By Ameer Ali –
As soon as Gotabaya Rajapaksa‘s’s dual citizenship became a debatable issue on the eve of his nomination by his brother’s party, SLPP, US authorities must have realised that they have been presented with manna from heaven to help them achieve what they wanted from Sri Lanka, irrespective of who wins the tight contest. In one single stroke of her pen the US Ambassador in Colombo would have cleared the air immediately, but she must have been advised not to and allow the controversy continue, perhaps until the election is over. The Election Commissioner also, either through deliberate or innocent neglect did not bother to check Gota’s credentials. Was he in cahoot with the Ambassador?
Generally speaking, in any event or issue that dominates the politics outside its own territory, what immediately matters to any country and its government, is its own national interest, and in the case of US, its imperial interest. This is the stark reality of international relations. On that basis, US meddling in Sri Lankan politics has a long history and dates back to 1950s, but its intensity increased no sooner than when China’s influence in the Indian Ocean in general and Sri Lanka in particular started deepening. The island’s geostrategic position in the Indian Ocean is too precious to be ignored by any regional or imperial power. It is through the Indian Ocean, from the Straits of Hormuz through Bab el-Mandab Strait and Strait of Malacca that more than 80% of oceanic trade is being carried out. Sri Lanka is at the crossroad of this trade artery. One cannot therefore underestimate the crucial importance of Sri Lanka’s harbours and sea lanes.
By gaining a ninety nine year leasehold over Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Harbour and through funding quite generously the infrastructure development of the country, China outbid all her rivals and brought closer the realisation of her One Belt One Road (OBOR) strategy. Now, the Americans want to check mate China by gaining at least an equal footing in Sri Lanka. The controversial Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) are all means through which such footing could be achieved. The question is who or which government in Sri Lanka will sign these agreements and entrap the country into the imperial net.
There is already a number of supporting voices towards signing these agreements within the present government, and if Sajith Premadasa becomes the president and his UNP captures the government after the next General Elections, US will feel more comfortable and be confident in achieving those objectives. However, it may be problematic under a Gota Presidency with a pro-Chinese Rajapakse government. This is where Gota’s citizenship issue and the court cases filed against him in California can be used as trumps by US government. Whether Gota will be allowed to remain president or be dethroned would depend on his response to US requests. US will use his citizenship as the trump. This is why US is silent now.
Unlike the elections before, the Presidential Election on Saturday will be a landmark event. Reduced to a straight contest between two men, Gota and Sajith, while another, Anura, running third, the presidential race is going to determine not only the direction of Sri Lanka’s economic and foreign policies but also the future of the country’s democracy and ethnic pluralism. It is a contest between one who is promising a technocratic cabinet ruled by an iron fist, and another promising a cabinet of ministers with honesty and integrity while protecting the country’s pluralism and the framework of participatory democracy. There is a broad suspicion that the technocracy and iron fist may translate into a family oligarchy and plutocracy. Does it mean the end of democracy in Sri Lanka?
Both candidates have no clarity about their respective economic strategies to promote growth with equity, and about measures and techniques to improve the welfare of ordinary mases. Only Anura promised to narrow the wealth gap. However, given the constraints of a ballooning budget deficit, trade deficit and national debt, one is not sure whether Gota and Sajith would be able to honour their lavish promises given to the gullible during the campaign. The one who seems to have a credible alternative path, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, may have to work harder to sell his program before the forthcoming General Election.
Above all, how the leading two candidates are going to rein in the recklessness of ultranationalist Buddhist supremacists and their lawlessness against minorities is not clear. There is a threat of violence and bloodshed against Muslims after the election, and there appears to be a sinister plan drawn up by these supremacists to narrow the open economy space for the role of minorities in economic and commercial ventures. Having hijacked the public administration already and reduced the weight of minorities to just 8 per cent, these supremacists are aiming to achieve the same in the economic sector. This is a self-defeating strategy.
There is a fundamental truth about an economy, which is taken for granted by most economists and policy makers. Economic growth and prosperity cannot be achieved and sustained without the active participation of the entire nation. There is no point in talking about national product and national income when part of the nation feels left out of the growth game. In a plural society like Sri Lanka it means the participation of every component of it. That participation will not be forthcoming unless there is peace and tranquillity in the country. People are the most precious asset in any society. Of what use is foreign capital and high-tech led economic growth, if sections of local society are kept out of it and do not benefit from it? Gross National Happiness (GNH) is sine qua non for Gross National Product (GNP) and GNP in turn enhances GNH. Ultranationalists hinder both and that is why they are the real enemies of Sri Lanka. Which president will control them?