3 December, 2022

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Government Needs To Change Course In National Interest 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The ruling party has requested President Ranil Wickremesinghe to facilitate the return of former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to the country and his appointment as prime minister. The former president left the country when large numbers of protestors who had been actively protesting against the economic collapse and corruption in the country took over his presidential residence. Few would wish to see a former president going from country to country seeking  asylum. Even those who have supported the protest movement are unlikely to oppose his return to the country. However, any attempt to promote his active participation in political affairs is likely to be controversial and would also go against the “Gota Go Home” struggle’s main objective and can undermine the government. In fact, the signs of a power struggle are becoming evident which will be detrimental to the stability that the government needs to secure the future of the country.

The primary target of the protest movement was the former president. It was he who was held primarily responsible, as the political leader holding the most power, for the economic crisis in the country. There were other reasons as well, such as his ill-advised decision to ban chemical fertilisers and convert Sri Lankan agriculture to organic status overnight. This policy brought visible disaster to farmers within a few months. Further, appointing the former president as prime minister will necessarily displace the sitting prime minister, Dinesh Gunawardena, who is a leader of an influential faction within the government and is also personally close to President Ranil Wickremesinghe in a way that makes a partnership possible. The fact that the prime minister is the person who will succeed the president if anything unexpected should happen to the president is also likely to play a role in the final decision on this matter.

The ruling party’s other request to the president to appoint several stalwarts to ministerial positions will be difficult for the president to accept. Most of them stand accused of corruption and abuse of power on a significant scale and have also been the focus of attention of the protest movement. There is considerable resentment against President Wickremesinghe himself for having stepped forward to accept the prime ministerial position when those who now seek reappointment  as ministers had resigned from their positions in the government. It was felt, and continues to be felt, that President Wickremesinghe’s  stepping forward at the time he did, has saved those who are corrupt and abusers of powers, and preserved them for future reappearance, which appears to be now in the offing. Those who want their ministerial positions restored appear not realize or not care in the least that they have lost the trust and legitimacy in the eyes of those who once voted them into power. The stark truth is that they are unable to go back to their constituencies and inform them, for instance, on how the IMF conditionalities will affect their lives.

Normalcy Restored 

The first five weeks of President Wickremesinghe’s presidency has evoked a mixed response. His unexpected suppression of the protest movement by the use of force have dismayed those who have seen him as a liberal icon in  national politics. Those  who have backed the protest movement against those who were originally his political foes cannot understand the new president’s lack of empathy with the protest movement  that paved the way for his rise to power. Beginning with the midnight  storming of the protest site outside of the presidential premises on Galle Face, to  the impunity with which unarmed and sleeping  protestors were brutalized in the  darkness of the night, and to the hounding  of anyone who committed the slightest act outside of the law, including taking  the president’s beer mug as a souvenir, the governmental repression which has to be with the sanction of the president has come as a shock. Not only have Sri Lankan human rights activists and those citizens who want the best for the country been outraged at this type of pettiness, the international human rights groups have been taken notice.

The past month has also seen a somewhat shaky restoration of normalcy that the general population appear to endorse though it may be more visible than real. The power cuts and queues outside fuel stations which were contained for several weeks now appear to be threatened, suggesting a problem with sustainability. Statistics of the World Health Organisation indicate a severe fall in  nutrition that is affecting children, which indicates that the suffering of people is inside their homes where they cannot make ends meet and are unable to provide food at the table, which is not yet manifesting itself outside in renewed public protest. The claim that the protest movement has  been hijacked by leftists and extremists has been used to forcefully quell the protest movement. However, this use of force and false narratives are bound to come unstuck in the longer term.

On the other hand, it appears that at the present time the people are by and large willing to give the new president more time before subjecting him to rejection. The presence of the IMF delegation in the country and negotiations have given hope that the anticipated financial inflows will  materialize sooner rather than later. There is general acknowledgement that the president is an experienced politician  with a cosmopolitan understanding of local and international political affairs and is best suited for negotiations with the international  community which holds the key to Sri Lanka’s economic revival. There is also the belief that the president is a liberal at heart whose orientation is not to be discriminative on the basis of race or religion or to hold grudges or prejudices against entire communities of people. During his periods as prime minister under presidents D B Wijetunga, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Maithripala Sirisena, the president was seen as the person more attentive to issues of peace, reconciliation and giving space to civil society in line with international and human rights norms.

Urgent Actions

There are three urgent actions that the government in general and president in particular need to take. The ongoing  crackdown on  the protest movement  needs to  cease. Its excessive nature is discrediting the government, and the president, in  the  eyes of the international community as well as within the country. The excessive nature of the current spree of arrests can be seen by the tolerance being practiced within the government to those who have even been convicted by the courts for abuse of power relating to corruption but have been brought into the cabinet of ministers. The  blame for this asymmetric repression is falling squarely on the president as he is both the commander in chief of the armed forces and minister of defence and all-powerful under the 20th Amendment to the constitution which continues to be operational. It is important that the president should defuse these misapprehensions regarding himself by ensuring that an amnesty is given to all in recognition of the fact that the government goons are unlikely to be ever brought to justice.

Second, the government needs to be more forthcoming about its economic plan. This is the issue that is of most concern to the general population. The recent shortages of petrol and diesel in the Colombo area led to long lines forming which led to panic buying in other parts of the country as well. There are speculations about the lengthening of power cuts. The temporary import ban placed on 300 items is an indication of adjustment measures being taken in order to access IMF funding. The government may not wish to be forthcoming  about its plans as it may believe it will have more leverage to steer the economic restructuring process to its advantage, both politically and personally, if there is a lack of transparency. But this will further antagonize those sections of the population who are already feeling that this is an illegitimate government. Lack of transparency will also not serve the government well when it comes to accessing international assistance.

In most democratic countries an economic crisis of the nature currently being experienced by Sri Lanka would have led the incumbent government to both resign and call for fresh elections. However, neither the president nor the present government show a desire to either resign or to dissolve parliament to call for fresh elections. President Wickremesinghe will obtain the legal power to dissolve parliament only in February next year under the 20th Amendment. In the meantime, the government can conduct provincial council elections. Elections in Sri Lanka at this time can serve as a pressure vent as well as provide a barometer of public opinion that will be useful to decision makers all round. A restoration of the provincial councils could also serve to bring back legitimacy to the governmental system, as well as ease the tension in society, by bringing elected persons with a fresh mandate into positions of decision making. This can defuse tensions among the people, while giving the government more time and space to stabilize the economy. The government in general and the president in particular on whom much faith is being placed need to formulate policies that will last the test of time if Sri Lanka is to get on to a sustainable path of national development.

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Latest comments

  • 12
    1

    Terrible idea for Goa R to be PM. With so many corrupt MPs behind him, he will succeed if he wants to be PM as stated in this article. That would be a calamity. He would soon be President again
    Since his return to Sri Lalnka cannot be stopped it is Ranil W.’s responsibility to charge him and lock him up for the various crimes he is accused of.
    But after the experience of 2015-2019, I feel very despondent that Ranil W. will do anything.

    • 3
      5

      After the IMF debt Cancellation of Odious Debt held by BlackRock and other vulture funds there should be a moratorium on going to private capital markets by the GoSL and the corrupt politicians who got the country into the Western ISB debt trap.
      NO more borrowing from private capital markets and repeating the viscous cycle of debt and borrowing from ISBs that Argentina is in.
      NO MORE SOVEREIGN BOND TRADING AND BORROWING FOR CORRUPT POLITICIANS and no more ODIOUS DEBT from Vulture Funds!
      Only borrowing from multilateral and bi-lateral lenders, which are more transprart that ISBs in off shore jurisdictions whose holders are unknown!

  • 5
    5

    “However, neither the president nor the present government show a desire to either resign or to dissolve parliament to call for fresh elections.”
    If that happens, we will have a succession of governments which make lavish promises but are unable to deliver. That will spook the IMF too.
    Telling the people the entire truth isn’t practical. There are too many interest groups wanting to protect their share of the pork barrel, ranging from Srilankan cabin crew to CEB engineers or CPC refinery staff.

    • 3
      4

      OC
      Do you take NGO weathercocks seriously?

    • 4
      0

      old codger,
      Don’t tell me that pleasing the IMF should be our topmost priority.
      No help from IMF will bring relief, with the cabinet of ministers Ranil is compelled to hire.
      It is for that reason, I do not want to see Ranil being President.

      • 4
        0

        Nathan,
        The IMF loans are in USD, and they will control what we spend it on. The cabinet is paid in rupees, which are printed by the CB. Just paper, you see.
        If get nothing from the IMF, we will soon enough have no gas, water, electricity, or fuel. So, they have to be priority no.1. The alternative is depending on our own resources. That means , again, not enough electricity, no LPG, no spare parts, no TV or Internet, no air conditioning, shortages of everything from paper to parippu.
        I am prepared to live like that, but I doubt if our comfortable middle class will like it. Only the smugglers will have a field day.

        • 3
          0

          Old Codger, You are correct, there is no viable alternative to IMF bail out. Once arrangements are finalized with IMF, the others such as World bank, ADB and JICA will fellow..
          They will all impose stringent conditions and strictly monitor so that corruption is out and also diverting project funds from one to another will not be possible without prior agreement.

          • 4
            0

            srikrish

            “Old Codger, You are correct, there is no viable alternative to IMF bail out.”

            I am sorry did you ask SJ?

    • 2
      0

      Dear OC,
      .
      A common foolish habit of our people is to overestimate them. They start it every morning and continue till every evening. Just listen to Sinhala songs, Sinhala “Sermons”, “Sinhala Katha”… Be it Sirasa or other TV broadcasters, many people overestimate our “race”. details? .
      Our people are so busy with self-praise that their senses see nothing else. Unfortunately, it led to the nation being deceived again and again. So they automatically have to ignore the facts. So anyone can easily fool our majority.

      I think RW is sacrificing and risking it because he sees no other options to get out of the current dire situation. For me, as a sensitive commenter, I see something that everyone else doesn’t. In today’s context, RW is the only person who puts his life at risk the most. He is TODAY a prisoner of a criminal gang, for which people are given a huge mandate, but DUE to lack of proper knowledge.

  • 5
    2

    Great, we are not alone. In SriLanka rerun IRAQ protesters storm presidential palace and take a dip in pool. Now lets wait for Myanmar, Afghan, N,Korea …….

    • 6
      0

      Pakistan due to early intervention secured 1.1 BILLION $ in bailout funding. IMF also agreed to extend funding until June 2023 and increase total funding by 950 MILLION to avoid Lanka like crisis. The total amount will be 6.5 Billion under this program. This is the difference between Pakistan (not so retarded) and Stupid Lanka.

    • 3
      4

      Biden will not be amused about events in Iraq.
      As for the rest, it is a more likely event in a fuel starved West European country and he will not be amused by that either.

  • 7
    4

    I say you are like that Nero who was fiddling while Rome was burning. If you are living on another planet and do not see the devastation that these rapacious monsters have wreaked on a poor struggling country, then your words of opinion do not matter one whit. Ask any of those valiant young men who struggled to bring about a real change what they think of your polite ifs buts and maybes. Talk some sense for a change. Read what other progressive writers contribute to these columns. Don’t be wimp to dilute the urgency of a need for radical change to the status quo.

  • 6
    1

    Yes, everything needs to change, the old order, corruption, nepotism, racism, Sinhalese politicians and leaders worshipping the Buddhist clergy and giving them undue importance, Sinhalese Buddhist Chauvinism, the Mahavamsa mindset, and their racist way of thinking that everything is theirs and the entire island only belongs to them, but nothing has changed. Nothing will improve

  • 2
    0

    Revival of country’s Economy needs a solid foundation of political solutions for ethnic issues/ religious issues/Corruption issues/ wastage of central Bank reserves.
    JP
    Please write about the Political Solutions

  • 1
    2

    To change direction, for development and prosperity with dignity;

    firstly, sign on to the Rome Statue,
    accept international norms and standards,
    accept and implement the UN HRC Resolutions 30/1 and 46/1,
    immediate PC elections with devolution and
    towards a two state political solution in the island to live in peace, security and with dignity,

    the international community will come to bail out the island with grants, assistance with trade, economic development, encourage tourism and of course the heavy traffic with the diaspora, a win-win recipe – the only option.

    A home-grown solution to prevent in a geo-political and economic war, before it becomes submerged in the Indian Ocean.

  • 0
    1

    Prez. needs to talk to IUSF and find solutions to the issues they face as they too are citizens. Blindness comes when tear gassed. Did any think what happened to Gota was possible, having to run around powerless. Instead of batalanda repeated disappearances, a great statesman’s legacy is what will be honoured at a future date.

  • 1
    3

    Since 1948 thats what we are doing I think

  • 1
    4

    The Evil Emperor is not just a Nariya, but a big thief. NPC CM, CV has been asking for a long time from Evil’s Yahapalanaya for authority to set up a CM Fund to bring Diaspora help to North and develop the province for the first time, after freedom. He blocked the idea, peeled all the NPC’s local budgets, appointed a Cooli woman over the CM as secretary and had him overruled, distributed NPC’s money to CV’s opponent MPs, inserted Southern employees and contractors into NPC to make sure Tamils cannot benefit from NPC budgets, and killed the provincial elections by invalidating the 13A. Now he lifted the sanctions on few Tamil Diasporas and put in more Muslim organization into it. Using the PTA to control opposition activities. PTA has been in use to arrest any undesirable Tamil to government, under label of “Terrorist” and kept inside up to 25 years without being able to see Sun light, forget about seeing any human faces. Now the thief is calling the Tamil (Sinhala, & Muslims) diaspora to contribute his presidential fund to cater to the Royal Family & Rapist Army Budgets.

  • 1
    0

    Jehan Perera, There is praise in the mail to you from Old Codger!

    • 0
      0

      Is there?

  • 1
    1

    Government does not appear to change course. Instead it is continuing to harass protesters and even those holding a media event. i.e. antare. Over 25 have been arrested. There is a video showing the presence of police in the media event and exchanges with the leader of FSP and others about the probity of police presence. It appears that in the name of rule of law, police has been tasked to keep a tab on protests and media events not favourable to the government. It is becoming like North Korean style of governance. Rule of law has to apply to all citizens equally without favour or fear. it is not the case in Sri Lanka under Ranil?

  • 0
    0

    Jehan Perera,
    Jehan Perera is usually an accurate observer of the political scene, yet ha had erred in this instant when he claims that
    “The fact that the prime minister is the person who will succeed the president if anything unexpected should happen to the president is also likely to play a role in the final decision on this matter’
    Is this true?
    It is true that the protocol specify that the President in his absence the Prime minister and in th absence of both it will be the Speaker.
    But the present constitution specifically provides the mode of election of the new President.
    If the post of President becomes vacant before his term is over due to death, resignation or impeachment then it is the Parliament that elects the president through secret ballot among all members of Parliament..
    .

    • 1
      0

      I think it is about the interim president.

      • 1
        0

        Yes interim President, but the new President will be elected by parliament.

  • 1
    2

    Dr. JP: quite right, the citizens have a Right to Information on the Economic Front and IMF, Lazard, ISB deals and REPORTS. Why is Lazard not working with local law firms and accounting firms? Also to enable Capacity Building of local and national professionals and institutions as is the case in development projects?! Why this secracy and are there no qualified law and accountancy firms and why has the BASL not raised this issue?!
    We need to see the IMF’s ” Debt Sustainability analysis” and the Lazard Report as the people of Sri Lanka are paying for their services. RIGHT TO INFO and DATA ANALYSIS is a must.
    Also there is a big Numbers Game being played to inflate the debt data ( like saying the debt is $ 51 Billion at default when external debt was half that at 26 billion), and a psychological operation to make citizens think we are beggars, and enable US-EU Vulture funds to asset strip the county.
    Why the secrecy? Lankans have a RIGHT TO INFORMATION and these reports when it is the National assets that belong to the people of Lanka that are to be sold off for the IMF.. with the US proxy President Ranil Rajapakse inviting another US proxy Japan to play the role of the Paris Club— to bail out corrupt vulture funds?

  • 3
    8

    Mr. President, Ranil, you know 74.9% Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. You have to bow down to the majority first. That is democracy way also. Even in Sri Lanka Parliament’s majority is also Sinhalese, out f 225 MPs 200 MPs are Sinhalese. Right from the Independent Sri Lanka ruling by Sinhalese Prime Ministers and Presidents.

    • 4
      0

      NP
      Is not 200 out of 225 is much bigger than 74.9%? That will be 30 seats too many!
      Did you do your sums yourself or got another to do it for you?

      • 1
        0

        Don’t screw him managed to go and settled down in white man shoes

    • 2
      0

      Adult franchise. at work.
      Luxman Kadirgamar doctrine of playing china against India backfiring.?
      Join the 10 pacific nations in security protests ? .To be or not to be

      Thank God our Lady Ex President put old Kadir in his place before sending him with the bowl on a borrowing jaunt.
      .

    • 1
      1

      NM
      Good on your demo_crazy, bow down to whom,this super 69 celebrated with kiri bath and fire crackers then chased away the army deserter now in Thai Hotel locked up himself
      Yes pride 74.9% even though most of the.rest not fan of VP ,but why we are being drag into sinking bbeggars ship.

      These are the lots holding white man
      Puss_port and pretending to be patriotic, don’t bow down say sadu sadu on the streets and coroners try to put some statues small or big under the tree or top
      Did you hear what Bangladeshi women told,go and beg tell your pride 2500 heritage ,

  • 3
    4

    Ranil is the only hope for this country right now. Not these NGO clowns. He needs to do the unpopular reforms. The hard reforms. Such as getting rid of the CEB mafia CPC mafia and all the other SOEs. I have been horrified to know what my colleagues have been doing as GMs and DGMs of the CEB. They have actually brought the country to the brink. They have fattened their purses while ensuring there is no viable Generation plan. To the point, some of them have been taking up presidentships of private generation companies while still being high officers of the CEB. The CPC is the same. We in the private sector in foreign countries will not survive a day in our jobs if we worked this way.

    The advantage Ranil has is that he is unpopular and cannot win another election and thus has nothing to lose. The country has to be structurally reformed before politics as usual can start.

    This country in the final analysis has not been ruined by the politicians. It has been runied by the “yes minister” public servants.

    I don’t think any public service should exist other than free education and free health. all other aspects should be privatized. and there should be a robust audit regime over those privatized entities.

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