26 May, 2022

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Gotabaya & His Contenders – What Was Said & Not Said In The President’s Policy Speech

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

What struck me most about the President’s policy speech to parliament last week was its subdued tone. It was more than mildly defensive, but fully free of boast and bluster. The last two years have certainly clouded the aspirational vistas of ‘Saubhagya Dakma’, even though there were two references to it in the speech – one in connection with the Eastern (port) Terminal (now with the Indians), and the other on renewable energy (ostensibly with the Chinese in Jaffna’s isles). Despite its subduedness, the President’s speech did not give any indication that his administration is in control of any of the crises he is literally presiding over. From that standpoint, and to the point of today’s title, the speech left many key things unsaid compared to the many that were said.

My purpose is also to look at the implications the President’s speech might have for the near-term political paths of his two emerging contenders, Sajith Premadasa and Anura Kumara Dissanayake. As I concluded last week, the two contenders have a long way to go in pursuing their claims to power even as the President and his government are running out of road to stay in power. Will the policy speech help to extend that shortening road for the government? More bluntly, is the speech a turning point for the government to pull itself out of the hole that it keeps digging? Looked at it another way, what markers are in the speech that the two challengers might use to differentiate themselves not only from the government but also from one another, and to assert their own alternative approaches?

Only speech, no shuffle

When the President prorogued parliament in December, there were two expectations. First, there was going to be a major cabinet reshuffle in which the President will get rid of the old deadwood and bring the best and the brightest of the Viyathmaga stars (whoever that might be) to the front benches of the government. Second, the President will use the resumption of parliament to deliver a new road map and demonstrate to the country that he and his new cabinet will deliver in the next three years what he and his old cabinet could not do in the last two years.

Proroguing has come and gone, parliament has been shut and re-opened, but there is no new cabinet. Only the firing of a backbench State Minister who was a front bench cabinet minister under Mahinda Rajapaksa. That was all the President could accomplish in spite of all the powers he arrogated to himself under the 20th Amendment. Especially, the power to fire a Prime Minister and to unmake and make cabinets at will – the power that had been checkmated by the 19th Amendment. The President now has the power he coveted but he cannot carry out his threat to shuffle the cabinet. Because shuffling the cabinet would mean breaking up the government. A break-up will not be enough to bring down the government, but more than enough to chip away the President’s two-thirds majority in parliament. So, the President is stuck with his old cabinet. That may have been a reason for the subdued tone of the speech to parliament. Indeed, in his speech the President beseeched parliamentarians of all hues for their support “to overcome the challenges that the country faces today.”

As for the speech itself, it is not his fault but whoever who wrote the speech harnessed the President to ramble on from start to finish – touching on a range of topics with no thematic order. Rather, in this order: the role of parliament and parliamentarians; the two lost years due to Covid-19; vaccination success – a modest boast; national security – now resolved and apparently forgotten; national reconciliation – of sorts; law & order and judiciary – a sermon of support from a dubious guardian; the (new) constitution – just three sentences; development and infrastructure – ad nauseum; the economy – a rather casual assurance that normalcy is returning; a litany of projects – almost all on irrigation and drinking water; foreign exchange crisis – the biggest problem for everyone, but mentioned as a postscript; education – an honorary lecture on university education; technology – full of digital vistas. Finally, the President’s blessings to his subjects: “Theruwan Saranai!”

There is no need for us to ramble on the speech in the same order, but there are a few pickings for a passing look. On national security, the President bemoaned that “many have forgotten that the key issue facing the people of this country when I became the President in 2019 was national security.” Actually, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has not forgotten anything. Only, the Cardinal remembers differently and constantly reminds the country that it is the President who has forgotten the “key issue” on which he campaigned and won the election. True to form, the President recalled how his government has dealt with ‘underworld terrorism,’ ‘drug terrorism,’ and how as Defence Secretary he finished off the old LTTE terrorism. But there was no mention whatsoever of Easter terrorism or the alleged masterminds behind the Easter Sunday bombings.

This Administration hardly has any credibility to lecture on human rights, law and order and the judiciary. But these topics somehow found their way into the President’s speech. What was resoundingly left out was any reference to the ‘One Country, One Law’ Task Force. Understandably, the two could not be reconciled in the same speech. But which one of them – one country – one law, or universal justice for all – is the President really committed to? On reconciliation itself, the speech actually fell far short of media speculations that the President was going to include something substantial at the behest of India – a political payback for the forex swap.

Nothing New

There was nothing new or substantial about reconciliation in the speech. The very next day, the TNA leader R. Sampanthan and his colleagues were at the Indian High Commission to hand over their letter addressed to Prime Minister Modi, and pleading for a different swap. Remarkably, and as the Daily Mirror reported, President Rajapaksa is yet to hold talks with the Tamil leadership or elected MPs since his election to office in November 2019. Apparently, in June 2021, a meeting between the President and a TNA delegation was scheduled, but the meeting was cancelled by the President’s office and a new meeting has not been scheduled since.

The speech had three sentences on the new constitution: “Governments since 1994 have, on various occasions, attempted to introduce a new Constitution but to no avail. Therefore, I appointed an Experts Committee, with the approval of the Cabinet, to study this subject in depth, broadly consult public opinion and prepare a preliminary draft for a people-friendly constitution. I hope to submit the recommendations of this Committee to the Cabinet and the Parliament for broad discussion.” We can hardly wait, and it is not clear what the Experts Committee might have produced. Just recommendations, or a whole new draft.

On the economy, foreign exchange crisis and fear of food shortages, the speech offered platitudes, blames and excuses. There were no serious clues about how the government is planning to turn things around, except the claim: “Today we are self-sufficient in turmeric”! There was no mention of the IMF at all, or whether the government is going to stick to bilateral swapping until Sri Lanka’s exports suddenly start booming. On organic fertilizer, the President is stubbornly sticking to his belief that the failure of the lamebrained switch is because of “a misunderstanding in this regard as our objective and plan were not properly communicated, and some practical issues in introducing the programme were politicized.”

There was deafening silence about the gas cylinder fiasco at home, and the controversial contract with New Fortress Energy, the American company. The President reiterated his goal to achieve Sri Lanka’s carbon neural target by 2050, but there was no mention of any measures for climate adaptation – for dealing with the now familiar recurrent cycles of floods and droughts.

The speech was also silent about the government’s foreign policy or, more accurately, about the government’s approach to Sri Lanka’s relations with other countries. Sri Lanka has no conflict with any country, but the countries Sri Lanka has to deal with most are in conflict among themselves. More than ever, there is no room for native cunning to play one country against another. What is needed is a balanced approach based on principled self-interest, and there was no indication of it in the policy speech.

Overall, the policy speech of the President is more a puzzle than a road map. The underlying purpose of the government has come to be more about self-preservation than about any national interest. Self-preservation is necessary in politics as in life, but it cannot be the be all and end all of government. As the President enters his third year in office, Sri Lanka is caught in an economic crisis and faces a likely food crisis unlike any time in its modern past, and unlike any other country in Asia. If the policy speech last week is all that the government is capable of mustering as a response to the current crises, then there is little hope for the country from this government and little hope for the self-preservation of the government from the wrath of the people.

The current situation raises the stakes for the President’s contenders, Sajith Premadasa (who wants the government to leave) and Anura Kumara Dissanayake (who is ready to lead). For their benefit, the President’s policy speech leaves plenty of markers to stake their own ground. Markers on the economy, food crisis, the constitution, foreign relations, energy contracts, climate adaptability and so on. Specifically on the constitution, what The Island’s editorial said last Wednesday (January 19), after the President’s speech, is a prudent thought to hold as we wait for the report of the Experts Committee: “Perhaps, if the 20th Amendment is abolished and the 19th Amendment reintroduced with some changes, we may be able to make do with the existing Constitution.”

(Next Week: The new JVP Manifestos)

Related posts:

Anura Is Ready To Lead, Sajith Asks The Government To Leave, Gota Mulls Referendum & Sirisena Calls It Silly

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Latest comments

  • 4
    8

    Eastern (port) Terminal (now with the Indians)
    I guess you mean East Container Terminal?
    Modi will be pleased to know.

    • 10
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      SJ

      “I guess you mean East Container Terminal?”

      You must be happy to hear East Container Terminal is now with China.

    • 4
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      Part1
      Mr Philips, thanks as always for your analysis.
      .
      Just imagine, what policies you ve been refering in his barking speech ? To me, It is another speech of same meaningless nature, in order to fool the very same audience.
      He begs further people to continue keeping the faith on him.

      I would like you to pay your close attention to the public speeches of that ” schizophant- Dhammika Bandara the producer of ” most known panacea” with that of the speeches being made by our so called president. That will give you a sound comparison of the same-status personal charactors.

      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/using-vaccines-against-covid-is-far-cheaper-safer-than-using-local-brews/
      To the same degree or very likely – going beyond the levels of Dhammika syrup manufacturer (a simple simion being controlled by Kali amma mental stories) incumbent President is unforunatley tied with overflowing mythical beliefs as no more space left to see anything rationally. The man he kneels down before any kind of fake monks today is reminded me my domestic pets, the manner they behave before us when we we return home, ……. It is sad, a man though got elected by a huge mandate, but to fall this much deep.
      Being fallen into this backdrop, How can the nation continue make dreaming for a better life ?

      tbc

      • 3
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        Part 2
        Needless to remind you, National safety was on the top of their cheating election pledges, Sure, they did not define and focus it tob e part of ” the safety in the kitchen” however, it is common knowledge that human safety should be considered as overal. Today not just so called sinhala buddhists, but entire country is thrown to a mess not having proper police to act against growing high crimes (police commission is powerless under cirminals being set as the leaders).
        :
        Very unfortunately, president the elected by stupid majority, had no audacity to take away the anxities of the people across the country that have been now caught not only by COVID but also ” kitchen gas cylinder blasts”.
        Even former premier Ranil had never forgotten to remind such crucial issues whenever he held speeches publicly.
        In Germany, FORMER chancellor Angela Merkel never ignored to mention the deaths of her people if it came into being through COVID or any accidents, whenever she held such public speeches. In her govts, She addressed the nation focusing on any households, that transported the message, to the nation, that incumbent govt is well concerned of its people and their pulses. That polarised her ” mother nature” again and again.

    • 3
      0

      Nandasena s levitation tactics lasted only 2 years.

      If people could monotive cocktails to them today, they would do. But people are scared of the criminals today than any times in the past.
      .
      Police of GOTABAYA is proved to be much worse today than in the era of ” 2010-2015). .
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsTC5vZK_pw
      Mahinda is now like a crab in hot water so that he cant enjoy with his usual prevarications to the stupid crowds. The man cant even move from A to B, even if he reached the age of ” Mahathir Mohammeda in Malaysia”.That proves our eyes, how the invisible forces treat the mafia leaders. Not just few hundreds, but indian so called SAIBABAS tamed the gulliable and naive mind set of the people again and again. Like wise, so called – stage lies became Mahinda s public rhetorics through wimal weerawanse or the like ” CONDOMS” . Now my same eyes see it on the TV screens, very same Wimal weerawanse murmuring to that most known “nasal voice” of the nation aka boralugoda traitor ” if i would leave it here, that would have unexpected consequences etc”….. these men s real face is now revealing to the mercy cows dominated nation.
      .
      To the very same manner, indian levitation tricksters use their easy tricks on the rich city corners of the Europe. Once I myself with my colleague (who is a physist) approached the men and touched their metal structures, on which they sat comforatbly as if it would be displayed as ” they are sitting in air”:

  • 13
    0

    If one reads between the lines:
    .
    This is what Gota said: Despite all the negative coverage, and what the opposition is saying, I’m firmly in control. Things are moving according to a plan – my plan. Everything is as it should be. So there’s no reason to panic.
    .
    This is what Gota didn’t say: Will somebody please get me out of here. I’ve had enough of this nightmare. Oh God … I wasn’t even given a chance to do my damn thing. No sooner I started my term, I’m hit with the fucking Covid. Then a damn ship comes all way to this damn country to do its dirty leaking. Then China sends a ship load of shit. Then more shit, Basil barges into my government. These bloody Chinese and Indians are at my throat all the time. They don’t give me a break. Nobody gives me a break. Even the Ganayos. They know nothing about the world and they want me to fight against Geneva. With the bloody forex crisis threatening to bring a famine to this country … Can I do that? You know, this is all the making of the stupid crooks PB and Kabaraya. You wait and see whose head is going to roll next. Oh God … how much I wish to get back to my life in LA. Though it was a stupid job minding a 7-Eleven Store … Life was much better for me, not like this. Oh yes … Life there is very peaceful … and of course … Lot’s of fun … You know what I mean … No Ganayos and JVP buggers around.

    • 7
      1

      ASD, very true. Gota also did not say “I wish I had stayed at the UDA. I could cope with that and run it efficiently. This is just too big a job, every sob sucking up to me and following their own agenda. Even surprise visits to check on the buggers doesn’t work”

  • 3
    1

    “Sri Lanka has no conflict with any country, but the countries Sri Lanka has to deal with most are in conflict among themselves. More than ever, there is no room for native cunning to play one country against another. ”
    Very good propound. But may I include two more institutions with the countries mentioned above, 1). IMF & 2) UNHRC (UN). UNHRC has been trying to get in some good terms with Lankawe from 2009 May, but in vain. Appe Aanduwa has played all countries against that Institution so far, very well. Last two weeks India, China & IMF are fully engaged with Aanduwa to make competing offers for dollar foreign exchange. Whoever fails to give the best deal in the eye of the Royal Government (the 40% to be increased to 50% or 60%) will face the consequences.

  • 3
    1

    I don’t want to get too deep in the economy. I am not sure what the trend world is going to take on. The West is substantially shaken by Covid-19. I am not sure if this time their stimulant packages will be as successful as 2008. All my comments on that, in future will be subject to review, at least for another year. At that point, I think International economy may reveal clues for experts to predict & then we too can comment.
    If Russia invades Ukraine:….. I don’t know what to tell about oil prices and how Lankawe going to light their lamps for the next three to five years.
    Six months ago, I wrote here a message for the masses: if they can go to sleep with two meals, put the third meal’s money somewhere. Here is one more for youths. If any one of you are inspired by Lincoln, please put hold of that dream, there won’t be any road light coming into your room from the road, to read. I may be bad, but still I wish I am proved to be wrong!

  • 14
    1

    Were you’ll expecting miracles when there is Billion $ to be further paid in interest as well borrowed this year???. Isn’t it what people asked for?? Regardless, Rajapaksas show will go on. Soon 75 % of your gross income will be paid as debt repayment, the salary expenditure alone is beyond 25 % . Then you have military expansion and Rajapaksas pet projects. Thanks to Viyathmaga even the almighty God cannot save SillyLanka..

  • 6
    1

    The people of Sri Lanka should believe on themselves rather than believing on fake patriotic politicians or fake Buddhist fundamentalists. Relying on Rajapaksa family or Bandaranaiyaka family or Jeyawardena family or Senanayaka family is not going to bring development. They are not going to spend their own wealth for this country but they are here to make their wealth from our money. They can’t bring rule of law because all of them are corrupt. How many of you believe that they have not committed any crime including financial and legal? They can’t make unbiased independent judiciary because they can’t face genuine judiciary. The first thing they did after they come to power is 20th amendment to get rid of their court cases and bring back all their family into the government. What the Central Bank governor did after taking the post is increased his salary and pension payments? Why can’t they give up all benefits to the Country?

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