depart immediately.
If he does not stand for reelection because he wishes to focus on “fixing a financial mess” it is well and good, but it will be understood as penance, paid by him since he led the team that caused the country’s economic mess. The new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who has taken over this responsibility needs no analysts to educate him.
It is common knowledge that the economic collapse was initiated with the reduction of tax revenue in December 2019, by revisions made to tax slots and Value Added Taxation, alleged duty waivers to friendly importers, and the collapse of farming due to the President’s dream of accelerated organic agriculture combined with prohibiting fertilizer imports, power, and energy supplies restrictions due to dollar shortage, delayed action with the International Monetary Fund and debt restructuring, supported by his grabbing concentrated political power by constitutional amendment manipulations, etc. Entanglement of the economic and political crisis is borne with the last. As the team leader, he is hounded by these errors.
He has gentlemanly accepted responsibility, of course very lightly, regarding two of these, calling them ‘mistakes,’ unknowing they are vast suicidal mistakes. The public wonders whether they should continue with him as the leader and accrue more suffering off his cavalier decision-making (as done already in governing) for the next two years or more. His supporters may in defense say, “Give him another chance!”
“I can’t go as a failed president,” President Rajapaksa has declared lamenting the committed mistakes. His failures have been admitted by him and even Minister Ali Sabry. President must be courageous to admit the rest too, as the leader of the team. He is a soldier, though retired! That is the way of officers and gentlemen.
When he speaks of failures, I can imagine the humorous giggle Ministers Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara share between them on that count, without embarrassing their political boss. Normally one expects ‘a failure’ to leave making way for another to correct the mistakes he has made. This was what Parliamentarians Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara yelled as if to bring down the Japanese chandeliers in the House.
But here is a President without a ray of hope or any semblance of showing any concrete corrective action to prove that any corrections are lined up. His only demand is to allow him to hold on to his glory, and show his ‘superiority,’ and ‘greatness,’ though extremely diluted even by prohibition to enter his Secretariat for two months.
One may sympathize with him when he reminds us about a mandate (6.9 million), which in our wildest dreams does not factually exist. No one will say that such a mandate is valid now. This is the understanding of farmers, laborers, public or private sector employees, youth who yell “Gota Go Home,” professionals, academics et al. But he does not hear it and lives on memories of the conflict and unprovable 6.9 million behind him.
The reports on his press briefing I saw (i.e., Business Standard) did not show his concerns on the most urgent issues faced by the community at large. To judge, let us look at one area. It is about essential medicine for children and vulnerable groups. For example, medicine for fits that should be in all pediatric wards or the vaccination against fatal rabies is not available in hospitals. It means children affected by fits must die, and unless the patients can afford to go to Chennai for anti-rabies vaccination must die.
PM Ranil Wickremesinghe with all his might tries to solve the crisis, and the President props up the PM with a business tycoon Dhammika Perera, in the background scenario of mastermind Basil Rajapaksa leaving the government and parliament. It will be interesting to evaluate whether Dhammika Perera could surmount well and truly tattooed failures of the Rajapaksa siblings.
These failures are not only domestic wishful thinking but internationally identified. Let me quote what Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee had to say on 10th June 2022, who stated “Under the Rajapaksas, Sri Lanka has been left on the brink of financial ruin and humanitarian catastrophe. Mahinda Rajapaksa led his country straight into a Chinese debt trap and then his brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, failed to take the prudent economic steps necessary to avoid a default on its sovereign debt. Today, Sri Lankans of all backgrounds are rising to make clear that it is time for a change.” This is the change Rajapaksa siblings attempt to halt, nullify! Do not tell that by this quote someone is propping the US, because this was a response to highlighting India’s and Japan’s positive steps in providing humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka at the QUAD.
Under such circumstances, if he runs through his full term with added failures he will contribute to heightened economic run-down, political uncertainty, social unrest, and dilute and hide constitutional reform. In such an event he would rather have 20A intact as it will be an effective, safe, and beneficial constitutional therapy for him. However, it will certainly blur and delay great intentions and plans made by Namal Rajapaksa to reach the apex, duplicating Bongbong Marcos of the Philippines.
The President said: “What is this executive (powers) of the president? My opinion is that if you have a presidency, he must have full powers. Otherwise, abolish the executive presidency and go for full Westminster-style parliament.” Therefore, his being “skeptical about the success of a planned constitutional amendment” is no surprise. The last two and half years of executive presidency equated to no executive presidency for the good of the people, and his alternate option, (i.e., Westminster style) is not pursued by him either.
His statement that “Either the presidency should be abolished, or the parliament is kept out of governing.” shows his knowledge, understanding, exposure, and attitude toward existing constitutional democratic governance. He added, “I experienced this and now. know.” What a jubilant period of two years’ experience to comparatively comment on centuries-old concepts like democracy! He suspected people might blame him for this utterance. He is right. If people blame only, not do any other, he ought to be extremely happy, lucky.
The usual past performance as Secretary of Defence is the hashtag he and his supporters wave always. Their conception that being a successful defense administrator or an urban developer qualifies a person more to be a Head of a State is disproved in the last two years plus. Peter’s Principle at work. Hence, even mentioning it to boost up performance becomes exhilarating humor.
Media said, “The president reiterated his controversial goal to push through “natural agriculture,” a short-lived move to ban chemical fertilizers that caused crop output to slump.” If it is to say that irrespective of the failures it is to be continued regardless, that itself will be a blunder. Hope not so, especially with Indians rescuing our farmers with a credit line of USD 55 million for the procurement of urea fertilizer for the upcoming Yala season from India. The grandeur importance of this saving grace was observed with the PM Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Amaraweera, Finance Secretary Mahinda Seneviratne, Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay, and Chief of PM’s Staff Sagala Ratnayaka, Advisor Dr. RHS Samaratunga and several others being present at the signing of the agreement.
We wish the President all success in bilateral negotiations with foreign heads as stated, with amiable diplomat Aruni Wijewardena in the Foreign Secretariat saddle. Certainly, he would have read the statements by the International Monetary Fund Chief and officials, the World Bank, Samantha Power of the USAID, Prime Minister Narendra Modi et al and educated him on what is required to attract them, especially ‘the political stability.
Further, stability is necessary for the economic and political fronts, and not as Pohottuwa General Secretary or some of his parliamentarians believe. Political stability will depend on constitutional reforms to which he and his party should contribute lavishly, but as appeared not forthcoming due to the citizenship issue affecting Basil Rajapaksa. However, with Basil Rajapaksa out of the equation now intense pressure on him will be reduced.
Therefore, he must observe external developments seriously and find a safe and convenient exit route with the help of PM Wickremesinghe. Planning to return home after two years plus, dashes the hopes of Gota Go Gama protestors who eternally yell, “Gota Go Home now!”
Finally, evaluation of his career as President opens a new learning experience. His contention about the baggage carried by longstanding politicos is right. Having been a short-term politician he also has allegedly seen carrying the baggage of his friends in the Military, business world, political advisors, freed convicts, and groups such as Viyath Maga and Eliya. Their weak support did not make him stronger but messed up his work. Several of his picks from such entities and ‘baggage’ have deserted him, the latest being the Chairman of Litro who served only a few weeks, Vijitha Herath. Quite unfortunate. He can learn a page from the PM Wickremesinghe, how to pick excellent material from the ‘baggage’ and faithful with the return of Saman Ekanayaka, Dr. RHS Samaratunga, R Paskeralingam, et al to PM’s team, creating hope.
The President has said: “What are these executive (powers) of the president? My opinion is that if you have a presidency, he must have full powers. Otherwise, abolish the executive presidency and go for full Westminster-style parliament.” The turnaround he anticipates is the social demand too. Many agree with him, but demand his returning home immediately, irrespective of legal constraints. Simply told, people cannot wait until he “passes” the next ‘term-test’ on governance.
Though the President may not agree that his governance has failed him and the country, the protestors demand, “Get out of your comfort zone and bring comfort to others.” Those who yell so must be devastated having seen this media report. The yelling may echo, and broadcast more intense, acute, and dangerous actions. Pray it stays at yelling, and not what the world has experienced elsewhere with bloody ferocity and viciousness. Nevertheless, the existing economic status may provoke such yelling to expand to dangerous calamities, if politicians do not address the economic and political issues properly, timely, efficiently, and effectively. Let all politicians be mindful of such a disaster, and not fertilize such.