21 April, 2024

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IMF & LG Elections: Presidential Machinations & Opposition Myopia

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

In his relatively salad days, President JR Jayewardene was known to be a superb after-dinner speaker and ballroom dancer. He was not so swift in political dancing, and had to wait for the longest time to have his last dance. And what a dance it turned out to be. We do not know anything about President Wickremesinghe’s after-dinner toast-mastery or ballroom skills. Neither of them is in as much vogue now as they used to be in the old millennium. But when it comes to political dancing, Mr. Wickremesinghe is in a class of his own. His moves are unconventional, he plays his own drum, blows his own trumpet, and his partners do not last long. His dance moves as parliamentary president have been predictably unpredictable and more than occasionally bizarre. On the economy and the IMF, it hasn’t been much of a dance; rather, periodical monologues. On the local government (LG) elections, however, the President’s moves have been subjectively arrogant, but objectively pathetic.

The latest presidential monologue on the economy came last Tuesday (March 7), when President Wickremesinghe told parliament that at long last the IMF deal was ready to be finalized, likely before the end of the month. On the same day, the National Election Commission reportedly announced that it was “recommending April 25 as the most suitable date for the local government elections,” after its original scheduling of the elections for March 09 was scuttled by government machinations. The fount of all machinations is to be found at the apex of government power – the presidency, and in the person of President Wickremesinghe. No where else. 

Slimiest of Speeches

On February 23, the President made the slimiest of all speeches ever made in Sri Lanka’s parliament – on the controversial status of the LG elections. He falsified every known fact on the baseless premise that the Election Commission had not taken, or could not have taken, an official decision on a date for the LG elections. Therefore, he argued, it would be mischievous to suggest that the government was trying to postpone the elections when “there was no election in the first place for it to be postponed.” He called people names and asked parliament to appoint a select committee to present the true facts to the Supreme Court. If the speech was meant to show presidential cleverness, it only turned out to be politically pathetic.

The Supreme Court has had enough of having to put out government fires any time and every time. On Friday, March 3, the Court gave an interim order against government withholding funds needed for conducting LG elections. After the court ruling, opposition parties insisted that the Commission go ahead with elections as originally planned on March 9, or on March 19, the last date for the elections since the first gazette notification. But the EC seems to have become wiser and more cautious after its recent experience, and has chosen to recommend April 25 as the most suitable for new LG elections, which were last held in February 2018.

In his speech to parliament on the IMF deal, on March 7, the President made no mention of the Supreme Court or LG elections. He was all about the economy, recounting his government’s salvaging efforts and the importance of securing the IMF agreement. He appealed to the opposition parties to rise above political differences and work with him on the economy. The opposition parties would have none of it. They are all about LG elections and have nothing to say about the IMF or the economy. All of that can be looked after later, and only after the people are allowed to exercise their franchise in the local elections, which many pundits view as the local-government fraction of national sovereignty. If sovereignty is supposedly inalienable, it should also be whole and not fractionable. Even if sovereignty were fractionable, no one cares about the provincial fraction that is permanently left in abeyance. But we don’t need that distraction now.

The IMF and the LG have, or should have, no connection between them. No one has suggested that the IMF bailout is needed to fund the local elections. That said, or not said, insofar as Rs. 10 billion has become the upset figure for elections cost, it would have been a simple matter for the President to ask the IMF to add the small change of Rs 10 billion as a democratic gift to the IMF’s pound of flesh of USD 2.9 billion. That way, the country would have found money for the election without having to print it, and the President could have justified election postponement until he had the additional change from the IMF. 

He could have also reinforced his pitch for local democracy in Sri Lanka, by asking for the intercession of the three women – the Finance Minister of India Nirmala Sitharaman, the US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Kristalina Georgieva – who were apparently “instrumental in helping Sri Lanka during its turbulent period,” and who were given honourable mention by the President in his statement to mark the International Women’s Day on March 8. Kudos to President Wickremesinghe, for regardless of everything else he has come a long way in recognizing women’s roles, if not rights, after being a Minister in a government that beat up and jailed Vivienne Gunawardena and her comrades who were marching in Kollupitiya to mark the March 8 International Women’s Day in that consequential year of 1983. Alas for Ranil Wickremesinghe, it is always a case of a single step forward and several stumbling steps backward. A dancing genre of its own. But this is no time for dancing.

Government Machinery

The IMF deal and the LG elections have exposed the huge political chasm between the government and the opposition. Stuck in the middle to the point of paralysis is the government machinery. The state of the government machinery and the manner of its working have come into depressing reliefs in the transactions over LG elections and over decision making in the energy sector. The public spats between the Energy Minister and the PUCSL are a terrible spectacle. Not to mention the National Audit reports on widespread public sector corruption and news stories about the Irrigation Department, once the pride of Civil Engineering in Sri Lanka, becoming a den of thieves.   

True to form, the President plays the economic card whenever he is politically cornered and blames the opposition for not co-operating with him. And he gets into political corners through no fault of anyone else, and solely through the machination games he has become addicted to playing over an admittedly long time in politics. The opposition, for its part, prefers to duke it out in the corners and stays clear of the largely vacant space for economic discussions.

The worrisome upshot is that in spite of the President’s numerous monologues, there is no broad political consensus on the general direction and the specific measures that are needed, and needed to be identified in detail, to deal with the unabating economic crisis. The opposition is leaving the void open without contributing anything significant to the economic discussion with any consistency. Sajith Premadasa is apparently beefing up his economic vocabulary to impress international lenders in future mendicant missions. Anura Kumara Dissanayake made a big splash before the business community, but has since crawled back into the local government shell. The vast void is being filled in tiny portions by currency board luddites and central bank haters, on the extreme right, and IMF decriers and state-corporation worshippers, on the extreme left. The uninitiated majority in the middle have nobody to listen to and nothing to follow. 

The IMF deal is not the end of the story. It is not even the end of the beginning. At most it is less than a necessary initial treatment. The economic crisis is a multivariant beast and there is no silver bullet solution to it. It will require a thousand cuts painfully administered over a painfully long time. President Wickremesinghe may have got the timespan right – 2048, for final deliverance, but he has offered nothing solid about what needs to be done between now and the expected date of delivery. Only puff and fluff. The opposition’s timespan stops at local government elections. They will not see, hear or speak of anything beyond. This, frankly, is irresponsible and even imbecilic. 

False Enthusiasm

The SJB’s and the JVP’s enthusiasm for LG elections springs from the experience of  the February 2018 LG elections that propelled the Rajapaksas to their second coming in their new vehicle, the SLPP, and eventually to the seats of power in over a span of two and a half years. But it is impossible for either the SJB or the JVP to emulate the SLPP’s feat in 2018. To do so, one of them will have to crushingly reduce the electoral wins of the other, which is not likely. At most they may get wins close to one another but that will not be as sweeping as the 2018 victory of the SLPP. Coming close to or even surpassing the SJB will be a huge achievement for the JVP, but it also runs the risk of suffering a setback if its tally falls below everyone’s expectations. 

The general risk in all the hype over the LG elections is the real possibility of a low voter turnout. President Wickremesinghe will be immensely happy, but after all the hype and Rs. 10 billion, the country will be back to the same square one where it last was with Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Even if there were to be a good voter turnout and a decisive outcome, nothing will automatically change at the national level. Just as it was in 2018. The difference this time will be the questioning of the legitimacy of the Wickremesinghe presidency which will become vehement and strident after a decisive LG election. 

The uncertainty and even the danger this time will be the way in which President Wickremesinghe chooses to respond if protests were to surface after a decisive election outcome. His predecessor, the ex-army man kept his men on a tight leash against the protesters. President Wickremesinghe has been sending quite the opposite signals from the time he became president. There was nothing illegitimate about Mr. Wickremesinghe succeeding Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President, but his legitimacy has been eroding steadily entirely due to his political machinations. It would be a grave and dangerous dance move if he were to partner the army to stave off political protests.       

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Latest comments

  • 4
    5

    Now you know the true nature of Ranil!

    Why people never made him president. Why his party didn’t win a single seat. Why he didn’t even win his own frigging seat!

    Sri Lankan voters are not as stupid as they are made out to be!!!

    The 6.9 million have more intelligence ……. than some here.

    But the ones here do not have even the little nous to realize that. ………. Too many blinkered self-proclaimed Einsteins walking around. …… Not enough mirrors to show them they have no clothes.

    Phew! to think that the problem was out there with the 6.9 million.


    The 69 million dollar eternal question …….. where would Lanka be if there were no Lankans?

    Lanka will not amount to anything as long as there are Lankans: “educated” or not.

    There is nothing wrong with the blooming country ……….. if it can get itself free from Lankans!!

    • 5
      0

      nimal fernando

      “There is nothing wrong with the blooming country ……….. if it can get itself free from Lankans!!”

      Actually Lankans are stupid. You cannot remove lankans from Lankans. Try freeing Sinhalese and Buddhists from Sinhala/Buddhists (Aryan Public racist Anagarika Homeless Dharmapala’s new manufactured identity).

      Sinhala/Buddhists who are even stupider than Lankans, do not know why they identify themselves as Sinhala/Buddhists, and believe Lion Blood (Sinha Le) in Sinhalese.

      Therefore it was failure on your part for not educating the very stupid section of this island.

      Even Sarath Amunugama wrote a book praising the public racist “The Lion’s Roar: Anagarika Dharmapala and the Making of Modern Buddhism”.

      The racists voted for racists and crooks since 1948. As such what else could you expect from a crooked state. Crooks are living a happy life. Ordinary people including those 6.9 million are on the streets. Why did the 6.9 vote for the murderers and crooks? Mahinda wants to become prime minister again. All those MPs believe they have done a fantastic job even after seeing the people’s suffering.

      Now that Hindia (whose people do not have toilets) Bangladesh (Sirimao aided and abetted Sri Lanka’s all weather friend Pakistan to commit genocide) are helping this Sinhala/Buddhist country.

    • 2
      1

      nimal fernando

      “There is nothing wrong with the blooming country ……….. if it can get itself free from Lankans!!”

      Here is the enemy that the Lankans/Lankies have to liberate themselves from:
      ‘Sinha Ley’ extremist group confronts anti-racist rally in Colombo
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=555WtdmEw1A&t=47s

      It’s Time To Stop Pretending Sinha-Le Is Anything But Racist
      https://roar.media/english/life/editorial/time-stop-pretending-sinha-le-anything-racist

  • 11
    3

    The most important thing a politician should protect is his or her “integrity”. In the case of our “Pinata Seat President Ranil” or for that matter “Yes Sir No Sir Three Bags Full Sir Prime Minister” both have lost their integrity. Ranil who supported the aragalaya turned over his hat and now opposes the aragalaya. PM Dinesh Gunewardena ( whose father will be turning in his grave to see the drama he plays in the Parliament) lied to the Parliament that there was no Cabinet decision re: not collecting deposits from LG candidates. It was proved wrong as Sajith presented the Cabinet paper and added it on to the records. Dinesh too lost his integrity and his sarong that day. Now to add fuel to fire, the Speaker of the Parliament, who is a bias, partisan, constitution violating, and standing order violating person lost his integrity not once almost every other day did not appoint Harsha to the Finance Committee. Once again the biggest joke is appointing

    • 3
      0

      “The opposition’s timespan stops at local government elections. They will not see, hear or speak of anything beyond. This, frankly, is irresponsible and even imbecilic. “
      Absolutely. The Opposition cannot explain how LG elections will improve the economy. Even the JVP has no real economic plan . It doesn’t even dare put forward the Marxist economics to be found in its website. Everyone wants a system change, but nobody describes the nuts and bolts.

      • 7
        0

        OC
        RW knows that he can play games with the LG elections so that the opposition gets hooked on campaigning for holding the LG polls. He will do that for as long as he can toy with the polls.
        He thus minimises opposition to his various actions that are politically more critical.
        He knows that the outcome of the polls will do little damage to his position as President, while an inconclusive outcome will throw the opposition into further confusion.

    • 2
      0

      B-1
      “…both have lost their integrity.”
      Perhaps.
      But did they or their rivals have one to lose?

  • 10
    1

    Cont: Namal to various committees including the international relations committee. What does he know about international relations other than parking his stolen money in various foreign countries?

    Overall the entire Ranil-Rajapakse Government has lost its integrity by ensuring that the LG elections are not held and by appointing crooks as Ministers and Chairmen of various committees when those individuals have very serious cases filed against them in the high courts.

    • 7
      5

      President Ranil Wicramachinghe has identified his priority as economic recover. It is his priority No 1, his priority No 2 is also economic recovery.so is his priority No 3.

      Economic recovery is his one and only one priority priority and democracy, rule of law and even good governance are irrelevant and may not be anywhere in his list!

      If we understand Ranil as he wished to be understood, then we could understand his gloating over the fact that the first ranch of IMF loan is expected by the end of this month.
      It is an important milestone in his road map for recovery.

      What next in his road map?

      Will democracy, elections and tax cuts be anywhere close by?

      Ranil is very intransigent in his determination and it may not be possible to remove him unless a determined effort and a prolong struggle resulting g in a systemic Change together with his removal is the fervent hope of all democratic forces in the country!

      • 2
        4

        srikrish, You got it right. His determination to be life time president needs stronger measures than the chasing away of the family. He has no house and no family and nothing to lose except the gifted double bed in his parliamentary room. No legacy to a descendent except baba Namal. No principles and will pay and not go without suppressing whole nation under dictatorship.

      • 6
        4

        Lee Kuan Yew was intransigent too. He silenced the Press and imprisoned the Opposition but he ran the country efficiently and appointed upright ministers. I hope RW will be in a position to do likewise eventually.
        .
        What will removing him achieve? Chaos as AKD and Premadasa quarrel and their supporters swap sides for money and power. RW became leader by accident but he is our last hope. Of all the foolish things the public have done over the years, getting rid of him would be the most stupid.

        • 3
          4

          Svenson

          “RW will be in a position to do likewise eventually.”.

          He was in a position to do all that between 2015 and 2019.
          Why couldn’t he do it?

          First thing he should have done is that he should have had all those crooks, murderers, racists, 3000 odd thugs (who were sent to Galleface Green to attack the peaceful protest), Gota, Mahinda, …. and clans should be rounded up and send them to an open prison, and charged them with, …. Namal should be strait away send to kindergarden for being a political brat and a stupid one at that, Armed forces should be send to another open prison and kept there until all those human rights violaters are identified and charged, All those 70,000 safronistas including Mahanayakes all at the same time are sent to Tibet to unlearn Theravada and Sinhala/Buddhism and learn proper Buddhism from Dalai Lama.
          ….
          ..
          Lets think about what to do with state functionaries and media men and women.

          • 4
            0

            Veddah,
            .
            ‘He was in a position to do all that between 2015 and 2019.
            Why couldn’t he do it?’
            .
            Because he had all-powerful non-UNP Presidents blocking him. The same situation existed when he was PM under CBK. This is the very first time that he is in the powerful position of President.

            • 3
              1

              Svenson

              In this country politicians benefited from competitive racism.
              From 1956 on wards parochial nationalism, unfettered racism, fake devotion to Buddhism, …. let the ruling elites to thrive on lies and violence.

              Why do you think every politician wants to please Sanghas who continue to destroy this country by their own brand of racism and their support for fascism.

              Knowing full well Surgeon General Shavendra is being accused of war crimes (despite it all) AKD now wants defend/protect him. From who is not known. Who is he kidding?

              • 2
                0

                Vedda, I think he must be kidding you. How does what you wrote show that Ranil was in a position to do things between 2015 and 2019 but didn’t?

              • 1
                1

                “politicians benefited from competitive racism”
                True.
                Sadly, some of us forget the likes of Amirthalingam but take note of his militant successors.

          • 1
            0

            “…sent to Tibet to unlearn Theravada and Sinhala/Buddhism and learn proper Buddhism from Dalai Lama”
            Sent to Tibet?
            Interesting proposition!

      • 6
        2

        “…it may not be possible to remove him unless a determined effort and a prolong struggle resulting g in a systemic Change”
        That is interesting.
        So, the “systemic Change” will be ready and waiting for us the day RW steps down as President, hopefully late next year.
        Thank you for that prophesy.

  • 2
    1

    IMF & LG Elections: Presidential Machinations & Opposition Myopia

    President is not from the people So he will not listen to the people.

    Tax from the people borrow from global and sell the land and no. money for the election – is president restructer polytrics and democrazy, RW giving instruction, If you want your people to think don’t give instructions, give intent.

  • 9
    5

    It is amazing that we are still giving respect to this parasitic cunning jackal and his shenanigans by analysing his speeches or what he says etc. Authors must get it into their heads that the fellow has absolutely no desire to correct anything. His only ambition is to stay as long as possible, if necessary killing his vocal opponents and making it seem like a deranged shooter etc. We cannot continue to make these despicable people respectable by discussing the words they utter. Instead we must focus on the damage currently being done to the country, with no essential life-saving drugs, catastrophic malnutrition and severe starvation while billions are being wasted on corrupt practices and imports, overseas jaunts and the like. They are the ones that need to be highlighted, so that at least people are made aware of how existentially serious these crimes against humanity are.

    • 1
      3

      Wonderful comments from the ever consistent Lasantha.
      .
      Thanks from Bandarawela.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V)

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